Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Thinking out loud about laptops...

For a couple of months now, I've been musing about what my next machine might be. My old laptop, while always serviceable, had begun to get just a little flaky, so I've known that I might have to replace it. Problem is, my dislike of Vista as a power-user operating system is pretty intense, so my usual assumption of buying a PC doesn't necessarily hold. (I actually have a fair amount of respect for many aspects of Vista, and I might well upgrade my mother to it: it's unusually safe, and reasonably stable. But that safety comes at the price of being a real pain in the ass if you know what you're doing. And *boy*, is it a CPU hog.)

Anyway, the problem is getting less hypothetical. My laptop has started to show a disturbing tendency to spontaneously reboot for no obvious reason. Could be the disk, could be the power supply, could be memory, could be heat contributing to any of the above -- I don't know. It's probably related to the fact that the internal clock seems to be failing (it keeps going back to 2004), which probably indicates some sort of power-supply issue. I'm not totally surprised -- it was a cheap machine to begin with, and it's getting on three years old -- but it's probably appropriate to consider replacing it ASAP. The question is, with what? Let's muse on this...

On the one hand, I don't love Vista. OTOH, the machines are plentiful and inexpensive, and I can get more or less exactly the ergonomics I want with no difficulty at all. That selection, plus the ever-present software issue, keeps it under consideration. (I *could* buy a machine and retrofit it with XP, but I really don't like that idea: installing a Windows OS other than preinstall is always a bit fraught.)

I could go for an Ubuntu box -- either self-built, or bought from Dell, or possibly from a smaller player. That's not a trivial option, given that *most* of what I use the machine for is Web, and I suspect a Linux machine will serve that purpose at least as well as anything else. Problem is, I do sometimes want access to other software, most often Windows software, so I need to decide how much I care about that, and what my solution is.

I could go for a Mac: heaven knows, a bunch of my friends are pushing me in that direction. The problem there is mainly ergonomics. It looks like, to get a keyboard I can stand, I would need to get a MacBook Pro, and those are *pricey* -- over twice the price of the PC laptops I'm considering. I can afford it if I decide it's the right thing to do, but even I can't spend two grand on a laptop without pausing and thinking about it carefully.

If I go for either the Linux or Mac options, I need to answer the Windows question: how do I deal with my need to occasionally pop over to Windows? In the Mac case, it looks like Parallels is a good option: it appears to be powerful and easy to use, and claims to make it very easy to replicate my existing machine in the virtualized environment. (A major plus -- I am clearly their target market.) If I went for Linux, I'd probably need to get a dual-boot box, which isn't a trivial problem: it can be done, but I don't know of any major players selling such a thing. And I'm not enough of a systems hacker to love the idea of building it myself. (I could probably do it, but it would annoy me: I'm an applications engineer by instinct, not an IT guy.)

So my likely options seem to be:
  • Get an inexpensive Windows machine, and deal with Vista;

  • Get an inexpensive Linux box and figure out how to dual-boot it;

  • Get an expensive but powerful MacBook Pro plus Parallels, and move my XP license over to that.
I'm mildly attracted to the latter choice, but at more than double the price of the others, it's not something to casually jump into...
Tags: technology

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