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Sat, 09 Sep 2006
Laptops vs Desktops

Michael McCracken is pondering the merits of laptops

I’ve been thinking of how I’d work if I didn’t have a laptop. One thing’s for sure: I wouldn’t spend as much time rubbing my neck while waiting for builds, for a couple of reasons.

I’m beginning to wonder if a laptop is really any good at all, let alone necessary. Wouldn’t I rather not carry that thing around all the time? Should my hands really sweat when my computer is working hard? Doesn’t having a laptop just give me an excuse to pretend I’ll be able keep working “later”, even though that never really works? Does anyone really gain more productivity from working at a coffee shop than they would using a fast desktop computer?

For years, I have wanted a laptop. It dates all the way back to the Apple PowerBook Duo days. I've always wanted to have one machine, which had everything in it, which could be with me at all times, and which could take advantage of the environment that I found myself in.

Laptops have always lagged behind the performance of desktops, and for a long time this kept me off of them as a primary machine. When I started at OSAF, I needed a laptop because I was going to be traveling, and I switched back to the Mac, which meant that the laptop was my primary machine, although I frequently wished for a desktop machine for performance reasons. I was eagerly looking forward to the Mac on Intel announcements, because I believed that the gap between the desktop and laptop Intel processors was much smaller than the gap had been on PowerPC. For most things, this has turned out to be true. iPulse tells me that there are very few times when I am CPU bound, and I am on the slowest MacBook Pro configuration. Instead, I'm finding that lots of the times that I am spending waiting are due to lots of paging/swappping, for which the solution ought to be "more RAM". Unfortunately, I already have 2G of RAM in the machine, and that's all you can get. I've talked to many people who also would like to drop more RAM into their MacBook Pro's. The other area where performance is a problem is video card performance, because Aperture relies heavily on video card performance and photo manipulation has become the number one performance limited application.

I could probably also get some more responsiveness by installing a 7200RPM disk in the machine (mine is a 5400), but then you have a different problem. I want to take everything with me on my laptop (although having a laptop stolen definitely gives you second thoughts about the wisdom of this idea). The problem is that laptop hard disks are just not big enough, and taking a faster drive means less capacity, hence the stack of external 7200RPM Firewire drives.

Lastly, there's there's the issue of taking advantage of the environment. Most of the time, my laptop is tethered to a large external display and keyboard. I occasionally "undock" it and use it around the house, but I don't do it as much as I'd like to, because once I "undock", I have to spend a ton of time putting the windows into some usable state again. I wrote some AppleScripts to help manage this problem, but it's still annoying enough that I avoid doing it unless I have to go somewhere with the machine. It's quite likely that I'd go mad if I actually had to commute every day.

So when you stack all those things up, a desktop, especially the new MacPro's, starts to look appealing again. Even more so when you ponder the Xeon version of Kentsfield.

[14:05] | [computers] | # | TB | F | G | 5 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
I'm sad

to see that my friend Ducky is having problems with her university.

[14:05] | [people] | # | TB | F | G | 0 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
Poisonous People slides

I am so backlogged on posts that I am tempted to declare total blogging bankruptcy. I"m suffering a bit of insomnia, so I'm going to see if I can kick myself back into posting...

Fitz and Ben Collins-Sussman have posted the slides from their awesome OSCON 2006 presentation: How Open Source Projects Survive Poisonous people (And You Can Too). I promised to link their slides when they went up, and I'm only a month late, which just goes to show how deep the backlog goes.

[02:25] | [computers/open_source] | # | TB | F | G | 1 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post

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Ted Leung FOAF Explorer

I work at the Open Source Applications Foundation (OSAF).
The opinions expressed here are entirely my own, not those of my employer.

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