The Case for a Modular MacBook

My main computer for the past 19 months has been a Core 2 Duo unibody MacBook. It’s fast, has an excellent LED backlit display, is quiet and reliable. Nevertheless I still log some three to four hours per day on average with my 10-year-old Pismo PowerBooks.

MacBook Pro: The Perfect Computer?

macbookpro13My friend and Low End Mac’s publisher, Dan Knight, posted a nearly 3000-word essay recently positing a “what’s the perfect Mac” conundrum: MacBook Pro or iMac. I share Dan’s enthusiasm for examining and debating such hypothetical questions, and I thoroughly enjoyed the piece, but for me, the matter is much more open-and-shut.

I’ve been advocating for more than a decade that laptops are the logical Mac for most users, and in my estimation the unibody MacBook Pros — particularly the new 13-inch model — come as close to personal computer perfection as has yet been achieved. Read More about MacBook Pro: The Perfect Computer?

A Continuing Discussion of the Unibody MacBook 13″ vs. PowerBook 12″


Charles Moore wrote a great article about the unibody 13″ MacBook compared to the much-loved 12″ PowerBook. A friend of Charles argued that until the dimensions were nearly identical it could never be considered a replacement. Charles feels there’s a little more to it than that.

I think they’re both right (yes, life is good sitting on top of this fence).

I don’t disagree with Charles’ friend that width is a big factor, and here the new MacBook is much bigger than the 12.” However, I would suggest that depth is the more critical (for use on a table, airline tray table, etc.) and here the new model is only slightly bigger. Further, weight is a big factor and the two are pretty much identical.

So you need to consider just what you’re getting for those extra couple inches of width. It’s more than just a much bigger screen (in resolution, not just size). The larger case allows a larger thermal envelope so they can pack all that power in there. Remember that Apple (s aapl) could never get a G5 in a notebook no matter what. The G4 in the 12″ initially ran at 867MHz, less than the 17″ introduced the same day.

I’m just not convinced one must insist that every dimension be equal or smaller to be a true replacement. Given the near-equality of each dimension except width, and what you’re getting for that width — and its value — I’d say the 13″ kicks some serious butt. And I put my money where my text is, since I own one and love it.
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13″ Aluminum MacBook vs. 12″ PowerBook — Is the Unibody A True Successor?

A Mac writer colleague and I have been engaged in a friendly debate for the past several months over whether the 13″ unibody MacBook is a worthy successor to the 12″ PowerBook as a serious road warrior machine. My friend is not anti-unibody by any means — he has a uni MacBook Pro — but while he will concede that the aluminum 13″ MacBook is the new 12″ PowerBook G4 in terms of Apple’s product lineup, he steadfastly contends that since the MacBook is not the same size as his beloved 12″ Little AlBook, it is not a legitimate 12-incher replacement functionally. His argument is that it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, and he’s willing to accept only a machine with a footprint as small as or smaller than the baby PowerBook as a true replacement.

I beg to differ, and that stance has been reinforced by my purchase last week of a 13″ unibody, giving me the opportunity to use the machine in a variety of settings. I’ve never owned a 12″ PowerBook, but I’ve used one and a 12″ iBook was my main axe for more than three years, so I have a pretty good frame of reference in Apple (s aapl) compact notebooks. I agree with my friend that the 12″ PowerBook is a particularly good example of Apple laptop hardware, one of the great Mac notebooks of all time, and I even think its 4:3 aspect ratio display is a more sensible solution in a small laptop than the 16:10 widescreen in my new MacBook, but in terms of being a practical road-warrior laptop, I think it’s pretty much a wash except for the MacBook’s vastly superior speed and power.


My unibody feels feather-light to carry around. You almost have to pinch yourself to cognate that Apple has packed so much power into such a wisp of a package. It really takes me back to my impression of my first laptop, a PowerBook 5300 in 1996, which gave me the same vibe.

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Refunds for Those Firebomb Power Adapters

Remember those old Powerbook adapters? Do you also remember how they used to catch on fire? I didn’t experience it, personally. I did have a friend that swore his PowerBook adapter was out to get him — almost burning his house, car and office to the ground (on separate occasions).

A lot of people definitely did though, because in 2001 Apple recalled about 570,000 of those suckers. I remember when Apple first gave the announcement about the faulty adapters and I picked a replacement up for free just in case (and because, well, it was free).

If you’re one of those lucky few to experience some extra heat on your lap, you may be entitled to a refund. If your adapter “dangerously frays, sparks and prematurely fails to work” Apple has agreed to throw you $25 to $79 for your troubles.

This class-action suit was actually way back in 2006 and alleged that Apple misrepresented problems with the power adapters. I can’t help but think most people have moved on from their old PowerBook immolation issues by now.

Living One Mac Generation Behind

When entering college in 1995, I purchased my first computer that was all mine – a Performa 631CD, with screaming 33 MHz performance and a 68040LC processor. Sporting 8 MB of RAM and 500 MB of hard drive space, I was good to go. But unsurprisingly, I was immediately lapped, not just by the next Mac upgrades, but by an entire processor family, as Apple moved from 68k Macs to PowerPC. In short time, I found many titles were written for PowerPC processors only, and my Mac was too out of date to participate.

More than a decade later, my go-to Mac is a PowerBook G4. Though the specs are much stronger than my first Macs, and the machine is tremendous, I’m seeing a similar gap between where I am and where the leading Mac developers are focused – as they code for Intel-based Macs, and some applications run only on Intel Macs, leveraging the power of Apple’s new chip partner.

Some of the most prominent Intel-only Mac developers are extremely visible, especially on the Web, including the Internet video playback software, Joost, and VMWare’s Fusion, a product so cool from a simple geek factor, that it has me trying to find reasons to upgrade.

Apple has made some big leaps of faith in recent years, from 68k to PowerPC, from Mac OS 9 to Mac OS X, and from PowerPC to Intel. But those of us who bought late are quickly antiquated, despite using machines that work great. Should I be taking my PowerBook to eBay and making an upgrade? What else am I missing out on by not yet making the switch to Intel?