Desktop or Laptop?

I recently went through the desktop vs. laptop decision process, a process which I explained yesterday to a friend of mine who is considering purchasing a new machine. John Gruber outlined his throughts on the topic quite nicely in a post I linked to in my Around the web post yesterday. John often does a nice job taking an article and responding to specific points, so I thought it would be fun to respond in “Daring Fireball” style to his post.

I have, for several years, subscribed to the theory that those who are mostly desk-bound should buy the cheapest laptop they can get by with and the most expensive desktop system they can afford. … As of two weeks ago, I officially unsubscribed from this theory … New theory: get the best PowerBook you can and live off it.

This is basically the switch I made back in 2000, all but abandoning my desktop in favor of a 15″ TiBook. I’ve now swung full circle the other way – relegating my PowerBook to mobile use while I do my main work on a desktop.

Synching data between two Macs sucks.

Synching data between any group of computers sucks as far as I can tell. But while having everything on a portable is one solution, switching to solutions that aren’t desktop bound is another – and one that is working better for me.

Top-of-the-line PowerBooks are now in the $2000 range, not the $3000 range. The argument that you could get a new iBook and an iMac for the same price as one PowerBook no longer holds.

Of course, the performance of said PowerBooks are now 25-33% of the top of the line desktop machines, where it used to be in the 66-75% range.

Given, this was in the appearence part of the article:

In terms of sheer processing performance, the PowerBook has clearly fallen behind. The aluminum 15-inch PowerBook G4 was introduced two years ago with a top speed of 1.25 GHz; it’s now two years later and the top speed has increased a measly 33 percent. But in terms of visual appear, the brushed metal PowerBook is still is the best in the industry, and looks just as good today as when the first Titanium PowerBook shipped back in 2001.

But, while I’m as much a sucker for a pretty machine as anyone, there does become a point where I just need the darn thing to perform.

The improved displays are also the single biggest difference between these new PowerBooks and the previous models they replaced: the 15-inch PowerBook now offers 1440×960 resolution, up from 1280×854; the 17-inch offers 1680×1050, up from 1440×900.

Resolution and performance were the main reasons I upgraded from the 15″ TiBook to the 17″ AiBook. What I immediately found with the 17″ was that my posture improved and my eye strain was reduced when I was using the machine as a laptop. The pixels were just too small on the 15″, and I’m afraid they’re right back in the same range now with the “upgraded” PowerBook displays.

I know a lot of people that will take resolution over anything – but I’ve found that I’m most comfortable over the course of the day if I can sit back a little from the display and still read everything comfortably.

And speaking of Wintel laptop displays, what is deal with the growing trend of laptop displays being treated with some sort of super-high-gloss finish?

I think Sony did this first with their XBrite screens, but my Dell 700m has the same type of screen and I love it. Photos look absolutely fabulous – like they are framed under glass. Reflections are a real b*tch on it though.

I took the $200 build-to-order option to upgrade from the stock 80 GB 5400 RPM hard drive to a 100 GB 7200 RPM drive.

This was a really good call – I know upgrading from a 4500rpm drive to a 7200 rpm drive can result in a major performance boost.

The elephant in the room, of course, is next year’s pending switch to Intel processors. Does it make sense to buy a new PowerPC-based PowerBook now — or any other Mac, for that matter — when new and potentially significantly faster hardware will be available next year?

I think the big question here is “will the Intel PowerBooks be significantly faster?”. My Dell 700m (2.0ghz Dothan processor – RAM and HD speed are the same) and should be much faster than my 17″ PowerBook but the PowerBook feels faster to me.

The bottom line is that John’s decision criteria is perfectly fine. Everyone’s computing needs are different, and it doesn’t appear that performance is high on his list at the moment. The ongoing problem is that as desktop hardware gets faster, software developers are assuming their software will be run on faster hardware. Look at Aperture as an example – reports are that it barely runs on the top of the line PowerBooks.

In other words, the current batch of laptops will be obsolete long before the current desktops will.