'Book Value

The Siren Call of PC Laptop Prices Revisited

Charles Moore - 2012.01.09 - Tip Jar

In our last episode, I noted how a friend of mine was considering, with my approval, purchasing an Acer Aspire 15.6" laptop with a 1.6 GHz dual-core AMD E-350 CPU, 4 GB of RAM, and a 500 GB hard drive for the come-hither price of Can$329.95.

Last Tuesday morning, accompanied by my wife, she, made the 70 mile trek to the nearest Future Shop outlet in search of the discounted Acer. My wife isn't much of a techie, but she crammed a bit as to what to ask and look for.

HP Pavilion G6

However, as it turned out, they ran into a sales representative of the sort that doesn't improve the profession's reputation, who succeeded in persuading our friend to opt for an HP Pavilion G6 with a 2.4 GHz Intel Core i3 CPU, 6 GB of RAM, and a 750 GB hard drive for Can$479. Not a shabby specification, but at a price more than 45% higher than the Acer for more power and capacity than that user really needs or will use.

Overkill

Had I been there, I would have advised here against buying the HP unit - and not because there is anything technically horrifying about it. It's probably a decent machine in the context of cheap PC laptops, except that it wasn't exceptionally cheap to buy, and subjectively it has to be of the most boring, characterless notebooks ever made - a design that epitomizes blandness.

I'm not doggedly anti-PC hardware, and indeed I'm rather taken with some PC laptops - for example, some of the new PC ultrabooks, and the Ferrari and Lamborghini styled models from Acer and Asus respectively. Those two brands also have been doing well in user reliability surveys lately, with Acer even scoring higher than Apple in one I saw last year. In my estimation, Acer notebooks in general have some of the panache that is missing in typical offerings from HP and Dell.

So for a laptop with a Core i processor and higher RAM and storage capacity, I would have pointed our friend toward a higher-end Acer and not an HP rig. However, I hope the HP Pavilion (what a strange name to apply to a laptop) serves my friend well, and frankly, she doesn't care much about panache.

Underwhelming Hardware

Anyway, when I filed my column, which also contained some musings about defecting to a PC for my own next system upgrade due to economics and my underwhelmedness with the direction Apple seems to be taking Mac OS X with Version 10.7 and beyond, Dan Knight forwarded a comment. Dan noted that the AMD Fusion CPU powering the $329 Acer Aspire I had initially suggested to my friend is way slower than an Intel Core i3, perhaps in the ballpark of Core 2 Duo, so she would be getting far less processing power than with the 15" MacBook Pro - or even the 11" MacBook Air. Cheap and tempting, he agreed, but he contends that performance would pale by comparison with what I'm used to with my 3-year-old 2.0 GHz MacBook, let alone a new MacBook Pro or Air.

Dan recalled with regret buying a 15" Acer Aspire some years back to fix design problems on Low End Mac that impacted Windows users (see Making Low End Mac's Design Work with Internet Explorer 6 from 2005). He cited shortcomings like that machine's Celeron processor, the vampire video graphics processor, half the hard drive being tied up as a recovery partition, horrible battery life, and a terribly reflective glossy display. He concedes that the Acer worked to let him fix Low End Mac's design problem, but he says he was never happy with that notebook using either Windows XP or Linux.

Okay, a couple of things. First, Celeron silicon, depressing as it was, is not on the table in our present context. The AMD E-350 is a dual-core processor, and the Acer it powers comes with a discrete graphics processor unit - a configuration many folks consider superior to the Intel Core i3's HD integrated graphics. My MacBook has Nvidia GeForce integrated graphics, as does the current Core i3 processor, and I like my MacBook's glossy display.

But It Can Run OS X!

And the AMD E-350W CPU may not be a complete dog. Reader Rick writes to say after reading The Siren Call of PC Laptop Prices, he wanted to let me know that a couple of months ago he had really wanted to get a MacBook Air for his wife and kids to replace an older G4 Mac mini that wasn't cutting it any more with many of the websites that they frequent.

"Unfortunately," says Rick, "my budget did not allow for $1000+ MacBook. Kind of on a whim I took a chance and bought an HP Compaq CQ57 laptop from NewEgg.com for $299 with free shipping. Like your Acer, it has the same AMD E-350 processor and quite impressive specs for the price. My family really prefers using OS X, so just as an experiment I googled 'E-350 Hackintosh' and this link came up: Mac OS X on AMD E350 - TUTORIAL"

"Wow," continues Rick, "this kid got it all working on his AMD E-350 so I gave it a try myself. I never thought this would be possible on an AMD CPU, but there it was. Within 30 minutes, I had [OS X 10.6] Snow Leopard running on my $299 laptop. I feel that low cost hardware together with ability to run OS X is way louder than a 'Siren Call,' I just wanted you to know it's possible."

Thanks, Rick, I agree. That's more than interesting information.

Looking Forward

And as I mentioned in the previous column, Windows 8 is promising to be considerably stiffer competition for OS X than current Windows 7 is, although even Win 7 is a decent OS and vastly better than Windows XP, which I agree with Dan Knight was truly awful.

As above noted, some of the new PC Ultrabooks unveiled at CES also look enticing, offering faster Core i processors, more RAM, higher capacity SSDs, and larger displays in thin and light form factor machines with 13" or even 14" displays for the same money or cheaper than Apple's entry level 11.6" MacBook Air.

While I'm using my iPad more and more for production (this article, for example), it still frustrates the heck out of me in many respects, so while I've been roped in by the easy portability and virtually instant wake-up, I'm thinking that maybe a MacBook Air might prove the charm.

Or perhaps an Ultrabook?

With Apple essentially obliging me to adapt to a whole new OS paradigm, workflow habits, and some key applications due to terminating Rosetta emulation support for PowerPC software, there's a case - albeit with lots of qualifications - for possibly considering Windows 8 as an alternative to iOS-ified, non-backwards compatible Lion and whatever comes after it.

Just sayin'.

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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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