on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)
Sex ... and Power (Part III)
"Would You, Could You, With a Mac?"
You've seen them ... you've lusted after them ... you may have even been reading about them in the JCR and a few of the court reporting-related forums out there: The Apple Macintosh line of computers.
The slew of awards for industrial design Apple has garnered is proof positive that the rest of the world likes the way Macs look (did you notice the rash of "candy colored" products a few years back, when the iMacs came out in five colors?), so you've been wanting to take the plunge and get a Mac ... but you've been stuck in a holding pattern: "Which one do I get? Where do I get it? Can I make it run Windows so I can run my CAT software? How do I make it run Windows so I can run my CAT software?"
This article will address those questions -- and more! So grab yourself a Cheap and Sleazy Mocha or a Cheap and Sleazy Peach Iced Tea, sit back, relax ... and I will tell you what you need to know about Macs and CATs.
"Sex ... and Power"
As my regular readers know, whenever they see the phrase "Sex ... and Power," on ol' Cheap and Sleazy, they know I'm talking about the news that accompanied the introduction of Apple's first G4 PowerBook:
For those of you who are thinking "Jeez, this guy needs to get out more!" and/or just can't understand why the phrase "Sex ... and Power" is associated with a laptop, check out this article:
Back so soon? Good!
Look at that beauty. It virtually SCREAMS "Technolust," doesn't it?
It also supports that "Sex and Power" bit that Steve Jobs was pushing at the time.
That particular PowerBook is one of your options (one of the older models, anyway) ... and the prices are not too bad! So, let's take a look at those options.
Schools of Mac
Macs are divided into two groups: Old School (say "PowerPC") and New School (say "Intel"). There is a third group (the Motorola 020-/030-/040-based systems, which are roughly equivalent to Intel 286-/386-/486-based systems) but by today's standards, they are just ... too .... slow ... so, unless you're a collector, or you have a young relative you want to get started in computing, or if you happen to find a copy of one of the two old Mac CAT programs (Mac CAT and Mac Steno) from back in the day, pass these old systems by.
Old School Options
The G3/G4 (as in, "Generation Three/Four") series does support VirtualPC (especially the G4 series, as I discovered while running Windows XP Pro and digitalCAT on my G4 PowerBook). Like any application, the more RAM (and the faster the CPU), the better it will run.
Note that VirtualPC has been discontinued by Microsoft. While the above link kinda/sorta works (it takes you to a page where there's a link to the current status of VPC), you might take a look at this site instead. You can also read the Virtual PC Forums.
Probably your best bet if you wish to go this route is to check eBay for a copy of VPC.
If you're on a budget, look for a G4 PowerBook. Max out that RAM, purchase a copy of VPC, and you're good to go.
You should be able to find a good G4 PowerBook for about $800. Heck, one of my local vendors had one he was selling for $600! Should've grabbed that one ....
A Bit About Macintosh Memory
When I need to buy RAM for my Macs, I always check Deal RAM for the best price. The folks at Deal RAM scour the internet for the lowest prices of RAM, and summarize their findings for your purchasing pleasure! A great resource.
New School Options
The new Mac laptops (MacBooks, MacBook Pros, as well as the iMacs, Mac Minis and the desktop (Mac Pro) systems) all have Intel chips ... despite some of the old Apple ads from the Old School days, when the G3 and G4 chips were outperforming everything:
The Death of the Power PC
The reign of Power PC (PPC) chips came to an untimely end when Steve Jobs, disappointed in the fact that Intel's chips had begun outperforming the PPC chips told the folks at Motorola that if things didn't improve, he was going to move the entire line away from Motorola's PPC chips.
I guess Motorola thought he was kidding, and again failed to develop faster chips ... so now the entire Macintosh line has Intel Inside.
When His Steveness (Steve Jobs, CEO and one of the founders of Apple) announced that the next generation of Macs would have "Intel Inside," the Mac rumor sites were abuzz with the possibility that it should, in theory, be easier for these Macs to emulate Windows. Well, Microsoft didn't think so, and support for VirtualPC stopped as soon as Apple made the transition to Intel ... but the programmers at both VMWare and Parallels quickly stepped up to the plate with Fusion and Parallels, respectively, and now we have two methods to run Windows on the Mac.
But Before We Get to That ...
... you have to pick your system!
Because ol' Cheap and Sleazy is primarily aimed at Starving Students o' Steno everywhere, we'll look at the options for PowerPC-based systems first -- because these get cheaper by the day!
The Low Budget Solution
As always, when buying a laptop, you want to buy one with the most memory you can afford, the largest hard drive you can afford, and the fastest CPU (say "chip") you can afford.
With that in mind, my G4 PowerBook had 1GB of RAM, a 1.67 GHz CPU and an 80 GB hard drive. You can read the rest of the specs over at Every Mac.com, if you're curious.
I used Virtual PC on my mighty G4 PowerBook running digitalCAT with nary a problem.
This is a low budget solution.
While it is possible to find an original G4 PowerBook at a really low price, please be aware that these units are very flimsy, and will not last through being shoved into a laptop bag and carried from place to place ... so you want to avoid the "Titanium" G4 PowerBooks.
You might be able to get it to work on a G4 iBook, but I always had probelms with not having enough RAM (at the time, I only had about 700 MB, and it was painfully slow!), and I suspect the CPU wasn't quite up to it either ... which is why I recommend starting with the PowerBook: They can hold more RAM than those early G4 iBooks could, have more ports, and (generally speaking) are faster. Check the specs and compare if you have a choice between a weak G4 PowerBook and a strong G4 iBook.
As to where to buy these, check the end of the article.
Just so you know, VirtualPC only runs under Mac OS 9 (a.k.a. Classic) ... and support for Mac OS 9 is getting harder to find. While the OS will do what you need it to do, it is getting harder and harder to find internet applications that work with OS 9. There is no Classic version of Firefox ... and when Apple introduced Safari, Microsoft stopped developing Internet Explorer (which, by the way, is why there's a Windows version of Safari) ... so you're left with iCab.
The Mid-Range Buget Solution
The middle range includes older MacBooks and MacBook Pros ... but you should know that there have been a few different versions of each of these machines, and (of course!) the main differences between them are the chips.
And, speaking of which ....
Since these new systems run on Intel chips, a little bit of knowledge about these chips is a good thing to have!
The MacBooks and the MacBook Pros both run on Intel Core Duo or Intel Core 2 Duo chips.
What this means is each CPU has not one, but two CPUs (that's "Central Processing Unit," by the way) on each chip.
A "Watch Out Fer" with the early systems (the "Core Duo" models) is heat. The original MacBooks and MacBook Pros ran very hot -- which is why Apple stopped calling them "laptops" and started calling them "notebooks."
So, if you have plans on keeping your laptop in your lap from time to time, you want a system with a "Core 2 Duo" chip in it.
If the heat difference isn't enough, the Core Duo models only support 2 GB of RAM, max. The newer Core 2 Duo systems can handle 4 GB.
What this means for you is that you should avoid those first-generation MacBooks and MacBook Pros, if possible.
The High End Solution
The "High End Solution" is to buy a more current (as in, "last year's model") refurbished MacBook Pro. True, you could get a MacBook, but I recommend the MacBook Pro mostly because it has a metal casing instead of the plastic casing of the MacBook, and they are smaller than the MacBook Pro (13 inches instead of the MacBook Pro's 15 inches).
Another reason is that a MacBook, even with 2GB of RAM, will run things slowly, as described in this article:
"Your mileage may vary, of course, but when tested on a 2.2 GHz MacBook with 2 GB of RAM, nothing ran especially quickly. I imagine the same would not necessarily be the case with a MacBook Pro."
"Say, wait a minute --! What about the MacBook Air?!"
True, the MacBook Air is impressive ... but you can't upgrade the RAM (2GB, soldered on the motherboard). You also can't replace the battery without a trip to your friendly neighborhood Apple Store, the ports are limited: A headphone jack, a video out port, and one USB 2.0 port ... which, if you are a real real-timer will cut into your income: One USB port for your writer, and no more USB ports for realtime!
So, that's why I don't recommend the MacBook Air.
New, a MacBook Pro should run you about $2,000.
But, since you're a Starving Student() and all, you will be looking for a refurbished system, right?
A Tale of Two MacBook Pros
Keeping in mind my "Last Year's Model" rule, let's look at a current model, and last year's model of the MacBook Pro.
The Current MacBook Pro
Apple recently updated the MacBook Pro: 2.5 GHz Core 2 Duo, 250 GB hard drive, Multi-Touch (think 'iPhone'), and up to 4 GB of RAM. Price: $2499 (the 15 inch model with 2 GB of RAM).
Last Year's MacBook Pro
Comparing that to last year's model (more or less; the systems seem to get updated every six months!!), the specs are 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo, 2 GB of RAM, and a 160 GB hard drive.
Since Apple has those new models, you would have to find the older models at resellers (see end of article). Checking one, with the same specs quoted for Last Year's MacBook Pro, the best price I can find (outside of Apple) is $1740. Apple sells refurbished units as well (see links at the end of the article), and they have one selling for $1649.
Note that the refurbished systems Apple sells change weekly, so that price above is what I found when I wrote this (28APR08). If you check right now, chances are you won't find that particular system for that particular price.
My MacBook Pro is the 2.2 GHz model, with 2GB or RAM and a 111 GB hard drive (note to self: Get bigger hard drive!! Double that RAM!!!). The lowest price from the resellers I found today is $1525 ($1449 from Apple).
Clearly, it is cheaper to buy a refurbished unit!
The Ultra-High End Solution
Well, okay ... so there really isn't a "ultra-high-end" solution -- at least, not in laptops.
Take a look at this one:
... but since this site is aimed at Starving Students(), and the Mac Pro runs about $2800, just consider that there for illustrative purposes ... but if the picture ignites your sense of technolust, you can read about that particular system here.
Gotta love those guys at EveryMac.com! Use them to check out any refurbished Mac you're thinking of buying before you buy it.
Windows Emulation Options
As I may have mentioned somewhere in this piece, your options for doing Windows on your Mac are as follows:
Both Parallels and VMWare Fusion are roughly the same price: $60.
In contrast, both Oracle's Sun VirtualBox and Apple's Boot Camp are free ... and Boot Camp comes with Mac OS X, which comes with every new Mac.
Alas, I don't have any experience with Boot Camp (I have about 10 GB left on my 111 GB hard drive!), so this piece will not cover it very much ... but, from one of my readers comes this tip:
When you're installing Boot Camp and you get to the option for the drive's format, DO NOT pick HFS! (A BIG THANKS to Donnis Thompson who went through a lot of crying and hair pulling before getting that fixed (not her fault, though; a bad Mac tech caused that one ...).
As you might recall, I started out with Connectix' Virtual PC. Connectix was eventually killed off by Sony because Connectix was also famous for Virtual Game Station) ... and, as I mentioned earlier in this piece, Microsoft killed VPC when Macs moved to Intel chips ... but I still had my G4 PowerBook handy, along with my Virtual PC drive when I switched to the MacBook Pro, and I wanted to use that hard drive image with Fusion and Parallels!
Well, it took some effort, but I managed to "clone" my VPC hard drive and use it for both Parallels and Fusion. If you just bought an Intel-based Mac and don't have Virtual PC, feel free to skip these next few paragraphs.
The Clone Wars Cloning my Virtual PC Drive
Both Parallels and VMWare have solutions designed to import existing hard drives into something their respective products can use. Parallels had Transporter, and VMWare had Converter.
I tried VMWare's Converter first. Looked like everything was working, but when it was "finished," it put up an error -- which I stupidly didn't get a screenshot of! (Grrr ....)
Well. I got an error, which indicated that the coversion did not take place ... so I downloaded the Parallels Transporter, converted my VPC hard drive, and then used VMWare's Converter to convert the Parallels image to one that VMWare Fusion could read!
You can see the icons for Parallels Transporter and the currently running VMWare Converter there on the lower left-hand side of the picture.
In fact, here's an article showing how to convert your Parallels disk drive image to something that VMWare Fusion can use:
There's also a video which shows how to convert your Boot Camp disk to a Fusion disk.
"Okay ... so what's the difference between these options?"
Boot Camp requires you to reboot your Mac to use ... and to switch back to the Mac OS, you have to reboot again! Somewhat inconvenient to me ... but it is fast.
Parallels and Fusion, on the other hand, are applications -- that is, you start your Mac (or wake it, if it was already running), double-click the Parallels or Fusion icon, and in a few moments, you're running Windows in a window.
Of course, running Windows in a small window may not appeal to some ... but both Fusion and Parallels can run full screen -- or, with the touch of a button, both can hide the Windows desktop and Start button -- and your Windows applications will look as if they were Macintosh applications -- sort of.
Deciding between Parallels and Fusion is a more difficult task ... but the guys at MacTech Magazine recently did some legwork and compared Boot Camp, Fusion and Parallels (you can see the comparison here), and here's a portion of their conclusion:
" ... in our tests, both VMware Fusion and Parallels performed well, and were a good user experience. That said, Parallels was somewhat faster in general than VMware Fusion for XP."