Showdown at the Laptop Corral

OK, time for an Audience Participation feature here at Just Well Mixed.

A number of factors — the most critical of which is that it looks like I am going to be doing a lot of traveling this fall — have me thinking that it might be time to break down and buy a laptop. I’ve been skeptical of the value one of these things could add to my life for quite some time, mostly because I have perfectly good PCs at work and at home and don’t really want to be bothered with computers anywhere else; but if I’m going to be spending lots of time on the road, having a decent system handy will become more of a priority. I could just let our IT department issue me a laptop before each trip, but the standard laptops they keep around for such requests are hulking Dell monstrosities with flaky batteries and no wireless support (!!!), which makes toting them around almost more trouble than they’re worth.

So — if I was going to buy a laptop today — here are the two I’d be looking most closely at:

1) Apple Powerbook G4 12″. Do I have to explain this one? Pluses: Apple’s nice industrial design, OS X, good display, lightweight, reasonably priced (under $1,900) if you opt for the CD/DVD-ROM instead of the DVD burner. Minuses: OS X means that I can’t bring over my substantial library of Windows software, 12″ Powerbook doesn’t have a wide-aspect display for optimal DVD playback (gotta go up to the 15″ for that), style points off because every geek has a goddamn Powerbook.

2) Sony VAIO TR3. The big draw here is portability — the TR3 weighs in at only 3.1 pounds, a full pound-and-a-half lighter than the already-svelte Powerbook. Packed in the tiny frame is a 1GHz processor and a nice 10.6″ XBRITE widescreen display. Pluses: light light light, widescreen display standard, runs Windows XP so I can keep my software, looks cool and isn’t in everybody’s bag (yet). Minuses: substantially pokier processor and video than the Powerbook, a little more expensive than the PB (nets out at about $2,100 most places), and it’s from Sony so you know it will come loaded with useless crap.

Executive summary: the Powerbook is a cheaper, more conservative choice (never thought I’d hear myself saying that); the TR3 is an uber-gadget that could either be insanely cool or completely impractical. Between them, it’s a tough call.

So, here’s where the audience participation comes in: what do you think of these two systems? Anyone out there using them with stories (good or bad) to share? Are there systems I should be looking at instead of these? The comment thread awaits your wisdom, people!


Oscar Merida

August 16, 2004
9:18 am

I’ve been recomminding Macs to most of my non-tech friends lately. I’d say go with the Powerbook, especially if the screen on the sony is 10.3 inches at least the powerbook has 12. When it comes to lcd screens, size matters.

Sandy Smith

August 16, 2004
9:23 am

Bear in mind that MS Office Professional now comes with Virtual PC, so you can use your Windows software–albeit with a pretty big performance hit. Nonetheless, I’ve used earlier versions, and it does work. Unfortunately, it does reveal just how much of a performance hog XP is.
However, most people that switch to Mac start using the native products pretty exclusively pretty fast.
Would you believe Chris Wolz was asking me about a Mac laptop? If Kurt does I’m going to stock up on goat’s blood for dark rituals to survive the apocalypse.
Also, there are rumors that the new G5 iMac will be a tablet, or very tablet-like.


August 16, 2004
1:13 pm

I have only one thing to say… I’ve had my 15″ PB for nearly a year now and I have no idea what I would do without it. From iPhoto to Mail (and it’s excellent integration with server side spam solutions like Spam Assassin) to iChat (not perfect, but still sweet) to iSight (yes, I have one) to my new mini iPod (b-day gift). Oh and the goodnesss that is the new improved Fink Commander and X11 which allows me to run *nix apps with my normal desktop still up and running.
How could you NOT switch?


August 16, 2004
4:34 pm

Another thing to think about screen size–how much of your time are you going to be watching DVDs and how much working? I would actually be worried about the 12 inch because it’s too small. I’d think about the 15″ very seriously, especially as you tend to have a bunch of apps open at once.


August 16, 2004
11:29 pm

As long as 1) you’re ok with the extra weight, 2) there are no work issues (you probably don’t want to be the only mac user in your office, but I doubt that’s the case), and 3)don’t mind the loss of your old software to much, then, I think you should go with the powerbook, and I don’t even like Macs that much. Better to go with the proven technology than a new toy if your work is involved. Anyway, take the money you save and buy an ipod…

Jim Cashel

August 17, 2004
1:23 pm

there is no way i would switch off of my pb 12″ . i feel such empathy for folks using anything else. don’t be swayed by the goldilocks tendency towards the 15″ — get the portable 12″ and plug into an “adjacent” monitor at work.