MacBook Pleases, but Two Weeks for Repair Is Excessive
- 2006.07.25 - Tip Jar
I've owned the MacBook for a little less than a month and am largely delighted with its performance. Sadly, new-product blues have set in, and my black beauty is sitting at Apple's repair depot waiting on a new logic board.
The problems I had were the same ones others have complained about: excessive heat and a "mooing" sound that started about two weeks after I bought the MacBook. I knew the computer was running hot, but as I read of newer MacBooks running as low as 55° C, the 72° C that mine hovered at had me worried.
Then I heard the "Moo" and decided to just send it in.
Now on sending it in to Apple, I expected the usual delightfully quick turnaround, which last time I sent in a computer meant a total of three days including shipping.
Apple's now had my MacBook at their depot for 12 days, though the tech support rep this afternoon said the parts are in and my computer will be returned tomorrow, for a total of 14 days including shipping. That's a long time to be without my MacBook.
Now for me its not that big of a deal; I've got other computers to use, and all of my client files are either on paper or hosted in LawLogix, our Web-based case management application.
The customer should not be kept waiting this long.
What if I was a student, however, with all of my assignments on the MacBook's hard drive and no access to another machine for taking notes or writing papers? There has to be a point at which Apple or any other manufacturer just replaces the machine with a new one and relegates the customer's machine to refurbishment and resale as a refurbished computer through the Apple Store or otherwise. The customer should not be kept waiting this long.
On the good side, however, I know that I am waiting on a logic board, and with what I've read about the MacBook Pros having their logic boards replaced by a new revision, my fingers are crossed that a new revision of MacBook logic board is the reason for the delay. I'll know in a few days, but I'm hoping to see a letter and an updated install DVD like MacBook Pro users are receiving.
I'll be content with lower operating temperatures and the removal of the cow hiding inside.
Graphics and Gaming
As for the MacBook's performance, I know a lot more than I did when I wrote my first impression. No, the MacBook hasn't gotten any smaller or lighter, but my other concerns have proven to be unfounded. The integrated graphics are far better than I had allowed myself to hope. Using Boot Camp and Windows XP Professional, the MacBook is a far better gaming machine than I ever dreamt it would be.
Rome: Total War is a game with very high graphics requirements, including 64 MB of VRAM, full DirectX 9 support, and support of all the fancy shaders and hardware 3D acceleration. Its not a first person shooter, but it's definitely a graphically rich and hardware intensive game.
Another game I was eager to play is Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. I played the first KOTOR on my 1.5 GHz PowerBook which had a better than required video card - and I found it slow and a bit jittery.
Both of these games play beautifully on the MacBook under Windows XP with fluid graphics and smooth play. True Crime: Streets of LA is another graphically intense game that the MacBook handles with ease.
Only the Mac (universal) version of Doom III has been a disappointment, and I'm thinking some of that might be due to the Aspyr port from the PC. I don't have the Windows version, but I would love to try it on the MacBook and think that performance would be better. The Mac version is playable, just jittery, so I have high hopes under Windows.
No Region-free DVD
The other area of concern was DVD movies. You might think I'm crazy worrying about DVD movies when moving from a 12" PowerBook to a 13" widescreen MacBook, but my worries were about region coding, not video quality. DVD movie quality on the MacBook is terrific, but Apple fitted it with the same Matsushita drive that is not flashable to region-free used in other ultra-thin computers. Standard laptop optical drives are 12.5mm in height, but the MacBook and MacBook Pro specify a 9.5mm optical drive. Certain IBM (now Lenovo) ThinkPads share this problem, but on the PC platform it's far easier to deal with region-locked drives than under Mac OS X.
Fortunately, those same utilities that I've used for years on my PCs to watch Region 3 movies without using up my four region changes work on the MacBook, so long as its booted into Windows natively (this won't work on Parallels ). I use a program from FengTao software called DVD Region Free + DVD CSS Free (quite a mouthful) that intercepts DVDs before the operating system can scan the region and reports it as Region 1.
There are other benefits, including the ability to skip trailers and the FBI warnings on some DVDs and an option to disable runtime applications like PCFriendly that are usually loaded with spyware. These other options don't always work, depending on the DVD itself, but I've never had a Region 3 movie fail to play or prompt me to change my drive's region.
Don't get me wrong, I'm no fan of Windows and would prefer to keep my MacBook in OS X as much as possible, but the fact is that there is no hardware solution to make it region-free as of today.
When Pioneer releases a slot-loading drive in 9.5mm form factor, that may change. The good news is that there is a lot of very good software for watching DVD movies in Windows, and since I usually watch movies on a laptop while flying, booting into Windows to watch a Region 3 title is only a minor inconvenience.
The Case for a MacBook
Another problem I've had that is not at all Apple's fault is that there just aren't very many cases out there for the MacBook yet. I had a very nice Waterfield sleeve case for my 12" PowerBook with a vertical orientation to fit in most backbacks, a cover flap, and a clip on pouch that I liked a great deal.
Obviously the MacBook is longer in vertical orientation than the 12" PowerBook, but in every other dimension it's almost identical. This means that I can still use my sleeve, though it looks a bit strange with the last inch-and-a-half of MacBook sticking up past the end of the case, but the flap still folds over neatly and secures it closed. SFBags will custom size its bags and already makes one sized for the MacBook.
I just bought a very nice Cole Haan messenger bag that is a near perfect fit for the MacBook as well, but it was rather pricey at $220. This is the closest I've found to a MacBook sized bag, though I think it would even fit a 15" MacBook Pro (tightly).
Availability of bags aside, the MacBook is the perfect travel machine with the exception of its weight.
Updates Around the Office
Other updates around the law office are minor.
We've fully transitioned to our new Web-based case management system, and the results are terrific.
With two outages and frequent sync failures over the last four months, iCal with .mac just wasn't doing it for our office calendar.
Other software is unchanged, though we are looking at adding an application for automatically checking citations in briefs and cases that are scanned in - unfortunately that application is Windows-only. Still, we have a Windows PC in the office for just such instances, and if the requirements of the application are modest enough, we can also do it under Virtual PC, which is installed on the G4 Mac mini or under real Windows on the MacBook, when it returns.
The 15" PowerBook is history. The 13" MacBook has almost the same screen resolution 1280 x 800 vs. 1280 x 854), is considerably smaller (though not much lighter), and the screen is much brighter. I switched between the two for some time and found that I just preferred using the MacBook. I'm not sure if it's the unobtrusive black display surround, the fast keyboard, or the rubber-like texture of the case, but I find the MacBook a more comfortable machine to use. The humongous touchpad with two-finger right click may also play a large part.
The ultralight ThinkPad is also gone, replaced by an even smaller (though slightly slower) one. I was very happy with the hardware design of the X32, but like the 12" PowerBook, it was just too large and heavy for its role. I traded it for a ThinkPad X41, a 2.7 lb. sliver of a machine that still packs a 12.1" XGA screen, the wonderful ThinkPad keyboard, and a little less than three hours on batteries.
It also has a large battery that boosts runtime to a hair over five hours (six if I use very aggressive power management) and a plate battery that clips to the bottom and adds another two hours. This one is considerably smaller than the 12" PowerBook, and in small battery form simply vanishes in any bag.
As an added bonus, there are quite a number of people installing OS X on regular PC hardware, and the closer a given PC is in specs to an Intel Mac, the easier the job of creating a "Hackintosh" of your very own. The ThinkPad X41 uses the same Intel GMA 900 graphics as the original Apple Intel developer machines, which makes configuring video much easier than on the X32, which uses a variety of ATI Radeon that has never been near an Intel Mac.
I'm thinking about replacing the stock Intel wireless card with an Atheros card, as those are the same chipsets used by Apple and show up on Hackintoshes as genuine AirPort Extreme.
The cheap PC laptops (see Using Low-Cost Laptops as 'Not So Thin' Clients in the Mac Office) are doing fine. I even used one of them as my primary computer for a day when the MacBook was at Apple and the X41 still coming in the mail. It was fast and easy to use, and it even has decent sound playing CDs in the background. Web performance was fast enough that I just went about my daily tasks barely noticing that I was working on a 5-year-old $300 laptop instead of the latest and greatest 2 GHz Dual Core MacBook.
The iMac G5 and G4 Mac mini also continue to delight, neither one having been shut down in well over a month.
So things are good in Mac office land, and hopefully I'll have some happy MacBook news on Thursday.
Andrew J Fishkin, Esq, is a laptop using attorney in Los Angeles, CA.
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