Through a long and circuitous route, I ended up at the Apple Store in Braintree, Massachusetts yesterday, and bought a MacBook. The where, what, and why of this transaction may be of interest.

(Or it may not. I will at least point out that among my blogging pet peeves are the incessant morons out there who agonize over a PC purchase via a dialog with blog readers. Fear not, I've done it too. At least this time I'm just providing a post-mortem.)

Why? Though I have a steady stream of PCs coming through here, I buy my own hardware, if only for continuity's sake. We're doing our third straight home swap this summer (this time in Dublin, Ireland instead of Paris, France), so I am facing a multi-week trip away from home and need something reliable. Last year, we were gone for four weeks, and my computing environment in Paris basically consisted of a loaner ThinkPad T61 (highly recommended, by the way) and my 2006-era first-generation MacBook, which dual-booted between OS X and Vista.

About that MacBook, btw: I purchased it in June 2006, exactly two years ago. As many of you know, I like to keep a foot in the Apple world so I can at least keep up with what's going on there. The original MacBook was the first Intel-based Mac laptop, so it could dual-boot between Windows and OS X with Boot Camp. On the minus side, the first-gen version utilizes a Core Duo processor, not Core 2 Duo and can be expanded to just 2 GB of RAM. I had the 2 GHz white model.

Over the past two years, the MacBook has proven to be an excellent travelling companion. It's a great size and weight. It runs Vista comfortably, despite the RAM ceiling. As loaner machines have come and gone, I've returned again and again to the MacBook. From a reliability perspective, it's been good, I guess: I've had to replace both the DVD writer and the hard drive, but because I purchased AppleCare (expensive at $300), these fixes were free. Apple's in-store support is excellent, and notably so. (I also had to get the case repaired because of the red-brown smudging that afflicted many first-gen MacBooks. This required a bit of complaining on my part until a random Apple executive saw a blog post on the Nexus and intervened. It still gets really dirty, but whatever, it's white.

Why now? (When) As mentioned previously, we're going away this summer and its time for an upgrade. I'm also going away for all of next week, to Sonoma, with the wife and two friends, and need to be able to work from the road. I was going to bring the MacBook (with Vista), but in a weird coincidence, the hard drive came up lame about a week ago. I messed around with it a bit and then brought it to the Apple Store this past Saturday. I didn't make an appointment, and despite some silliness about walking me over to a Mac to make one for 5 minutes later, I was pretty happy with the treatment. They agreed it was probably the hard drive (apparently, the big gray "X" at startup is an obvious signal) and told me they'd look at it and get back to me.

I had been researching laptops for a while now. I looked at various ThinkPads (R, T, and X), of course, and some Dells (XPS 1330/1530). Based on my experiences with various HP notebooks and Tablet PCs recently, I ruled them out. I've always had a strange fascination with Sony notebooks, but ... eh. I hate pulling the trigger on something like this.

Given that it's been about two years since I purchased the first MacBook, I figured I was due for a new Mac. (So is my wife, come to think of it: She's stuck on a PowerPC-based Mac mini still, if you can believe that.) I discussed the upcoming notebook purchase(s) with her and arrived at what I thought might make sense: Instead of purchasing a $1200 PC and a $1500 next-gen MacBook (whenever they shipped), I could actually "save money" (I know, I know) by purchasing a 15-inch MacBook Pro for about $2000. My wife actually bought this argument, not because she's an idiot (she's not) but because I think she long ago gave up when it comes to anything I can even remotely justify as being work-related. I was going to buy it online, but because of the timing, I decided to wait until we got back from Sonoma.

Where... Sunday morning, the Apple Store called: The hard drive was replaced and the MacBook was ready. After getting my Firefox 3 review posted, I headed over there to pick it up. While there, I figured, what the heck, I'll look over the notebooks. Looking at the MacBook Pro, I was struck by how old the design was (and how much like the old 12-inch G4-based PowerBook I used to own). I was also struck by the heft (size/weight), which despite being good for a 15-inch design, was still bigger than I was used to.

Turning past the MacBook Air (not powerful enough, not expandable enough), I looked at the MacBook. I really like the form factor. I really like the size/weight. The new ones can go to 4 GB of RAM and handle 64-bit Windows if needed. Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz on the higher-end black model.

And here's the thing: I know they're getting upgraded. But instead of making me want to wait, that fact had been making me nervous. I like this machine: What if they screw it up with a larger touch-enabled trackpad or whatever? These might not be around soon. In fact, looked at the right way these things are mature and as good as they're going to get ... right now.

"Looking to buy a MacBook?" the guy asked. Yes, yes I am.

So I walked out of there with 2 MacBooks, the old one and the new one. The system had a 250 GB hard drive, not the 200 GB hard drive advertised in the store (I think I had read about this happening), so I booted it up at home, used Boot Camp to squeeze Leopard into a sad little 32 GB partition, and gave Windows about 200 GB. Installed Vista Ultimate and got to work with my apps.

So I guess I save some money there, sort of. I've always preferred the black color, and its a nice looking machine. It runs Windows wonderfully, and 4 GB of RAM is on the way from Crucial. (BTW: $103 for 4 GB of RAM? We live in a time of plenty, people.)

So a couple of closing points.

You can get a ThinkPad T61 for about the same price as the MacBook. You can get a ThinkPad R-series for less. The Mac runs both OS X and Windows, however. It's a bit smaller than the T-series.

Apple support is excellent. It just is. That I've had to use it as often as I have, however, is somewhat troubling. I'd just point out that notebooks get beaten up and then having support in place (RE: AppleCare in this case) is required.

I wonder if my old white MacBook batteries will work in this new black MacBook? Hm.