Five Things

Another Sunday means it's time for another list. The last couple of days have seen a ridiculous amount of negativity projected my way, which has certainly taken its toll on my patience, but August was a pretty good month overall. The boy is starting to read more. Projects at the day job are moving forward. The summer heat and humidity has been replaced with some cooler temperatures with intermittent storms. All of these things are positive and each is worthy of a celebration … some more than others, of course. September is shaping up to have a bunch of positive events take place, too, and I'm looking forward to each one of these.

A Week Off … for Training

The last week of September will involve a solid week of Mulesoft training through an all-day intensive course. There will be a great deal of learning and a great deal of Java. Once complete, there will be a closed-book exam where I get to put the skills to use an earn certification for the technology, which will get put to use almost immediately with some upcoming projects at the day job. An added bonus of the training is that I'll need a new computer, and I've managed to convince the day job to provide a 15" MacBook Pro with 32GB RAM, as the 13" MacBook Pro I've been using for the last few years is simply not up to the task of dealing with AnyPoint Studio, the IDE used for Mulesoft development.

A New MacBook

Yes, this was mentioned in the previous point, but it's still something positive to look forward to … even if this is potentially coming a mere couple of weeks before Apple releases the fabled 16" MacBook Pro with the older-style butterfly keyboard, which is the same style that I've enjoyed since 2012. With 32GB of RAM and a dedicated video card, a number of the heat problems that I've been struggling with lately should be drastically minimized. It will also be feasible to do some of the more computationally demanding tasks that colleagues have been asking for help with. If the keyboards on the current 15" devices are as problematic as posts on the web make them out to be, then I'll attach an external keyboard and use the device that way. There's still a whole lot of positive with this hardware acquisition.

Reiko's Birthday

While she doesn't really like birthdays anymore, this annual celebration is a perfect excuse for the boy to make something nice for his mum. Last year involved a great deal of work on my part, as he was just one year old at the time. This year he'll get to help in the kitchen to make something nice. There will also be cards, flowers, and — possibly — something akin to a cake that is not a cake1

Cooler Temperatures

September is here, which means the summer heat is about to give way to a series of typhoons that will cool the country down and bring in the short, two-week autumn period where everybody wants to be outside before five months of winter hit. For me, this entire cycle is a positive as it means that the stupid mosquitoes that bother me at every opportunity will disappear for a short while. This is, of course, one of the many reasons that winter is my favourite season.

And finally …

Reading List Zero

For the vast majority of this year, the reading list has been sitting at about a dozen books to read. Some of these were the result of recommendations from authors of other books, and a couple were even picked up because I strongly disagreed with the author's stance on a subject but wanted to read a coherent argument about why they felt they were right. All in all, it's been a challenging reading year as I've managed to read just one work of fiction and 82 books that cover topics such as modern religion, historic events, sociology, education, child rearing, technology, and even a biography2. Rarely is the list shorter than a three or four books, but I've not had any new recommendations from other readers or authors for a number of months. If I do get down to zero, then I might just use the rest of the year for some science fiction, as the year of "real stuff" has been a bit much at times … particularly when reading something from someone I might slap in the face3.

September has just begun and I plan on making sure it's a positive one.

  1. Reiko doesn't like cake.

  2. Finally got around to reading Walter Isaacson's book on Steve Jobs a few months back. It has been sitting in the Reading List for 4 years.

  3. I read things from people I strongly disagree with, like Milo Yiannopoulos, in order to have a better understanding of their arguments. This allows me to construct better arguments for why their stance on a topic may be incorrect. Not exposing myself to ideas I detest is not exactly the best way to go through life.

Outgrowing Hardware

There is a small collection of tools that I depend on every day to help pay the bills and keep food on the table, three of which are in the photo below. A MacBook Pro that I've been using day in and day out1 for just over three years, a 24" 4K Dell P2415Q monitor, and an iPad Air 2. The monitor and iPad are just fine for what I ask of them. The MacBook, however, is starting to struggle with the workload.

The Workspace

This is the 17th computer that I've owned since 19942, and it's the one that has been with me since the promotion out of the classroom and into a development role at the day job. The keyboard — which has very obvious signs of wear — is quite comfortable and the battery is still good for 5+ hours when plugged into the 4K monitor3 and a full workday if it's running standalone. The screen has some occasionally noticeable issues, but is still better than 99% of notebooks I see people using when out and about. The CPU4 can generally keep up with what I'm doing, too, as my job basically involves working with text. Lots and lots of text. What I need — and I understand this is a common gripe I've had with my recent machines — is more RAM and a faster storage device.

Because this is a modern MacBook Pro, there is no chance of upgrading the RAM. It already has the maximum 16GB installed and there's no way to add more, even if I were to try and get creative with a soldering iron. At the day job I've had to start working with Java, and this is just using all of the memory I have available on the notebook. 24GB would be a safe number for now, and 32 would offer that extra bit of flexibility when it comes time to run some heavier workloads locally. As this is not at all possible without replacing the machine for a recent 15" model, I can't even entertain the thought.

The storage card, however, is a different story. I've recently learned that it's possible to swap out the custom solid state drive for an NVMe device, which would just about double my read and write speeds. One of the things I really liked about the Lenovo X1 Carbon that I was using with Linux5 was its incredibly fast NVMe drive. It could write data at 1,200MB/sec and read at just over 1,400MB/sec. With these kinds of speeds I was consistently impressed with how quickly I/O-heavy database work was completed. The MacBook Pro cannot get the same speeds from an NVMe card, as the older notebook is limited to just two PCIe channels rather than the 4 available on many newer computers, but double the current speed would be a definite improvement. It would also be nice to go from 256GB of storage to a full terabyte. The cost of this upgrade would be about $250 all told … which may be worth it.

Will this buy the machine more time, though?

It's a strange feeling to "outgrow a tool". While there can be frustrations when working with a device that is clearly struggling to keep up with you, where the fans are spinning as fast as they can go and the case is going from "noticeably warm" to "I'd better stop and let the computer cool down a bit", there is also a great deal of sentiment embedded in the machine. This is the computer I used to create one of the best pieces of software I've ever written. This is the computer I used to write the vast majority of 10Cv4 and 10Cv5. This is the computer that has been used to clean up and edit a whole host of photos of the boy and Nozomi. I've been angry at the machine, and through the machine. I've also been incredibly happy, thoughtful, captivated, and reflective while using the machine. One can easily think about replacing a computer … but then what do you do with it? I am not one to let a computer sit around collecting dust when it can be useful in some capacity.

The bulk of my issues could be eliminated if it were possible to upgrade the RAM. Unfortunately this is simply not feasible. The remaining options are to upgrade the SSD to an NVMe drive to reduce the amount of time waiting while the system swaps memory from RAM to the storage medium, replacing the machine entirely6, or doing nothing and sticking with what I've used almost daily for 1000 days. The machine is still "young" by modern standards. If it weren't for the current workload at the day job, this machine would still be sufficient. There must be another option that I'm not seeing.

  1. Aside from a 4-month stint with a Lenovo where I tried very hard to be 100% Ubuntu. I gave this up almost a month ago due to the excessive amount of friction that I was facing when working with colleagues who, for the most part, use Windows. Ubuntu is a pretty decent operating system with a lot of software available for people to get work done, and I love the freedom that comes with running a proper Linux-based desktop. That said … the friction was just too much.

  2. There was a time not too long ago when it was normal for a geek to replace their computer every 12 ~ 18 months, either through upgrades or a direct replacement. Fortunately this is no longer necessary.

  3. I generally try to run off battery every couple of days to ensure the cell cycle. Maybe this isn't necessary, but I have an aversion to leaving a mobile computer — that needs to be mobile — plugged in all the time.

  4. The processor is a 5th generation Core i5 5257U running at about 2.7GHz.

  5. Aside from the keyboard. The ThinkPads still have one of the best notebook keyboards on the market.

  6. This would be tricky and expensive. I would likely aim for a 27" iMac, as that has expandable RAM.

Five Years Since the Switch

Five years ago today I made the switch from Windows to OS X and, while I've not stuck with Apple's preferred OS on my hardware for the entire duration, the move has been incredibly illuminating. It's been said on numerous occasions on this site, but the first computer I could call my own was an ancient off-brand 8088 back in 1994. It was on that machine that I learned how to program in Turbo Pascal and Watcom though a pair of books that were instrumental to my understanding of software development. From 1994 through to 2012 the core ideas in those books were used over and over and over again across thousands of projects, evolving as the field developed new processes and techniques. Core to the understanding, though, was that software should be written for the lowest-grade of hardware whenever possible. We can't assume everyone has the latest and greatest computer on their desk, nor should we make people suffer for our own impatience at finding the most efficient means to solve a problem. While I still very much stick to this core idea as much as possible, the platform switch in 2012 brought about a slightly different area of focus when designing digital solutions, and it's one I'm still actively learning about today.

For the first eighteen years, my primary goal was to create great software that would solve the problem at hand as efficiently as possible. The interface that people would see was often an afterthought, though I always tried to make the various elements line up and look good. After using iOS for a bit and seeing just how important interface design can be, I started to take it much more seriously.

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works.
— Steve Jobs

While watching parts of Apple's big hardware release a few weeks back, they played an audio snippet with the above quote from the late Steve Jobs. A lot of people have heard this quote, but I wonder how many people think about it.

At the day job I've been working on a project for almost two years1 where I've tried very hard to think more about how the software is supposed to work rather than how "tight" the code is or slick the interface might be. When designing new functions and features, I try to collect as much information as I can from the people who will wind up using that part of the system because, at the end of the day, they are my customer. The software is used by people across the organization with very different sets of goals so, sometimes, the best solution is to write two or more interfaces that draw from the same source of data, but display the information differently. Sure, everything would work if I were to just make a single, unified view that people could then selectively ignore. But I want the software to actually work … so I ask questions. Lots of them.

Despite working with software for almost a quarter century, I still feel there is a lot left to learn. Every platform has taught me something valuable that is just as relevant today as it was days, weeks, months, or years ago when I would heavily lean on them. DOS taught me the importance of efficiency. Windows taught me the importance of object oriented coding. PalmOS taught me the importance of resource management. Linux taught me the importance of community building. iOS/OS X taught me the importance of designing tools rather than solutions. The web taught me the importance of picking a standard2 and sticking to it. The next area I expect to work in will involve a great deal of voice interaction, and I look forward to the evolution in thinking that move will bring.

  1. it's really hard to believe this much time has passed already

  2. there's an XKCD joke in here …

Lengthening Upgrade Cycles

Bryan Clark over at The Next Web seems to have a beef with the relative age of the current-selling MacBook Pro, saying that the machine hasn't been updated by Apple because the company has "forgotten what a computer is." This is an interesting hypothesis, but not one that I'm willing to entertain. Instead, I'll posit my own theory for why Apple isn't updating any of their computers on a regular 6 ~ 12 month cycle anymore: it's 2016.

Intel's Legendary 486 DX2/66

Twenty years ago when I first started to deep-dive into the world of technology, I would buy a copy of Windows Magazine from the Avondale near my high school and read it cover-to-cover and absorb the information like a sponge. Later, I'd go through the advertisements and watch as the processors described as "speed demons" just six months before were being replaced by faster, more capable CPUs at an ever faster rate. When Intel released the Pentium-branded chips, the MHz race was on and we quickly jumped from 200 to 450 in the space of a summer, then up to 800 before the next spring, and finally hitting the blazing fast 1.0GHz by the start of 2000. Anybody who had actively tried to keep up with the speed of technology at this time was investing close to $600 a month in upgrades … and I was one of those suckers.

This was how technology (and marketing) seemed to go for well over a decade. The "l33t hotness" today would be considered obsolete by geeky peers less than 180 days later, and people would be openly mocked online as a result. This started to change for most people around 2008, though, as technology and software had mostly started to reach the "good enough" point where people were comfortable using a computer for longer than 18 months without complaints. Operating systems had become much more reliable by then, as well, meaning that wiping the hard drive and re-installing everything from scratch became a rare nuisance rather than a twice-annual happenstance. By 2012, a lot of non-gaming geeks also found that any hardware they had was good enough for at least four years. Batteries were lasting longer. Processors could keep up with 90% of the work we'd throw at them. Software crashed a lot less.

Now, there's a very real "problem" that arises when people don't have a problem with a product they own: the idea of replacing the item never enters their mind.

How often do people buy new appliances for their home? Washing machines, refrigerators, and microwaves are typically replaced once a decade if that. Many people are able to get fifteen years or more from these machines. As a result, manufacturers have a slower product refresh cycle. Does Maytag or Toshiba really need to put out a new front-load washer every 8 months in order to appear relevant? No. Having worked in the appliance industry for many years¹, I can tell you that most appliance manufacturers have refresh cycles similar to auto manufacturers. There are minor cosmetic changes every spring, maybe a new software update on the higher-end models, but the underlying hardware stays the same for a number of years.

While most manufacturers of cheap, plastic computers churn out an endless array of crap every 6 months, the companies that produce the better, more reliable hardware have slowed down. They choose to invest their time in designing better devices that they can then charge a premium for. Compare any "brand new" Toshiba, Sony, Samsung, Lenovo, HP, or Acer computer that sells for less than $1500 USD to a 440 day old MacBook Pro and tell me how they're better in any 3 measures. I guarantee you can't do it. I tried for 8 months to find a better notebook and failed miserably. As a result, I bought a MacBook Pro and soon replaced the default OS X installation with Ubuntu MATE 16.04 and haven't (often) looked back.

The current MacBook Pro line ships with the 5th Generation Intel Core processors. The 6th Generation is out with reduced power consumption and generally reduced clock rates, but does it make sense to update a whole line of professional-grade notebooks to get another few hours out of a notebook that already provides 12+ hours of life for most people? Heck, according to CPU Boss, going with a 6th Generation processor would be a step down in terms of processing speed. Given that OS X's performance problems are a direct result of the file system² and not the hardware, I'd say a MacBook Pro refresh would be a bad thing.

But what do I know? I'm just a person who uses his MacBook Pro running Ubuntu for 14+ hours a day, 7 days a week. The battery is being used for ten-to-twelve hours most of these days, and this machine is still the fastest non-server-grade computer I've ever used. Would I like a little more battery life? Sure. But I won't accept it at the cost of raw throughput. I won't pretend to know how Bryan uses his computer and what he might want a refreshed Pro line for, but as a person who spends his days programming for multiple platforms, running Virtual Machines, podcasting, and just about anything else aside from gaming, I can tell you that the most recent MacBook Pro line can likely go another 440 days before a refresh is honestly necessary.

  1. Many years ago, I might add …
  2. Don't believe me? Put Ubuntu on a MacBook Pro and tell me it doesn't feel faster. Heck, put Windows on a MacBook Pro and compare it to an equivalently-spec'd Sony or Dell and tell me that it doesn't perform drastically better. Apple's hardware is incredibly capable. Their problems are all in the software.

Eight Hours

Sometimes we can see something that makes us question whether the information in front of us is real or imagined, and this was certainly the case today when I checked the battery meter on my 2011-era MacBook Air after typing a trio of blog posts on the train while en route to a client’s office. Back in the good ol’ days of yore, I would often see that an operating system’s estimation of battery life was incredibly pessimistic. In the case of the my excellent HP zt3000 notebook, that battery could easily go for a solid 2 hours despite being over 5 years old1 despite Windows’ insistence that there was just under an hour of charge remaining. That said, since updating the Mac to the latest version of OS X I’ve seen a noticeable jump in battery life. Not only the reported battery life, but the real-world usage number, too. Today’s reading after 45 minutes of typing on a train still defied belief, though, as it reported a number too high to be accurate: 8 hours.

Eight Hours Remain

Apple throws a lot of adjectives around to describe their products, but this number really does seem magical. How is it that a two-year old machine with thousands of battery cycles is capable of pulling this off when the original specifications of the system said that it could work for a grand total of 7 hours on a full charge? Sure, the software may have been optimised to take advantage of a lot of today’s newer algorithms, but this is just crazy.

I do wonder what sort of battery life would be possible if Windows were to put a focus on battery life and process optimisations.

One Year With a Mac

One year ago today I purchased my very first Mac, a 2011-era MacBook Air with a 13" screen and 128GB of storage. The machine was not new, and had been handled by literally thousands of people before I ever got to it. It was a display model unit, and I bought the device for a song1. Over the last twelve months I've managed to get a lot more meaningful development work done than I have ever done in a one year period. This is despite the fact my full time job has nothing to do with writing code. Aside from a few hiccups here and there, the switch from Windows to OS X was relatively painless. To be completely honest, I'm absolutely surprised.

Ten years ago if you would have told me that I'd be using a Mac today I would have scoffed. I liked the design of Apple's towers, but disliked their other products. OS X was, for the most part, laughed at by the geeks in my circles as it was slower than most Intel-based computers and didn't have nearly as much software. The argument from the Apple camp was that if you wanted great software for the Mac, then you could simply create it. While this was certainly true, it was not something that most people (I knew) were really interested in doing. Learning a whole new operating system to recreate the tools that already existed on a platform you were already familiar with and could customise to no end didn't sound like a great way to use time, energy, or money. Macs were more expensive back in 2003. The people I associated with were, for the most part, young adults with no money.

Not a winning combination.

But here we are, at the tail end of 2013 and I have all but eliminated Windows from my computing cycle. This is despite having used every version of the software from 2.1 all the way up to Windows 7, and having learned how to eke every bit of performance from the system. At the end of the day, I had grown tired of configuring and maintaining my machines, performing routine settings flushes, and generally getting upset with the inevitable slowdowns that would happen on the system after an average of 22 weeks of operation2. All I asked from the software is that it get out of the way and let me focus on my work.

Windows couldn't do this very well. Truth be told, most of the computers I had ever owned that ran Windows were probably never really good at doing what they needed to do. It wasn't so much a fault of Microsoft's software, but a fault of the hardware vendor that built the machine.

All of this changed with the MacBook Air, though.

Despite being used for a year at a rather large electronics store in the heart of Nagoya Station, the machine was in incredibly good condition. The screen was bright and beautiful. The keyboard felt right. The touch pad didn't register false touches while I was typing, which meant the cursor wouldn't jump around while I was putting together ridiculously long blog posts about something that could be summed up with just a single sentence and a picture or two. All in all, it felt just right. Choosing the Air was a bit of a struggle, though, as I considered options for the better part of six months. Would the screen resolution and lower weight of the MacBook Air be sufficient for what I want, or would it be better to get the MacBook Pro and live with a lower screen resolution but the ability to expand the RAM and hard disk?

As a year of happy Tweets, ADN posts, and blog articles have attested, I've been very happy with the MacBook Air and consistently surprised by how much it can do. The battery, despite being two years old, continues to deliver a solid 7 hours or more of untethered functionality. The screen doesn't have a single flaw. The two gripes I do have are little annoyances that are nothing compared to the problems that I had with the last Windows notebook I used3. What are these issues?

Chrome will occasionally lock the computer up for 5 seconds while something sucks up 100% of my processing power, and I get a spinning beach ball when I start closing a bunch of apps back to back when shutting down for the night4. Pretty tame complaints. There is no chance I'll go back to a Windows-powered machine for my personal computer anytime soon. Windows 9 would have to be absolutely amazing to entice me, as 8.x just doesn't offer anything I'm looking for.

Raves aside, the Mac is certainly not for everyone. For people who want to do a lot of stuff in Word or Excel, a Windows-powered machine will always be superior. People who want to have access to a wide range of "free" software and utilities will probably enjoy Windows more. People who bring their personal computers to work5 will undoubtedly need to use Windows in order to be compatible with their peers. Perhaps most importantly, people who want absolute control over what components go into their computer will find Apple's iron-fisted insistence that their sleek devices never be opened after the sale to be too much to take.

At the end of the day, the tools we choose to use are a personal choice. Mocking someone for using Platform A over Platform B is not only a waste of time, but an insult to people's ability to make their own decisions. One thing is clear, though: I will not be changing platforms again in the near future. For all of Apple's faults, there are a dozen hidden gems that make my computing experience that much more reliable, consistent, and trustworthy. And it's this last point that matters the most. If I cannot trust that my tools will be operational when I need to use them, then I cannot confidently agree to certain deadlines or expectations. With my MacBook Air, I've consistently delivered to my clients on or before the due date. It is, to be completely honest, the best all-purpose computer I've ever owned.

The Only MacBook Air Competitor?

In my never-ending search for a replacement notebook computer, I've scanned the spec sheets of literally hundreds of different systems offered by a plethora of manufacturers. I've been using the same class of notebook for the better part of five years and, now that I'm doing a lot more mobile and web development, I'd like to get something that has excellent battery life, a decent screen resolution, and won't give me a hernia as I lug it from one place to another.

For a long time, I've been a solid fan of Hewlett Packard systems. Not only have HP devices outlived every single expected lifespan I've assigned to them, but they've consistently taken my abuse and come back asking for more.  No Toshiba, NEC, IBM (now Lenovo), Dell, or Fujitsu can say the same.  Because of this, I've spent a lot of time looking at the various machines that HP offers, but nothing has really caught my eye. Sure, there are lots of great machines out there with impressive battery life and weigh less than my Oxford dictionary, but they're missing the one thing that will turn an otherwise ordinary computer into my hard-working development machine: display resolution.

I hate WXGA. I will not work with something as limiting as 1366x768. I've had the luxury of using a WSXGA+ resolution (1680x1050) on a 15.4" screen since 2003, and I'll be darned if I use something that isn't at least comparable on a smaller-sized display.

Here is the minimum requirements I'm looking for in my next machine:

  • Intel Core i5 or comparable
  • 4GB RAM, better with 8GB
  • 1440x800 Resolution or higher
  • 128GB or larger SSD
  • SDHC slot (SDXC would be better)
  • 5+ hour battery life
  • Less than 14.5" wide
  • Light enough to forget I'm carrying it
  • 4+ Year operational lifespan

After exhaustive research I've reached the following conclusion: there are only 3 notebooks that come close to meeting this criteria:

  • MacBook Pro 13" (2010 Version - With Two Exceptions)
  • MacBook Air 13" (2010 Version - With One Exception)
  • Sony Vaio Z-Series (VPCZ139FJ/S - With No Exceptions)

That's not a very inspiring list considering the several dozen variations of ultra-mobile notebooks we can find online and in stores. One would think that with all the competition in the market and the rise of the technologically savvy consumer manufacturers would be falling over themselves to produce some really crazy models for those of us willing to pay for them. Unfortunately, this doesn't seem to be the case.

So let's look at the three different models that I've narrowed down to find which would be better for a pixel-density-loving geek such as myself.

MacBook Pro 13" (2010 Version)

MacBook Pro 13"The 13" MacBook Pro has been on my list of machines to consider since I first started shopping for a new machine back in April.  These units are relatively light, come with an acceptable mix of hardware, and can support upwards of 8GB RAM.  With all the work I've been doing in virtual environments lately, this is definitely a big win. Another big win for this unit would be its ability to run OS X natively, as I've been working within an out-dated 10.4 VM while developing for Apple's mobile devices.

A model with the specifications I'd be happiest with will set me back 163,150円. This will buy a unit with a 2.66GHz Core2Duo processor, 128GB SSD, 4GB RAM, and a crisp-ish 1280-800 screen. For an additional 40,320円 the machine can be maxed out with 8GB RAM, giving me two less sticks of RAM to throw away in a year's time if I were to upgrade the machine later. The battery is said to last 10 hours on a charge, which translates into 6 hours of real-world usage. What's not to like?

Well … this unit has two exceptions. The processor, for one, is an older Core2Duo. It is a bit faster than what I'm using now, but will it be enough in 4 years' time? The other issue is the screen resolution. Going from 1680x1050 to 1280x800 is a big loss of screen real-estate. While I can't expect a smaller screen to light up as many pixels as a larger and much older notebook, I don't know if I would be able to comfortably lose so much screen real-estate and remain productive. I'm already using a secondary display both at work and at home to eke out even more working space, so dropping down to something that seems less spacious than those ridiculously common WXGA resolutions doesn't seem like a wise move.

Still … Apple devices have excellent resale value. Should a model equipped with a better screen be released next year, the initial costs could be much cheaper.

MacBook Air 13" (2010 Version)

MacBook Air 13"There has been a lot of fanfare surrounding Apple's latest refresh to the MacBook Air line, and for good reason. These are really good-looking machines that have clear screens, long battery lives, and the ability to run any modern operating system. Again, with the amount of iPhone development I've done over the last year, it only makes sense that I bite the bullet and buy a computer capable of running OS X natively rather than in a virtual environment.

A model decked out the way I'd like will cost 168,330円, which means a 2.13GHz Core2Duo processor, 256GB SSD, 4GB RAM, and a wonderfully bright 1440x900 screen. It's light. It's fast. It's everything a person who spends upwards of 3 hours on the trains every day could wish for.

I've been giving this unit serious consideration recently as I really feel this is the machine that can survive a few years of use or, at the very least, offer excellent resale value next year when the new models are released with Core processors. There is no denying that Apple computers depreciate at a much, much slower rate than the competition.

What is the one exception of this unit? The processor. It's barely faster than what I'm using now, but operates much better thanks to all the hardware optimizations Apple has made on the unit.

Sony Vaio Z13 Series

Sony Vaio Z13 SeriesApple has long been known for building impossible-to-upgrade hardware that looks incredibly stylish and comes with the dreaded "Apple Tax". When put side-by-side with products from Sony, though, the two organizations don't seem all that different. Where Sony shines, though, is their ability to offer ridiculously high resolutions in ridiculously small form factors.  The Vaio Z13 Series notebook is a perfect example of this; but it comes at a price.

A model decked out with (some of) the bells and whistles to keep me happy for a few years would run 255,800円 on the SonyStyle website. This is quite a bit higher than the cost of either MacBook, but comes with a Core i5-560M processor (2.66 GHz), a 128GB SSD (two 64GB SSDs in RAID, no less), 8GB of RAM, a ridiculous 1920x1080 resolution screen, optical drive, webcam, backlit keyboard, and Windows 7 Ultimate. If I were to forgo the 8GB RAM for half that, and bring the 13.1" screen down to the 1600x900 resolution option, I could have the device for 235,300円 … not enough of a difference to warrant the performance loss. Heck, I'd rather get the stupid-high resolution and just lower it myself should my eyes get tired of reading fine print all day long.

Despite the incredibly high entry point, this machine is something I've given a passing interest to. However, even though it doesn't have any real drawbacks outside of price and the inability to run OS X natively, I cannot justify spending this much money on a device that will be worth less than 50% of its selling price a year from now. Rarely can Sony devices be sold second hand for a decent return so, if I buy this unit, it's mine until it dies.

But this isn't anything new. Most of my HPs have been in use for years longer than most other machines and been repaired along the way. What's really interesting about the notebooks I've bought is that the original battery continued to deliver several hours of use, even when they were five years old. Clearly, batteries are like muscles. Use them, or lose them.


After examining many of the models offered by companies around the world, I've decided that my next notebook will come from China but be designed in Cupertino; it's going to be a MacBook Air.  Sony puts together a compelling argument to stick with non-Apple devices, but does so with an astronomical price tag. HP, despite being one of my favorite tech companies, has nothing exciting to offer under 15.6" in their consumer or professional-series notebooks. Acer, Asus, Toshiba, Fujitsu, and Panasonic, despite offering a number of options under the 14" threshold, have nothing even close to what I'm looking for in terms of screen real-estate.

There is still time for a strong contender to make itself known, though. I don't plan on buying my next notebook until January or February. This will give companies a little more time to put something together that will knock my socks off and make me want to rush out and buy their machine in cash. I don't think my requests are out of line with where technology should be today, considering how most of my hardware requirements can be found in units more than 3 years old. But you never know.

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