Saturday, January 19, 2008

Update Cycle

My current computer, a steadfast Powerbook G4 12" laptop, has been starting to show its age in myriad ways for a while now. "Its age" has a double meaning here: 1) its apparent speed for doing the things it always has done and 2) its obsolescence compared to current technology. For reference purposes: I purchased it not long after my (first) graduation, in June 2003. That makes it about 4-1/2 years old.

Examples of age in the first category. It has a 40 GB internal hard drive, of which about 3 GB remains available. I have in recent times had that down below 1 GB. Where does that all go? Well, there's a fair bit (about 8-9 GB) devoted to the operating system (OS X 10.4.11), and the applications. About 14 GB is my music collection (meaning I have to be selective about what I put on my iPhone, but that's a different issue). Another 6 GB or so is devoted to pictures. There are a few GB of movies which don't really need to be there. Thankfully I picked up an external hard drive a while back (also good for backups), otherwise I'd have run into a serious problem a while back. It is not only a matter of how little more I can hold: when a harddrive get more than, say, 75% full, you start running into performance issues. A second example: while I have done a little video editing on this machine, it was never all that speedy, only then only for 30-60 sec clips for the web. The computer would probably vomit if I asked it to do of that today, which is a bummer, because I'd like to do more of that in the future. Thirdly, the 867 MHz G4 processor and 1 GB of RAM, which were really only "good" when I bought it, just barely meet the minimum specs for the latest release of Mac OS X, 10.5 "Leopard", which I haven't installed yet. I am a bit anxious about whether it would go well or not. I have already mentioned the rain dance I need to do to get my iPhone to sync up with iTunes using my laptop's USB 1.1 ports. Lastly, I have worn these ol' batteries right out, even replacement batteries. These days I'm lucky to get much more than an hour or two out of my computer, untethered, before it konks out.

Compare this to what I could get today (i.e., examples of age in obsolescence terms). Apple and IBM were never able to get a G5 processor into a laptop without frying eggs, so there was a generation skipped. The move to Intel processors started about two years ago, with the Core Duo in the first MacBook Pros, call that another generation. The transition to the Core 2 Duo is a third (there was a sizeable architecture shift wrapped up in that "2"). At some point here Apple will roll out laptops with the new 45-nm Penryn chips from Intel, which is another generation still. So, my current computer is about four generations behind. Hard drives are 3x-4x larger for laptops, RAM is 2x-4x as capacious (and with faster bus speeds), screens are brighter, battery life is 3x-4x longer. (UPDATE: I didn't mention it before, but with the introduction of the MacBook Air, which has a multitouch trackpad, it is only a matter of time before multitouch is rolled out in all of Apple's laptop line.)

Don't get me wrong, I have gotten 4-1/2 good years of use out of this machine, and it has traveled with me on many adventures. There here machine got me through my fifth and sixth years of college, including my 300-page master's thesis and fieldwork in Greenland. But surveying what's out there, and considering the age and limitations of my current machine, I have come to the conclusion that it's about time for an upgrade.

But, there are two things that stand in my way of throwing down the credit card and walking off with a new machine. First, the laptop I have my eye on now (15" MacBook Pro) is no small amount of money - so throwing down the credit card would cause some amount of pain. In fairness, it's about as much as I paid for my current laptop (4-1/2 years ago). Second, the MacBook Pro lineup hasn't been updated since last July. Intel is coming out with their new 45-nm Penryn chips right now (although they'll still be branded Core 2 Duo). Many expected Apple to announce new machines with these chips at Macworld this past week, but nothing was mentioned. The attention was all on the new MacBook Air (an odd name, but a slick piece of work, although it doesn't fit my needs), iTunes movie rentals and the AppleTV, etc.

So, it's just sit back and wait, and marshall my energies (read: $$$), until the time is right. It better happen soon, otherwise I'll be tempted to wait a bit longer, until mid-year, when Intel's new mobile chipset, codename Montevina, comes out.

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