Review of a macbook notebook from a PC user perspective (Long post)

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by vistadude, Dec 15, 2010.

  1. vistadude macrumors 65816

    Jan 3, 2010
    Okay guys, here's a review of the macbook, the Mac OS experience, and the windows experience for my 12 month use of the unibody macbook coming from a PC perspective. Hopefully this will help curious buyers to see if a Mac will be useful to them compared to a PC.

    I've been using Windows for about 15 years now, starting mainly from windows 95. More recently, I had a desktop running Windows 7 and a laptop running windows XP media center edition. The laptop was a power user notebook with a 15 inch high res matte screen, about 1650 x 1050 pixels, and had been running for about 4 years. It was a fast laptop than came with 2 GB ram in 2006. The reason I was looking to get a new laptop was mainly because the graphics in powerpoint when connected to a project would often fail. Often times the projector display was missing pixels, or had lines or dots all over, or the aspect ratio was wrong. Of course this is very embarrassing when you give conference talks, and if you restart your computer, you will have to skip half of your presentation. No one could give me a solution to the problem other than to try a different graphics card, which is impossible in a notebook, or update drivers, which didn't help. Secondly, my notebook was loud and quite thick, almost 2 inches thick, which made it hard to carry around on travel. On the plus side, the screen was extremely clear and easy to read, the processing power was fast, the keyboard was very easy to type on, and the laptop had many useful ports, such as 4 USB ports, firewire, and all the essentials. This made it a workhorse machine, not unlike a desktop.

    The Choices:
    The main specs and features I wanted was something 1) that could run powerpoint without graphic glitches, 2) something relatively fast, and 3) a small and quiet footprint. I had never owned an apple computer before, and whenever I used one, I disliked the experience in Mac OS (As a side note, I did have an original iphone that I bought secondhand, which I did like the experience). I also wanted something that could run windows well, since I had a lot of software which was way more expensive than the laptop, so it had to run windows and legacy software. As I talked with friends and colleagues, it was clear that Macs could run powerpoint presentations quite well without the graphic glitches, and with no solid explanation why those glitches occured in the first place, I felt it would be better to go with something that works rather than take chances. As I looked at the macbook notebooks, I liked how they were all quite thin, about 1 inch, and were pretty fast. There were no other notebooks at the time that were 1 inch thin and had good specs (core 2 duo, fast ram, good graphics). I didn't even consider price so much, as the macbook unibody costed $1000. In hindsight, I didn't realize PC laptop prices dropped considerably, mainly because I couldn't find one that was thin and powerful. I didn't want to go with the superthin laptops like the Air and similar PC counterparts because I felt they were slow and were missing key features like enough ports and a dvd drive. The main downsides of the macbooks, in my opinion, was that I didn't like the huge trackpad, which pushed the keyboard far back, and that require too many fingers to do simple tasks. On most PC laptops, you only need one finger to scroll, and you can rest your wrist on the laptop surface, and your thumb on the buttons. This makes it much easier to use and more ergonomic. Secondly, there was no version of Outlook that ran on Macs, which I had relied on for work, as well as many other commerical software packages, which I wasn't willing to upgrade or purchase a Mac version.

    I waited about 3-5 months to see if anything new would pop out and nothing really caught my attention. There were actually a couple good HP laptops that came out, but they had the trackpad way off center to the left, and it just wouldn't be easy to use that way. I also didn't like the HP software installed on those notebooks, and was too lazy to do a clean installs of windows. Between the macbook white unibody and macbook pro, I liked the unibody better because the color just looked better to me, and rubberized bottom of the plastic unibody doesn't heat up like aluminum bottom does. I also liked that the power cable matched in color better to the plastic unibody than the aluminum. At the time, the specs on the plastic unibody were actually better then the aluminum version, I think it was the hard drive and/or processor that was ever so slightly better. Around the same time, Microsoft announced that they would bring Outlook to the Mac in the next version, which I was thrilled about. I found a good price on the unibody for $900 on sale, so I decided to buy it.

    Initial thoughts:
    First, the unibody looked great. It was also pretty fast under Mac OS and got good battery life, maybe 5-6 hours when running basic tasks like web browsing. It was extremely quiet and ran powerpoint 2008 well, so I was pleased. I didn't like the trackpad at all, mainly because mouse acceleration cannot be disabled in Mac OS Snow Leopard and the trackpad is loud. Unlike my previous laptop, I found that mac users often press down the trackpad to click rather than touch it to click, because a small tap doesn't register a response reliably. This wouldn't be a big deal to me because as a work computer, I usually use an external mouse. I also didn't like the keyboard, because it was too flat. I know most people disagreed with me on this, so it's probably my specific tastes that were different from most.

    Most of the major internet use software has mac versions, so it was easy to use Mac OS for browsing the web and chatting. I also found iWeb to be a great, easy-to-use program for building basic websites. I thoroughly disliked iPhoto since it doesn't really let you rename files and it seems to hide your photos altogether. It didn't really matter since I had a really good Windows photo software that I had grown accustomed to using. The Mac is pretty nice because it doesn't come with too much bloatware. I found Garageband and iTunes to be the exception, but they are easy to uninstall.

    There is one very cool thing about the Mac OS which I havn't seen in any version of windows. On the Mac, when you copy large amounts of data to an external hard disk, the rate of transfer is faster than in windows, and doesn't slow down. For example, if you transfer 50 GB of data, the mac will give you an estimate for about 20 minutes to complete the transfer, and it will actually finish in 20 minutes. On the windows side, such a large transfer would probably take about twice as long, and the estimated time would change wildly. This is true for windows XP. I later was pleased that Windows 7 estimates the time much more accurately, although it still takes longer to transfer large amounts of files compared to the Mac OS side. This means that backups are very fast and easy through Mac OS. You also don't get those weird windows error messages that says file in use. I havn't used Time Machine yet, since the file transfer method is very fast.

    The Windows Experience:
    Since this would be mostly a work computer, it had to run windows well. I found Bootcamp easy to install windows XP, except for the fact that there's no native way to make a third partition to share data betwen the windows and mac side. However, I found some tips on the internet how to do this, and it was easy to setup once windows XP was installed. I also like how you're able to install all the drivers with a single cd and without needing to restart the computer for each driver. I can't remember if you even need to restart at all. There is one major disadvantage to the driver install process as apple doesn't post its windows drivers on their website, so you end up having to buy an OS X disc if you want newer drivers, or to get a new bootcamp version. Almost all pc vendors put their drivers online for free. Apple should learn how to do this.

    On to the experience once windows is installed. First and foremost, the trackpad is practically unusable in windows, and there are tons of pages on the internet verifying this. Apple has never made good trackpad drivers for the windows side, and leads me to believe they intentionally cripple the drivers to make Mac users think windows is bad. The trackpad is just way to sensitive, and unlike the Mac side, resting a second finger on the trackpad will make it unintentionally right click all the time. Secondly, the two finger scrolling is too fast or too slow in applications. Basically, you pretty much have to use an external mouse in windows, which really hurts portability. Finally, the keyboard is missing important keys such as delete, page up/down, and print screen.

    There's also an annoying glitch which don't occur on PC's. For PC users, every time you insert a USB thumb drive or hard disk, you are given a small eject icon in the taskbar, which makes it easy to eject a drive and be safe about pulling it out when it's finished writing. On a mac running windows, you usually don't see this icon for some strange reason, so you never know when the drive is finished reading or writing. This is true on the macbook unibody on windows xp, vista, and windows 7.

    As for my windows software, all of it installed fine under XP, including Outlook which I relied heavily on. I was surprised that the Mac didn't run any faster with windows then my 4 year old laptop did, given that the latter had an ancient Pentium M chip. The RAM was the same at 2 GB and the OS's were technically different, media center edition on the PC, and XP Pro on the mac, but still I felt the Mac should be faster. Nonetheless, the speed was decent, and with the new version of Office 2007, I was very happy with the laptop overall. It took awhile to get used to the smaller 13 inch display, especially because it has limited pixels compared to my older 15 inch machine, but given the portability of the macbook, I would still take it over a bigger display today. I should note that if you run more than 10 programs at a time, you should definitely get a 15 inch screen or larger so you can double the size of the windows taskbar without sacrificing to much of the workspace. I also liked that I could use powerpoint 2007 on the windows side to make my presentations, and then hop over to powerpoint 2008 on the mac side to deliver the presentations (except for the $30 adaptor you must buy, seriously, why won't Apple put a VGA port on their notebooks given that's what projectors use). Although there weren't major, graphical glitches, sometimes the resolution did change when I connected my macbook to a projector, even though I disabled mirroring. Worse, the display icon which you can add to the top of the Mac OS taskbar-thingy disappears if your resolution changes, which makes it very hard to actually select the correct resolution. However, these are minor compared to the issues I had with my previous laptop, so I was really happy that the macbook achieved all the major obstacles I had with my PC notebook.

    After about 6 months, I installed windows 7 over XP, and the experience was even better. The Nvidia integrated graphics handles windows 7 fairly well, and runs quiet. Because I don't game on my laptop, I didn't care for a dedicated graphics chip. And because I use my laptop at work, I didn't mind that the battery life was only about 3 hours because I always had my power adaptor plugged in. At the same time, I upgraded the mac version of office to the 2011 edition, which had outlook and the ribbon. With office 2008, I would never even compose word or powerpoint documents. I would only use powerpoint to display presentations. With office 2011, I began to use the Mac OS side at least once a week at work, with outlook 2011 running all the time and began to compose documents and spreadsheets.

    Final thoughts:
    As a consumer laptop, the macbook unibody is a great laptop. For people who like Mac OS X, they will like the experience, the speed, the ease of use, and the great battery life. For people who rely on windows and need to run it on a mac, it is more of a toss up. Yes, software will run natively and will run quick enough, but the trackpad may be enough of an annoyance to get a PC. Running both OS's on one machine gives you the ability to run more software, and the ability to switch OS's without too much of a fuss. I would score the macbook unibody as an 8 out of 10. It's simply one of the most powerful and slim laptops on the market, and the price is reasonable. It works well for travelers given the battery life is good, and it works well with presentations However, there are some things that can be improved. If the macbook could have an additional usb port and VGA port, a better trackpad with a button and good drivers, it would earn a 9. Secondly, the macbook scratches on the outside and inside no matter what kind of case you use. The inside scratches are particularly annoying, because they're caused by the rubber lip on the display. The fact that it scratches from rubber shows that the plastic Apple used is not strong. I've never seen or owned a PC laptop that gets scratched from its own rubber. Build quality needs to be improved. The battery is not user replaceable, and Apple charges too much for a new battery. That being said, there is not a single PC laptop that would score a 7 or 8 for my needs.
  2. jmpnop macrumors 6502a


    Aug 8, 2010
    Regarding VGA, Apple will not provide it. They purposefully do it and want you to buy a cable for that. Don't know the exact reason why Apple doesn't allow users to change the battery but they do charge alot to change it since you don't have choice. Even then its better than most of the cheap 400$ PC notebooks...
  3. Consultant macrumors G5


    Jun 27, 2007
    Good to hear you like a Mac overall better than a PC.

    "backups are very fast and easy through Mac OS" (than windows)
    Good to hear.

    "you end up having to buy an OS X disc if you want newer drivers"
    NOPE. The drivers comes with the Mac on the restore disk. Updates free from Apple, without need to hunt down individual drivers.

    "macbook scratches on the outside and inside no matter what kind of case you use"
    NOPE. Most people don't scratch their Mac. What plastic?

    Larger battery and better technology means you don't need to change battery, just like the iPod:
  4. r0k macrumors 68040


    Mar 3, 2008
    Nice review, Vistadude. One thing you might consider is virtualization. Parallels, Vmware Fusion or Virtualbox can allow you to keep OS X as your primary OS and you can run XP or 7 in a box when you need it. I'm not sure, but you might even be able to run the OS you have set up in boot camp under virtualization.
  5. rien333 macrumors regular

    Jun 29, 2010
    The Netherlands
    Pretty nice review, but what do you mean with "good drivers" in the end? I never had to install a driver on a mac since I started using them 4 years ago. (I was 10 back then)
  6. r0k macrumors 68040


    Mar 3, 2008
    I think he means windows drivers for boot camp. I'm pretty sure they come on the OS X dvd with the machine.
  7. Mr_Brightside_@ macrumors 68030


    Sep 23, 2005
    Laughed so hard at these
  8. vistadude thread starter macrumors 65816

    Jan 3, 2010
    I thought about running virtualization, but I realized there were too many unsolved issues and I still havn't upgraded my ram over the stock 2 GB.

    1) Mainly, I already virtualize XP within windows 7 for two software programs, one is too expensive to upgrade, and the other doesn't have a windows 7 compatible version.

    2) I think virtualization makes sense when you virtualize the OS you're using less frequently, in this case, it would be great to virtualize Mac OS X within windows, gaining both the familiarity of windows and the software extension of Mac. Unfortunately, this is not possible yet.

    3) I still couldn't find a way that both windows and Mac could the same data partition simultaneously without corrupting files. Maybe this has changed since 2009.

  9. notjustjay macrumors 603


    Sep 19, 2003
    Canada, eh?
    Nice post.

    Regarding your comment about iPhoto (I agree with you, by the way), you need to realize that Apple's philosophy is a little different when it comes to managing your media. The iApps (iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie) are designed to abstract away the business of filenames and paths, and let you focus only on the content. Instead of renaming photo filenames, Apple wants you to tag the images with metadata stored within iPhoto's database. The only reason you'd want to rename your photos is for later organization, access and retrieval, but Apple wants you to organize through iPhoto events and access and retrieve them the same way, through iPhoto or through the media browser that iPhoto provides to other apps.

    Personally I'm a "let me rename and organize my own folders" guy, myself, so I choose not to use iPhoto to manage my pictures. But it's not a flaw in the program so much as it is a totally different design philosophy.

    With respect to connecting to projectors, one thing I have noticed over the years is that I have far, far fewer issues connecting Macs to projectors than I do with various PC laptops. With PCs I always seem to be struggling to get it into the right video mode, toggling FN-F7, going through the Display Properties control panel in XP... With the Mac, whenever I plug in the projector, the screen fades to blue, the Mac figures it all out, the screen fades back, and for the most part, it gets it right. If it doesn't, I just pop into Display Preferences and set it how I like (projector resolution, mirroring) and the Mac remembers those settings for every future time it gets plugged into that projector/monitor.
  10. Kenndac macrumors 6502


    Jun 28, 2003
    The cost of a replacement battery and fitting at an Apple Store for the newer Macbooks is exactly the same as a battery on its own for the older Macbooks.
  11. gorjan macrumors 6502

    May 16, 2009
    Yes, as far as I know, you only pay for a new battery, the install is free/included.

    Maybe what the OP means is that it's harder to use 3rd party batteries.
  12. wordoflife macrumors 604


    Jul 6, 2009
    The trackpad is a major thing I love about my computer compared to my old PC laptop. I can't use that anymore (or even my school assigned 2007 MacBook!) because i'm not used to it anymore. The glass is very nice and smooth and I think it works perfectly well. That my opinion though.
  13. jzuena macrumors 6502a


    Feb 21, 2007
    Lexington, MA, USA
    But, you could have two different VMs, one for XP and one for 7. At work I have an XP, 7, and Ubuntu VM, and can start whichever one I need for a given task. You are right about needing more memory, though. I wouldn't run XP with less than 1GB memory, or 7 with less than 2.

    Even if you are using Windows apps more, it shouldn't matter which OS is the host and which is the VM. Having a Unix-based OS as host might even be better for memory management. Using spaces, you can have one screen for OSX and a second screen for Windows, so whichever screen you are on will feel like it is the native OS.

  14. shyam09 macrumors 68020


    Oct 31, 2010
    also im sure you can share files between VM's as well as the increased security factor..
  15. newb16 macrumors regular

    Feb 27, 2008
    It may require additional license for XP, whilst XP VM ("XP mode") is licensed with Windows 7 Prof and higher. (Unless you already have one or are happy with unlicensed one)
  16. Dalton63841 macrumors 65816


    Nov 27, 2010
    Actually most VM's now support Mac as a guest OS.
  17. snberk103 macrumors 603

    Oct 22, 2007
    An Island in the Salish Sea
    Agreed, that they won't add a VGA port. I don't think it's just so that they can sell a cable. It's because the vast majority of people don't need the VGA connection, so Apple doesn't need to charge for that bit. Only those people who end up needing the VGA need to pay anything. Plus, for Apple.... less is more. The fewer ports the better.
    By eliminating the eternal case of the batter, plus the door, the latching, the internal bay walls, etc Apple can put a considerably bigger battery in there. Plus it can be oddly shaped since it doesn't need to be rectangular. IIRC, the first non-user changeable batteries added something like 30% more to the time, plus the laptop was smaller.

    So, both a pro and a con.
  18. smartalic34 macrumors 6502a


    May 16, 2006
    Also, VGA has been end-of-lifed... 2015 is the kill date.
  19. vistadude thread starter macrumors 65816

    Jan 3, 2010
    But they didn't put a bigger battery in there, it's similar to any other pc laptop battery. And the fact that you can change the hard disk or add more memory, but can't change the battery without voiding the warranty, which is just as easy to install, is bizarre.

  20. smartalic34 macrumors 6502a


    May 16, 2006
    That's the thing though - Apple was able to make the battery bigger because there is no casing for the battery taking up room. The old white/black MacBook used a 55 watt-hour battery, and the aluminum MacBook with changeable battery used a 45 watt-hour battery, while the new unibody plastic MacBook has a 63.5 watt-hour battery.

    I doubt there are many (although there may be a few) 13" notebooks with the speed (both CPU and GPU) and battery life combination of the MacBook.

    I don't, however, understand why the battery isn't considered "user-replaceable."

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