'Book Value

The Siren Call of PC Laptop Prices

Charles Moore - 2012.01.03 - Tip Jar

A friend of mine who seeks my counsel every five years or so about replacing her computer system was back last weekend. Her current rig is an Acer laptop of mid-'00s vintage running Windows XP. Her computing needs are modest. She's resolutely non-tech oriented and uses her computer mainly for church bookkeeping, email, Skype chats with family members, casual Web surfing, and online shopping.

In previous consults, I would have made at least a token wave at suggesting a Mac. However, not this time. Why? Because this week both Future Shop and The Source retail outlets locally are offering almost irresistible deals on Acer laptops.

To wit: the unit at Future Shop is an Aspire model with an AMD Fusion E-350 1.6 GHz dual-core processor (CPU plus graphics), 4 GB of RAM, a 650 GB hard drive, a 15.6" display, ATI Radeon HD 6310 graphics, three USB 2 ports, a 2-in-1 card reader, and the usual connectivity bells and whistles, all for Can$329.

At The Source you get a lesser 1.3 GHz AMD E-300 processor and a 500 GB hard drive, but it's still a pretty good deal. My friend is opting for the Future Shop unit if she can grab one.

Now, 330 Canadian Loonies is an amazing price for a 15.6" laptop by my lights, given my personal frame of reference being Apple's MacBook families' price range. Indeed, it gives me indigestion to ponder that I paid just about exactly twice that for a 16 GB iPad 2 six months ago.

I begin to wonder if I'm not a glutton for punishment, or just a sucker of sorts, especially with my tri-annual system upgrade interval coming up this year.

15" Acer Aspire vs. 15" MacBook Pro

A bit of perspective here. These Can$330 Acers have 1.3 and 1.6 GHz AMD processors (far less powerful than Intel Core i3 processors), a slower clock speed than my going on 3-year-old 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo Aluminum Unibody MacBook.

However, that doesn't mean it's necessarily slower. Clock speed is only one performance factor among several. And if you want Intel Sandy Bridge power, Best Buy Canada will fix you up with a 15.6" Acer laptop powered by a 2.3 GHz Core i5 CPU, with 6 GB of RAM, and a full terabyte hard drive for 500 Canabucks, still 60 shy of what I coughed for the iPad.

That should be a very respectable-performing computer, and Acer recently has been edging Apple for top honors in some of the recent reliability survey ratings as well.

Which brings me to another point. I still haven't got excited enough about OS X 10.7 Lion to persuade me to upgrade from OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard on the MacBook, and Windows 8 is due to land come summer or fall, with the betas currently getting positive reviews, and the great advantage in my estimation of having the option of using either the new touchy-feeley gesture and swipe-based Metro touchscreen and trackpad oriented user interface, or if you prefer, a traditional mouse driven, directory-based UI.

Could that, combined with the user-friendly hardware prices, be enough to entice me over to Windows after all these years? Something I'll have to think on more, but that it has even become a seriously open question - for the first time since I started using Macs back in 1992 - speaks volumes.

That said, at this stage in life, I'm not really enthusiastic about the effort and expense that would be required for me to develop a whole new suite of production applications and a different workflow model to accommodate them. There are still plenty of reasons to stick with the Mac. On the other hand, I'm already changing my work habits and software tools to support using the iPad, so I know it would be doable to climb the learning curve.

Before someone points out that the differences in the way applications work in Windows as opposed to the Mac are not radical, that's obviously true, but what I'm talking about is the accretion of shortcuts and efficiency tweaks I've developed over 20 years on the Mac, and which are now intuitive second nature. It would take considerable effort to develop a smooth working system on Windows similar to the one I enjoy on the Mac, if it were even possible. For example, there is no AppleScript equivalent in Windows - at least not anything as simple and slick.

One of the ironies here I guess is that a boilerplate objection to the Mac has long been that there are fewer applications available, but for me, software is probably the biggest factor keeping me tied to the Mac.

Stay tuned.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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