Going MacBook Air, Keeping My Toshiba (For Now), Selling My ExoPC

by Jon Davis 27. February 2011 08:46

I’ve been looking for a reasonable replacement for my huge Toshiba Satellite laptop for a couple years now. It’s been such an awesome gargantuan workstation all these years (since 2007), costing me nearly $3,500 after all the upgrades I’ve put into it including memory and multiple hard drive replacements, ending up finally with SSD. But it’s still a lap-cooking elephant. Half the times I show up in any developer user group setting, someone has to comment about how huge my laptop is. I honestly don’t like that attention, not on laptop size specifically.

On the other hand, I really need the resolution of my big Toshiba’s display. At 1680x1050 I couldn’t ask for a more perfect resolution. All of the other laptops out there, even the “nice” ones, have horribly crappy low resolution of so-called “HD” at 1366x768. Pleeze!! I get it, I understand that mom & pop and other laymen look at higher resolutions and wince at how small everything is on high resolution laptop displays. I AM NOT A FREAKING LAYMAN. I need room for coding windows, toolbars, Solution Explorer, etc. Yet none of the laptop manufacturers are producing professional-grade laptops anymore. Indeed, it seems like laptop displays have been shrinking their resolutions over the years, and high resolution displays are as expensive now as they were a decade ago.

This brings me to the Apple MacBook Air, with the latest refresh from October 2010. With a resolution of 1440x900 but only 13 inches, it seems to be perfect for my needs. It meets the “stop hauling an elephant!” requirement, while at the same time offering a reasonable screen resolution and adequate performance. The tested performance and resolution of the latest MacBook Air 13-inch laptop compare to that of the previous iteration of MacBook Pro 15-inchers. Powerful enough for some serious development and capable enough for everyday needs, I might even end up letting go of my Toshiba laptop, we’ll see. But the MacBook Air comes in place of getting a MacBook Pro..

.. Because speaking of MacBook Pro, what a JOKE the latest refresh is! I waited months for Apple to refresh their MacBook Pro line, with great anxiousness once Air got its refresh, and now that the refreshed Pro laptops are out there I’m totally thinking, what is this crap?? Oh yaaaay, yet another new proprietary connector (“Thunderbolt”) delivered exclusively from Apple, yeah right, that’s precisely what I need. Not! At only twice the bandwidth of USB 3 and zilch of the compatibility of the USB and Firewire standards, there is really no value in that “upgrade”. As for performance and screen resolution, which are really all I was hoping for in the Pro line refresh, there is nothing special about the Pro line versus the MacBook Air. No resolution upgrades and hardly any performance boosts. So Air it is.

Getting a Mac laptop also gives Mac OS X another chance to win me over for Mac-oriented software and web development. I previously bought a Mac Mini to learn iPhone development, but I couldn’t take my back room home office with me to the coffee shop nor to my living room, so it ultimately never worked out. If I have a highly portable Mac with me, though, and a sufficiently powerful one at that, I might actually be able to pick up Obj-C as well as some of the OS-neutral development technologies that I’m still pretty weak in such as RoR, PHP, etc. I’m actually really hoping for this; I’m pretty tired of all the cool people hating on my platform of choice (C#/.NET) as they tote their Mac laptops around. And I think I’d love the camaraderie of their acquaintance.

The Air laptop has yet to arrive but I just got an e-mail that it has shipped. Yay! This comes after literally one or two years of attempting to get something that might stand a chance of deprecating my 2007 model Toshiba, including

  • a consumer-grade ($699) Toshiba laptop purchase, which I hated because of its low screen resolution and crappy trackpad buttons,
  • a maxed-out Dell Studio 17, which Dell delayed and delayed and delayed some more until I cancelled my order two months later, and
  • a maxed-out Dell XPS 17, which I ordered a year later, which Dell themselves cancelled

I also considered (but ultimately I declined)

  • the Toshiba Qosmio, which is yet another elephant with its 18.4 inch display (yikes), and no smaller sizes with that screen resolution available (stupid)
  • one of the Alienware laptops, which are expensive (paying for plastic) and have a really stupid-looking appearance of a dorky computer game and not something I’d like to be seen in public with
  • an Asus gaming laptop, but with so many models coming out every month, there were also always too many compromises, for example if it had optical media and high resolution then I wanted Blu-Ray, but Blu-ray only came in 17-inch elephant models or else low-resolution “HD” displays (1366x768)
  • a Dell Precision Mobile Workstation, but as nice as they are, once all upgrades (RAM etc) are selected they’re way more expensive than MacBook Pros, with not much better specs, and they come from Dell which screwed up both my previous attempts at ordering a laptop so no thanks
  • an HP Envy, .. which, well, .. is fairly nice, but comes at a price and specs that almost compete with MacBook Pro but doesn’t support Mac OS X .. came real close to winning me over, though

These things said and done, I am also finally selling my ExoPC on eBay. It’s now or never; the major computer manufacturers are all getting in on the Tablet form factor now, so competition is gonna get fierce. Selling this will help cover some of the brunt cost of getting the MacBook Air .. by letting me pay the electricity bill so that I can plug the Air in. ;)

Meanwhile I’ll keep the Toshiba laptop. Despite its occasionally unresponsive keyboard, huge size, and hot underside, it’s still a fantastic computer even for today’s standards—I can even play Starcraft 2 on it! But the day may come in a few months when I have so well adapted to the MacBook Air that I don’t need the Toshiba any longer.

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About the author

Jon Davis (aka "stimpy77") has been a programmer, developer, and consultant for web and Windows software solutions professionally since 1997, with experience ranging from OS and hardware support to DHTML programming to IIS/ASP web apps to Java network programming to Visual Basic applications to C# desktop apps.
Software in all forms is also his sole hobby, whether playing PC games or tinkering with programming them. "I was playing Defender on the Commodore 64," he reminisces, "when I decided at the age of 12 or so that I want to be a computer programmer when I grow up."

Jon was previously employed as a senior .NET developer at a very well-known Internet services company whom you're more likely than not to have directly done business with. However, this blog and all of jondavis.net have no affiliation with, and are not representative of, his former employer in any way.

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