Monday, August 12, 2013

A New MacBook Pro

About two weeks ago, one of my computers stopped working properly. By "one of my", I mean one of my sit down and type on a real keyboard style computers. It's a netbook that has been my "easy chair" computer for several years. First it stopped booting into Ubuntu properly. Then software started acting odd, or refusing to start. It's other OS, Windows XP, was still working fine. For a while. Then it started getting odd on me, too.

I started out trying to back up the data in the Ubuntu partition by booting off a newer Linux (Mint 15 MATE, in this case.) I was having kernel panics in the midst of moving data off. Then the keyboard got strange on me--in other words, it became erratic. It was becoming more and more a case of diminishing returns.

A New Netbook?

First, I tried purchasing a new Asus netbook. I've bought seven of these for myself and my family since the original Eee PC 701 came out. They've all been great. I was looking forward to moving up to a 10" model, the dying computer has a chassis that's the same size as a 10" one, but it only had a 9" screen in it (it's a 904HD.) I've been envious of my daughters' 10" models, and the larger chassis has a keyboard that's a better size than in my 901 (9" screen with a smaller chassis and keyboard.)

Since I do a lot of writing in my easy chair (these blogs, for one), that wider keyboard really paid off.

So I find the Asus 1015 models are the current incarnation of the old Eee PC netbook. I order one sight unseen.

What a mistake!

Welcome to the New Netbook, NOT the Same as the Old Netbook

The first thing I noticed was the trackpad. They wanted to make it look like a Mac's trackpad, hiding the buttons underneath the solid trackpad surface. Unfortunately, their trackpad surface is not flexible like the Mac's. It's a stiff piece of plastic. It doesn't flex, it rocks. It rubs on the edges of the trackpad recess it sits in. It's cheap, it's cruddy, it's noisy, and it doesn't work well at all. The earlier models with their mouse buttons molded outside the trackpad were much, much, much better. Even the relatively noisy ones on my 701.

That alone would have been reason to return the thing. There's no way I'd sit and use that crappy trackpad every day. But there was another killer in the deal. The fan. The whole time I was using the Asus 1015, the fan was blowing like a turbojet. Noisy as all get-out, and totally unnecessary. It started up with the system and never slowed down. I didn't even run anything more demanding than a browser on a non-JavaScript web page. My 904 and 901 have fans, but they never get that loud even when I'm trying to force them into doing work way above their pay grade, like CAD/CAM. And when I'm just running the usual stuff, editors and what-not, their fans quiet down and become unnoticeable.

Not the piece of garbage that calls itself the 1015.

Yeah, it's got a higher spec processor. So what? If the human interface sucks, and that includes the noise it makes, then it's worthless as a netbook.

It went back to Amazon the day after it arrived.

Round and Round and Back and Forth

The problem then became, what else could I get. I wan't excited about the idea of a Chromebook, though they've pretty well moved into the niche vacated by netbooks (not, contrary to popular statement, tablets. I've got an excellent tablet, and I still need a real clamshell with a real keyboard.)

I didn't have the budget right now for the "Ultrabooks", and they're just jumped-up netbooks at four times the price. By the time you pay the price, you might as well have gotten the thing they're pretending to be--a MacBook.

So I was looking at just bringing my old Eee PC 901 upstairs, as it gets less use now that I do have a fine tablet. I wasn't doing a lot of keyboard typing with the 901, it was mostly used for reading and light text entry--a job my tablet has mostly taken over. Of course, the 901 has a keyboard I don't like nearly as much. That would likely cut into my writing time, if I ended up avoiding serious writing.

Family to the Rescue

Fortunately, my family decided to find a way out for me. My birthday was near, so they got me a new computer for my birthday. It's a MacBook Pro. Granted, it's not the Retina Display model, but frankly for this purpose I wouldn't get much from that. This is a secondary computer (though still an important one). It's more than I could afford on my own, and a great computer.

They let me pick it out. They know how picky I am about keyboards and other ergonomics. I tried a Surface Pro (ugh!) with both keyboards. No dice. I played with some other computers in the size range I'm looking for (under 14", the smaller the better.)

I also tried the MacBook Air.

The MacBook Pro won on the basis of its keyboard. The angle and feel of it suit me more than the one on the Air. The Pro is almost twice as heavy as the Air, but still light enough to handle with one hand, easily.

Fits with History

The first computer I started using here regularly, was my beloved and lost Aluminum PowerBook 12". For size, weight, and usability it set the standard for me getting work done in my easy chair. Unfortunately, it has a graphics chip that ran hot. Three times it went back to Apple with a dead hard disk drive. Rather than replacing the logic board with the hot chip (yes, it was reported) as well as the dead hard disk, they kept replacing the hard disk and sending it back to die on me again.

The last time it went in, it turned into a complete mess. While it was in for service, I was chasing it around by phone trying to make sure they'd solve the root problem, rather than just swap out the hard disk again. They assured me that they were going to replace it, as it was its third strike. I was looking forward to a processor speed bump with a new 12" Powerbook (about the only change that had occurred since I bought mine, other than some options I'd purchased becoming standard pack-ins.)

Instead, Apple went incommunicado on me. Every prior repair through AppleCare had turned around in about a week. Now it'd been three weeks, and they couldn't even tell me my computer's replacement status.

It was the very time when the Intel-based Macs came out.

Finally, after weeks of calling and getting no information, my case got escalated to someone who could actually speak to me rather than just tell me what their computer screen told them to say. He was helpful and assured me that Apple would make good. I had already gotten to the point of talking legal action before that--my work schedule had been severely impacted by the loss of my main engineering computer at the time. Aside from the time I was spending on the phone with Apple trying to figure out what they'd done with my computer (I was ready to have them renege on their AppleCare agreement and send the broken computer back to me so that I could just buy the replacement parts myself), I was scrambling to get my work done (I made most of my calls to AppleCare while I was driving around to and from work sites on extra trips necessitated by the lack of my laptop.)

Well, they offered to replace it with one of the new MacBooks. Even a Black model, with all the matching extras I'd had for my Powerbook. I accepted, but it turned out to be a bum deal.

The first MacBook was junk compared to my 12" Powerbook.

It ran hot. There's hardly any airflow, so no surprise. They really botched the design on the first model. It was floppy as a floppy disk. This was before the Unibody models, remember? I hardly trusted moving the thing from desktop to desktop, never mind using it on a lap desk at my chair.

The MacBook went to my entertainment center, where it would sit on a hard, unmoving, practically unmovable surface and put video into my big screen TV. I'd originally planned to buy the cheaper Mac Mini for that purpose, but now I had my relatively expensive work computer doing that job.

Shortly after that is when I got the Eee PC 904. Originally it and its companion 901 were intended to be replacements for my Eee PC 701. I wasn't sure which size would work for me, so I got one of each. I planned to pass the other one on to a family member once I figured that out.

Well, the 904 turned out to be the solid little replacement I needed for my PowerBook. It was about the same processor power (Celeron M vs. PowerPC G4, about the same clock speed), small, rugged, and light with a good keyboard. I could also throw it into my book bag and take it with when I went to teach classes at a local school.

It kept at that job for almost five years.

And now, I've come full circle. I've got a nice solid little Mac here. It's larger than my old 12" PowerBook, but not by too much. It's Unibody, so it feels just as rigid and solid as the older Mac. The keyboard is illuminated, which is a plus. And it's modern in its other aspects. The only way it suffers by comparison is the type of screen. It's glossy, not matte, as my old PowerBook was.

Ah, well. I hate glossy screens, but I hate matte overlays more. I guess I'll deal with it. ;)

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