IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad Vs. Apple MacBook Revisited

I’ve been using the Apple MacBook on and off for a little over a month now.Disclosure: The MacBook isn’t my only computer. At the office, I have a Dell now running Ubuntu 6.06 and at home, I removed the failed IBM Deskstar drive out of my Dell, installed Ubuntu from scratch. At some point, I’ll reinstall Fedora Core 5 on the free partition. My main computer at home is my 1st generation PowerPC based Mac Mini. Hence, I use my MacBook when I’m not at the office or when I’m not sitting in the basement.

My use of the MacBook, though not constant, is considerable. I have come to enjoy most aspects of the hardware along with the software (OS X). I was asked to discuss my thoughts on the following aspects of the MacBook.

  1. Sturdiness: I haven’t traveled with the MacBook yet. I have only carried it with me to the local Starbucks and to the office on several occassions. It feels like a fairly well built machine but I can’t vouch for how it would react to a few falls like my old T40. I would be very surprised if it continued to function as well as my T40 after the serious falls it took.
  2. Productivity:
    • Though I am still no fan of the Apple Trackpad, I have configured it well enough that it doesn’t annoy be as constantly as before. I still think the Thinkpad keyboard/Trackpoint combination is the most productive I’ve seen on any laptop or desktop (see my review of the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 keyboard).
    • The feel of the MacBook keyboard is pretty good. I don’t miss my ThinkPad in this regard. Though, it’s a bit different, it feels nice.
    • I also miss the Thinklight that exists on the Thinkpads. This is incredibly useful when you’re trying to type in the dark (e.g. late at night in bed, on an airplane, etc). Considering the prices that some Thinkpads are available at, I hope Apple puts a lit keyboard or a Thinklight-like feature into future MacBooks.
    • The built-in iSight on the MacBook is a very useful feature if you use Skype, IM, Video IM, or just like to take pictures randomly. I am using the MacBook to create an audio diary of a project I am working on. I might turn it into a podcast at some point but not just yet. I’m also using Skype for phone calls in the US while it is free.
    • The wifi piece of the MacBook has been acting pretty flaky recently. At Starbucks, I had to reboot the laptop a few times before it would reconnect to the AP. At home, it is disconnecting from my Linksys WRT54G very often in spots that it worked fine just a few weeks ago. I think a similar problem has been reported on the MacBook Pros but I have yet to call this into AppleCare.
    • Battery life has also dropped significantly. I was getting 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours of battery life on a full charge, with my settings optimized for battery conservation. The same settings are consistenly providing me no more than 2 hours and 45 minutes of battery life. I have tried calibrating the battery as per the manual but no luck. I am in the process of recalibrating for the 4rd time right now before I call AppleCare.
    • Apple OS X is pretty good in terms of productivity. I would like it if I could configure keyboard shortcuts for everything and maybe I can, I just haven’t tried hard enough to figure it out.
    • Apple ships the MacBooks with a decent amount of software for productivity. (Quicken 2006 for the Mac doesn’t compare to the Windows version).
  3. Applications: I am pretty happy with the applications on OS X. I’ve been able to get lots of Unix opensource applications running, including Postgresql, NeoOffice and OpenOffice, along with Perl and a good amount of the Perl modules from CPAN. The MacBook ships with a trial version of iWork and Microsoft Office for Mac. I didn’t find a need to use either of these applications and had not installed them when I reinstalled OS X. OS X is pretty good at sleeping, though I would like to see a hibernate function. It is just as stable as Linux from my use of OS X Tiger on my PowerPC Mac Mini and on my Intel MacBook. It’s probably much much mroe stable than Windows on anything.

I haven’t completely ruled out buying a new motherboard for my old T40. If I can buy it and get it installed, all for $200, I’ll probably do it. Anything more than that, I won’t. I guess that means that though I really like the MacBook, I am really used to my ThinkPad T40 running Linux and I miss.

The MacBook is a fist generation computer whereas the Thinkpad T series is tried and true. The MacBook is very good for early adopters and those that aren’t afraid of a little tinkering. It’s also a very cost efficient way of playing with OS X and being able to see first hand how things “just work”. The MacBooks do get pretty hot so be careful to keep the laptop on your lap for very long.

If anyone has any additional questions, please drop me a line.

Apple – MacBook
Lenovo – T Series

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