My Switch to a Macbook Pro

by Mike Shea on 6 May 2007

A couple of months ago I dipped my toe into the water by buying a Macbook. I loved it so much that I sold it on the Ebay and bought a Macbook Pro. The Pro had double the ram, a faster processor, a much nicer video card, a bigger hard drive and a completely different form factor. It's an excellent lightweight laptop and I love it as much as my original Macbook. It also let me consolidate down to one single machine instead of spreading myself across a whole bunch of PCs.

I switched to the Macbook Pro so I could install Bootcamp, Apple's boot loader, and install a stripped down version of Windows XP and Everquest. This took a good couple of hours and forced me to learn all about "slipstreaming" a copy of Windows XP so I could create a full blown Windows XP SP2 install disk. Once the OS was installed I installed all of the Apple drivers and I was amazed at how well that worked. Apple really knows how to install a system even when the OS isn't theirs. All of the drivers worked fine, audio, mic, video, 3d, wireless, bluetooth, and even the camera. It was easy and XP ran very very fast.

I copied over my backup of Everquest and got it up and running. This required using a small executable called RunFirst that shuts down one of the cores of the dual core processor or else my character in Everquest jumped all over the place. With this single-core executable you simply feed whatever executable you want to run, in this case the Everquest.exe file, into runfirst and it will run it in a single core of the CPU. Even with this CPU limitation in place, the game runs faster than it did on my older PC. I get a consistent 60 frames a second during a full raid using old models. It plays great.

The second reason to get a Macbook Pro was to play World of Warcraft. This didn't run as well as I hoped. WoW does run but at 10 to 20 frames a second at 1920 x 1200 resolution. Lowering the resolution to 1600 x 1000 with Vsync off and the terrain distance low moves the framerate up to the 40s to 60s. It is very playable at this resolution but looks blocky on a 1920 x 1200 resolution monitor. At the native resoultion of the laptop itself, 1440 x 900, the game runs extremely well. Well enough that I'll sometimes disconnect it from my monitor and just play it off the laptop itself. It's important for me to remember that my intent wasn't to play more PC games on a mac - it was to get off PC gaming entirely and focus more on console games for gaming.

My switch to the Macbook Pro means I'm down to a single laptop. All of the big gray, silver, and black CPU boxes are gone. I no longer have to have two keyboards or mice. I no longer have to switch monitor cables. My room is a lot more quiet and we use a lot less power. It is very nice to simplify my computing life down as much as I have. Now if I can only keep it that way.

I have only two complaints about the Macbook Pro. One, the video card isn't quite good enough to play World of Warcraft as well as I had hoped. Two, the bluetooth mouse seems to act up a lot more than it did with the original Macbook. Sometimes it runs fine but sometimes the mouse jerks around on the screen a bit. Precise movement is tough. Just about the time I get ready to call Applecare about it, the mouse starts acting fine. I'm afraid that only with a full replacement of the laptop can this problem be fixed. I did buy the laptop refurb for $2000 instead of the $2500 for a brand new one. I suppose if the problem is bad enough for me to write about it, I really ought to make a phone call.

I have two other complaints about Apple in general. One, the software isn't as stable as they make it out to be and when it crashes, there's little you can do but reboot. Sometimes my system will wake up from sleep and I'll get the spinning beach ball of death. There's no way to break out and no way to shut down the process. The only way I have found to fix it is to reboot. I can't say exactly why this is happening, maybe its my external hard drives or some other issue, but at least in Windows XP I could break out of a program and bring up the task manager. I've had to reboot my Mac a lot more than I would have thought.

Second, Apple still is very closed in architecture. I worry a lot about using iPhoto for my photos since it seems to keep some strange directory structure of my photos. I don't know that using iPhoto is a good way to archive photos for a long time. Music purchased from iTunes still has DRM although that should start changing this month. I still buy tracks from iTunes, I just burn them to CD and rip them right back again without the DRM. TV shows still have DRM but I consider them more disposable than movies or music. Movies still come in on DVD for me. I haven't found any good reliable and affordable way to download movies on the net.

About six months ago I began my quest for a new home multimedia system and process. I tried using Windows XP, Linux, and a Mvix box. Now I have a Macbook Pro, an Apple TV, and an iPod Nano. I get music, audio podcasts, video podcasts, audiobooks, TV shows, and movies coming in. DVDs get ripped to h.264 using Handbrake. Video gets routed to my Apple TV. Audio gets routed to my Nano. I watch video podcasts, TV shows, and movies on my 55" HDTV in my den using the Apple TV. I listen to audio podcasts, music, and audiobooks in my car using my Nano. All of it works very well together.

My Macbook Pro also does everything else I need from a PC. I can surf the web with Safari; write stories and articles in Writeroom or Textmate; listen to music, watch TV, and listen or watch podcasts with iTunes; upload and edit HTML, PHP, Python, Perl, or shell scripts with Transmit; write formatted documents with Pages; rip DVDs with Handbrake; watch DVDs on the road; instant message or video chat with iChat; and manipulate photos with Preview and iPhoto. It does all of these things easily and well.

Though I've had it only a couple of weeks, I really love my Macbook Pro.