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Mulling WinXP Laptop compared to Mac Laptop


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#1 of 7 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted August 06 2009 - 02:12 PM

I got a new work computer two weeks ago: I chose a laptop this time instead of an engineering desktop as I attempt to steer my career in a slightly different tack.

This is my first Win/PC laptop ever -- I've used them of course but never in a prolonged manner. I've had a MacBook Pro since 2007. And while getting a Mac for work is simply not an option, it's an interesting question: what would I rather have professionally, a Mac or PC laptop?

The two machines are broadly similar. My MBP is a 15" with a 2.2 GHz Intel C2D and 2 GB RAM running 10.5. The PC is a 14" Dell Latitude with 2.4 GHz C2D and 4 GB RAM running XP Pro. (The Dell uses a PC Card for WiFi because of  corporate reqts).

As a pure laptop, the MBP is clearly superior. From an aesthetic view, shallow as it may be, the MBP looks better. The solid aluminum casing of the Mac is more attractive than the plastic of the Dell. The Dell has stickers. Windows Vist and Intel C2D stickers. (Seriously, Why do I have bumper stickers on my new PC?) The Mac: austere and clean surfaces.

Small physical design features stand out. Push the open-button and the Mac lip springs up a bit so it is easily opened, even one-handed. The Dell has no Spring. It's an ever-awkward two-handed affair getting this thing open.

And the trackpad! I understand why PC laptop owners carry travel mice. This laptop's trackpad is miniscule; it must be 40% the size of my Macbook's! It feels cramped; I'm always running out of finger travel room. My MBP's -- not even current gen with integrated button -- is an endless plain in comparison. The Dell has the scroll regions on the right and bottom to provide easier scrolling. But they're a bit just-so in getting my finger in the right place; the Mac's two-finger scroll is always easier. The PC has a nice feature where you start a scroll and then keep tracing loops and the scroll continues, allowing long page scrolls without running out of trackpad space. But it's finicky and sometimes randomly reverses direction: CW is scroll down, except for sometimes when if flips and CW is scroll up. A nice concept, something Apple should learn from; except that feature than works inconsistently is about worse than no feature at all.

So, as I'm here in the airport, I wish I could have a corporate Mac. It's a better traveling machine, full stop.

But then I get back to the office and I'm faced with a simple reality...

Docking Station.

Let me repeat that: "Docking Station"

The Dell docking station is amazing. Plunk my laptop onto the smallish docking station and now I've got a full desktop system with dual 20" LCDs, preferred keyboard, mouse, complement of USB ports and a Drobo.

And when I want to leave the desk, I push the big eject button on the dock and the computer pops up and I walk off with it.

There is, to my knowledge, absolutely nothing in the Mac world that approaches this. Mac's simply aren't designed for this. The Dell has a special wired hole on the underside specially designed for mating to its dock.

The Mac: plug in the power, the USB hub, the monitor, the extra USB cable. Wait for everything to go "pop" through USB. Undock: disconnect the multitude of cables, open the lip and wait for it to figure out I've changed screens, and go.

For the Office, for my work situation which is 95% desk and 5% office WiFi, the Dell laptop and dock is genius.

Unless I were to leave my current employer and go work for NASA Goddard (or go freelance), I'll not know what it's like to use a Mac professionally. I can only speculate for now. But I have to say that when it gets down to nuts and bolts, a Dell laptop is very compelling to me, despite its weaknesses.


#2 of 7 OFFLINE   Ken Chan

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Posted August 06 2009 - 10:31 PM

Apple's solution is the 3-in-1 cable for the LED Cinema display (your USB stuff stays connected to the monitor) and/or Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. It's not a single connector like the docking station, but Apple gave up on them a long time ago.

#3 of 7 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted August 07 2009 - 05:35 AM

Which is no different than what I have now: power, video, and USB hub. Ah, well, it eliminates the need for a speaker plug-in as that's part of the video cable.


#4 of 7 OFFLINE   Thomas Newton

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Posted August 11 2009 - 06:26 PM



Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveF View Post

But then I get back to the office and I'm faced with a simple reality...

Docking Station.

Let me repeat that: "Docking Station"

The Dell docking station is amazing. Plunk my laptop onto the smallish docking station and now I've got a full desktop system with dual 20" LCDs, preferred keyboard, mouse, complement of USB ports and a Drobo.

And when I want to leave the desk, I push the big eject button on the dock and the computer pops up and I walk off with it.

There is, to my knowledge, absolutely nothing in the Mac world that approaches this. Mac's simply aren't designed for this. The Dell has a special wired hole on the underside specially designed for mating to its dock.
 
There's something in the Mac world that easily matches the Dell dock.  Unfortunately, it is a design that Apple stopped offering many years ago.

Back in the Motorola 68K days (and possibly continuing into the early PowerPC days), Apple had laptops called "PowerBook Duos" (the PowerBook line predated PowerPCs) and docks called Duo Docks.

To dock a PowerBook Duo, you closed the lid, and slid it into the Duo Dock like a VHS cassette.  The early docks had motorized inject and eject and would literally grab Duos, just like a VHS deck grabbed VHS cassettes.  Later docks might have been cheaper (in construction -- i.e., relying on manual inject), but kept the "notebook as cassette" idea.

There was nothing else like it at the time.  Unfortunately, the PowerBook Duo laptops were on the pricey side (not surprising for that time, given their size).  The Docks were also pricey: something like $999 for a box that really didn't have all that much inside if compared to a low-end desktop Mac or PC.  So the Duos faded away.


#5 of 7 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted August 12 2009 - 03:18 AM

I can understand Apple eschewing the dock for their current laptops. Especially with their integrated battery design. And honestly I never cared about docks until this month. And at home I doubt I'd pay the premium for a dock.

But in a professional context, using a laptop at work for the first time: I'm impressed. The concept, usability and approach feels "Apple-like" to me.

So the uber-dock you describe is intriguing. In the abstract, I can wish for such a thing. I wonder what the tradeoffs are in getting such a dock versus other hardware features.


#6 of 7 OFFLINE   Thomas Newton

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Posted August 12 2009 - 02:49 PM

There's the approach Apple seems to be starting to take with the Air.  Force docking to be wireless, by taking away wired ports.  The Air doesn't have FireWire or Ethernet.

Where this breaks down is that the Air still has USB, display, and power connectors.

If you could accept a loss of performance, you could replace USB with a dock that "routed" low-speed USB peripheral traffic (keyboard, mouse) over BlueTooth, and that served USB hard disks over WiFi / 802.11n.  (I guess you could serve printers and scanners the same way.)

The power and display connectors would be a lot harder to remove.


#7 of 7 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted August 13 2009 - 01:09 AM

I wanted to go Bluetooth at home, with your idea in mind, but bluetooth keyboard and mice have limited choices. There's much more choice with USB-dongled wireless mice. And keyboards don't benefit from being wireless, so I was content in being wired there.

My printer is on the AEBS, but that doesn't support scanning and memory cards, so I have to plug in locally for that.

Apple reneged on the AEBS supporting Time Machine so I require USB connected hard drives for Time Machine and SuperDuper!.

And iPods don't do wireless synch :)

I like the idea of a wireless office setup, but neither Apple (nor other vendors) don't practically support it.