I’ve never owned a Mac before, and I never thought I’d be in a position where I intend to buy one. Growing up I was a die-hard Windows user, mainly for the many hours I’d spend gaming on my PC and the “Apple tax” that was once synonymous with seemingly overpriced hardware.
So why then, am I counting my pennies and preparing to drop around 1,800 of Australia’s strongest dollars on a shiny laptop that’s not built for gaming, ships with an unfamiliar OS and has a rather small screen? And more importantly is this the beginning of the end for my finances?
Let’s nip this one in the bud straight off. You’ve probably heard the term Ultrabook tossed around tech blogs, hardware review sites and your local Best Buy for the last year or so. The short story is that Intel threw money at laptop manufacturers in a bid to develop some slick, slim and competitively priced notebooks. This was arguably to help the Wintel market catch up to Apple in terms of desirability, build quality and form factor.
Unfortunately these new Ultrabook computers aren’t the affordable and lightweight machines many of us hoped for. The new HP Envy Spectre 14 costs $100 more than an entry level 13-inch Air, and while it comes with a nice 1600×900 Radiance display there’s very little difference between the two in terms of innards. Dell are busy hyping their 13-inch XPS Ultrabook which is cheaper than the air but compromises on resolution and connectivity.
In fact one of the best value Ultrabooks at the moment is the HP Folio 13 which starts at around $900 and comes with the same 128GB SSD seen in the air but a lower clockspeed and a frustrating 1366×768 resolution.
The point I’m making isn’t that the MacBook Air is cheap, but that it’s no longer expensive compared to the rest of the market. This makes it a viable option for me and many others who previously felt that Apple were deluding the public with a vastly inflated price.
Build Quality & Hardware
Don’t you just hate it when you settle down to do some typing and your notebook’s chassis creaks and bends with the lightest of touches? I’ve had enough poorly built laptops in the past to never want to buy another Asus, Acer or Dell after past run-ins. My first Acer creaked, bent and cooked itself from day one.
Despite an Akasa cooling stand my last Asus suffered similar issues and eventually gave up altogether, the GPU eventually burnt out and now it’s quietly collecting dust in the corner. The Dell I am currently typing on suffers some terrible design flaws, including a touch-operated eject button that constantly self-activates (despite being serviced once). If I still used optical media this would be hell.
After reading countless reviews, forum threads, scouring the likes of eBay and noting the large percentage of used Apple laptops that a) still work as advertised and b) hold some sort of value a year or two down the line I’ve decided that build quality is something I won’t have to worry about too much once I splash the cash, which (as mentioned above) won’t break the bank after all.
Opting for the more powerful Core i7 processor, larger 256GB SSD and standard 4GB of RAM will provide me with enough grunt under the hood, and the native 1440×900 resolution will be a step up from any of the 15-inch laptops I’ve ever owned.
Mac OS X & Windows
I’ve danced with Windows since I left my Amiga 1200 for an AMD K6-2 powered beast in 1998. Over the years I’ve flirted with Linux, occasionally using it solely for months at a time to complete my day-to-day computer needs. I’m not the most experienced OS X user, but I don’t dislike or feel I can’t work with it either.
Since iOS 5 landed I’ve been fairly reliant on iMessage to communicate with friends both local and thousands of miles away for free and now that this is making its way into OS X Mountain Lion sometime this summer, for me it’s another reason to give this Mac thing a punt.
Luckily (like every Windows user who tries to justify his Apple purchase) I’m reassured that Windows will work (albeit with a few compromises) on Apple’s slimmest notebook. Getting there without an optical drive requires some bootloader fiddling, but overall the results are workable.
I already have a licence for Windows Professional so the “you’ll have to buy it first” argument doesn’t apply here. If anything I’m spending what I could spend on a similarly specified Ultrabook and getting the option to play with Mac OS X for free. Interestingly, Windows 8 should (on paper) work pretty well on a Mac – those massive glass trackpads are ideal for the new gesture and touch approach Microsoft seems to be taking.
From a work standpoint much of my time is spent coming up with article ideas for this very website. A new OS to play with will actually give me more to write about, and I can quietly fool myself into believing I’ll make some money back on my purchase.
Gaming No Longer A Priority
The MacBook Air comes equipped with a not-so-hot Intel HD 3000 shared graphics chip which won’t chew through busy 3D applications in the same way a notebook with dedicated graphical abilities would. If you’re thinking of doing any latest-gen gaming then this is not going to suit you at all.
For me, it’s just fine. PC gaming has been on the decline for years now and if you don’t believe me check out the releases in 1998 and 1999 – Half-Life, Quake 3, Unreal Tournament, Thief, System Shock II, Homeworld, Rollercoaster Tycoon II, StarCraft and Age of Empires II to name but a few. A year later Deus Ex, The Sims and Diablo 2 made an appearance. Since then the situation has been slowly worsening thanks to sub-par console ports, fewer and fewer PC originals (give or take Half-Life and StarCraft sequels), lengthy delays in releases and an endless sea of Sims expansions.
It’s sad, but PC gaming is no longer the be-all and end-all it once was. My gaming habits now reflect this – I don’t have space or money to invest in an ever-upgradeable rig and so I’m resigning myself to emulation, the classics and console versions instead.
As a first-time switcher I’m going to have to refute any claims of brand loyalty. Sure, I love my iPhone (it was given to me) but that’s a different device for a different purpose. Five years ago I would never have considered Apple hardware, and I know for a fact I’ll never be far away from a Windows laptop. But the truth is there’s very little else out there that excites me or offers considerably better value for my needs at the moment.
In six months the situation might be different, but right now I need a notebook. And it’s going to be a MacBook Air.
Have you got an Ultrabook? Maybe a MacBook Air? Would you buy either? Have you recently switched from Windows? Will you switch back? Let’s chat in the comments below this article.