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New MacBooks and Pros


The arrival of the new aluminium MacBooks and upgraded MacBook Pros makes the choice of a new mobile computer even more difficult. In the past I've had MacBook Pros, in both 15in and 17in format, and one black MacBook. Currently I'm using a MacBook Air which I bought earlier this year, just after the introduction, and I have been very satisfied. I opted for the 64GB solid-state disk, the first time I've experienced this form of storage in a laptop, and I appreciate the silence, the quick wake from sleep and the subjectively quicker start-up time. 

But there are some limitations with the Air which have been well discussed in Mac circles. Chief of them is the lack of ports–just a video socket, one USB2 and one headphone socket. Just as off-putting for some is the lack of a removable battery which means you have to be very careful to watch remaining battery life. I find that with screen brightness set to near minimum I can get three hours of real use out of the Air. I usually carry the charger, but it's often difficult to find somewhere to plug in. 

There is now one very good reason why I am considering going back to a heavier laptop. When I first got the Air I was carrying it around regularly: it really is that light and portable. But then along came the iPhone 3G and I now find that I can manage with the phone for all my on-the-road email and web-browsing activities. My need for an ultra-portable laptop has diminished. 

I've looked carefully at the specifications of both the new MacBooks and MacBook Pros. The gap between MacBook and Pro is now much less distinct than previously: the new aluminium chassis of the MacBook is pretty and looks very solid. About the only reason I would have for choosing the more expensive Pro is the size of the screen. The new MacBook is fractionally lighter than the old model, while the new Pro is actually heavier than the old model. At 4.5 lbs, the MacBook is an acceptable 50% heavier than the Air. 

The new 2.5GHz MacBook, with the standard 250GB disk and an extra 2GB of RAM (to bring it up to 4GB) costs £1,250 here in the UK. A similar spec MacBook Pro adds another £500 and I don't think I can justify it. While the 13.3in screen of the MacBook is less useful than the Pro's 15in-screen, you have to offset the extra bulk and weight of the Pro, quite apart from the extra cost.

On balance, therefore, I've decided to go for a MacBook. The only remaining dither point is the choice of disk. Having had the 64GB SSD in the Air, I'm sold on the benefits of solid-state storage and think it is the future for laptops. It would be a pity, I think, to go back to a mechanical hard disk drive such as the base 250GB unit in the MacBook. I'm tempted by the new 128GB SSD offering, but it does cost a hefty £420 premium and brings the cost of the MacBook up to nearly £1,700. It's quite a dilemma.

What is clear is that the cost of SSD drives is tumbling all the time. When I got my Air I had to pay nearly £2,100 for the 1.8GHz model with 64GB SSD. The latest model, with a 128GB SSD disk, upgraded processor and graphics, is already £300 cheaper. I suspect over the next six months we'll see similar reductions in price and, even, the introduction of a larger SSD drive (which would be very welcome). 

There are a number of after-market 2.5in SATA SSD drives on the market. OCZ, a manufacturer recommended by some of the experts on the podcasts, does a 128GB drive for £280, which is even now £140 cheaper than Apple's standard drive. 

Several people on the forums have suggested buying the MacBook with the standard 250GB mechanical drive and then swopping out for a 128GB or larger SSD drive in a few months when prices have softened. Changing over the drive should be a doddle in the new MacBook and it's something I'm seriously considering. If I take this route, I would buy a cheap (£8) external SATA drive enclosure, pop in the 128GB disk and connect via USB to the MacBook. I could then clone a bootable copy of the internal disk to the SSD using a utility such as CarbonCopy. And once I'm sure the new disk boots correctly, I can simply swop out the internal unit. The original HDD goes into the SATA enclosure and that's then a desktop USB drive. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Must be a snag somewhere. 


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