"That which is overdesigned, too highly specific, anticipates outcome; the anticipation of outcome guarantees, if not failure, the absence of grace."
-- William Gibson, All Tomorrow's Parties
In which the MacBook is eventually sort of reviewed.

The week before last I put in my notice at Drexel. Yup. No more network security for me. No more bot-hunting. No more rewriting code four times and never finishing it. No more uncomfortable basement with no windows or environmental controls.

jcap is moving into the city and taking another job, so the SA position at pobox opened up and well... yeah. I used to be a pretty good SA. Hopefully netsec hasn't killed whatever ability I had in it. The pobox office is in Chinatown (yay), on the second floor, has been comfortable everytime I've been there (which with gaming has been quite a bit), and has huge bay windows that overlook 676/95. I have another two weeks at Drexel, and honestly I'm not looking forward to them. One of the bigger projects I was working on (CARP/pfsync active failover proxies) got made redundant without anyone mentioning it, and well... the basement. Eh.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I gave my old laptop to my sister while she was here. My current laptop is the last 12" albook model, and it belongs to Drexel. The current Apple laptop I'd be interested in getting is the MacBook, but it's still RevA. Usually you avoid RevA Mac kit like the bloody plague. I'm a big fan of their "last model of this type" gear, like the Pismo (a freakin' tank) or my albook, which is also a really solid machine. The thought of going without a laptop for (probably) six months wasn't something I felt I could really deal with. My entire work method revolves around a laptop. I have an iMac for media and gaming; all real production of any sort happens on my PowerBook.

Getting another cheapy system just to tide me over was something I thought about, but getting a non-Mac didn't really bear contemplating. Getting an iBook or another used PowerBook would have worked, but... eh. I admit that I am a consumer whore and like shiny things. So, there you go.

This afternoon I dragged Harry, Rich (the SA at Drexel; an entertaining British fellow), and the new netsec guy (who is one strange cat: He chews on tape, rubber bands, whatever is at hand) down to Springboard where I picked up a new MacBook. The sales guy matched ramjet's price on RAM, so the box is maxed out, and there was a minor discount for the 512MB stick the systems come with. I didn't get my .edu discount, but I'm not going to cry about it. We ended up loitering around the store for 15 minutes while they installed the memory. We were asked half a dozen times if we could be helped, which to me meant "get out of here already!" :-)

Harry gave me crap about someone else installing freakin' RAM into my laptop until he remembered my history with kit. Namely how hardware stops working when I get near it. I blame it on EM fields, but deep down I know it's because computers hate me. They're in it with the squirrels.

After Springboard, we walked down to Gusto and had some lunch (Rich, who eats earlier in the day, just had a glass of water; New Guy had a Coke and insisted he was full three-fourths of the way though it; Harry and I got salads which were as tasty as ever).

Back at work, I unboxed the thing. I tried to explain to Rich and New Guy that Apple marketing is all about trying to seduce you with their packaging. It's like you're stripping the damn thing; everything is in its own little condom wrapper. It's freakin' pornographic. They didn't get it, and quickly vacated my cube after I related this opinion.

I booted up the MacBook, configured it real quick. During setup you are asked if you'd like to take a login picture, as with my iMac, I actually did (mainly for the novelty of it):

That's the Sanity Flask. It's a hip flask, KGB logo with a bust of Lenin on the cap, that sits on my desk, empty. Because there is no sanity to be found at Drexel, no matter how much booze you consume. Ha ha, I am so clever, me.

It's sort of like the skeleton drinking the wine in The Last Unicorn, only, y'know, backwards.

I booted the albook into target disk mode, mounted it on the MacBook, and copied over the encrypted disk image containing my homedir (I use FileVault). Once that was done, it was pretty much just a matter of copying a few directories out of the crypto loop, setting up Mail.app again (the most annoying part of the process), and grabbing the Universal versions of various applications.

The whole thing took about 20 minutes, if that. I could have tried using the Migration Assistant (which would have done the above and more for me), but I wasn't sure how it'd interact with a FileVault homedir, and I like starting as fresh as possible on new machines anyway if I can.

So, a few thoughts about the MacBook...

Sitting it next to the albook, the color difference the glossy LCD provides is really noticeable. The albook looks flat and dim, whereas the MacBook's colors are deep and very bright. The display seems really wide and the res almost too high; I got really used to the dimensions of the 12", and 1024x768. I work with most windows maxed (Mail, Safari, Terminals I am doing actual work in as opposed to just IRC/silc), but it's not really useable with these dimensions. Everything looks stretched out and too far away from other elements of the application. 209x53 terminals are just... silly. So that's something I'll have to get used to, I guess.

Rik and jcap have both complained about the function key chording nonsense, and wow, yes, it is incredibly annoying. If you want to page up, have to hit shift-fn-up, as opposed to shift/fn in whatever order you are used to. For me it's fn-shift, and it's going to be a pain in the ass getting used to doing it the other way around. Hopefully this is something that can be fixed with a patch, and soon.

Andrew mentioned a couple weeks ago some issue that some Airport Extreme cards were having with the work wireless network (Cisco WAPs): the cards would associate, then start flipping between good/bad signal and then (sometimes) deassoc. My albook didn't have the issue, but the MacBook does. Looks like I'll be wired for the next two weeks (suck).

The magnetic latch thing is really cool. MagSafe (the magnetic power cord) seems to hold on tighter than the friction needed to pull the laptop off a desk, but I'm not actually going to test it.

The keyboard is freakin' sweet.

The trackpad is absolutely huge, and the mouse button is kind of squishy. I tried using the "tap trackpad to click" function, but I think I'm far too ingrained in how I use computers to really get used to it (though I did get used to using the trackpad to scroll, so maybe).

The system is damned fast; it's just as snappy as my iMac (it should be, the specs are almost identical). The shared VRAM thing pisses me off, but eh, it's RevA and the low-end model. What do you want?

It's already got fingerprints on it, and wrist-rest smudges. Makes me want to start wearing gloves when I use the damn thing.

It also doesn't fit in my bag very well, but I knew that was going to happen. I'm going to try and pick up a new sleeve for it, and just sort of deal with it, I guess. The bag is really nice, the laptop is really nice, perhaps they can work out the rest of it amongst themselves.

All in all, I'm happy with the thing after several hours of use. Unless the battery starts melting on me, I will be content to wait for the RevC MacBook, sell this one, and probably not lose a whole lot of money on the deal.

July 1, 2006 3:29 AM

Huh. Apparently fn-up/down works as pgup/pgdown now. That's... new?

Posted by: bda at July 1, 2006 1:27 PM

I've been teetering on the edge of MacBook-ownership myself, as the hard disk on my already bruised and battered RevA 12" Powerbook is failing. I'm not sure I like the glossly screen, but I think I would get over it. The reports of easy staining/discoloration are a bit disconcerting though. If they weren't charging a stupid $150 premium for the black one, I'd probably be typing one right now.

Posted by: merz at July 5, 2006 2:37 PM

Yeah, $150 is pretty steep for black, but I gotta coordinate my fashions and shit, so I ponied it up.

The glossy LCD is super nice, just in terms of what it does for colors. Outside it's impossible to use, pretty much, but... eh.

The discoloration stuff has apparently been really overblown, and Apple is fixing is anyway.

I usually say stay the hell away from RevA kit, but I've been really happy with the box so far.

Posted by: bda at July 5, 2006 4:37 PM
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