The Night Owl Will Switch to Note-books — In Five Years!

May 12th, 2009

As you know, Apple sells far more note-books than desktops these days. That’s just the trend in the industry, accelerated on the PC side by the rise of netbooks. Certainly, this transition makes a lot of sense, since you don’t have to fret over synchronizing two computers. You can do everything with just one — you can also save lots of money, and that may be the biggest advantage of all!

I have one client, a graphic designer, who uses his Mac note-book for most everything. Whether at home or at the office, he attaches it to a large display and external input devices and he is content. For him, there appears to be no compromise whatsoever.

This is a trend that I have resisted so far, because I require the performance of my Mac Pro, something that my 17-inch MacBook Pro cannot quite approach, at least not yet. While the note-book’s Core 2 Duo processor is certainly well equipped for a variety of tasks, it would be absurd to think it comes close to the Mac Pro in all performance parameters.

That disparity will probably increase when Snow Leopard arrives, since it provides superior multithreading, which means that those four-core processors will finally stop sitting idle most of the time and will be better deployed when the need arises. The twin four-core Xeons on my Mac Pro will really make the difference; I can’t wait.

Now I realize most Mac users probably don’t need all the extra performance, but for those who do, today’s Mac note-books aren’t quite there yet. The slower hard drives one finds in a portable computer can also compromise many functions that require constant access to the data on the drive, and it makes everything proceed slower than you’d otherwise prefer.

In addition to Snow Leopard, several developments are converging that will, one day, make it possible to go all portable and not sacrifice one whit of performance. That may mean that the Mac Pro will become an endangered species, except for the small number of users who require its stellar expansion capabilities. Then again, perhaps a pair of ExpressCard slots on a MacBook Pro would address many of those needs.

When it comes to processors, lower power quad cores are coming for Intel’s mobile platform in the next few months. They will demand no more juice than today’s dual cores and, assuming their costs are reasonable, it’s likely your next MacBook or MacBook Pro may have them, at least in some configurations. Indeed, the future calls for eight cores and more, meaning that you might be able to equip a Mac portable with the same processor power as the Mac Pro on a single chip.

Today’s MacBook Pro can be equipped with up to 8GB of RAM, which may seem like an awful lot, until you consider that the MacPro’s memory slots will contain four times that amount. As higher-density chips arrive and become available for sane prices, having 32GB and more in a portable computer will no longer seem a pipedream.

As to hard drives, well the future is already here, if you can afford it, in the form of SSDs, short for solid state drives. They are extremely fast in most respects, but  they remain costly. For example, the 256GB SSD option for a MacBook Pro is still $750 extra as I write this article. It will take several years and a lot of engineering savvy to be able to deliver pricing that’s more in line with a traditional mechanical hard drive. When that day arrives, however, it will mean far greater resiliency and longevity for note-books subjected to a near-abusive lifestyle.

All these developments will converge over the next few years. My five-year estimate might, in fact, be a little pessimistic. As more and more Mac and PC owners go portable, companies will invest additional money in developing the components needed to make them sing and dance as well as a desktop.

Understand that I work in a home office. I cherish large screen displays, but the MacBook Pro in my future will be simply replace the desktop and connect to the same accessories I’m using now (or their successors). At night, it will accompany me to the bedroom and be stored in a robust laptop case for travel.

Then again, that future also means that the iPhone of 2014 will be powerful enough that it will certainly replace larger computers for most routine chores. Then the pundits might be eagerly touting the eventual demise of the traditional Mac portable, to be replaced by the iPhone Pro.

It would take us one step closer to the legendary Star Trek Tricorder, I suppose.

But for now, that is my five year plan. What’s yours?

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3 Responses to “The Night Owl Will Switch to Note-books — In Five Years!”

  1. Kirk says:

    The one thing that keeps me using a Mac Pro is the ability to have multiple internal hard disks. If I bought a laptop as my primary computer (I have an Air which is a secondary computer already), or if I bought an iMac, I wouldn’t be able to use those disks. As yet, there are no external enclosures that are affordable and that can hold 4 disks. (I already have other externals for backups, but each one is a single disk and enclosure.)

  2. DaveD says:

    When time is money, it is hard to see notebooks taking over the desktop. Due to its form factor heat and power consumption are the two main issues that when subsituting a MacBook Pro for an iMac, it is a compromise. The same with netbooks for notebooks.

    There was a Power PC G5 processor in an iMac but a PowerBook version never appeared. On my MacBook I inadvertently performed an “empty trash” with secure delete on a large file (+300 MB). I heard the fan running at full blast and felt the heat for a very long time. I will never repeat this mistake.

    In a Cnet article, an Intel marketing person mentioned that in the June through August period of last year, the return rate of netbooks were high. A couple of resellers experienced a rate of 30%. This was because of the netbook was not marketed clearly as a compromised notebook.

  3. David says:

    I’ll switch to a notebook when Apple stops making desktops, not a minute sooner.

    Unlike Gene I don’t need 8 cores of processing goodness and a graphics card that needs auxiliary power, but if I was to buy such a beast today it would last longer than a comparably priced MBP. Faster computers simply last longer.

    The big question, however, is how much longer. Right now the difference isn’t huge, but that’s because hardware has been gaining cores faster than the software can use them.

    That’s going to change, big time, in the next two years. Snow Leopard is just the first of many moves to make software more capable of parallel processing. The gap between dual core and quad/octo core machines is about to get huge and I don’t want to be on the wrong side.

    Right now I’m weighing the cost of a refurbished dual core iMac that I expect to abandon within two years against a Mac Pro that will cost me twice as much, but last twice as long. Either way I’m waiting for Snow Leopard to ship before I pull the trigger.

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