I love my 27″ iMac for editing, don’t get me wrong, but since my daughter came along, and my sister-in-law and her family moved in, I’ve sometimes had to re-locate my office from home to the local Starbucks, Tim Hortons, or even the quiet café frequented by seniors in my local shopping centre.
For a while, I used my trusty Powerbook G4, a beautiful relic of simpler times when all I had to edit was DV and HDV. But those (Final Cut) days are over, and now I use Adobe Premiere Pro. I wanted an inexpensive Mac to run Premiere and do rough edits before finishing the colour-correction and final exports on my powerhouse iMac. A new MacBook was out of the question (the iMac was expensive enough!), so after selling my Powerbook I was able to procure a Dell Latitude E6400 on eBay for $240, or $270 with shipping. Minus the $100 I got for selling the Powerbook, my expense for this machine was about $170. The price for a similarly spec’d Macbook used was around $600-$800 (all Canadian Dollars). The computer arrived a little while later. It’s ugly, but it is actually a little smaller than my Powerbook, which makes it great to tote.
It is surprisingly uncomplicated to install OSX on these machines. The secret lies in the process described on osxlatitude.com. There is a nice compatibility chart which lists the different laptop models which work with their process, and the steps needed to install OSX. Laptops not supported officially may still work, but you have to do a little digging in their forum. That was where I found the instructions for installing OSX 10.9 “Mavericks”. I previously installed Snow Leopard (10.6) and Lion (10.7) on this machine, and Mavericks was by far the easiest. I simply downloaded the installer from the app store, but didn’t run it right away. I used MyHack on my iMac to make myself a USB thumb-drive to install Mavericks, and used a package of settings and drivers (called Kernel Extensions, or Kexts for short) that I found in this post (the “Extra” folder mentioned). I had to use MyHack to install them once for the installer, and then boot using the USB drive. At the end of the installation, MyHack appeared again, and I again selected the “Extra” folder provided in the above post to install. All this is documented more extensively on the site, and your mileage may vary. Mavericks installed without issue and Premiere CS6 and other apps I had already installed under Snow Leopard or Lion worked fine out of the box.
I should mention that there are a few ways you could screw up the process if you don’t read all the documentation and be sure you understand the process, but overall this was a painless process, almost like installing on a real Mac.
For fun I tried installing Windows 7 on the machine (my wife has a copy), and with 3GB of ram, it would barely run Adobe Premiere, and I quickly had to switch back to OSX. I realized very quickly how much I am not missing in the Windows world.
There are some drawbacks I should mention. I purposely picked up a Dell with a backlit keyboard, high resolution screen and good build quality, but my Powerbook was a nicer computer by far. Battery life on a PC is definitely not what today’s Mac users are used to. I purchased a bigger battery which sticks out the back. Screen resolution is high, but if you move your head to either side, the picture all but disappears–a testament to the poor screen quality (my Powerbook was viewable from almost any angle). Colours are also poor, forcing me to do any CC on my iMac. I did calibrate it a bit using Apple’s tools, but I still don’t trust it. Audio Performance is surprisingly quite good, no complaints. The feel of the hardware is, bluntly, crappy but functional. The trackpad is simply awful compared to my Powerbook or my Magic Trackpad which I use on my iMac. Fortunately the bluetooth works great, which allows me to use a Magic Mouse I had lying around. Position of Vents is ridiculous, the fan is on the bottom and is blocked if you use the computer on your lap or on a bed. The ambient light sensor is almost useless, adjusting the screen brightness any time I move my hand across the keyboard, but it can be turned off. Also, not all WiFi cards work with OSX, so be sure to make sure your machine has a compatible one.
All in all, I am pleased with my purchase, although it’s ugly as heck, the computer gets the job done. Mavericks runs wonderfully with only one real issue: it sometimes doesn’t wake from sleep, and I have to force a restart. I would love a real MacBook for just this reason, but for the price, I can’t complain. Besides, I can always head back to my iMac when it’s time for “real” work.