Another major religious question

Prepare yourself for the true religious wars: I’m asking for advice on a new laptop.

I usually stretch out the usefulness of my computers for four or five years, and it is now time for me to invest in a new laptop. I’m planning to purchase the new tool sometime around the end of this month, when the Leopard OS X version is released. It will be a MacBook Pro; don’t even think of suggesting some Windows piece of crap, heretics, and although I can sympathize with the Linux crowd a little more, there’s no way I’m going to go back to tinkering obsessively with gadgets again. I like my BSD.

What I’m fussing over now is the glorious details to the One True Mac, and anyone’s experience will be useful.

  • 15″ vs 17″? I’m currently using a 15″ laptop, and the form factor is nice and portable. I keep finding myself scrabbling for more screen space, though — last night, for instance, I’m putting together a lecture in Keynote, and I’m juggling windows from my pdf viewer, my text editor, Photoshop, the web browser, and Keynote itself, and every centimeter helps. I’m leaning towards the 17″, but it is an extra pound of weight…

  • Glossy vs matte? I’m used to the matte anti-glare finish, and I like it. On the other hand, I do notice that what I’m used to seeing on my screen is sometimes very different from what others see on theirs — that glossy screen seems to be ubiquitous in the rest of the universe. Anyone out there have strong preferences? Why?

  • I also need a new laptop bag, the old one is a bit frayed. Any recommendations? I like the messenger bag or briefcase styles, and I also like them roomy — if I’m making an overnight trip somewhere, I travel light and want to be able to throw in a change of clothes and my toothbrush with the laptop and take off with just the one bag. I’ve been hearing good things about the Brenthaven line…

Now I mainly want to hear from the enlightened Mac users, but if the PC weenies want to rhapsodize over their clumsy machines, I will tolerate it for the edification of other readers…but I guarantee you that I will not be swayed.


  1. wnelson says

    No question Myers — get a MacBook Pro with Parallels (and WinXP) preinstalled, and 3 gigs of memory.

    You will never regret it.

  2. Rod says

    I love the 17″, but you’re right: it’s heavier, and unless you find yourself routinely away from home juggling screenfulls of data, why not get the lighter 15″ and a second monitor? That way you’ll have all the screen you can use for Keynote work, along with the smaller form factor and lightness of the 15″, and while the difference in cost between the 15″ and the 17″ won’t quite pay for a decent monitor, it’ll subsidize it!

    As for screens, I prefer glossy, just because it cuts down reflections if I have to work off-angle (when I’m showing something to someone else).

  3. Adrian says

    MacBook Pro 15″, top it up with as much RAM as you can afford. I have one with
    4GB RAM and it is a wonder to behold. As for screen real estate, I’m a long term user
    of CodeTek’s Vritual Desktop (there are other similar free programs). I always
    have used such things on my Linux boxes and so it’s natural to use them on the Mac
    as well. Leopard will have “Spaces” which will be Apples’ version of the same thing. This
    means you should have little problem with screen real estate (I’ve even used a 12 inch
    MacBook quite happily using a virtual desktop program set up for 8 desktops).

    Hope this helps.

  4. Adrian says

    Matte finish! You see too much reflection in the
    glossy finish screens, especially under reasonable
    lighting conditions. I found it far too disctracting.

  5. Eric says

    I have a 15″ and I really prefer it over the 17″ because of size. The latter is just too large. I think Spaces will solve your screen clutter issues, but I also use command-tab a lot.

    I don’t really care too much about glossy vs matte. I have a laptop backpack that is awesome.

  6. rwhite says

    I am a PC user, but also versed in Mac. If you are a PC user then there will be an associated learning curve, but not too bad. As far as raw computing power and capabilities (leaving personal emotions out of the equation) they really are about equal.

    17″ are very heavy and if you travel a lot, moving through train and air terminals can be onerous. A pound may not sound like much, but it can really make a difference. I use the 15″ wide screens and am very happy with the resolution and capability.

    Which comes to your point #3. I liked the messenger bags until I started getting aches from one-sided “lugging”. Also was a pain when it falls off your shoulders while your trying to juggle other bags. I switched to one of the Tarus backpacks, lots of room, pockets and storage. Glad I made the switch!

    As far a screen size, if you use projection, I have to keep in mind that most projectors I use for my science presentations are 1024×768 or 1280×1024 so it will “scrunch” your screen icons if you are using PCs. Apple doesn’t have that same kind of issue.

  7. Frank Midgley says

    Leopard’s new Spaces feature promises to make more of your screen real estate which means the 15″ might work. You could get a feel now for what this will be like by checking out any of the third party virtual desktops listed at VersionTracker.

  8. Rienk says

    Seriously, the screen size is not a problem if you use Exposé wisely, (I programmed the “hot corners” for this) and with “Spaces” on Leopard, a bigger screen is quite unnecessary. For a laptop bag I’d go with the STM Medium Loft 15″ shoulder bag… it looks like a regular bag, and I just throw it in a weekend bag when I need to travel.

    But why a MacBook Pro? I have a PowerBook now, and I’m opting for a regular MacBook in the near future. The Pro is just too expensive, especially since I am not sponsored by my work.

  9. drunksci says

    Get the big screen. I’m telling ya’, you stare at these things for how many hours a day? You might as well make it as easy on your eyeballs as you can. Sure it’s a few pounds more, but just think how heavy a 12″ laptop was even 6 years ago compared to these 17″ screens are now. Also, I would go for the glossy screen. I don’t have one myself, but I’ve enjoyed it while using other peoples macbooks.

  10. says

    I love my Timbuk2 laptop messenger bag. You can fit a laptop, a change of clothes, a toothbrush, etc. and a few books. They last for years, and keep your belongings dry in all sorts of weather.

  11. says

    I am a die hard Linux user (running Fedora 7 on a 20″ iMac as I type this). With the new MacTel processors in the Macs it is trivial to run both Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows(ugh) should you decide to. Linux is not the hassle it used to be to install and run and “just works” (as the Maccies like to say.) I don’t know about running it on the MacBook-Pro nad supporting all the bells and whistles as I don’t have one.

    If I were to buy a laptop it would be a Mac. I have an old iBook which runs Mac OS X 10.4 and Linux-PPC (Fedora 7 also.) When I get a new Macc laptop it will be dual boot with Mac OS X and Linux.

    Strange as it may seem I find hardware support to be better in Linux than in Mac OS X. Cameras, phones, iPods, Powermates, whatever all seem to work just fine.

    Best thing about the Macs laptops is their power management. My laptop runs for hours and hours on a full charge with my style of use.

    I would go with the 15″ MacBook Pro or even the 13.3″ MacBoook. I like small and light and use a laptop like a satellite system. I think PZ uses it as his main and only system in which case perhaps the 15″ MacBook or even the 17″ would be better. Even then I would consider getting the smaller of the two and if screen real estate is important have an external monitor on the desk at home and at work. I can’t stand lugging around huge bits of machinery regardless of who makes it or what runs on it.


  12. says

    I second the MacBook suggestion. I’m annoyed by the premium Jobs puts on the black plastic case, but the 15″ glossy screen is nice. Spend the twelve hundred dollar difference on RAM, software and romantic dinners with the trophy wife.

  13. Johnny Vector says

    I’ve been partial to the Tom Bihn bags ever since the production run that included washing instructions which included, in the French translation:


    As Tom Bihn said (paraphrasing), “I figured it was a joke on me, since I’m president of the company, but when you put the words ‘president’ and ‘idiot’ in a sentence, people just jump to conclusions”.

    Plus they have bags sized specifically for Macs.

  14. Guido Arnout says

    I went through the same 15″ vs 17″ (at that time PowerBook G4) analysis almost 3 years ago. I ended up with a 17″ PowerBook and a 30″ Cinema Display. Never regretted it for a second. When I’m on the road, the 17″ is a bit heavier but I can give presentations to a small group without projector and have the desktop real-estate that I always miss with the smaller laptops.

  15. thelogos says

    For a bag, you could try getting a laptop sleeve, rather than a separate bag. One place to look (where I got mine, actually) is It’s a direct ordering from the maker place.

    I like the glossy myself, and plan on getting that when my current beast craps out.

  16. says

    Here’s one from left field, get a top spec MacBook (not Pro) and with the money left over, get a nice big cinema display to go with it. Best of both worlds, you get supreme portability, a very capable machine, and the screen real estate when you need it. Oh, and unless you are in areas of particularly high glare, the glossy finish produces far nicer results.

    For me, the 17 inch just isn’t portable enough, you might as well carry round an iMac.

  17. says

    The glossy screen looks better, unless you’re actually using it. Go for matte and as much RAM as you can squeeze in to it.

  18. says

    I usually stretch out the usefulness of my computers for four or five years …

    This means you have no idea how to use, maintain, enhance, or service electronic digital computers, either hardware or software.

    I suggest an abacus. They last thousands of years.

  19. Nomad says

    I’m a windows user, but my experiences can still somewhat apply. I went with a 17 inch laptop, but I mainly use it around the home. The screen size borders on excessive, but I like it. On the road it’s too big. Not too heavy, too big. It’s ludicrous to pull this thing out, say, on a restaurant table. It would equally be a bit unwieldy to whip out while riding on the train. It’s more like a “lap and a half-top”.

    Also, go for matte. Glossy is a stupid trend. It messes up the color accuracy of the screen to make it look snappier and makes reflections a huge problem. I almost can’t stand to use my laptop anywhere where I’ll have lighting behind me that can reflect on the screen.

  20. Jeff says

    I’m a Microsoft fan. I almost never jump into religious discussions of technology because people are impossible to convince and I prefer to just do my work, solve problems, try to make the world of software better. I know I posted here once before, if anyone remembers that, I may have lost my cool a bit and I apologize for that, but I have a great deal of respect for the people here and it’s disappointing to see a blind spot on this topic.

    I’m pragmatic with technology. In some cases I’ve suggested people buy Macs, and I’m helping a friend run Linux now. I’m well versed in a great deal of technology – it’s my passion and my job, and the more I know the better I am at it – but I do prefer Microsoft.

    PZ, why do you start from the position that this will be a religious debate? I know you didn’t explicitly say what the nature of the debate would be, but you implied it could be a Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux debate. I rarely see Windows/Microsoft fans starting debates – but when a Mirosoft article is published somewhere, Microsoft instantly gets pummeled. It’s disheartening to me because this shouldn’t be an “us vs. them” debate with technology. We have choice, and whether your opinion that Windows is a piece of crap resolves with reality or not doesn’t matter, because Macs work well for you. Anyhow, if a religious debate starts here regarding Windows vs. Mac, I’ll be truly surprised, but I certainly won’t feed that fire.

    Please, no flames in response to this! :) I’ll respond to well thought out comments, otherwise I will remain silent.

    I’ll defer to the Mac fans for your Mac advice. They can offer you far better advice than I can. Good luck on selecting your new Mac!

  21. says

    In June I got the 15″ MacBook Pro, matte screen. Perfectly fine if you ask me. I’d second the suggestion to use the cash not spent on the larger screen on maxing out the memory. The 15″ is heavy enough in my opinion, and there are other ways to maximize use of the 15″ screen.

  22. Michael LoPrete says

    I got the 12″ Powerbook over 4 years ago, and I couldn’t have been happier. I don’t know if the current MacBooks (pro or otherwise) still do this, but I could close my powered-on laptop, plug in a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and the laptop would instantly act like a desktop machine. Extreme portability when I needed it, full desktop when I was home; best of both worlds.

    With that in mind, I’d also vote for a top-spec MacBook. The RAM will be more expensive if you buy it from Apple w/ the machine, so I’d suggest getting the bare minimum on your order and hit Newegg to max out your RAM. Even if you’re not well-versed in installation it is 1) not too difficult and 2) quite likely that someone at the college is skilled enough to do it for you.

  23. Big Dave says

    Can’t help you with any technical knowledge or experience, but, from my own interests in nutritional biochemistry and the obesity epidemic, a knock on benefit of an extra pound in weight is that it’s not *that* much heavier, and would slightly up your physical activity which would have benefit to your health.

    Lots of little things can add up!

  24. TheBlackCat says

    I would also recommend the 15″/external monitor idea. I have a 15.4″ widescreen laptop and a 19″ widescreen external monitor. It is great. I use a docking station and stand to make disconnecting all my peripherals easier, but I don’t think they have those for macs.

    I am personally using Linux, but I would honestly advise against it unless you really want complete control over your computer. It “just works” almost all of the time, but when it doesn’t it can be pretty tough to fix it.

    It is kind of funny, when I replaced my old laptop I got one with the same size screen but much higher resolution. Originally I almost always worked on my external monitor and put other stuff (like toolbars, thumbnails, and such) on the laptop screen. Now, despite the fact that the screen is much smaller, I find I put everything on the laptop screen because the total resolution is much higher.

  25. says

    I take offense. I’m only a PC user because they are cheaper. Unlike you, I don’t have a Trophy Wife and fancy cars and a big mansion ;-)

    From my experience and personal opinion:

    *For screen-size, I would look at what resolutions they give. If they are equivalent resolutions, then you aren’t really getting more real estate, just an extra pound and “bigger” icons/text. Higher resolutions mean more desktop space. So, if the 17″ gives you a significant boost in resolution, then go with it (especially if you’re always scrambling for screen real estate). Get the 15″ if there isn’t a significant boost.

    * Who cares what other people see when you present? Get what you prefer to look at. You can always invest in a cheap CRT or LCD from the used computer store to hook up to your lappy if you really want to test drive presentations.

    * I know crap about laptop bags. I use a booksack with a laptop sleeve and put an extra case around my lappy. Probably not what you want, though, since I “do the college campus” while you “do the traveling”. I like your suggestion for the traveling scientist though.

  26. MikeM says

    We just got a Dell Vostro 1500 (which means you won’t consider it), but with the 15.4″ widescreen monitor.

    Don’t get the 17″; too large and heavy.

    I imagine this comment pertains to pretty much any notebook, too: Upgrade the battery. The standard one is usually just not good enough on these things. We get about 7 hours out of the upgraded battery I ordered for ours. Best $50 you’ll ever spend. If you wait until later, I bet it’ll cost at least $100 to get the one you could have bought for $50 when you ordered the computer in the first place.

    And get Kaspersky Internet Security 7.0.

    On the Vostro, I said, “Sure, go ahead and throw in Norton Freeware (90 days).” Don’t make the same mistake I did.

  27. Valinore says

    I have the 15″ MBP with the glossy screen and I love it. I never have a problem with glare and the colors are perfectly saturated. Graphics look great and movies are super. When I go back to my wife’s 15″ titanium matte I cringe at how much better the gloss looks. I highly recommend the glossy screen. It is really easy to clean also. I have friends who work in photoshop alot and they say that glossy screens are not good for color accuracy though because they tend to be oversaturated. If you really want good color accuracy you need to go matte and also you must calibrate your display with an external device to get the pallate correct.

    Go 15′ and use the cash to buy a cheep external flat-pannel for the office

  28. Randall says

    Slightly tangential comment: What is it with biologists and Macs? Based on friends and colleagues , it seems like at least 70% of biologists have Macs, with maybe 25% Windows and 5% Linux. Is that just my perception, or does this suggest a tighter connection between the biological sciences and graphic designers than one might otherwise suspect? (I’m one of the 5% running Linux, if my perspective is to be questioned.)

  29. says

    Well I’m a PC user, at least until I get a new computer next year. I’ll probably buy a PC and, uh, purchase Leopard and then install a “special” version that works on it.

    I have a 17″ screen myself but it’s really not necessary. Go with the 15″, it’s more than acceptable.

    I don’t really know enough about how the visuals are affected by glossy v. matte to comment, so listen to the professionals for that.

  30. sailor says

    “I love the 17″, but you’re right: it’s heavier, and unless you find yourself routinely away from home juggling screenfulls of data, why not get the lighter 15″ and a second monitor? ”

    I second this guy. I spend hours at a computer screen and even a high-res 17 inch is way too small. So travel with the light 15 inch screen and get yourself a big high-res screen fo your office. I just got a 24 inch Dell, prices are very reasonable now. 24 inch does it, its big enough, especially as it runs the laptop screen as well so you can park some of your junk over there.

  31. Alex says

    One thing no one seems to have mentioned yet is that Apple has put higher resolution displays in the later PowerBooks and MacBook Pros for the last couple of years. For example, my four year old PowerBook has (roughly) the same resolution as the 13″ MacBook, but the current MacBook Pro is more analogous to the old 17″ PowerBook. So if that’s your frame of reference, the 15″ MacBook Pro might have plenty of screen space for you.

    I also agree with others’ sentiments that Spaces will obviate the need for those extra inches at the end of the month.

  32. AlanWCan says

    Rod #2: I prefer glossy, just because it cuts down reflections if I have to work off-angle

    Really? Seems the other way round to me, and it’s the one major obstacle stopping me buying a new notebook–it’s all but impossible to find anything now without a glossy screen.

  33. yoshi says

    Validate that the glossy screen would work for you. I found it too … well “glossy” and it ended up hurting my eyes especially outside.

    So I opted for a non-glossy 15″ MacBook Pro. The 15″ is a nice compromised between light and the need for power/screen real estate. For a external monitor – take a look at Dell LCD display. Cheaper than Apples but the more the decent for the job.

  34. says

    As for laptop bag, LLBean makes a very comfortable one that comes in a couple of sizes. You can customize the colors on the Heatwave Messenger Bag. Less pricey than Timbuk2 and the strap is very comfortable. I like having a separate sleeve for a laptop and you can usually find one for $10 if you look around. (I got a bag at Staples for $15 that included a padded sleeve and had a rebate so I have an extra bag plus a sleeve for like $7.)

    I would not go larger than 15″. The larger screen is nice but not essential so a MacBook is ok unless you have need for the separate graphics card.

  35. says

    I envy the audio re-routing that macs are capable of, but I’ve been quite happy with my Windoze computer – Dell E1705. I could give a little advice on the non-mac-specific specs you asked about.

    17″ screen – I’m very happy with it – there’s nothing like having enough pixels and space to display two sizable programs at once, or two full-resolution websites. One more pound is easily handled by developing an ounce or two more arm muscle. Just don’t go for a heavy “desktop-replacement” laptop – something middle-of-the-road is good. 17″ is also great for watching movies in bed.

    Go for Glossy. Real Colors are nifty.

    As for a bag to carry my computer in, I have all three basic types – the over-the-shoulder kind that I originally wanted, the backpack with the padded laptop slot that I got for free, and the roll-around case with zippered pockets, organizers, and telescoping handle that my folks got me. I generally use the backpack when taking my computer to and from work and class, but when I’m traveling I’m more likely to take the roll-around bag. The shoulder-bag has proven not only uncomfortable, but also cumbersome. This may not be as much of an issue with a lighter laptop.

    On the technology-vendor as religion issue – I have noticed that Mac users tend to have a certain “Installed Again” Zeal when talking about the alleged superiority of their theology technology-of-choice, when I tend to have a more practical approach. If it works for you, get it. I might add a Mac desktop computer to my repertoire in the future because you can route audio from program-to-program, which could be very useful, however, I like having two buttons. It just seems more evolved. ;)

  36. says

    No contest: the MacBook Pro 15″ if you lug it around, the 17″ if it stays put most of the time. The 13″ screen on the MacBook will get old very quickly. You will love the best of both worlds (Mac/Win) running Parallels. If you will be playing movies and using the iPhoto the glossy screen is the way to go… but if you use it mostly for writing I can see how some might prefer the matte. I have the glossy for both and have no problem.

    The best bag I have ever had for commuting and traveling, and I’ve gone through many, is the Swiss Gear SYNERGY Computer Backpack. It travels with me between North an South America regularly.

    It has a riveted carrying handle and shock absorber (elastic) backstraps, is well padded, stands upright when placed on the ground, and includes multiple sized pouches for files, cords, change of clothes, pens, etc. It also has a great top pouch for iPods, glasses and other quick grabs. They sell for $90 in the online Apple stores
    and $42 at Amazon

    Make sure it is the SYNERGY and not other Swiss Gear and Army models that are not near as strong and versatile.

  37. says

    My computer is an IBM PC called Langmuir and it runs Linux. It’s got a 15″ screen with a 1400×1050 resolution and I can recommend that to anybody. I think it is matt; it certainly doesn’t look glossy.

    I’d also recommend getting a year old laptop from ebay or somewhere, the performance is great and the price is very reasonable.

    Sadly, I will never buy a Mac. I love the operating system and it would really be a shame to wipe it and replace it with Linux. With Windows, this is a real pleasure.

  38. says

    I used to have a 17″ Powerbook, and now I’m on my second 15″ MBP. The 17″ is fine as a desktop replacement, if you never intend to carry it outside the house. For traveling, the additional weight and bulk is just too much. As for needing a lot of screen space: use an external screen when you need it.
    Glossy vs matte: I used to rabidly hate glossy, but now that I have a glossy iMac… I’m still rabidly anti-glossy. Sure, on a glossy screen the colors are deeper and more vibrant, but you have that constant glare and reflection of the lights around you.

  39. says

    I prefer the 17″ screen myself. An extra pound is not a big deal to me for the screen space. Honestly, even w/o the screen space a lb is not a big deal. My wife feels differently. My wife is wrong. And so long as she never reads this I will continue to hold that opinion.

    I have a matte screen and like it, but really don’t have an overriding preference. As for the bag, I like a slim version myself, so I can’t offer much help with that.

  40. tacitus says

    I have a three-year-old 14-inch IBM (Lenovo) Thinkpad which I use all the time for writing and surfing. It has a high resolution screen (1400×1050) and is small, light and perfect for my travel needs.

    I look at all the new 17-inch laptops on sale today with dismay. They’re simply too big, so when it comes to replacing my current machine, the most I will upgrade to is 15-inches, and that may be only if the 14-inch Thinkpads are no longer available.

    If you must have more screen space, why not invest in a couple of external 22-inch monitors (plus keyboards) and put then in the two places where you most use your system (i.e. at home and in the office)? That way you can travel light, but still have access to the benefits of a large screen most of the time.

    Cheap (but perfectly fine) wide screen 22-inch monitor come in at around $200. Even the odd 1080p 24-inch monitor is within a reasonable budget these days.

  41. says

    I’d be considering the 15″ with an external display, unless you do a lot of work on the road. I can’t think of any preference of matte over glossy. If your considering a high end MacBook (not Pro) and an external display, is currently saying that there is a new revision of the MacBook due soon (about the same time as Leopard or early next month), but it will probably be minor.

  42. mayhempix says

    I like having two buttons. It just seems more evolved. ;)
    Posted by: Inoculated Mind | October 15, 2007 5:30 PM

    On the Mac pad you use 1 finger to left click, 2 fingers to right click. You can also scroll with 2 fingers… it is more evolved ;^ )

  43. Heather says

    Go for 15in for the reasons stated by so many people previously. Bigger than that and it’s not so portable.

    My glossy screen is nice under reasonable lighting conditions, but I haven’t used it enough under fluorescent glare to know how it does there. Took some getting used to. I find it easier to keep clean than my previous matte finish screens.

    D’you really need a giant bag for carrying the thing? I like tossing mine in a backback because it saves my shoulder/neck/back. What about a sleeve from the likes of and then you can use whatever larger bag you like? Mine is a top-loader since it’s easier to get at for the security circus at airports.

    Good luck!

  44. says

    You are mostly confirming my preference for sticking with matte (although the glossy would probably be better for watching movies in bed), and I’m also almost convinced that 15″ will be good enough.

    One catch though: the suggestion that I get an external display just won’t work for me. I don’t nail myself down much when working, and I’ll work at home about as much as I do the office, and when I’m traveling, I’m not going to bring a monitor with me. I really do rely on having everything all in one package.

  45. says

    I have a Brenthaven backpack with my 17″PB, both are 3y old and the PB is to be replaced. I’ll be going for a new 17″MBP extraHiRes Glossy machine with Max Mem and Max HD.
    The backpack is another matter though. The latest Brenthavens are smaller than the one I have now, and I can just fit what I need for two days from home in this one, already leaving out my very small beamer. When this backpack is to be replaced, it will not be a Brenthaven unless they come up with a roomier model…….

  46. Tracy Lightcap says


    As to the computer bag problem, follow these instructions:

    1. Find a long time Powerbook user.

    2. Ask if he/she still has the original bag for their oldest machine.

    3. Offer a hefty sum for it.

    4. Live happily ever after.

    I got an old Powerbook (the second version!) from a friend of mine many years ago. The machine still boots! And it had one of the original Apple Powerbook bags as an extra. It is, quite simply, the best laptop bag ever produced by anyone anywhere.

  47. Dahan says

    “Buy a refurbished model of last year’s power-hungry monster. Use the $500-$1000 you’ll save to take your trophy wife out to dinner.”

    I second that. I got the 17″ refurb at less than the price of a “new” 15″. That was about a year and a half ago and it’s been a dream to work with. The extra sized screen is nice. Just get a light bag to offset the weight.

  48. Carlie says

    Does Mac make a tablet yet? Because I got one in April and the thing is practically hanging around my neck from a lanyard at all times. (Figuratively speaking, of course.) My Portege RULES, man. I am so in love with the tablet.

  49. tacitus says

    One catch though: the suggestion that I get an external display just won’t work for me. I don’t nail myself down much when working, and I’ll work at home about as much as I do the office, and when I’m traveling, I’m not going to bring a monitor with me. I really do rely on having everything all in one package.

    How much time do you spend working at home *and* in the office as opposed to when traveling? Wide screen 22-inch displays are less than $250 these days (20-inch are $180). Just check If you can afford a high-end Mac, then it is worth considering buying two displays to go with a cheaper, smaller system if most of your time is spent in one of two locations.

  50. Heterocronie says

    I’m a die-hard Mac user, always have been, but I’m very demoralized by the poor quality of hard drives (and hardware in general) going into their laptops these days. I’ve had two Powerbook and two Macbook hard drives go down in the last couple years. I’m nice to them, keep them cool etc. and I’d never had a drive die before my powerbook’s died. Does anyone replace their stock internal drive right out of the box? If so, what’s the most reliable make of drive to install?

  51. says

    Concerning the question of 15″ versus 17″, it totally depends how you use the machine. I recently upgraded a 3 year old 15″ powerbook to a 17″ glossy MBP and I am very happy with it. It is a bit heavier and sometimes a bit more awkward to use (in coach class it’s a tight fit to open, but I manage ;-) ). However, I am a consultant who has no fixed desk. I am usually at a desk that I have no control over and haven’t been at for more than a week or two. I LOVE the real estate that the high-res 17″ (same resolution as the 24″ iMac!) gives me (even before spaces in Leopard). the glossy is very nice as well, giving very rich colors.

    However, if you are moving a lot between two places (your office and home for instance) where you can add another monitor, I’d suggest the 15″ and invest in some used monitors for those desktops. In addition, the 15″ monitor will already increase the screenspace that you will have because the newer 15″ MBPs have a higher resolution than the 15″ powerbooks.

    If however, you use the machine in a lot of unknown destinations, like me, then going for the 17″ might be worth it. In any case, put as much RAM in as you can afford and get the 160 GB faseter drive – disk speed will be critical for MOST applications (not all though).

    Anyway, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the new machine – I know I do!!!

  52. says

    Question for the Mac fans out there:

    I’ve been using a Toshiba M200 Tablet PC (screen with a built-in digitizer and a pen to write on it) for some months now for teaching. I currently run Ubuntu Linux on it (can’t stand Windows XP or Vista), and I’ve come to rely on the “tablet” part of the machine – not only for presentations and graphics work, but for simply using the machine.

    After using the digitizer/pen on my laptop, there’s no way I’d even consider going back to a laptop *without* one. Are there any Mac tablets? (A quick glance at the Apple site doesn’t seem to indicate that there are, but I thought I’d ask.)

  53. Nathaniel says

    Opposing opinion:

    I’ve got the 17″ and love it. Why? Real estate. I routinely work with both the built-in and an external monitor, and I still can’t get enough. The space on the 17″ works great, especially if you put the Dock on the side of the screen. It’s also got marginally better specs than the 15″.

    Do NOT go with the glossy screen. If you’re staring at it all day long, go with matte; it’s much easier to read small fonts (which you use because you like lots of real estate, remember?).

    Yes, it’s heavier.. but only a pound or so. To compensate, I bought a second power brick. One at work, one at home: I never carry one unless I’m traveling. Yes, it’s bigger. But I don’t mind using a big hard-shell ASIO backpack. I’m a big guy.

    The main reason not to buy it is cost: you’re paying several hundred dollars for nothing more than the extra screen.

    But, by God, I know own The Top Of The Line. I have reached, in the words of Scott Adams, Nerdvana.


  54. Nathaniel says

    Rick #55:
    No, there are no Mac tablets, although this may change with the new lines of iPhone-like devices, which are basically finger-tablets.

    You can of course hook up tablet peripherals; Macs commune well with graphic-design stuff, I’m told.

  55. Gar Lipow says

    The one thing I want to reinforce. Get a 15 inch screen, and then get a 24 inch widescreen to attach to it wherever you use it most. If you get a laptop with a 17 inch screen you might as well get a desktop – it is a real pain to lug around. But a 15 inch screen, even when your OS supports is hard on your eyes. So get a full sized screen for the majority of your use.

  56. patrick says

    Get the 15″, I don’t regret it all. Probably matte. If you can get to a store that sells them (I’m assuming you’re mail ordering), see if you can play with both and see what you like.

    I also second the calls to get as much memory as you can stuff in it, but don’t buy it from Apple. They way overcharge for it. Buy it and put it in, or take it to an apple store on your travels and have them put it in for you.

  57. says

    Long time Mac person here: Last year, I was _convinced_ by a bioinformaticist at a conference on the glory of the Tablet PC: being able to create slide graphics on the fly, scribbling down doodles, etc. I went ahead and traded in my very long in the tooth Pismo for the HP4200. I wanted to use it as a digital notebook/scribble pad and PDF reader. It worked–sort of, but trying to keep Win XP Table Edition up and running drove me batty. Even as one of the lightest Tablet PCs, it got cumbersome and tiresome holding it in my arm and if using it on a table I might as well have fully open and use the keyboard. I never made the conversion to using Acrobat to mark up PDFs. After 4 months, I sold it for a loss.

    Since then I got a MacBook, but since my new job is a PC office, I installed Parallels/XP/Office to maintain maximum compatability (Yeah, most software is 95-99% compatable, but try explaining that to a screaming technophobic boss why his Powerpoint presentation “doesn’t look right”.)

  58. says

    I have a Macbook 13″ and it is the nicest laptop I have owned. 17″ sounds way too big to me; at that size it is more like a portable desktop than a laptop.

    I was doubtful about the glossy screen at first (no choice with the MacBook) but am very impressed. It looks sexier for a start (makes my old PC laptop look faded), and there is better contrast since light is not diffused at all by the screen. Reflections aren’t as distracting as I expected because they’re at a different focal distance (less distracting than reflections on a tv screen, since you sit much closer to a laptop screen)

  59. says

    I’m not a biologist #29, but probably because Winsnores have a tendency to slow way down over time (If I recall, it has to do with how Windows decides to manage the registry and arbitrarily caches the RAM onto stored disks). And since most Linux packages aren’t “user-friendly” unless you desire to do much tweaking, Mac seems to be the ultimate winner of the anti-windows war.

    Also, I personally haven’t heard much about laptops coming with Linux packages. Usually, of the laptops I see with Linux, it’s because the user installed the OS (like my Ubuntu machine). Maybe if linux users convinced corporate types at Dell and HP to produce Linux machines, you’d see a slight increase in Linux users in biology.

    Just my seat-of-my-pants response.

  60. Alan says

    No one has yet mentioned Crumpler bags for laptop transport. I have two Crumplers (one laptop and one camera bag) and love them dearly. They are spacious, comfy and very strongly built. I think they look better than the ubiquitous, though sturdy, Timbuk2 bags.

    Crumpler make two types of laptop bags – one is padded all over, with a laptop sleeve inside and the other has just the padded sleeve. The second type offers more room and are easier to find. They have all sorts of crazy model names that I can’t remember, but I have the “Part and Parcel” that takes a 15″ notebook and is all-over padded. They also make a number of backpack solutions too.

  61. says

    btw, the 15″ Pro is 1440 x 900 pixels, which is as high as a lot of 19″ monitors out there. 13″ macbook is 1280 x 800 which I find satisfactory.

  62. mcow says

    My feeling on the 15″ vs. 17″ is that unless you absolutely need the screen real estate (i.e. you use Photoshop a lot or something else with panels which clutter up even a 15″ screen) you should go for the 15″. The difference isn’t so much the weight, it’s just, well, the size. It’s easier to find a place to put a 15″ and when you’re carrying it around, 17″ is more unwieldy.

    You’re going to get used to either one, so if the 15″ seems small at first, it isn’t going to bother you after a few weeks. And after a month on a 17″, you’ll feel cramped on a smaller screen in the future.

    As for the glossy vs. matte: it’s largely personal preference. The colors look more vivid on a glossy and it’s easier to clean, but if you work outside a lot, or just under a lot of light, the reflections might bother you.

    This is the advice I gave people when I worked at one of the Apple Stores: position one of the glossy screens so that it has a significant light reflection on it and then try to use the machine. If you find your eyes tend to focus on the reflections rather than on the screen itself, you should probably go with the matte screen. Otherwise, I’d go with the glossy. I found people were divided about 50/50 using this test.

  63. LK says

    1. Get the 15″. The 17″ is only if you want a laptop that doesn’t move. Far too much hassle to lug around the country.

    2. I would get the glossy, but it is personal preference. Most people find the glossy screen too glossy to begin with, but gradually get used to it. Beware that strong overhead lights where your laptop is sitting or afternoon sun can make the glossy screen unreadable.

    3. – site seems to be down at the moment

    Both companies make Mac friendly bags that look good and are functional.

    Here are some other examples

  64. LK says

    Oh yeah and in addition to my last post. If you find you need more screen space on your 15 inch, then get another monitor rather than get the 17 inch.

  65. says

    I usually stretch out the usefulness of my computers for four or five years …

    This means you have no idea how to use, maintain, enhance, or service electronic digital computers, either hardware or software.

    I suggest an abacus. They last thousands of years.

    Using a computer for years reveals nothing about anybody’s ability to maintain or enhance software. PZ’s statement about stretching out the usefulness of his computers says nothing about his capacity to maintain or enhance computers either. It’s PZ’s platform choice that severely limits anybody’s capacity to do that. As the parody of the Mac Switch ads has it, it’s easy to upgrade a Mac. Just throw the old one away, and buy a new one at the Apple Store. Opening up a Mac doesn’t necessarily void one’s warranty, but tinkerers are not Apple’s target market.

    I’m mostly platform agnostic. My first question is, what is it that I need to do? Primarily, I need fast 3D interaction for apps like Maya, Softimage XSI, and ZBrush (and the Steam game engine from Valve). All of these products are available for the Mac (aren’t they?), but the newest features, for the most part, showed up first on the PC platforms, then later on for Mac and Linux. Once the Mac began to be seriously competitive in terms of its capacity to do 3D, releases have tended toward being simultaneous, but not always.

    Another hardware issue is, who provides the graphics board and drivers? For the longest time, Apple released ATI graphics boards, with notoriously poor driver updates contrasted with the support available from NVidia. Apple has obviated much of that difficulty. At school I’m using a fast, dual core Intel CPU with a PCI-Express Nvidia card on a Mac, but the apps I’m running on it are entirely Adobe suite tools, 2D and video. Using Photoshop and Illustrator and Flash on Mac’s OS is an elegant and simple affair. My primary frustration is remembering to use the “command” key instead of the control key I reach for first, and a one button mouse (but then I set my Wacom stylus so its side toggles between a middle and right button). I might someday seriously consider buying a Mac that also booted WinXP. I’m not interested yet in Vista, I’ll wait for a service pack and a price drop and a budget before I’ll think about it.

    I’m still using a desk machine I put together 5 years ago, when I got a new case, power supply, MB, CPU, RAM and graphics card. For 2002, Windows 2000 with a 2Gb CPU and a GeForce 4 for graphics was fairly competitive. Recently, I cheaped out and maxed out the capacity of the old (Asus) MB by installing a new power supply, 3 gigs of RAM, a 3Gb CPU, and the lastest fastest AGP card from the end of that era. It’s a pretty good system for 2005. It’s only fairly recently that things have changed enough for me to start lusting after a completely new box, which would probably run a quad-core CPU and serial graphics boards, primarily for the 3D apps I use to develop mods for the game engines so widely available these days. Mail ordering kits and parts for a render-farm is ridiculously inexpensive these days.

    But that’s just me. I bought an Apple IIe and baked it by filling all its slots, including a CPM card for Wordstar. Our Quadro 950 survived the Northridge quake. The Power Tower Pro was the last Apple product I bought. I had one of the first NT boxes in 1996 (“NT is the price we pay for cheap hardware.” — Jim Blinn), and have had fun with Linux too. Mac is “still the prettiest” GUI on top of Unix, but as for its hardware, I can get way more bang for my buck elsewhere.

  66. Nix says

    I note that your Mac preference is confirmed by Coulton’s _A Laptop Like You_, which makes it clear that this is not religion: it’s romance.

    (Does your wife know? But perhaps she has a laptop of her own…)

    (`You make my lap hot / Underneath your aluminum case / There’s love’)

  67. says

    15, the 17 really isn’t much bigger. Until you try and open it on a plane ;)

    Matte, cuz glare sux.

    Bag? Now there is a religious battle…

  68. The Vicar says

    Don’t be too quick to commit to Parallels if you need to run Windows. VMWare (which is an older and larger company in virtualization) has now released a product for the Mac.

    I don’t know how VMWare Fusion (the Mac product) compares to Parallels. (In fact, judging by what the two companies’ marketing materials have to say about it, it looks like Parallels will be significantly better for gaming, at least for the time being, since it does accelerated video.) But if you’re not using any programs in Windows which use 3D video, remember that Parallels is being updated a lot and that SWsoft doesn’t always seem to offer discounts when they release a paid upgrade. (VMWare may not, either — they haven’t had one yet — but VMWare also has a rebate right now, so it’s $20 less.)

  69. Barry says

    As an aside, if you’re keen on a five-year lifespan a laptop might not be ideal due to the lower performance than desktops, lack of easily upgradeable/replaceable parts, lack of expansion slots and so forth.

  70. Peter Landers says

    I got a 17″ MacBook Pro last month, with the upgraded 1920×1200 screen and boosted to 4GB (Kingston RAM, not Apple’s overpriced BTO upgrade). I love it, and on a 17″ screen the resolution is just right for my eyes. It’s a good enough machine that it’s replaced my two older Macs and my big Windows PC.

    I don’t find the weight to be an issue at all, it’s actually lighter than my older Dell 15″. And you won’t find a Windows 17″ laptop as compact as the MBP.

    As for bags, I found the BBP Hamptons. It’s a messenger bag that converts into a low-riding backpack (the BBP stands for, apparently, “bum back pack”). Very sensible design with lots of pockets that actually appear to have been designed with particular items in mind instead of the more traditional random selection of pockets, and marketed directly at the college crowd. Room for tons of books inside, but without them it’s quite compact. Best bag I’ve owned. The “large” size is appropriate for the 17″ MBP, fits it like a glove.

  71. Peter Landers says

    A few more notes:

    I went for the matte screen. I quite like the glossy ones too, but for my needs I felt matte would be better. I don’t regret the choice.

    As for Fusion vs. Parallels, the verdict seems to be that Fusion is quite a bit faster. I also prefer its interface. It has “experimental” 3D support just like Parallels, but neither is really appropriate for gaming. Boot Camp is the way to go for that, and both Fusion and Parallels will work with an existing Boot Camp partition.

  72. Brad Murray says

    I prefer the smallest screen available to maximise portability and get a nice big monitor for the desk. My laptop is a 13″ Powerbook that needs replacing.

  73. says

    A post on Pharyngula I’m qualified to reply to! Finally!

    15″ vs. 17″– I contemplated this when I was picking out my MacBook Pro. I went into the Apple Store and checked out the form factors of the two machines. The 17″ screen, while it gives a great view and more desktop real estate than you can shake a stick at, also gives that machine a sort of “aluminum lunch tray” kind of feel when you carry it that I didn’t dig so much.. The 15″ form factor was more comfortable for me, so that’s what I went with. I have an external monitor (19″, 1440×900) that I use when I’m in my office at home. That gives me more than enough real-estate for most of what I do.

    So it comes down to this- are you willing to sacrifice weight and size for some more screen real estate that’s available all the time? (Taking into account features like Exposé and Spaces) For the way I use my machine, I’m willing to take the smaller size, lighter weight, and give up some screen. But it totally depends on how you use your Mac.

    Glossy vs. matte– I went matte. My line of thinking went something like this: If this was a desktop machine where I could arrange the room and lighting to eliminate glare, a glossy screen could be nice. But since this is a machine that I’m going to be opening up and using FSM-knows-where, the lighting is out of my control. So I’d rather have a display that doesn’t glare than have to be twisting and turning to avoid the glare.

    I’m waiting to see the answer to the bag question myself. I’ve got a small, just-the-essentials InCase Nylon Sleeve that I may be looking to replace with a larger, more capacious case fairly soon.

  74. peter says

    the standard at my company, regardless of preference of OS is the 15″ glossy. outnumbers the competition around 10:1

    personally, I’ve had the 12″, the 15″ and the 17″ and which is best really depends on where you intend to use it. if you actually intend to use it on your lap, the mac book is the winner. not quite as hot. next best is the 15″. the new model has more real estate than the old due to the greater resolution of the screen… makes a big difference, (though things may appear a little smaller as a result.)

    if you like watching movies in bed, get the 17″ (but put a book or something under it. if you get a lapdesk, get a wooden one, the plastic ones warp with the heat.)

    whether or not the glossy will be a problem for you really depends on what your work environment is like. if you work in very bright soft light, the matte might be better, otherwise, try the glossy. the contrast ratio is higher. given the brightness of the light behind the shiny glass, glare is far less of a problem then you would think. think of a window into a brightly lit room. with more light on the far side, the reflections are really negligible.

    both VMware fusion and parallels are equally popular here… I’m a purist, I don’t use windows unless I have to, and I have other machines for that. personally I don’t know any windows programs that I want to use… I tend to use emacs for editing, (or textmate) (if you want to start another religious war, ask about emacs and vi…, I’m partial to emacs, but I use either…) and css for layout.

    funnily enough the deciding factor for most people regarding windows vs. mac is subconscious and related to the way that each platform does its text anti-aliasing. windows die-hards think macs are fuzzy, and mac users think windows is inelegant. basically windows moves characters so the character outlines line up better with the actual screen pixels, mac will color pixels to deal with the characters where they are. this is one of the reasons that graphic artists tend to lean towards mac. the WYSIWYG is closer to reality.


  75. JM says

    If you’re almost always going to be travelling in a car when you take your portable away with you, and using it as your main machine when not travelling, then I’d say choose a 17″. If you’re going to be travelling on public transport and walking with your portable, then I’d say buy one of the new desktop iMacs to stay at home, and wait to see what Apple produces as an ultraportable. (From the rumors I read, there may well be several Apple ultraportable products – from a handheld to a lightweight laptop.)

    I bought a (13.3″) MacBook to maximise portability – and an iMac for home. The MacBook is a lovely machine, but even it is far too heavy to carry around. Do take a look at e.g the Toshiba Portege R500 to see what Apple will (have to?) surpass with a lightweight laptop.

  76. faux facsimile says

    Nothing that hasn’t already been said, but…

    Problem with the 17″ MBP is bulk more than weight. It’s just unwieldy in many situations. If you’re going to move around a lot, the 15″ model is just more convenient.

    Buy refurbished: you save 15-20% and don’t really lose anything. Max. out the RAM (but don’t buy from Apple, who overprices such things grossly): it’ll help performance substantially, particularly in the longer term.

    If you’re vain about your toy’s appearance, consider getting a hard case (like the Speck SeeThru) which’ll protect the aluminum finish from the usual sorts of dings and scratches. A screen protector is also helpful for keeping fingerprints from the keyboard from transferring to the LCD.

    Or you could just go for 3.2 lbs Lenovo ThinkPad X61…

  77. Richard says

    I went with the 15″ for the portability, and don’t miss the screen size. I tried both matt and glossy screens in a store and found the reflections distracting, so went with matt. I’m very happy with this setup.

    I also tried Parallels and VMWare for Winpoo support, and found VMWare to be superior, both in performance and general interface. For $75 + a WinXP license, it leaves you with both major operating systems (Mac and Unix) plus Windows, all on one elegant box.

  78. MikeG says

    Matte screen reccomended, here. But then, I have an elderly cat who loves to curl up with me. The problem is that he has a perpetually runny nose that causes him to violently shake his head… sending droplets of snot onto my beautiful MacBook glossy screen. The matte on my Powerbook hid some of those.

    If this is not a problem, the glossy screen really looks good, as long as there aren’t too many lights behind you.

  79. says


    [HP 4200]

    It worked–sort of, but trying to keep Win XP Table Edition up and running drove me batty.t

    If you were going for lightness and quality, you really should have picked up a Thinkpad X-series tablet. Wouldn’t have cured your XP Tablet Edition woes (because XP Tablet Edition really is a pain), but the Thinkpad X-series tablets are probably the most portable ones.

    (I went with the Toshiba for the extra screen resolution and to save a bit of money because I was paying for it our of my own pocket rather than through the school.)

    I suppose eventually Apple will offer a tablet option – especially (as mentioned before) given their OTHER portable devices.

    As for the glossy vs. non-glossy screen wars, I’ve had both. Glossy is great if the only place you’re going to use your laptop is a desk where you can optimize your viewing angle and the lighting to prevent glare. Otherwise, glossy screens have often given me headaches from the glare.

  80. Boosterz says

    I won’t comment on the mac notebook itself being as how I hate Apple almost as much as I hate Microsoft, but I will comment on the bag. Instead of spending a ton of money on some overly fancy notebook bag, why not buy a perfectly good bag for less then half the money off

  81. michael says

    Get 2 GB of RAM now, and wait at least a year before you upgrade to 4 GB (from newegg, of course). The extra memory is just too expensive at the moment, and you won’t need it with today’s applications.

  82. Doug says

    All of this talk about portability and technology reminds me of Asimov’s essay titled “The Ancient and the Ultimate” about the ultimate portable reading device. And it’s not made by Apple nor Microsoft. I just rented one with Dawkins pre-installed.

  83. sailor says

    “One catch though: the suggestion that I get an external display just won’t work for me. I don’t nail myself down much when working, and I’ll work at home about as much as I do the office, and when I’m traveling, I’m not going to bring a monitor with me. I really do rely on having everything all in one package.”
    You have convinced yourself, you have not convinced me – try two big screens – one for home one of the office and slum it when you are on the road.
    However, if you really have to have just one screen, start eating steroids and get the 17-inch at a high resolution, I have a 17 inch (1920 by 1200) it is pretty good, I still prefer the same real-estate at 24 inches. It is a big laptop – but you can get a nice bag with wheels that will go on the smallest plane with you so you don’t have to lift it that much.

  84. fyreflye says

    No point in dealing with the original questions since they’ve all received a hundred conflicting answers each. Let me say something about a BROWSER for the MacBook. Believe it or not Netscape 9, just released today, has jumped to the top of the heap. It’s faster (once loaded) than Firefox, as fast as Safari in fact; can use all the neat extensions developed for Firefox; imports your Firefox or Safari bookmarks, history, cookies and saved passwords in an instant; and replaces the now slow, bloated and dying Firefox as the perfect Mac browser. No, I’m not one of the designers, just a surprised and delighted new user. Try it!

  85. says

    Just to comment about the size. Go for the smaller. I would trade mine in in a heartbeat for a 15″ or smaller. I have a 17″ and it’s not the weight that’s bothersome, it’s the space in my backpack when I do carry it.

  86. p says

    ” I have one with
    4GB RAM and it is a wonder to behold. ”

    It was my understanding that 32-bit systems can’t really manage 4GB: because they can only “see” up to 4GB of system memory TOTAL, and because some of that has to be addressed to system components/drivers that use memory addressing (like sound, graphics, etc.) a lot of that last Gig of memory is basically a complete waste: your OS can’t see or use it because that “space” is already addressed to other things. 3GB is pretty much the only justifiable thing for a 32bit OS, and besides, 3G on a laptop is already pretty overkill unless you are really doing hardcore gaming (in which case you’ll have a great graphics card…. which chops away even more of that 4th G).

    If you have a 64bit system of course, no problem at all. And maybe macs have some sort of magical workaround for the 4G problem. But it was my understanding that it was a very basic 32bit OS problem, and that those that sell people 4G are basically just ripping them off.

  87. Nomen Nescio says

    Linux really is getting less tinker-y with every year that goes; recent Ubuntu releases have been just about painless in my experience.

    but whatever you do, max out the memory. you’ll thank yourself. you’ll need it sooner than you think, and if Mac accessories and components are behaving anything like PC ones, then the now-current standard in RAM modules will be outdated in a matter of years. might as well get whatever kind of memory your laptop needs or wants right off the bat.

    (really, in any computer purchase these days, there’s very little reason not to max out on components like disk and memory. having it will make the box stay useful longer, and saving up to buy anything that devalues as fast as electronics is silly. pick a price and performance level for the basic box, then stuff that box to the gills; you never will later anyway, you’ll just throw it out and replace it instead. make the thing be more useful while it is useful, says i.)

  88. Gary says

    For a bag, get one with wheels like a small suitcase. I have a Victorix (made by the Swiss Army knife people) and I have carted this all over the world (and with extra batteries) with no back or shoulder pain.

  89. says

    Silly Mac zealots. You can’t incite a religious war by precluding everything except Macs–that’s like asking “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915”.

    Although, I can’t blame you for avoiding Windows Vista. I wouldn’t buy that crap either.

  90. says

    I only use laptop for taking notes and giving lectures. I don’t like PDAs, and I find a regular laptop too clumsy. So I got a 12” portégé. It’s small, light, and just plain awesome.

  91. says


    really, in any computer purchase these days, there’s very little reason not to max out on components like disk and memory. having it will make the box stay useful longer

    My Toshiba Portege M200 is loaded with a 160GB hard drive and 2GB RAM, and it makes an awesome Ubuntu box. It was much cheaper to buy both the drive and the RAM online than to get either direct from Toshiba. About the only “extra” I’d buy direct from the manufacturer is an extra battery. (I looked and Toshiba sold it cheaper… go figure.)

    I’m assuming that you can actually open up the Mac and upgrade the drive and memory, though. With Apple, you never know. :)

  92. travc says

    Go with the smaller size. Matte is probably better, but not a huge deal. I really wish Apple would make a 12″ or 13″ MacBook Pro… 15″ is actually a bit too big for a laptop IMO. The point of a laptop is portability after all, and a little less size and weight makes a big difference.

    When you can, buy or scrounge a nice external monitor (and keyboard + mouse) if you really do a lot of “desktop” type work. The difference for hours long work (like say programming) between a big laptop and a small laptop (assuming you get good with multiple desktops and/or expose’) is not all that significant. A good external keyboard and multiple displays is much better. Yeah… you don’t just use the external monitor as your sole display, you use both.

  93. flygirl says

    I reckon the 15″ if you travel alot and another, larger screen for when you are sitting at your desk. Matte finish, of course!

    As for bags, I highly recommend the Crumpler line of bags for cameras and laptops from Australia (not that I am biased as an Aussie in any way). They have a wide range covering all sized laptops and they are large and roomy with many pockets (and yes, I do have one). They’re pretty lightweight and well-padded as well, and water proof. You can view them at

  94. Sparkomatic says

    I live in the Northwest and am in Grad school at Hopkins in B’more so there is much lugging of stuff from coast to coast. I have the Macbook Pro with the 15″ which I carry in a Brenthaven bag. It works for me, especially if I’m trying to travel light because the bag has lots of compartments to keep me organized, the construction is bombproof and theres room for a change of clothes. I wanted the 17″ but made compromise for size and weight and it seems like a good move. The Pentium processor is sweet btw….

  95. says

    I also tried Parallels and VMWare for Winpoo support, and found VMWare to be superior, both in performance and general interface.

    And Unity blows Coherence completely away, as well. Just sayin’.

  96. fardels bear says

    It probably indicates that there is something seriously wrong with my priorities that I care much more about the bag I put it in than I do about the laptop itself.

    The best bags on the market are made in Montana by two ex-military paratrooper riggers:

    I have the “Metro Briefcase” but you could go for the “CPA Briefcase” if you want more space. Or the “Mini Ruck” if you want a backpack style.

    How good is this stuff? The warranty is one line long: “Put it in your will.”

  97. Steve_C says

    If you were thinking of going smaller, they might be coming out with an Ultra Portable in January at the MacWorld Expo. It’s always a good idea to wait for January if you can, there’s usually a surprise or two at it. They may bump the specs then too. I didn’t think I’d like the glossy screens, but they’re actually brighter and richer. Unless you have your back to a window glare isn’t an issue.

    Support my hood… get this messenger/laptop bag.

    Puma is making some cool new stuff too…

  98. Gelf says

    In the spirit of all religious discussions, I’m simply going to state my own position and then leave it as implied that if you do something different you’re arrogant and offensive to me.

    17″ (Screen real estate is essential for me, and the portability is not so bad as some people have made it out to be. I have the toothpick arms of someone who hasn’t even seen the inside of a gym in ten years or so, and I carry the thing everywhere with no problem.)

    Matte (The difference for watching movies in bed at night isn’t the issue. Matte is spiffyfine for that. My understanding is that glossy washes out less in bright direct light, such as sunlight, but then I’ve heard exactly the opposite as well. It would be nice if you could try them both under the sorts of conditions you’d typically be experiencing. Any colleagues among the faithful you could bug?)

    Case: Matias LaptopArmor ( — Doesn’t really suit your overnight needs, but I feel much less scary laptop vulnerability with it, and I’m told I look like I’m carrying nuclear launch codes or perhaps a hefty bribe for a crooked senator. I have owned a Brenthaven bag and it projects some significant awesome. One of my favorite bags ever was a Shaun Jackson Design LapDog — — but only the small one they say is for 14″ or smaller, which I used quite effectively with an older 15″ PowerBook. I tried the larger one for the 17″ and didn’t care for it at that size.)

  99. says

    I’m on WinVista (don’t go there, it doesn’t work yet and won’t until SP1 is released in January, but it’s my work/home machine.) Go 15.4″ matte. I use whatever case I picked up as swag at my last conference. For flying/heavy duty remotes where it is likely to get kicked around, I have a heavy no name airline canvas back I picked up years ago at Staples.

  100. Martín Pereyra says

    I don’t know if a debate over laptop bags and glossy screens could be considered “a major religious question”.

    At least, laptop bags and glossy screens are real.

  101. Martín Pereyra says

    I don’t know if a debate over laptop bags and glossy screens could be considered “a major religious question”.

    At least, laptop bags and glossy screens are real.

  102. Fiona says

    Go for the 15″ MacBook Pro – a fellow traveling neurologist and I were pitting his (new) MacBook against my (3 months old) MBP… and we liked the backlit keyboard on the Pro, the rest of the differences were minimal. Do as many have suggested: stuff it with as much RAM as you can afford (not necessarily through the Apple Store).

    My MBP travels in the sleeve that I bought for my previous laptop (a G4 PowerBook) – a fitted neoprene/memory foam thing by MacAlly (I think). This sleeve handily fits into all sorts of travel bags, from backpacks to wheeled luggage.

    Good luck!

  103. BJN says

    15″. Laptops aren’t workstation substitutes. Get one that’s small enough and light enough not to be a burden when you’re mobile. Matte is much better for a computer that actually travels with you. You can’t control ambient lighting and a mirror finish display in a harsh, sunny location will give you fits.

    If you need a larger display, get an external display. Something with some real acreage. 17″ is puny.

  104. Don Kane says

    Hey folks, PZ was the guy who, as a grad student, believe it or not, used to cart his 1985 fat mac back and forth between the lab and home in his backpack (carried sort of backwards, on his stomach)l on the Eugene buses….

    Do the 15″ plus monitor. Use a timbutu for the plane (and commuting too), great as carry on for overnights.

    I like the argument above, trying to open a 17′ in a cafe….or on a airplane!

    But I have an old 12″, and I love it, take it everywhere. Great for commuting, esp. biking in. Okay, Paul, I know that you are not much of a biker, so that is prob’ly not important.

    Also, on some whole months I don’t cart the book around, and switch back an forth between the 12″ at home and a couple of old dinosaur Macs at the lab, using a 80 gig firedrive for synching all the machines together. It was quite nice last year when a faulty memory chip messed up my drives on the book, to have backups on the firedrive and the computers at the lab.

    Some of the students have the glossy screens on their Primative Computors (is that what PC stands for?) at school, I don’t like them all that much.

  105. mojoandy says

    Whatever you do, just use Emacs and not VI. Yeah, that’s what a religious war is all about… you heard me, you VI weanies.

    //Just kidding. Please don’t kill me.

  106. Don Hyde says

    The only problem with the Mac is that they have the wrong brand of X86 chips in them.

    This opinion, of course, has nothing whatsoever to do with my working for AMD…

  107. desert donkey says

    For bags, visit these folks in your home state of WA. They cant be all wrong when they put this on some of their tags ….

    “Nous sommes desoles que notre president soit un idiot. Nous n’avons pas vote pour lui.” translates to “We are sorry that our President is an idiot. We did not vote for him.”

  108. says

    Well, it looks as though everything been covered but I agree 15″ Macbook Pro, matte, (with Parallels & XP Pro if you have to use a PC from time-to-time – XP has never been more stable. However, one caution – if you have any pricey proprietary software for which you only have a single-user license make sure it’s copy protection doesn’t preclude its installation on a dual processor machine – unless of course you want to foot the bill for a second license) and a Tom Bihn bag.

  109. ckerst says

    I have a 17 inch laptop. I watch movies on it often and it’s great. However it is a LOAD to haul around.

  110. usagi says

    Late to the party, but strongly opinionated. I had one requirement for my last laptop–under 3 pounds. I settled on a Panasonic Toughbook W2. Oh, do I love it. I lust after the W7 that’s coming out later this month, but that’s not in the cards till they’re available refurbished.

    I prefer smaller screens so I’d say 15 with an external monitor if you need to be working on something larger (12 is as small as I’ll go though–10s are not workable). Glossy is better for watching movies in bed, so if that’s your primary use, go for it. Otherwise, go matte.

    Bags is bags. I actually have several, including a $10.00 no-name courier bag from Chinatown I use if I’m traveling light to a wireless cafe. What let’s me toss my baby into anything I want with confidence is my ZeroShock sleeve.

  111. says

    1. 15″ over 17″. If you have to take it anywhere, you will be glad, as the 17″ is heavy and awkward, especially in economy class on a plane.

    Get yourself a second monitor to give yourself more pixel space, and keep it on your desk with a regular keyboard and mouse. You get tons of screen room (the monitors become contiguous) and all the upside of a desktop machine and you can still go hang at the cafe and pretend to work when you feel like it.

    2. Glossy. The color range and the value range is superior. Blacks are blacker, colors are more intense. Collects a few more fingerprints, but it’s worth it.

  112. Matt H says

    Only one recommendation: glossy screen. They’re easier to clean….I have had enough of the weird refractions that occur through old matte-finish screens, so it’s glossy or bust.

  113. says

    Re matte vs glossy, check the shot on this post of my matte pc vs glossy macbook:

    Re VMWare vs Parallels, I used VMWare for months for the performance, but Parallels seems to have caught up and has better features and integration into OSX, so I’m now a Parallels fan. I run it continuously and constantly switch between OSX and XP

  114. bernarda says

    For either PC or MAC laptop users, one accessory I highly recommend is a wireless keyboard and mouse combination. I use my laptop at home a lot and it is so much more comfortable to use the full size keyboard and with wireless you don’t have to be glued immediately in front of the screen.

    Also, the one I have has several extra keys to access often used things often quickly. But always have spare batteries on hand.

    I agree with those who use Ubuntu Linux. It is a free open-source system with support. I have it on a desktop, and it worked from the word go when I installed it. Apparently Dell is going to be selling Linux-based computers, but I don’t know which one it will be using.

  115. says

    I have a 17″ Macbook Pro with a glossy screen.

    Get the 17″ — you won’t regret it. Fussing over an extra pound on such a slim laptop is about as silly as all the people scrambling over one another to get an extra megapixel on their digital cameras. Time and time again I’m really, really glad I got the 17″ instead of 15″ because I can work with two things side by side so easily. The extra screen real estate is really nice if you work with photos, too. I don’t know where people get the idea that the 17″ Macbook Pro is heavy, but I bet gym class was their lowest grade.

    Glossy is more a matter of personal preference. I like the increased contrast the glossy screen gives me, but the glare gets annoying in direct sunlight. Not unusable, but annoying. If you spend a lot of time outdoors on your computer you might want to stick with matte. If not, glossy is great.

  116. says

    Don’t forget to pick up a copy of ‘Parallels’ it’s great for when you do have to do some Windows stuff. It also works with Linux distros like Feisty Fawn (love that name) Ubuntu.

  117. JM says

    All of this talk about portability and technology reminds me of Asimov’s essay titled “The Ancient and the Ultimate” about the ultimate portable reading device. And it’s not made by Apple nor Microsoft. I just rented one with Dawkins pre-installed.

    Posted by: Doug | October 15, 2007 8:11 PM

    I’ve heard that these spontaneously catch fire (at Fahrenheit 451).

  118. jim says

    Well, you can have my 17″ PowerBook when you pry the home keys out from under my cold dead fingers. I use it on the move all the time, and don’t find that it’s too big or too heavy – I regularly use it on quite crowded commuter trains. I have the Crumpler Base Toucher backpack for it, which is a lovely bag – fits the powerbook with space left over for a few books and a change of clothes (or on choir nights, my music and a water bottle). Plus it doesn’t scream out “Laptop, please run off with” to all comers.

  119. Jon H says


    I started a new job last month, working for HHMI in a neurobiology lab at Harvard. I was given a 17″ 2.4 GHz MacBook Pro with the high resolution matte screen. It’s quite good. It also runs cooler than my personal 15″ MacBook Pro which I ordered the day they were first announced. I notice that the cooling vent slots near the hinge are different these days, which might have something to do with it.

    As far as what people are seeing being different from what you see, that might be due to different gamma settings. Windows defaults to a higher gamma, which is darker and more contrasty. I happen to prefer that setting. Apple’s default gamma in OS X seems excessively bright and washed out, IMHO. So I always create a custom calibration via System Preferences, which has a higher gamma. (I believe the standard Mac and Windows gammas are noted on the slider when you’re asked to set the gamma setting for the new profile. I think Mac is 1.7 and Windows is 2.2)

    If nothing else, you could create a Windows-gamma screen colorsync profile, and use that to check your graphics and videos before posting.

  120. Jon H says

    Oh, also: My original, first-version 15″ MacBook Pro runs sufficiently hot that I’d be afraid to run it with the screen closed, hooked up to an external mouse, keyboard, and screen.

    My 17″ MacBookPro runs fine like that.

  121. sharon says

    If you want it to last several years, spend the extra on a MacBook Pro rather than economising with a MacBook. I love my MB (my first Mac ever), but I am not impressed by the build quality, and I’ll be amazed if it lasts four years.

  122. Jon H says

    And one last thing: The tiny new Apple bluetooth keyboard is a sweet piece of design that my lab coworkers have been coveting.

    I like it because I like having a small notepad between my keyboard and my trackball. I picked up this habit when I had one of the white iBooks. This keyboard is small enough that this arrangement works without moving the trackball (or mouse) so far to the right that it’s awkward.

  123. Jon H says

    Note that the 17″ MacBook pro is available with a 1920×1200 screen.

    This is the same number of pixels as Apple’s 23″ Cinema Display.

  124. Kerry K says

    MacBook is my main machine now, and a great fit with the Victorinox travel pack. I got an Incase neoprene cover for the laptop, and it fits perfectly into the small zip-away daypack, ideal for normal working days without the need to carry a load. On weekend to week-long trips, the whole pack works as an airline carry-on, or can be zipped up tight for checking.

  125. Hao says

    TLDR. (well I read about a quarter of the comments)

    I prefer Matte, but that really is a decision you have to do yourself, as some people like the glossy, and other people don’t due to more glare / color accuracy. (disclaimer: I study vision)

    I also agree that buying a second monitor w/ the 15″ is probably your best bet for real estate, unless you really need 17″ to be portable (such as giving presentations to small groups w/o a projector).

    Finally, I have one of the older high-end Brenthaven bags. It is indeed, indestructible, although the ballistic nylon has suffered some scratches on the front.

  126. says

    If you want to use it on a plane, and don’t sit in first class, the 17 is a little big. I love the 17, but for travel and portability the 15 really much better.

  127. Dave says

    On topic:
    As a few have suggested: 15″ for portability, with (perhaps) a separate monitor to give you extra screen acreage when needed: a MacBook Pro gives you the option of two separate but linked monitors, or two monitors showing the same thing.

    Off topic:
    The real reason I’m writing is this: squid screensaver! Here: (there’s a quicktime movie preview; to use the screensaver download the SRC file, unzip it and drop it in ~Library/Screen Savers ). Some more of the guy’s work: (the screensavers require OS X 10.4)

  128. says

    I would say your decision depends almost entirely on how much your MacBook Pro will travel with you. I personally have a 15″ matte screen, and it is perfect for my needs. However, I am a law student so it quite literally goes EVERYWHERE with me. The 17″ would just be too burdensome to carry around. The advantage to a matte screen when you’re carrying a laptop around is that it minimizes obvious fingerprints. I’ve grown accustomed to just keeping a protective layer between the screen and the keyboard, which could solve your problem if you really want a gloss screen.

  129. says

    Pick the MacBook that suits you, but buy from Small Dog Electronics. Not only do they ship two little plastic doggy figurines with each order, but they advertise on progressive radio stations. Apples are the same price everywhere, so why not shop where your politics are respected?
    Buy AppleCare extended warranty with any Mac laptop. It’s cheap insurance.

  130. Chris says

    To echo some others, go for the 15″, max out the RAM, and get a bigger monitor for desktop work, if you need it. My sister-in-law bought the 15″ MBP last summer, and finds it to be a perfect size, and she can do layout in Quark and Illustrator with no problems. She is also a stroke recovery person, so hauling around excess weight with a dodgy right side is a big consideration for her. She’s the only one with a Mac in her office, and is the object of much envy!

    As for the screen type, unless you are doing a lot of print layout type work that needs finnicky colour adjustments, I don’t think the matte/glossy screen will be an issue. See if you can get one of them for a lower price, then bargain in some more RAM!

    Have fun with this!

  131. says

    I like the idea of the 15″ along with an external monitor for tethered use – in fact get an external keyboard and you can run it as a sweet dual-monitor setup. Just an extra thought – Apple’s screens include the traditional Apple markup, but unlike the laptops the difference isn’t really justified. Dell’s screens are very similar (the higher quality ones use the same panels, I believe) for a lot less.

  132. Steve_C says

    Yeah but they look like shit. And the cases are mostly plastic.
    And do they have the same number of firewire and usb ports built in?

    Would rather buy an HP or Sony of I couldn’t get an Apple monitor.

  133. says

    As a student, I must say I prefer the 15″ screen; the weight makes a BIG difference over time. It’s a pain in the arse.

    As far as the case is concerned, while I AM using an HP laptop, I use a case that’s made for macbooks; it’s sleek, simple and rugged enough to protect my laptop from mild-to-moderate abuse.

  134. David Schoonmaker says

    Here’s another vote for Crumpler laptop bags:

    As for the MacBook particulars, I can’t imagine hauling a 17″, but then I’m perfectly satisfied with my old 12″ iBook, so what do I know?

  135. Kagehi says

    Got XP installed on my. I seriously hate MS attitudes, their constant need to undermine everyone else, etc. But.. The OS actually fracking works, which is a huge improvement over any prior version I had installed. Sadly, they intentionally broke a lot of things jumping to Vista, from a) not being able to use DirectX 10 on anything “other” than Vista, to removing DirectSound, which a lot of things used, in favor of some new mess, not to mention DRM insanities, more limitations on how/what and when you can change some settings, etc. Yeah, I agree with Jeff, I wouldn’t touch it, unless I bought a system “solely” to run games. I guess shooting yourself in the foot doesn’t have much effect when your company became one of the Nosferatu a decade earlier. lol

    As for Mac vs. Linux. What, there is a difference? Oh, yeah, forget, Apple has their own GUI. lol Seriously though, if I was going to get a laptop myself, it would either be a Linux one or a Mac. Probably not Windows, simply because games don’t run that well on laptops compared to desktops (hardware is often below optimum for games) and there isn’t a whole hell of a lot else I do that I **need** Windows for. Though, Gimps layout irritates the hell out of me, being used to Paintshop Pro. But, the newest version of that they changed some behaviors in (like some tools only working on “some” color depths, etc.), which slightly pissed me off too, so… it might be easier to find a way to fix GIMP. lol

    WINE has gotten pretty decent at running “most” windows stuff now too anyway, though games are still flaky in a lot of cases. You can even use scripting/COM in it now, which didn’t work at all that long ago.

  136. Gar Lipow says

    If an external screen is really out for your then go for the 17 inch, and live with the bulk. Could you do what one person suggested and have one external screen at home and one at office? Or do you not tie yourself down to two locations?

    For all the people who said, you will get used to a 15 inch? I’m sure you will. But the 17 inch is still less of a strain on your eyes. Your eyes not replacable. If external screens are out of the question, then live with the inconvenience of buying something slightly heavier and a lot bulkier to get the 17 inch screen. You are not going to be able use a 17 inch on an airplane though, so get some secondary device for airline use if you fly a lot.

  137. says

    1. Buy small-screen Macbook.
    2. Buy large-screen TV for living room with remaining money.
    3. Any left over money should be spent on presents for your fabulous daughter.

    And brownies. Buy some brownies. Mm.

  138. Timothy says

    Real men run Linux, PZ. Buy a laptop with it pre-installed and no tinkering is required. You’ll probably end up with a yucky distro like ubuntu though, but if you’re seriously considering buying a mac there’s no way you’ll mind.

  139. says

    [Full disclosure: I work for the formerly-stripey fruit company. As an engineer, not a sales or marketing person]

    Here’s what I have: a 15″ MacBook Pro with a Cinema Display on my desk. When I’m at my desk, which is a lot of the time, I plug in the display (a DVI connector, a firewire connector and a USB connector) and I have a reasonable desktop machine. When I’m traveling, I like the smaller screen– fits better on economy class tray tables. I have no problem recommending this to people who want small portable with big display at desk.

    Switching between these modes is a breeze. Some people sell docking assemblies for MacBook Pro, but I haven’t wanted one. The 20″ display is US$600, maybe less if you get an educational discount. If that’s too much for you, then I’d say try them out at the store before you buy, but the 15″ is probably the one I’d pick. Then again, I miss the 12″ screen on my old iBook G3.

  140. says

    Alas, I wrote that without seeing that PZ thinks the external display won’t work for him. I’d still stay with the 15″. My take is that the extra real estate on the 17″ is still not enough to keep you from having to juggle windows when you’re working with multiple apps. Spaces might help you. They work great for me…

  141. Pieter B says

    I’d vote 15″ matte. For a bag, I like my Lands End a lot. If my laptop attaché ever wears out, I’ll get the wheeled business briefcase, which comes with a laptop sleeve.