Customer Review

25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review from an MCSA., February 15, 2010
This review is from: Apple MacBook ProMB991LL/A 13.3 Inch Laptop (Personal Computers)
Length:: 4:17 Mins

For the quick and dirty, watch the video, and/or skip to the bottom.

For the record, I am a Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator and a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist. I've used PCs since before what we know of as "Windows". I have used multiple operating systems and servers from Microsoft over the years, and I am a TechNet subscriber. I also work in an IT/Desktop Support role at my place of business, which is 100% Microsoft. I have four PCs - my work Dell, my Gateway P-7805u FX Edition (lovingly referred to in this review as "Big Poppa"), my Gateway netbook from Verizon Wireless, and an Acer AspireRevo that is basically a media server. I have built PCs, troubleshot PCs, installed, configured, and reconfigured PCs, and work with virtual machines all day long.

But something was missing. As much as I love every machine I own, something was missing. I'm not new to Apple - my first personal computer was an Apple IIc, where I wrote my first Hello World program in BASIC. At school I used Apple IIe computers where the Games folder was restricted by the teachers. My mother then bought a Mac Performa from the MacMall that used to be in San Diego in the late 80's/early 90's for 2000 bucks, which was my first color computer. When I started working at 18, my exposure to Macs dwindled as I saw companies were always using PCs. It was a shock moving to Windows, but I started to see how intuitive the Windows environment really was. There was a lot of functionality and detail that allowed me to control my environment like Mac never would allow me to do. In the back of my mind I wanted to return to the world of Mac, if for nothing else than the lower maintenance required versus Windows. I never could, because Macs never dropped price. The Performa my mother bought back in the late 80's had 64MB of RAM, a 200MB hard drive (I think), no Ethernet, no wireless, just a built in 56k modem, and a color screen with a plain CD drive and 3.25" floppy drive. It was heavy and ugly.

Nowadays, Apple is selling iMacs and Mac Pros for roughly around the same price as what they used to sell them for. People continue to buy Macs because they're easy to use for the basic home user, but for the advanced IT person it just wasn't practical. But then it all turned upside down; Mac OS (formerly System) went to a more open format, based on standards like Unix, which opened the door for developers to create applications that worked just as good as the Windows counterpart. Not all is perfect, but it's a step in the right direction, and I wanted a piece. Apple started to cut prices on its MacBook Pro line, and it was finally time to reconsider a return to Mac. But it had to be right - I needed my Windows environment.

And here I am.

You'll want to understand the differences between the various MacBooks. You can get a regular white MacBook for a grand. In terms of power it's average; it's not going to shock you with its speed, but it will get basic jobs done. You shouldn't have to be too concerned about email or browsing, it'll handle those just fine. Snow Leopard strives to improve on things found in the previous version (Tiger) by making efficient use of the power afforded to it by the hardware, and because it's based on the newer operating system core, it's extremely fast and durable. The next step up is the MacBook Pro line, the aluminum unibody. You've likely heard about this line as the premier part of the laptops from Apple, and for good reason. From little things like aesthetic lighting to larger things like full LED screens that are vibrant and easy to read, the MacBook Pro line is where you want to go when you have more demands than the basic MacBook can handle, like virtualization and multi-tasking.

The MacBook Pro 13" comes in two flavors; the 12 hundred bucks version has a 2.26GHz processor and less hard drive space, whereas this one, the 2.53GHz processor and larger hard drive not withstanding, is 3 hundred bucks more. Whether you really need the increased size and space is a matter of discretion on your part; if you're running VMs you should really opt for the larger version. What determines the need to run VMs? Migration, and that's what my review focuses on...migrating from PC to Mac.

I've had Big Poppa since my birthday last year. It's a beast of a laptop, boasting monster specs and touting itself to be a gaming laptop. For me I just needed the power to run the intensive applications I threw at it - and for the most part it took them like a pro. The problem with Big Poppa is that I relied on it so much as a desktop replacement that I did not consider its impact as an actual laptop - it weighs nearly 10 pounds by itself and doesn't fit into many bags. The screen was large and vibrant, but might have been causing me eye strain trying to take in all of the real estate. It was also a fingerprint magnet - something I didn't mind, actually. It ran hot because of the abuse I was putting it through, and it never shut down or overheated due to its cooling, but it got annoying having to hear its fan during these times. It was then I decided to invest in a MacBook Pro, a smaller machine.

This MacBook has identical specs to Big Poppa, except for the screen resolution and size, of course. Where Big Poppa is nearly 10 pounds, the MacBook Pro clocks in at nearly half the weight. I had my concerns about the real estate of the screen versus the 15", but in actually using the laptop it doesn't feel cramped at all. This is mostly due to the various zoom and sizing options found on the applications with just a swipe of the finger. Those familiar with iPod and iPhone will already know these gestures, such as pinching. Some feel like gimmicks to me - like the Expose app - but that's probably because Windows has no such feature and thus I find no need for it. What was really impressive was the speed of Mac OS on the MacBook. From dusk to dawn it only slowed down on two occasions, both of which are preventable, and performed significantly faster than Windows on Big Poppa with the same hardware.

My plan for migration was to load up my Big Poppa configuration into a VM and move it to Mac, running it in VMWare Fusion going forward. This plan fell through, because none of the Mac applications I tried were able to effectively get this done. I tried the Parallels Transporter, VMWare Fusion's conversion agent, and even various backup and imaging solutions that VMWare claimed were compatible, but no matter what I tried, the Mac side would not import the file. I was finally forced to build a new VM with the same OS and processor, and do Windows Easy Transfer. Of course, I lost all of my applications and will have to reinstall them. A word of warning to anyone wanting to make this transition - it is NOT as easy as it should be. After researching it appears there were two issues working against me. First, it seems the migration tools aren't friendly with 64-bit operating systems. Since these are quite prevalent these days this was distressing - and the MacBook Pro's Core 2 Duo is a 64 bit compatible processor, by the way. Second, if you have more than one OS installed on separate partitions, it will fail unless you migrate them all, even if you only want one. This is because it reads the whole drive, not the partition, and will freak if you try to limit it. In Windows it's smart enough to know that you selected a single partition and will take action, but the Mac side does not have the same intuition.

If you choose the VMWare or Parallels route, you'll be able to not only share documents and files seamlessly between the environments, but also applications. So you can dock your Windows applications and they will launch in the VM when you need them, so you don't have to fire up the VM every time you just want to load one application or one file. Also, if you open a Windows document stored on your Mac, it can launch the Windows application from the VM. Using VMWare's Unity mode or Parallels Crystal mode, you can even set it to where these documents and applications open directly in Mac without the need for the VM to be visible. Windows 7 has an analog to this called XP Mode, and it's quite useful if you need that compatibility (which you will).

Startup and Shutdown times on Mac OS are a fraction of Windows 7. Because things only load on startup when you want them to, and because there is no "registry" to preload, nor are there applications that have auto-starting DLLs, it means you are never tethered to the machine for extended periods waiting to get to the desktop. As I said, if you're a quick-and-dirty browsing/email person this computer will do you just fine - but then, I would consider the computer significantly overpriced for such an application.

There are some other issues. Like the fact that Snow Leopard does not seem to understand what "hot swap" means. In Windows XP and above, you can configure the OS to allow certain storage media types to be hot swappable, meaning you can plug and unplug them at will without risk of data loss for the most part via USB or SD card slots. Snow Leopard yells at you for unplugging a device without using the right click --> Eject function. This is seriously annoying and I can't express to you all of the reasons why. The whole benefit of USB in particular is the idea that I don't have to eject it. It's not an IDE, SATA or SCSI device. This one nitpick slows down my entire process and forces me to consider other options besides USB - like networked devices.

An eSATA port would have been nice, as Big Poppa came with one and I learned to love the increased speed of transfers. USB is down to about 15-20MB/second, eSATA is anywhere from 50-100MB/second.

The touchpad is going to take getting used to and in some ways I wish Mac had stuck with the two button format, even if only as an alternate option. The problem isn't the gestures, it's the click. The entire pad is a button and you can configure one corner to be a "right click", but the problem is that those who are accustomed to just tapping the pad (not me...I hate tapping) will get frustrated with the notion that they now have to press harder to get commands to submit. This is especially problematic when navigating folder structures where multiple double clicks are necessary - what a nightmare.

Speaking strictly about the laptop itself, the build quality is solid and it doesn't feel like there are any overly loose parts, although I do find the case design itself to be uninspired. Speck offers a clear case, located here: Speck MacBook 13" See-Thru Hard Case - CLEAR which, when applied, gives the laptop a clear aesthetic appeal that is reminiscent of the Mac Mini and the old iMac computers; no idea why they have not designed them this way by default. The screen hinge is large and centered instead of the classic two-prong variety and feels solid, but the screen moves way too easily for my taste. If you lift the laptop by the wrist pad, the screen flops around loosely; something I'm not used to given none of my other laptops do it. I assume they made it easily movable to appeal to those who complain that laptops are hard to open.

You will notice the laptop is extremely quiet with day-to-day regular usage. It won't turn on the fan hardly at all unless you're doing something intensive. These are the times you might notice slowdowns - for example, when working in VMWare Fusion, I ran a Windows Experience rating and the laptop was brought to its knees. As I type this, I'm processing a video for this review and the fan came on, getting progressively louder as it continues its process. This isn't unusual for computers, but you should realize that while it will be quiet for a basic user, you will hear some noise as you start putting it through its paces.

Some have commented on the glossiness of the screen. I find it annoying only because of the way the screen was designed. Because it's an entire uniform glass surface, it means the reflective nature of the screen is not shielded in any way like with PCs where there is a non-reflective bezel. In other words, on the PC you'd have to be directly in the way of the sunlight or other lighting in order for it to affect you; on the MacBook Pro it's apparent no matter what you do or where you sit. Clearly Apple tried to counter this by using the LED screen's depth and saturation, but it doesn't work in a brightly lit environment. At night it's a thing of beauty, of course. Just keep in mind that it's not designed for outdoor working at all; there are some antiglare overlays, but unless you got the model from Apple that has it built in, it's going to look like a poor alternative.

In short, the MacBook Pro is a solid laptop - still somewhat overpriced, not nearly as much as before, but it is...and your migration path away from PC might be difficult if you were a heavy PC user. If you've never used Mac before you'll want to read all of the documentation you can because you will need to learn most simple things from scratch (Print screen anyone?). If you've used Mac before you should be able to get back into it fairly easily, though some things have changed and not all for the better. I would definitely recommend VMWare Fusion if you are considering a migration, so you can still have Windows available when you need it. There are some things that Windows can give you that Mac OS can't - applications that don't have a Mac version.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 25, 2010 6:23:07 AM PST
N. Felton says:
'The touchpad is going to take getting used to and in some ways I wish Mac had stuck with the two button format, even if only as an alternate option. The problem isn't the gestures, it's the click. The entire pad is a button and you can configure one corner to be a "right click", but the problem is that those who are accustomed to just tapping the pad (not me...I hate tapping) will get frustrated with the notion that they now have to press harder to get commands to submit. This is especially problematic when navigating folder structures where multiple double clicks are necessary - what a nightmare.'

You can configure the touchpad to tapping so you don't have to press down on it. (I love tapping, plus I drove my husband nuts late in bed with the click that comes with pressing down on the touchpad. Tapping doesn't make any noise at all). Tapping with two fingers functions as a right click - very convenient!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2010 6:51:31 AM PST
M.D.C. says:
Good information; thanks for that. Will no doubt be great news for those that like tapping. I'll look into that for the review. I still wish they'd left some buttons, even small ones, for an easier migration from PC.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 25, 2010 11:10:57 AM PST
N. Felton says:
Thanks for your wonderful review!
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