refreshing some geek cred.

I spent some time this afternoon replacing the hard drive in a 500MHz white iBook.  The old HD put out a noise level that had started to approximate a bandsaw, and I had a compatible spare of higher capacity bouncing around in my desk drawer.

For the uninitiated: replacing a hard drive in an iBook is a process that involves tearing the laptop down and disassembling it down to the frame, because the hard drive is buried all the way in the interior.  Apple says the iBook hard drives are “not user-upgradeable”, and they’re not kidding in this case. The procedure involves about seventy steps, you need to pry the shell apart with a putty knife, and you need to pull fifty-odd tiny screws of different sizes.  It took me about two hours, and thanks to the cheat sheet I sketched while I stripped down the machine, I had no screws left over at the end.  The surgery was a success, though, and the patient is chugging along with a new, bigger, and much quieter hard drive now.

People who scoff at Macs often cite the “Apple premium” you have to shell out, and there’s a bit of truth to that.  The current consumer-grade laptop is the MacBook, priced at $999.  The very same hardware in a Dull or Spewlett-Hackard will cost you 1/2 to 2/3 as much.  What you get for the extra dough, however, is a bomb-proof and elegant operating system, a smooth integrated experience between hardware and software, and a machine that has a much longer useful life than a comparable PC.  The iBook on my lap right now was made in 2001, runs a reasonably up-to-date version of OS X, and still has the wheaties to serve as a daily beater.  It’s not a speed demon, and Flash sites will bring it to a standstill, but the hardware has aged well, and the modern software still runs fine.  Every time I use a Mac, I wonder why I ever bother with PCs.  (Then I check all the games in my Steam client on the PC, and I remember why I usually own recent iterations of each platform.)

I have nothing against the PC, mind you–there are many fun games available for the Windows platform, fixing Wintel rigs constituted the basis of a lucrative career for me for a while, and Windows XP and Windows 7 really are quite decent operating systems–but for writing work, nothing beats a Mac with Scrivener on the hard drive.  With that software, even a nine-year-old iBook beats the hell out of a Core i7 Windows rig fresh off the showroom floor when it comes to cobbling together a novel.

In the end, of course, only the quality of the finished product counts.  Only a bad craftsman blames his tools, and all that…but most craftsmen will agree that some tools are better than others, and that the job is just a bit easier and more enjoyable with a nice toolkit.


23 thoughts on “refreshing some geek cred.

  1. og says:

    I have access t0 an Imac at work, and i love it. it’s fast, it’s clean, and it runs. The unix-based OS is very nice. If they would port some decent engineering software to it I’d switch in a new york minute, but it isn’t going to happen soon. Meanwhile all the stuff I need is only available on PC. And no, no “emulation”
    software will let it run on a mac, I’ve tried. Good for you for shoehorning in a new drive.

  2. Jason says:

    Flash will almost bring my 2 year old MacBook Pro to a standstill. It’s a problem with Flash more than with the computer.

  3. RevolverRob says:

    I have really debated as I will need a laptop sooner rather than later (I guess it’s finally time to join the 21st century and escape from the desktop). I’ve debated the pros and cons of a Windows 7 based system or a Mac based system. And ultimately, I think I’ve made a decision…Linux.

    I already run linux at home and love it over Mac or Windows. One of the requirements for my career is creating and publishing an inordinately large number of power-point presentations. While you can easily do that on either a Mac or a PC, when it comes time to switch between platforms, it often ends in at least a mild bit of frustration for the user. Meanwhile, I have found with Open Office and Linux, the transformation from one platform to another is virtually seamless.

    And yes…I know I’m a nerd.


  4. redneck Mp says:

    i agree with you there, id love to work with mac’s more often and my wife is all ways ribbing me about it and how much she loves her macbook, then i point out how i cant run 99% of my games on that, other wise id switch to a mac in a heartbeat

  5. Jason says:

    Bootcamp people!!! It’s not an “emulator”, it actually boots your mac up as a PC running whatever other OS you install on it. PC world’s benchmarks show that the fastest PC laptops they’ve tested are Macbook Pros running Windows via Bootcamp. Best of all, it’s comes free on every Mac sold.

    • og says:

      No. None of the software I run will run in bootcamp. I have tried.

      • Jason says:

        Wow! What programs are you trying to run? You said said they were “engineering” programs, but what discipline? You’ve piqued my interest.

        Or, as they say on teh interwebs “you peaked my interest.”

        • og says:

          The suppliers of our products have some very specific purpose built code that allows 3d simulation of- for instance- robotic systems. The software is brutally expensive and will only even run on PC’s with some very specific graphic acceleration. In fact, I have two pieces of software from different manufacturers that won’t run on the same PC, one has to have one type of graphics card, the other another. So I have a notebook for the less processor intensive one, and a tower for the more memory intensive one.

          The IT guy said “I bet we can make these run on the Mac”.

          And then he said “I’ve never seen a Mac crash that hard”

          At the moment, the industry standard- for my industry, anyway, is PC. Even the design software I use- cadra, catia, solidworks, pro-e, is difficult to get to run on a mac. Some people do it, but for the aggrivation, you just buy a PC. They’re disposable and cheap, and in a few years you just buy one that’s four times as fast as the old one anyway.

          No, it’s the Unix based OS that I like, and not the machine. I want them to port the damned software to the low-overhead OS, not run it on windows, I can do that on any windows computer.

  6. Tony says:

    “What you get for the extra dough, however, is a bomb-proof and elegant operating system”

    …That you could just download for free – Os X is basically an Apple desktop environment on top of FreeBSD, after all, and not something the Apple people wrote from scratch. A recent Linux distribution would get you pretty much the same functionality (naturally, special circumstances that may dictate one particular software must be used aside – those area always a special case).

    “a smooth integrated experience between hardware and software”

    I feel like I should say something here, but I’m not quite sure what you mean by this…. Certainly one need not go through the Windows driver rigamarole when running a contemporary Linux distribution with commonly used hardware, if that is the point here.

    “and a machine that has a much longer useful life than a comparable PC.”

    I would point out how old the box I’m writing this on is, but unfortunately I don’t quite remember. Certainly well past obsolescence as a Windows box. See, it’s not that putting an Apple sticker somehow magically makes the hardware last longer, it’s the operating system – and once again, you get the same benefit running any UNIX derivative, not just the one branded with the Apple logo.

    And certainly one need not point out the issues with Apple hardware design, right? 🙂

    Not that I have anything against someone who uses an Apple product. Their money, their choice after all. And sometimes, special needs dictate that a certain operating system must be used, no argument about that. But the post compared Apple with Windows boxes in general, and it does annoy me when people repeatedly keep framing the issue as exclusively Microsoft versus Apple, completely ignoring all other possibilities. It is a somewhat dishonest comparison, and keeps pushing perfectly viable alternatives into the sidelines. (It is also annoying when “PC” is equated to “a computer running a Microsoft operating system”, when it is really more a term describing hardware than software.)

    • Tony says:

      It occurred to me a tad late that “unfair” would have been a much better word than “dishonest” when talking about that Apple vs. Microsoft comparison, as I did not mean to imply that a flawed comparison was used deliberately. My apologies if I caused any offense with that. (I guess we can’t all be writers… 😛 )

    • Jason says:

      While I don’t totally disagree with your points, I think you are minimizing Apple’s hardware innovation. No other HW makers laptops are built on monolithic frames. This is expensive but leads to more rigid and therefore more durable computers, without going all the way to Toughbook level. Also, who else is doing batteries like Apple? Most Winbooks just use COTS cells stuffed in a removeable carrier. Apple did away with the carrier, latch, and round cells to optimize the amount of battery capacity. Further, Apple leads the way in making their laptops more “recycleable”, if that sort of thing interests you. I’m no tree hugger, but I do appreciate a company that tries to do things in a more sustainable way, while not skewing the cost benefit ratio way out of whack.

      I could go on, what with IPS displays, and dual video cards for low and high intensity tasks, but I think I’ve made my point pretty well that just like a quality AR15, with laptops, parts ain’t parts.

      • Tony says:

        You make some good points, however I would claim that making a battery non-user replaceable is a major flaw in a portable device. Batteries are consumable items, not something that lasts forever – making the battery permanent reeks of planned obsolescence to me.

    • Sigivald says:

      No, linux/fbsd do not provide the same “functionality”.

      None of the horrible X Desktop Environments can compare with the OSX UI. They can manage to look shiny on the surface, but that’s about it; they fail even compared to Windows.

      I’d rather chew on glass than use linux/fbsd on a desktop (though I’ve been happily using linux as a server platform for 15 years).

      • Tony says:

        Wow. We apparently have been using very different desktop environments, both Windows- and Linux-wise! (Well, that or your last contact with a Linux GUI was circa 1995…? Actively developed Linux distributions tend to mature at a pretty good pace, these days.) I can not quite comprehend such vehemence against Linux GUI’s – all of them, no less! I mean, I could understand dislike of one or two of them, but all? One wonders what major flaw must lurk behind the surface of them all, and how come, if they suck so badly, more people do not discover the suck but more commonly rather feel they work pretty well?

        Curious. Quite curious.

        (Fortunately a lot of Linux distributions come with live CD’s allowing people to try what the default installation would look like before installing it. Helps people find out for themselves. Naturally, running from a CD is slower than an actual installation, but that ought to be obvious.)

  7. Tam says:

    Dull or Spewlett-Hackard

    Jesus, you forgot to say “Winbloze” and “Exploder”, too…

  8. wombatoverlord says:

    I have had similar experiences with Macs of similar vintage. Replacing the DC power board on a couple of 12″ Powerbooks is, if anything, a longer repair job and by the time you get to the board, you have removed every single component from the case…

  9. LittleRed1 says:

    If I win the lottery, I’m going to get a very, very nice Mac laptop, and run the latest (mostly debugged) Windows version through Bootcamp so I can then run ARCView et cetera on the beast, as well as the Office version that I prefer. I’d also get a better scanner, a writing tablet so I can modify maps by hand, and maybe a Savanna cat to eat anyone who tries to mess with my computer rig. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

  10. LabRat says:

    I think at the end of the day a certain amount of the Mac/PC stuff just boils down to temperament and how you’re accustomed to using a computer.

    I always hear the Mac people and the converts going on about how integrated and smooth and seamless and intuitive using a Mac is, but I have never had this experience with one. However the designers at Mac think and expect users to think, it’s now how I think and I am inevitably driven to furious profanity within minutes of trying to get a Mac to do something the way I want. Minute count depending on how complex the task was.

    There’s also how they handle it when things go wrong. From where I’m sitting the crash/error experience with Windows is like this:

    “Error biloxi q. Fix it, nubsauce.”

    …And if you can look up what error biloxi q is, you can figure out the problem and either fix it or avoid it.

    With Mac it’s like this:

    “I am so very sorry for you but you are fucked now. :(”

    …And I’m just fucked.

    And for all those who tell me Macs don’t crash: hand yours to me and give me twenty minutes. I always seem to manage somehow.

    • Kristopher says:

      Secret to crashing UNIX based systems: lie to it about the hardware.

      Bad or slightly incorrect hardware drivers, and some microsoft formatted disk MBRs will make them kernel panic pretty damned fast.

  11. MarkHB says:

    Meh. You know my position. I need as much computational grunt as can be laid in a time-on-target barrage, at the smallest cost. That’s all that matters.

    I can’t afford to let Steve Jobs tell me which graphics card to use, either.

    I’m a minority in this. I know. I’m used to it.

    Oh and both Mac and PC can die in a fire. I was my Amiga back.

  12. MarkHB says:

    And Ratty? I can smash a Mac in six seconds, including typing time. Same time as for a PC.

    They live on my sufferance.

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