Guest Editorial: Apple “MehBooks” and the Future of Macs

by Reads (17,064)

by Perry Longinotti

It’s taken me a few days to shake off the disappointment and post about how bad these new Apple notebooks are. In particular I feel an obligation to point out the poor value compared to their predecessors.

Maybe it was the talk of lower margins in Q3 (you remember, during Apple’s August investor conference call) that had me primed for a value-priced Mac portable. Clearly neither of these two new notebooks is going to deliver Macs to the masses. Even worse, the remaining last-gen units on the Apple store are barely marketed down and this is more than a little insulting.

MacBook

The new form factor is great – it’s like a metal HP DV5. Metal always trumps plastic in durability. But more importantly aluminum is a good conductor of heat. Apple’s notebooks of the past eight years are extremely poor at handling heat. I base this on ownership of about five different aluminum and six plastic Apple notebooks since 2000. My lap can attest to the heat they generate – 55 degrees Celsius to 60 degrees Celsius is not uncommon.

A chipset update for the MacBook was overdue as Intel’s crusty old X3100 was no fun at all. Nvidia’s new solution seems to offer all the benefits of Intel’s new Montevina platform along with a better GPU. Better is the fact that all the chipset’s functionality is delivered in a single chip (versus the Intel alternative’s North and South bridges). This enables Apple to create a smaller mainboard and the benefit of this is a smaller form factor or more room for heat dissipating materials. In terms of performance, from what I have read this 9400m IGP is at least twice as powerful as Intel’s GMA 4500MHD often more-so. But in many games we are talking about the difference between not at all playable (4500MHD) versus barely playable (9400m).

If it seem like I am being harsh just remember that notebooks with very capable GPU’s like the 9600m and 9800m can be has for less than the MacBook. Despite the misleading and vague claims on Apple’s site this is by no means a gaming powerhouse. You are looking at a best case scenario 3DMark06 score of 2500 points. That is about half what is needed to make today’s games playable at decent settings. If games are important to you then why would you pay $1,300.00 to run games at 30 fps using SVGA resolution and low detail settings? Casual titles like Spore will run nicely.

It seems the T7350 2.0 GHz CPU is being used on the base model and this is a Penryn core with 1066 FSB – in other words the latest and greatest mid-range mobile CPU. This is pretty good, but not worth paying a premium when cheaper processors work just as well. Many better equipped notebooks in this same price range have the faster P8400 chip.

No Blu-Ray is a shame, but without HDMI or a 1080P screen how much do you really need it? Dell offers lots of Blu-Ray equipped models such as the Inspiron 1525 for much less money than the MacBook.

So far this spec sheet is a long list of “meh.” The true outrage is the skimpy RAM and storage.

Equipping a premium notebook with 2 GB of RAM is unforgivable in 2008. Even the budget notebooks in the $599 price range have 4 GB of DDR2 these days. And Gateway provides 4 GB of DDR3 in a much more powerful gaming notebook that routinely sells for less than the base MacBook.

Likewise, the tiny 160 GB HDD is pathetic at this price point. Sure, a 320 GB HDD can be bought for less than $100 these days but why should you have to do this? A $1,300 notebook should have a 320 GB HDD standard.

The MacBook costs twice as much as a Windows notebook pitched at the same home user/student market. What do I mean when I say Windows notebook? I am thinking of notebooks from HP, Dell, Acer, Gateway, and Toshiba with 14″ screens, T5750 CPU at 2 GHz, 4 GB RAM and 320 GB HDD that can easily be had for $600-650 on any given weekend.

Sure, the average consumer Windows machine is not as solid – the chassis materials are just plastic. But it has twice the RAM and twice the HDD. To most users, even Apple lovers like me, the extra RAM and HDD are more important than a slightly faster CPU and new chipset platform. Take a look at the MacBook versus a Dell Inspiron 13 (keeping in mind that even cheaper deals are out there).

MacBook Dell Inspiron 13
Price $1,299 $599
CPU 2GHz 2GHz
RAM 2GB 2GB
Video Nvidia 9400M Intel X3100
Screen 13″ 13″
HDD 160GB 160GB
Optical DVDR-DL DVDR-DL

 

You folks are smart. You know the Mac has higher FSB, more level two cache, faster (although still weak) IGP and an LED backlight. But how important are those things to you? Are they worth $700? Not to most conusmers.

In these times a product with same or more functionality that also allows me to keep $700 in the bank is probably going to win 9 out of 10 times. But Apple is happy (and profitable) with its 5-10% share so who am I to judge?

MacBook Pro

Is hybrid SLI (now confirmed to be absent) supposed to blind me to the fact that similarly spec’ed machines can be had from all of Apple’s rivals for half the price? Has no one noticed that except for the 9600M GT GPU the specification of this Pro machine is pretty darn close to the Macbook?

You get to pay a $1,000 premium for Apple’s Pro machine. The same meager 2GB of RAM is present but at least you get a slightly more serviceable 250 GB HDD. But seriously, paying $2,000 and getting less storage than many budget notebooks is pretty funny – unless you actually bought the MacBook Pro.

MacBook Pro HP HDX16t
Price $1,999 $1,175
CPU 2.4GHz 2.4GHz
RAM 2GB 3GB
Video Nvidia 9600M Nvidia 9600M
Screen 15″ 16″
HDD 250GB 250GB
Optical DVDR-DL Blu-Ray

HP’s HDX 16 looks very similar to the MBP for about $850 less. You get full a Centrino 2 package a nice Nvidia 9600m just like the MacBook Pro and more ports – including HDMI which is going to come in handy with the HP’s included Blu-Ray drive. And how funny is it to see Firewire on an HP but not a Mac? Hey everyone, throw your high-end scanners, video cameras and storage devices away – Steve says we don’t need them anymore.

ASUS also has some comparable models for about $800 less than Apple’s Pro notebook. But really, it takes zero effort and talent to find suitable MBP substitutes for much less money (how is that for modesty).

A Bunch Of Useless Opinion … Or The Hard Truth?

I don’t need to test the new Apple MacBook or MacBook Pro to know that these are poor values for average consumers. And if the value is not there, who the heck cares about anything else? Lots of other people will review them and many people will believe that a pretty aluminum shell is worth paying a large premium.

When the price differential was 20-30% you could make a case for Apple’s build quality, OS, and application suite justifying a price premium. That still wouldn’t be enough for many consumers, but the eventual realization of this fact might be painful for normal people who buy these new notebooks.

Apple quality can clearly be called into question, as any of their last five notebook introductions demonstrate. Vertical stripes, faulty power bricks, faulty batteries, faulty video chips, bad RAM sockets, strange sounds, discolored plastic, pitted aluminum, splotchy backlights and surface temperatures that are downright dangerous are just some of the issues with previous Macs. In most cases only after legal proceedings did Apple admit to the flaws and offer to repair them.

Apple’s OS X is a masterpiece that just keeps getting better. However, if Apple isn’t going to sell their operating system as a stand-alone for installation on generic PCs then they should at least put together a basic MacBook using cheaper components at a killer price. There is nothing wrong with DDR2. An Intel Core 2 Duo T5xx0 CPU is just fine. Folks can tolerate plastic construction (Apple knows this) and a bit more weight is OK.

Like OS X, iLife is wonderful. But with the discounts on Windows machines versus Apple’s notebooks you can easily buy Adobe’s comparable consumer Photo/Video suite. Heck, you could also add the standard version of Office 2007 ($99 bundle special at most retailers) and still have $400 left over.

Has Apple lost touch with the consumer? I think so. Reckless spending and endless credit got us in to this economic mess but the nasty correction seems to have sobered people up.

Maybe overpriced notebooks like these would have been all the rage a year ago, but Apple probably missed their market by about six months worth of an economic downturn. My advice to the Apple faithful: Hit the Apple online outlet for the real deals.

LEAVE A COMMENT

0 Comments

|
All content posted on TechnologyGuide is granted to TechnologyGuide with electronic publishing rights in perpetuity, as all content posted on this site becomes a part of the community.