In the days before laptops became so powerful, most people used them as secondary systems. They would have a desktop for "real" work and use the laptop only when they had to, but I have been using a laptop as my main computer for years. My first was a giant black and white screened behemoth with a 286 processor, and since then I've gone through 7 or 8 other laptops (mostly Macs). I never liked desktop computers. I didn't like being tied down to one place (even if I didn't use the computer outside much, being able to move to another room in the house was nice) and somehow laptops seemed more personal than desktops to me. That's why I ordered a MacBook Pro the day after they were announced. My 12" PowerBook had worked well as my main computer, but it was starting to feel a tad slow for a few things, and I also wanted a bigger screen. However, I decided to cancel my order and get an iMac instead. I had decided to go back to the traditional "laptop + desktop" setup, but not for the reasons that you might think. (More after the jump.)
First of all, let me explain a little bit about how I had been using my 12" PowerBook. I had it connected to a 23" Cinema Display and used the PowerBook's internal LCD as a secondary screen that displayed only my email and dictionary programs. I did my work on the Cinema Display. The computer was also connected to a keyboard, mouse, a couple of firewire hard disks, an iPod dock, printer, scanner, external speakers, etc. Of course, I had USB and firewire hubs, but still every single port was filled. One of the main advantages of having a laptop as your main computer is that you have all of your files in one place and can (theoretically) just pick your whole system up and go somewhere. But I found that having my computer plugged into so many peripherals made me reluctant to move it. Not only did I have to physically unplug all of the cables, I had to eject the hard disks as well. Plus, going from a 23" display + 12" internal LCD to only the internal LCD meant that my windows would get shuffled around, and I would have to deal with that each time I disconnected or reconnected the computer. I certainly wasn't going to go through all of that just to take the computer into the next room. And I found that I was even a little reluctant to do it when going out. Sure, it was nice to be able to take the system with me when I really needed to, but I felt that I was really missing out on one of the main advantages of having a portable — portability.
This got me to thinking. Was there any point in replacing my current PowerBook with a MacBook Pro? Sure, it would be faster and the larger internal LCD would be nice, but it didn't solve my bigger problem — my portable computer wasn't really all that portable. When they were announced, the MacBook Pro and the iMac Core Duo had very similar specifications — they even used the exact same processor, and the iMac was finally capable of using monitor spanning, so I could use my Cinema Display with it. And the iMac had a lot more hard disk space, more ports, a bigger screen, a dual-layer Superdrive instead of single-layer, etc. Plus, it was a *lot* cheaper than the MacBook Pro. The iMac was $1299 while the high-end MacBook Pro was nearly twice as expensive at $2499. True, the iMac had 512MB of RAM instead of 1GB on the MacBook Pro, but aside from that the iMac had the MacBook Pro beat. So I decided to cancel my MacBook Pro order, get an iMac and keep my 12" PowerBook to use strictly as a portable. Since I was keeping my PowerBook instead of selling it to finance the MacBook Pro, I'm not saving all of this money, but it was still cheaper than the MacBook Pro.
So far, this solution has worked quite well. I have all the power of the MacBook Pro when I'm at my desk, and I never have to worry about disconnecting peripherals or shuffling windows. Plus, I can have my iMac always available as a music or file server, and I have a second computer to use for my work in case one should fail. And I can finally take advantage of the portability of my 12" PowerBook. In fact, it's worked so well that I doubt that I will ever go back to using just one computer for everything. Obviously, some people will have different needs. If you have to have the fastest portable around, or you need to use a large screen when on the go, then the MacBook Pro is probably the machine for you. But for people like me who were thinking of spending $2000 to $2500 on a MacBook Pro, but who were going to end up using it at a desk much of the time, this is a real alternative.
The introduction of the MacBook (non-Pros) has made this an even more attractive option, even for someone who doesn't have a laptop already. The MacBooks are very very close to the MacBook Pros in terms of performance and features. The main difference is that the MacBooks use integrated graphics, making them not as good for gaming and some pro applications. But if you get both an iMac and a MacBook, you've got this covered, since the iMac has a decent video card. For less than the price of the midrange 15" MacBook Pro, you can get both a 17" iMac and the low-end MacBook. For the same money as a 17" MacBook Pro, you can get:
- A 17" iMac and a MacBook, and still have enough money left over to max out the RAM on both of them.
- A 20" iMac and a MacBook.
- A 17" iMac and the high-end black MacBook
I need dual displays for my work, but if you don't you could go even cheaper by getting a Mac mini instead of the iMac.
The only disadvantage that I can see is that you have to worry about transferring files from one computer to the other. If you work on the same set of files on both computers, you have to make sure you are using the correct ones or else you risk losing data. .Mac allows you to easily sync things like Safari bookmarks, iCal calendars and Address Book entries. And I've been using Martian Slingshot to sync some of my files between my systems. This works reasonably well, but there is no good solution for syncing things like your iPhoto library or your iTunes library. Martian Slingshot choked on my multi-gigabyte iPhoto library, for example. But I don't really feel that need to have everything synced. In general, I keep everything on my desktop and only transfer things to my laptop when I need them.
In short, if you were thinking of getting a MacBook Pro but don't really need any of its "pro" features while on the go, consider the desktop + laptop option.