Sussing Out the New Apple Notebook Value Sweet Spot

In January, 2001, I was initially blown away by the just-introduced Titanium PowerBook G4, titling my initial commentary on Steve Jobs’ Macworld keynote’s “one more thing….” – “Simply The Coolest Piece Of Hardware Apple Has Ever Built.” Then, after some sober second thought I ordered a leftover PowerBook G3 Pismo.

Two years later, Mr. Jobs unveiled the 17″ aluminum PowerBook (whose form factor essentially lives on nearly six years later in the 17″ MacBook Pro) and the jewel-like 12″ PowerBook; then later that year at Macworld Expo Paris Jobs followed suit with the 15″ aluminum PowerBook. I looked on admiringly, commenting: “Apple’s fantastic G4  PowerBook laptops have essentially eliminated any rationale other than lower cost for owning a desktop computer for most of Mac-users,” then went out and ordered a G3 dual-USB iBook.

At Macworld Expo 2006’s, Steve rolled out the first-ever Intel-based Mac laptop – the 15″ MacBook Pro. That time my enthusiasm was less effusive. I grumbled a bit about the form factor being nearly identical to the outgoing 15″ PowerBook, but did observe that: “Fortunately, when you peer beneath the MacBook Pro’s familiar-looking aluminum skin, things get more exciting.” However, not exciting enough for me. A month later I bought the Apple Certified Refurbished 17″ PowerBook G4 than is still my production workhorse.

There definitely seems to be a pattern established here.

Fast-forward to October, 2008 and another milestone Apple notebook release. I really like the new “unibody” 13″ MacBook and 15″ MacBook Pro Steve Jobs announced Tuesday, and I’m due for another system upgrade. Actually, when I bought this PowerBook as a tide-me-over “last Power PC until I see how the dust settles” machine nearly three years ago, I didn’t imagine that I would not have upgraded to a MacIntel inside of two years, but the PowerBook has been a rock, never giving a moment’s trouble, and thus dampening incentive to move on.

But it’s time, so as much as I admire so many things about them, will I go for a new unibody machine, or revert to pattern and opt for more mature technology? My current thinking inclines me toward the latter, and here’s why.

It’s not entirely my longstanding policy about not buying “revision A” computer hardware, although that factor certainly enters into the equation. With my budgeted price range topping out at about Can$1,500 before taxes, the logical choices seem to be among the recycled white MacBook 2.1 GHz at $999, the new MacBook 2.0 GHz at $1,299, and the Apple Certified Refurbished MacBook Pro 2.4GHz at $1,349/. The 2.4 GHz MacBook is out of my budget target range, selling in Canada for $1,599 CAN and the new 2.4 GHz MacBook Pro in a whole different dimension at $2,149 CAN.

Here’s how I’m currently leaning: The 2.1″ price-leader MacBook is a bit like warmed-over lasagna from the night before – delicious the first time around, but now a leftover. The new MacBooks are nice pieces of work, except I don’t think I can live happily without FireWire at this point. That leaves the refurb. last-gen. MacBook Pro, which is substantially faster than the MacBooks in my price envelope, has a real graphics processor unit, is mature technology and generally better-equipped, at 50 bucks below my price cutoff, and only about $85 above the nominal U.S. dollar price. Seems like the value sweet spot to me. What do you think?

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