Using Old Notebooks Painful? Depends On Perspective, I Guess – The ‘Book Mystique

Last month self-described chronicler of disruptive companies, technologies, and usage models Patrick Moorhead posted a Forbes column entitled “My Painful Journey Using an Old Notebook- Should You Upgrade Yours?”

That caught my eye as a consummate user of old notebooks. My “new” laptop is now well into its fifth year of service, and I have two 13-year-old Pismo PowerBooks still in active production service as well, mainly as drafting, editing, and utility platforms, so I was interested and somewhat bemused to read Mr. Moorhead’s definition of an “old” laptop as one four or five years old. Like I said, my four plus year old Core 2 Duo MacBook is my “new” computer. Well, strictly speaking, my nearly two-year-old iPad 2 is my newest computer, but you get the drift.

Moorhead, who says he refreshes his PC every 6 months in order to perform contextual research, apparently found using a four year old PC for some basic tasks for around 10 days in researching a different context something of a hardship, and says it was difficult for him to personally relate to using a 4-5 year old PC.

Now, I don’t want to take issue with or appear to dispute the facts of Mr. Moorhead’s argument, which are of course in a Windows PC context rather than referencing the Mac, as I am here with my experiences.

He contends that surfing the modern, 2013 Web on an older PC, what with today’s rich media content that includes many ads, Javascript, CSS, and HTML5, stinks — not to put too fine a point on it. Moorhead relates that a lot of the sites he frequents, like,, Amazon Prime Video, Pandora, Google+ Photos, and Google Street View, felt a lot slower than on his modern PC. And On top of that, he describes trying out showcase Flash and HTML 5 sites as “downright painful,” and a preview of what we can expect with the future, mainstream web.

He should try it on a 13-year-old 550 MHz G4 with 8MB of video RAM, a gig of system memory, and a 4,200 RPM HDD! I hasten to add that I don’t seriously suggest that a 2000 Pismo is anything close to being a satisfactory general purpose computer 13 years on, but the old black PowerBooks acquit themselves remarkably well given their extremely modest power specs. by today’s standards. I don’t even try watching video on them, but most of the Websites I frequent come up with reasonable dispatch, email works fine, text editing is very comfortable, and so is light duty image editing with chronologically contemporary software. I even still do most of my scanning chores with a Pismo.

Using the Pismos in tandem with the iPad and Dropbox, I can pretty much cover all the bases I encounter in my work, although the MacBook’s 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo CPU hand NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics processing unit with 256MB annexed system RAM inarguably get the job done quicker, and can do stuff that’s impossible or impractical on either the Pismos or the iPad. But even it’s probably a lot slower than the contemporaneous PC Patrick Moorhead slummed with for a fortnight.

But here’s the thing. I suppose it’s partly what you’re used to. I’ve checked out the Windows 8 experience on a current desktop PC with a big touchscreen display, and no argument; it’s livelier than my late 2008 MacBook running OS 10.8 Mountain Lion. But I can’t say it totally knocked my socks off off or made me irredeemably discontent with the old Core 2 Duo. I’m not at all convinced about the desirability of touchscreens on laptop or desktop computers. And the extra speed is nice to have to be sure, but nothing to get up in the night and write home about, at least in the context of the sort of stuff I do with computers.

For my first two decades of Mac usership, three years, give or take, was my provisional target interval between system upgrades. I found that usually after about 18 months, I would start wishing for more power, the latest new features, or both, and by two years I would be seriously in the hunt for faster, higher capacity hardware. I rarely managed to hold out for the entire provisional 36 months before making the upgrade move. However, that dynamic changed profoundly with the MacBook, which was my first, and as yet only, Intel Mac.

The MacBook has proved speedy enough, with adequate graphics performance to satisfy my needs, and as dependable as an anvil through its first four years in the harness as my anchor workhorse computer. And for me, that sort of no fuss or hassle reliability counts for a lot. I also remain smitten by the unibody 13-incher’s good looks, and haven’t missed the larger display and greater resolution of my previous number one Mac — a 17-inch PowerBook — as much as I had thought I might, although I wouldn’t mind at all if the higher-res 13-inch screen used in the 13-inch MacBook Air were available on the 13-inch MacBook Pro that continues the form factor introduced with my MacBook in 2008. I would also like to have the FireWire, USB 3.0, and Thunderbolt ports, plus SD Card slot gracing the current 13-inch MBP, and the extra speed of the Sandy Bridge Core i CPU would be no hardship.

Speaking of which, I had pretty much resigned myself to the 13-inch non-Retina revision of the MacBook Pro released in June, 2012 being the ultimate expression of the type, and that the model would be discontinued with the anticipated introduction of Intel’s next generation Haswell processor family this coming June.

Not Dead Yet

However, late last month KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo updated his hardware forecast for Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), that kicks off on June 10, reversing his earlier prediction that Apple would discontinue the non-Retina MacBook Pro lineup, completing a transition to the slimmer and higher resolution, but less connectable and capacious, non-upgradable, and more expensive, Retina MacBook Pro line, the 15-inch model of which was introduced at last year’s WWDC, joined by a 13-inch variant last October.

Mr. Kuo now is of a mind that continued strong non-Retina MacBook Pro sales, especially of the 13-incher which has been for some time and reportedly continues to be not only Apple’s best-selling notebook, but its best selling Mac model overall, have convinced Cupertino to reconsider, and to carry on producing non-Retina MBPs for the time being.

Mr. Kuo is cited commenting: “Contrary to our previous projection, we now think Apple will continue to make the MacBook Pro alongside the MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro, because the 13″ MacBook Pro remains the most popular product in the MacBook line. Also, there is still demand in emerging markets, where Internet penetration isn’t advanced, for optical disk drives [which are not offered in the Retina display MacBook Pro models].”

So, we may yet see a Haswell-powered final edition of the 13-inch non-Retina MBP, which would enhance its appeal. But even if they opt to just carry on for the duration with Ivy Bridge Core I CPU silicon, the now classic 13-inch MBP at $1,199 remains a relative bargain in the historical context of Mac laptop computers.

Unfortunately, as Patrick Moorhead would probably point out, not so much in the context of what’s available in 2013 Windows PC notebook hardware for a lot less money. A topical case in point is Lenovo’s new $699 ThinkPad announced last week, a premium business-oriented laptop PC featuring elegant floating design and a touchscreen display. Optimized for Windows 8, the ThinkPad S431 is claimed to offer enhanced performance and 15 percent faster processor speed than previous generations — pitched to professional users and also as an economical solution for small businesses that need a laptop to do it all with.

“The progressive design of our ThinkPad S431 will help small businesses impress their customers. We pack a punch behind that style, however, as we are committed to delivering genuine substance,” says Jerry Paradise, executive director, Think Business Group. “The ThinkPad S431 offers an intuitive Windows 8 experience with the power needed to accelerate productivity.”

The S431 is also one of the first ThinkPads to feature Lenovo OneLink technology, which allows users to connect to the ThinkPad OneLink Dock with a single cable for dedicated video, additional USB 3.0 ports, and gigabit Ethernet, all while powering the system.

Thanks to an ultra-thin bezel similar in basic concept to the iPad mini’s, the ThinkPad S431’s designers managed to fit a 14-inch LCD screen into a footprint more typical of 13-inch Ultrabooks. The exterior styling includes bevelled edges on the front and side, giving the illusion that the PC is floating, and making the 20.5 mm thick chassis look even thinner. A real aluminum LCD cover, available in silver or graphite black, is sandblasted and anodized, making it smooth to the touch for a premium feel.

The ThinkPad S431 also boasts a simplified interior with a five-button glass trackpad in addition to the multi-finger touchscreen that facilitates swiping, selecting apps and resizing images on-screen, allowing Windows 8 to be used as intended. The display also features 180-degree open angle that lets users interact with the laptop in a variety of usage modes.

Powered by Intel 3rd generation Intel Ivy Bridge Core processors, making it 15 percent faster than its predecessor with up to nine hours of battery life, up to 8 GB of memory and 500 GB of HDD storage, the Lenovo S431’s performance should be roughly equivalent to the current 13-inch MacBook Pro, only with an inch larger, higher-resolution touch-enabled display, and selling for less than two thirds as much. Food for thought.

The ThinkPad S431 is available beginning June 2013 from business partners and on:

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