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Summary:

My friend and Low End Mac’s publisher, Dan Knight, posted a nearly 3000-word essay recently positing a “what’s the perfect Mac” conundrum: MacBook Pro or iMac. I share Dan’s enthusiasm for examining and debating such hypothetical questions, and I thoroughly enjoyed the piece, but for me, […]

macbookpro13My friend and Low End Mac’s publisher, Dan Knight, posted a nearly 3000-word essay recently positing a “what’s the perfect Mac” conundrum: MacBook Pro or iMac. I share Dan’s enthusiasm for examining and debating such hypothetical questions, and I thoroughly enjoyed the piece, but for me, the matter is much more open-and-shut.

I’ve been advocating for more than a decade that laptops are the logical Mac for most users, and in my estimation the unibody MacBook Pros — particularly the new 13-inch model — come as close to personal computer perfection as has yet been achieved.

As his top laptop candidate, Dan Knight leans more toward the 15-inch unibody model, with a particular nod toward the $1,699 configuration, which would be my second choice for ultimate Mac notebook value. First choice is the 2.26 GHz 13-inch MacBook Pro at $1,199, which gives you almost everything you get in the lowest-priced 15-incher, with the obvious exception of display acreage, and for $500 less.

However, for Dan, screen size and finish are much higher priority issues than they are for me. He developed his computing style and habits working as a professional book designer on two-page 152 x 854 and 1280 x 960 resolution screens, and finds smaller displays — say 1034 x 768 (SVGA) or lower resolutions — too restrictive for his tastes and work.

I, on the other hand, spent my first three Mac-loving years on a PowerBook with a 9.5″, 640 x 480, passive matrix grayscale display. After that experience, anything larger has seemed generously roomy, or at least adequate. The highest-resolution screen I’ve had in any Mac to date is the 1440 x 900 display in my 17″ PowerBook, which I like a lot, but adapting to the 1280 x 800 resolution of my 13″ unibody MacBook when I upgraded posed no real problem. Leopard’s Spaces feature has eliminated much of the inconvenience of working with modest display real estate.

Today, I would draw the line at 1064 x 768, which is what my two still-in-service Pismo PowerBooks offer. That’s also the highest resolution any of my desktop computer monitors have ever had, which sounds quaint when the entry-level $1,198 iMac today comes with a 20-inch 1680 x 1050 screen.

Dan’s current production rig is a dual-1GHz Mirror Drive Door Power Mac G4 driving a 1280 x 1024 a Dell flat panel display — hardware that befits the theme of his website, and ideal for a guy who isn’t yet willing to give up Mac OS Classic Mode. However, Dan says he’s excited this week because now that Apple has just added an “antiglare” display option for the 15-inch unibody MacBook Pro, he thinks it could become the perfect production machine for him, even going so far as to suggest that the 15-inch MacBook Pro is probably the perfect computer, period.

I won’t quibble overmuch with that, although I do still champion the 13-incher, since I’m more than satisfied with the glossy display. As Apple notes, with a glossy screen finish you get graphics, photos, and videos with richer colors and deeper blacks, which is better for most users who don’t have to work in print media. But if having an antiglare option helps persuade folks like Dan Knight to dismount the fence on the laptop side, I’m all for it, and let’s have it available on the 13-inch model as well.

So will Dan finally end up on a MacBook Pro, which would be his first production laptop since the original Titanium PowerBooks back in the early-to-mid ’00s? I think there’s a good chance he will, but he isn’t slamming the door on desktops by any means, noting that the perfect desktop computer would take the current iMac design, move some ports for easier access, and offer an antiglare screen option. Perhaps for him it will boil down to whatever Apple does next with the iMac.

How about you? Would you vote for either the MacBook Pro, the iMac, or something else entirely as “the perfect computer?”

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  1. As MBP 13″ no longer has the crappy screen and includes the illuminated keyboard for 1199, I guess it could be the perfect computer. There’s always something – weird mini DP port, no eSATA, no HDMI – but still it’s pretty darn close to being the perfect one.

  2. No way I would pick a desktop as a perfect computer. They lose simply because they’re not portable. If you factor in price, the 13″ MBP is clearly the best. It is the most well built computer that Apple builds (alongside Mac Pro) and the base 15″ is too expensive for an extra 2″.

    You will get more for your money (if you include build quality) with the 13″ than any other computer Apple makes and other maufacturers.

  3. I’ve got a nearly 2 year old 17″ MacBook Pro with the Matte screen. It is indeed a near-perfect computer. In fact, I can’t actually think of anything at all I’d like to see that it hasn’t already got.

    Even at nearly 2 years old, it still “feels” as good as new. And I prefer the all-silver model I have to the newer black-keyed variants. Looks a lot more stylish IMHO.

    1. I agree totally with psionmark. My 2 year old 2.6 Ghz 17″ MBP with hi-rez Matte screen and 4GB of RAM is my dream machine as I sit on the couch. I would not try this with my old Lisa…

    2. My 17″ is a little older, and one that’s limited to 2G. It’d be perfect if it could use 8G. My problem with the new ones is that I don’t like the keyboard nearly as much. The silver keys are just wonderful, IMO.

  4. If Apple extends the anti-glare option to the 13″ MBP they will have a sale to me posthaste…

    A 13″ MBP with the option of connecting a larger monitor… Now that would be a nice combo.

  5. My wife has the 13-inch model hooked up to a $400 24-inch Samsung monitor, with an Apple MDP-DVI connector in between. All the real estate she needs when she’s at her desk, and a very nice portable computer when she’s travelling. I initially had reservations about the glossy screen (being used to the matte screen on my 2007 MBP), but it’s never been an issue. And IMO, the 13-inch model is the best looking unibody MBP.

  6. Great post. I think the 13″ is probably the best (2.53 model). I had a 15″ unibody before they update specs in June. It was ok, but it was overpriced, and base configuration wasn’t great. I think the prices are much more realistic now. Fortunately, I could send it back, as I’d only had the MBP for 4 days when they updated.

    I think however, if you are going to be using this for any sort of design on the move, you’ll want highest spec, biggest screen you can afford. Fiddling about with big graphics in photoshop on a 13 will drive you mad. For writers though, it’s perfect, a fantastic combo of portability and usability.

  7. Had they been available at the time, rather than purchase a 24″ iMac, I would’ve gone with a 24″ ACD and a 15″ MBP.

  8. I bought the 13″ MBPro recently and love it! Portability is a big deal and the ability to slide it into a side pocket of my camera backpack is great. Like having a portable studio.

  9. I have a 17 inch Powerbook hooked up to an external display and running off of a two-drive RAID0 FireWire 800 external drive for almost five years now. It did a great job as a desktop substitute. In case I needed the Powerbook to go out of the home, I would simply mirror the RAID0 external drive using SuperDuper while I took a shower and it’d be ready to go. The LCD is bad now so I don’t take it out anymore.

    I’ve been combining a laptop, external display and a fast external drive in lieu of a desktop for a long time now. Besides the Powerbook I also have two Thinkpads setup this way in the house. I think this strikes a great balance between portability and performance. Take out the external drive and you are left with poor laptop hard drive performance, take out the external display and you have to compromise on inadequate display size. All of which is fine when on the road but not in the home.

  10. I’m apparently in the minority, but I’m happy with my 24″ iMac– the big screen and the additional kick in performance are what I want. The only attachments (besides an all-in-one printer) are two firewire hard drives, one for music & pix, and one for SuperDuper backup.

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