Upgraded PowerBook vs. New MacBook: Which Makes More Sense?
- 2006.06.12 - Tip Jar
The current generation of Apple laptops are very, very nice, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't want one. The problem I have is that while I want one, I don't need one.
I mentioned in my last few columns that the work I do would not really benefit from the Intel architecture, and that remains the case, as it likely is for many of you reading this. Safari, Mail, iTunes, and the rest of the iApps are universal binaries and will launch and run faster, but honestly, we're talking seconds on the launch clock. Real time saving will not be had loading web pages or downloading emails, but only in applications like iMovie HD and iDVD, where the processing muscle of the Core Duo will really come into play. Email and web browsing just don't require that much horsepower, working well even on a pokey old G3.
As for games - there is a task that demands the ultimate in processor, graphics, and data throughput from any computer, Windows or Mac.
Macs have always had fewer games available than Windows PCs, but once upon a time the games we did get were quite a bit better than those on that other platform.
Remember Marathon? I played Marathon over a company intranet back in 1995 using a PowerPC upgraded Quadra 700 running its PowerPC 601 processor at 50 MHz with 40 MB of RAM and a massive 230 MB hard drive. Marathon on that not-quite-cutting-edge computer was a revelation, not only allowing multiplayer play, but even allowing me to verbally taunt my opponents using a microphone over the Quadra's built-in ethernet connection. Graphics were fluid and fast, and with a hack I found on the Web I even had a very cool sound effect of spent casings falling to the floor after every shot.
Macs were great game machines back then, and they aren't bad today. Return to Castle Wolfenstein is one of my favorite games, and I enjoyed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic tremendously, both played on my 1.5 GHz 12" PowerBook with medium settings and good results. These are, however, old games, released when Panther was the hot new OS and a 1.5 GHz G4 was the latest and greatest.
Look at the system requirements for Doom3 or Quake4, and you will be informed that that 1.5 GHz G4 is the absolute minimum, while on Quake4 you need 1.67 GHz. That means that the fastest PowerBook ever released (discontinued only a month ago) is the absolute minimum specification to play Quake4.
The desire to play modern games is not an issue for many people. Some people use their Macs only to get their work done, to keep informed, or to play games that aren't so resource-heavy. I want to play Quake4 and Doom3, not to mention the wealth of Windows-only games like Rome: Total War and the Star Wars sequel The Sith Lords. Apple's Boot Camp makes this possible and is the reason why I covet an Intel-powered Apple laptop. Sadly, Apple didn't replace the model in its old lineup that I wanted most to replace, the 12" PowerBook.
You see, I play games when I travel. Rather than spend too much money drinking in some rural motel bar, I'd rather fire up a game on my Mac and crush the enemies of Rome, flex my budding Jedi powers, or reduce the chest of some unsuspecting zombie to pulp with a well-placed load of buckshot. Violent, I know, but it gets me worked up for the conference, deposition, hearing, or whatever other reason I'm in a lonely hotel room.
I also like to play games during long flights. Games and movies make the time go by quickly on my twice-yearly trans-Pacific flight.
Now the MacBook Pro is the perfect 15" laptop for me, but the problem is that I don't travel with a 15" laptop. I fly coach, and while the 12" fits on the tray table, it's still a very tight squeeze if the person in front decides to recline, as they invariably do. The 15" MacBook Pro is just too bulky.
I also like to travel light, and the 12" PowerBook is already heavier than I like at 4.6 lbs. I used to carry a 3 lb IBM ThinkPad for just that reason, but I deal with the extra weight for the benefits of the Mac OS.
Last year's games were great on the 12" PowerBook last year, but it isn't last year, and I'm tired of those old games.
The new MacBook is a great iBook replacement, and while heavy, it opens to the same height as the 12" PowerBook, making it useable in coach. The problem, as I've mentioned in previous articles, is the low-end integrated graphics that takes away the ability to play the most demanding games. For many, this simply doesn't matter, but Rome: Total War and Sith Lords both require a Direct X 9 graphics card with 64 (Rome) and 32 (Sith Lords) MB of dedicated graphics RAM. The integrated chipset of the MacBook might be up to the requirements of the less demanding Sith Lords, but Rome: Total War demands some serious graphics horsepower, and only a better card with discreet memory will do.
Many people have defended Apple's (and budget PC makers') use of integrated graphics by claiming that small laptops are not for gamers, and that gamers should buy a gaming laptop. My response is to ask who decided that gamers are willing to lug around a 12 lb monstrosity with 30 minute battery life? Yeah, an Alienware or Dell XPS with a desktop GPU (there is even a laptop now with dual GPUs) will play any modern game with good performance, but those things make lousy business or travel laptops.
I want it all - a small laptop with decent graphics and light weight. This isn't impossible. The MacBook Pro has plenty of graphics horsepower, as do a number of thin-and-light PC laptops like Lenovo's T-series. The problem is a general perception that buyers won't mind the integrated graphics on the smaller models. Apple sold many 12" PowerBooks to small laptop buyers who wanted a decent graphics processor, myself included.
Okay, I know this sounds like a rant. What it really is, simply put, is the reasoning for why I don't yet own an Intel-based Apple laptop. I want one badly, but they don't yet make the one I want.
When my 15" PowerBook wears out, I won't hesitate to replace it with a large MacBook Pro, but the 12" PowerBook is simply irreplaceable right now. Were mine to die, I'd look long and hard for a leftover new or refurbished replacement, as I'm just not willing to go any larger or heavier than what I have.
That said, there ways to extend the life of what I have now and satisfy some of that new computer lust I'm feeling, which will be addressed in my next Mobile Mac article.
Andrew J Fishkin, Esq, is a laptop using attorney in Los Angeles, CA.
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