Thursday, April 29, 2010

Apple MacBook Pro MC226LL/A 17-Inch Laptop

Favorable Review:

Simply put, the best laptop I've ever owned. I configured it through Apple with the 128GB SSD and apps install incredibly fast and launch instantly. The screen is a marvel, 1920 X 1200 with LCD backlight. I opted to go with the glossy, so there are some reflections but only when using directly in front of a bright window, otherwise its not a problem (for me anyway).

Bear in mind, this is a BIG laptop...its a tray table...but very sturdy and NO flex in the chassis. The trackpad is also very useable, although I still opted for a mouse (Logitech M555b Bluetooth, highly recommended also).

It doesn't heat up much and has incredible battery life...if I switch to the 9400M integrated graphics (which is fine for most uses), I can get 6 hours on a charge no problem, with WiFi, Bluetooth, brightness at about 60% and the SSD as the primary HD. With a different config YMMV, but I'd bet 5-6 hours is the norm for this machine.

All-in-all, a great laptop. I'll have this 2-3 years no problems.  

Critical Review:

One year ago, disgusted by dismal experiences with multiple PC manufacturers (Dell, Acer, among others) in terms of their terrible support for Windows (along with poor hardware reliability issues and very poor servicing of hardware), I took the plunge and decided I would buy a Mac. I basically have to have windows XP because it's required to interface with various hospital systems, but I thought if the Windows partition went down (a virtual guarantee with Windows XP at some point), at least I would have a reliable Mac system as a backup. I expected a far better experience, given the customer service ratings of Apple, which are far better than any PC manufacturer. Little did I know what I was getting into.

The XP partition blue screened on a regular basis, from the first moment it was created. Microsoft of course makes it anything but easy to figure out why XP is bluescreening - part of their effort to duck and cover around the OS being a buggy mess. (Any misbehaving driver will bring it down.) And Apple's position on this consistently was that "this is not their problem." Adding insult to injury, I was charged for support by Microshaft (despite this partition being built from a new copy of Windows XP professional). Well, what else is new - this is standard PC fare, and the primary reason why so many people are switching to Macs.

What was a revelation was to discover (after using a great little program called BlueScreenView that not even Microsoft was aware of) that the driver causing ALL the blue screens was Apple's proprietary mouse driver for the touchpad/mouse. Even more stunning, I found out that Apple apparently was aware of this all along (12+ months), but failed to contact users, and failed to correct the mouse driver issues for over one year, despite numerous complaints on the part of numerous boot Camp users about the mouse driver causing major problems. Apple's position on this is that all Windows issues have nothing to do with them. That might be true . . . except for the small fact that Apple was writing the XP driver software for the mouse that was causing all the problems. This kind of "it's not my responsibility" attitude is something you expect from Microsoft, or perhaps from Dell, but you don't expect from Apple.

After roughly one year of difficulties (blue screens almost every day or every other day, bringing down the system and causing loss of work and endless grief along with two corrupted C drive partitions), I was able to find a fix for this, no thanks to Apple. It's been a shock to see Apple operate the way that every other big corporation in America appears to operate. The Mac side of course works just fine, but I bought this system to use it primarily as a PC (with Mac OS X capability as a backup). If you are never going to use as a dual OS system, this is a fine computer and OS. However, I would strongly caution anyone against buying an Apple laptop or desktop system if they intend to have serious dual boot capability and intend to use some version of Windows more than 10% of the time. What you'll find is a serious lack of support and a position of complete denial of responsibility by Apple for anything that happens under boot Camp. Although they finally provided a viable mouse driver (hence I upgraded this review from one to two stars), they could have not stonewalled me for a year, and simply admitted that their driver was buggy and crash-prone, but they didn't.

Given that this dual operating system capability has become one of Apple's strong selling cards and responsible for a significant fraction of sales, this position by Apple has to be seen as egregious, and totally unacceptable. My discouraged conclusion is that if you intend to use this system to operate any version of Windows, you have to be aware that you will be on your own. Microsoft will regard all OS issues under BootCamp as Apple's problem, Apple will regard them as Microsoft's problem, and in the final analysis, they are all going to be YOUR problem. Watch out!! (and unfortunately the virtual emulation of Windows under Parallels or VMWare is no solution either - earlier versions were massively buggy!!)

I am confident that this review will be unpopular with the Mac faithful (leading to poor ratings!) - attacking Apple is about like insulting someone's mother in some people's eyes. Such loyalty is admirable, and speaks to some of Apple's strengths - which make this experience all the more puzzling. But for anyone that has struggled with an XP, Vista or (soon) Window 7 partition on a MacBook, this experience should be a MAJOR caution. For those who will never cross into the unreliable and buggy world of Windows on this hardware (a most fortunate majority of owners spared all the headaches of the PC world), this is probably a five star system. But it is striking to see such disparity between Apple on these two sides of an issue (OS X support vs Windows support), and it's really a shame. I had hoped for far better.

Footnote April 2010: After finally getting updated drivers from Apple, I have now have four months go by without a single blue screen of death. For this reason I am updating my rating to three stars. I wish Apple had made the updated mouse/touchpad driver widely available earlier, and had informed users of the fact that this driver was very buggy and crash-prone. The Apple side is a five star product, and between that and the restored functionality of the XP/Windows side, I am changing my overall rating upwards. Hopefully Apple learned something that will ensure that future BootCamp users not have to go through what I went through. 


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