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MacMiniMini review/observations of my MacBook Pro

Back in the old days I felt that having two PCs was the best way to go. A high-spec PC for my gaming habit and a low spec machine for general day to day web browsing, email, and general apps. That was in 2003 and by 2005 the low spec machine was becoming a painfully slow machine. By December 2005 I’d had 4 years of Windows XP and while it wasn’t unreliable or slow, I was bored of it! It’d still be another 2 years before Vista made an appearance.

I’d seen Macs before and had dismissed them as over expensive, but now there was the MacMini on the market, it was exactly what I wanted, a small low spec machine for general day to day work, this is what it was being marketed as! So after a 30min play around with one in the local PC World I hit the Apple website and plonked down £565 on a 1.42Ghz PowerPC MacMini with 1Gb of RAM and an 80Gb HDD. I was pretty impressed with the hardware, however as it was an alien OS  to me (OS X Tiger at the time) I think I struggled to get on with it. This was in the dark days, before FireFox had really caught on and a lot of websites still used WMV and IE6 compatibility. This caused the little MacMini a lot of problems, any time some intensive Flash kicked in or I wanted to play a WMV file the fans would crank up to maximum and it would grind to a halt. After about 18 months I got sick of it and went back to a single Windows PC just in time for Vista, vowing never to return to a Mac…

Apple didn’t do too badly out of me though, since getting the MacMini I’d dumped my iRiver H320 MP3 player and got an iPod. Then upgraded to an iPod Touch, and bought another iPod for my dad as a Christmas present. I was also recommending the ease of use of the iPod and iTunes to anyone who asked. Eventually the company I work for gave me an iPhone for work purposes and in my opinion it’s one of the best gadgets I’ve ever owned and it never leaves my side.

In August 2009 my mate Kainz started babbling about Macs, he’d never used them and despite hating the iPod and loathing Apples control of the iPhone he went and bought a MacBook from Apples refurb store. That then got me looking at them, I’d already got a little Advent Netbook but the screen resolution was just too low at 1024×600 which caused too much scrolling. So after a 20minute play with a MacBook Pro in the Milton Keynes Apple Store I popped to the Apple website again and plonked down £749 on a refurbished MacBook Pro, a 13.3″ screen with a 2.26Ghz Intel CPU, 2Gb of RAM (since upgraded to 4Gb), and 160Gb HDD.

MacBook Pro

It’s typical Apple design, looks amazing, and the chassis feels very solid. The keyboard is great to use and the backlit keys make it easy to see in low light. The glossy screen looks good (I rarely use it in direct sunlight) and the auto brightness works perfectly. The trackpad is the stand out feature for me, it’s massive and the gestures make it so easy to use especially in programs like FireFox that make use of swipe scrolling and swipe to go forward & back. For a laptop the sound quality of the built in speakers is very good. Heat generation is typically low unless under heavy load and fan noise is almost silent all of the time, certainly an improvement on the Netbook and my old Toshiba M400 Tablet which both got hot and noisy even at idle.

The MacBook Pro I received came with OS X Leopard, which I’ve since upgraded to Snow Leopard. I can’t say there are many visual differences between the old Tiger release and Snow Leopard, I’m sure there are lots of under the bonnet changes, visually the most obvious change is the 3D dock, the MBP also supports all of the OS X eye candy where my old MacMini didn’t. All of the old niggles I had with the MacMini seem to have been fixed, I can now copy to two network locations at the same time, and while they are copying I can empty the ‘Trash’ previously on my MacMini it was only one at a time! Also now with Flash and WMV playback is as good as it is on a normal laptop, though I put this down to the increase in horse power. A thing I do like is the integrated Cisco VPN client, no need to install Ciscos dodgy software and I can dial in to the work network quickly and easily.

I’ve tried to keep it as a companion to my main desktop PC (running Windows 7) but I have moved my iTunes library over to the MBP, iTunes is considerably smoother on OS X and makes up for the lost screen space (going from an iTunes running at 1600×1200 to 1280×800 has been hard). I’ve also moved all of my digital photos on to the Mac, initially I wasn’t going to but the screen on the MBP makes the images much more vibrant and colourful, either my ageing Dell 2001FP screens are poor at colour reproduction or I don’t have them calibrated properly…

Annoyances? Not many, it is irritating that my lovely home built Windows Home Server can’t be used to backup the MacBook Pro as the built in Time Machine won’t use Windows shares. HP do a new Windows Home Server with extra software that allows Time Machine backups but that’s a five hundred quid investment to replace something I already have. Other annoyances are network related, OS X doesn’t really like networks, most of it’s apps don’t like or point blank refuse to work over a network share and unlike Windows XP, Vista, or 7 there is no offline files for me to sync network shares so they are always available away from the network.

Overall I’m pleased with the purchase, it’s made me more mobile around the house and I don’t feel I have to sit in front of the PC any more. I do want to upgrade the HDD as I’m running out of space and really wanted to dual boot with Windows 7, should the need arise. On the wish list is an Apple Cinema display to hook it up to but considering current circumstances I’m having to hold off. Also hoping that Apple don’t release some beautiful new model that makes the old one look rubbish!