// 16.May.2009

Is the MacBook Good Enough for the Pro-user?

It looks like I’m going to be working away from home for a while, possibly for several months, so I need to get a laptop to help me while away the evenings.

Money is really tight at the moment, as I guess it is for most people. Thus logic tells me that I should grab the cheapest machine I can get, perhaps even buying used from eBay. But I have a huge investment in Apple and there’s no way I could afford to buy the Windows equivalents of all the software that I use daily. So, despite the larger initial outlay, a MacBook is the only sensible choice.

But budget constraints still apply, thus I’m more inclined to go for the MacBook rather than the top-of-the-range MacBook Pro (which my heart is begging me to buy). The problem is that I consider myself to be a pro-user and I’m wondering if the MacBook can keep up.

The machine I’m considering is the 2.4GHz variant with a RAM upgrade to 4MB. It’s a nice machine and the specifications seem decent enough, but how will it compare with the trusty dual 2.7GHz Power Mac G5 that’s served me so well on the desktop for the past few years?

My main demands on my computer are my heavy use of Photoshop and Aperture. I’m also a keen programmer and spend a lot of time compiling code (whilst simultaneously browsing the Web and playing music with iTunes). Is the MacBook going to feel under-powered in these situations?

I’m also used to my 30″ ACD with its whopping 2,560 × 1,600 resolution. But I’m going to have to work on a 13.3″ display at 1,280 × 800 — that’s a display that’s almost 56% smaller than what I’m used to. Is this going to be a relatively painless transition to make?

I understand that, when I return home, I can hook the MacBook up to my ACD via the extortionately-priced Apple Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter which would be great, but the reviews on Apple’s own website for that product are not very reassuring. Do you have any experience with such a setup? Is it any good?

What about that glossy screen? I get the benefits (increased contrast and more vibrant display) and it’s true that it looks stunning, but just how bad is its reflectivity in the real world?

Being able to drop into Windows XP might be useful from time-to-time and I’m intrigued by Sun’s VirtualBox virtualisation software. Do you use VirtualBox? How does it compare with other similar products?

Assuming I get the MacBook, is it possible to keep it synchronised with my Power Mac? That is, when I return home would I be able to easily update the contents of my desktop machine with those of the MacBook? Including files, email, source code, photographs, music, etc.? I could probably figure out how to script such a synchronisation with rsync, but is there anything available that’ll automatically manage this for me?

I’m probably going to come up with a lot more questions as I consider this further, but these are the ones I need answering for now. I eagerly await your feedback.

Last Revision: October 10th, 2009 at 01:09

7 Comments for “Is the MacBook Good Enough for the Pro-user?”

  1. I use a previous generation macbook for pro work, and others in our office use the new ones + DVI connections. It works well, as long as you add a bit of extra RAM. The glossy screens seem fine (no complaints from our fickle mac users), and performance is similar to the iMac given the same amount of memory. We all use VMWareFusion (and have used Parallels in the past (Fusion performing much better).

  2. Found an application called ChronoSync that seems to be able to handle my synchronisation needs. I’ve read a couple of reviews of it and all seem to be very positive.

    @mx: Thanks for your feedback. I intend to order the MacBook with the 4GB configuration so memory shouldn’t be an issue. I’m glad that you haven’t found the glossy screen to be an issue. I’m hardly ever likely to use the computer outdoors or in direct sunlight. I envisage only using it in my hotel or in coffee shops or similar - so hopefully I’ll never encounter serious glare problems anyway. I know that there are anti-glare filters available but the reviews are mixed. I guess I’ll have to suck-it-and-see! I’ve read good reviews of VMWareFusion so I’ll certainly keep it in mind, but I’m probably going to start with VirtualBox since it’s free, seems to be well respected and, as my Windows usage will be minuscule, is probably good enough for my needs.

  3. Hmmm… the tech air 3511 case looks good. Might have to go on the shopping list!

    I’d also consider the Lowepro Fastpack 250 as this would allow me to carry the MacBook and my camera gear in one bag. Great for travelling.

  4. I bought a Macbook Pro last November so just wanted to comment on the glossy screen. I haven’t found it a problem at all. Granted I haven’t tried to use it outside in daylight/sun but at home in my office and/or the sofa in the living room and/or at the kitchen table - no problems whatsoever - day or night.

  5. That’s good to know Kevin. Thank you.

  6. The glossy screen is either an “it’s fine.” thing, or an “I HATE it.” thing.

    Personally, I hate them with a passion. Glare and reflections everywhere, especially on darker areas of the screen. It’s basically just a mirror. Some people can effectively ignore it, and others can not.

    On one of our Macs (a current gen iMac), I removed the glossy glass screen. It was only held on by magnets thankfully. It seemed to be a normal LCD underneath, the glass added nothing but reflections, certainly not more contrast or better colours. The image quality and colour was noticeably better without it!

    The “advantages” of a glossy display are nothing more than Apple marketing BS, don’t believe them. People like to buy shiny things, and that’s why they do it. Not for technical reasons. They’re normal LCD panels underneath, with normal screen coatings. The glass is an extra layer of material that only makes things worse.

    Also, the easiest way to safely remove an iMac glass panel is with 3M picture frame stickies (the ones you use to hang stuff on the wall without making holes). Stick one each side of the glass and pull firmly, you won’t break it. There’s just a whole pile of magnets holding it in place. The 3M stickies will not damage the surface, and can be easily removed.



  7. Thank you TrevC for your comments and the interesting tip for iMac users who might not like the glassy screen.

    Unfortunately there isn’t a matt option for the MacBook so I’m going to have to tolerate the screen whether I like it or not. Thankfully 99% of my usage will be indoors, so it probably won’t be that bad for me.

    I’ve been using a borrowed Windoze laptop for a few days now, an Asus with a glossy screen, and I’ve not had any insurmountable issues with the screen - apart from that time when I sat with my back to the window on a sunny day.

    At the end of the day, the MacBook is a laptop - it’s portable, relocatable… so I’ll simply position myself where reflections are minimised.