A modern laptop should be able to run both Windows programs and Mac OS X programs. If it can't, what are you paying for?
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983
T e c h n o f i l e
My choice of a new laptop: One that runs Windows and Mac OS X
April 15, 2007
By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, The Post-Standard
If you're shopping for a 17-inch laptop computer, you can choose one that only runs Windows or you can choose one that runs both Windows and Mac OS X.
That was an easy decision for me. My wife and I needed a more powerful Windows laptop for our Technofile Workshops, one that would run photo-editing software at the fastest speeds possible. We also needed a Mac OS X laptop that could supplement our current one. The one we've been using has a smallish screen, so we wanted to get a new laptop with a 17-inch display.
Mac OS X is Apple's operating system for all its computers. Mac OS X computers are more reliable than Windows PCs, have no active viruses or spyware at all, and come with family-friendly software for video editing, music creation, DVD production and photo organizing. We're been using desktop Macs along with our Mac iBook laptop for most of our computing needs for years.
But, like many of you, we have many Windows-only programs we need to run, too. My old Windows laptop didn't have enough memory or processing power for the new Windows programs we added to our collection recently, and our Windows workshop sessions needed a faster PC, too.
It had to be a laptop -- or "notebook," as laptops tend to be called these days -- so we could haul it easily to workshop classes and carry it on long trips in our motor home. And it had to be just as adept at running Mac OS X programs as Windows programs.
So we bought an Apple MacBook Pro. It has a 17-inch screen, a dual-core Intel processor (which means it essentially has two CPU's, or central processing units, in non-technical terms), and a lot of little touches that help make it a delight. One little feature I find irresistible is a backlit keyboard that adjusts itself brighter or dimmer according to the light levels in the room.
The display's brightness adjusts itself the same way, and, like all other Mac computers, the MacBook Pro has a separate key that ejects a CD, one to mute the sound and two others to make the sound louder or softer. One key pushes all onscreen windows away from each other so you can find one that got buried in a pile (using an OS X feature called Expose) and still another key flashes your collection of Dashboard Widgets onto the screen. (Widgets can be fun items like Webcam views of the seashore or serious stuff such as mail checkers and dictionaries; they're almost always free.)
When you buy a new MacBook Pro laptop, you have a choice of two screen sizes -- 15 inch and 17 inch, both in a wide-screen configuration, just like a movie screen or an HDTV screen -- and you get a dual-core CPU that runs at either 2.16 or 2.33 Ghz, depending on the screen size (the 17-inch model is faster).
"GHz" is gigahertz, or billions of cycles a second. Think of it this way: Computers of 10 years ago ran at about 100 MHz, or millions of cycles a second. Ordinarily, a computer with a 2.33 GHz CPU would be more than 23 times as fast as one from 10 years ago with a 100 MHz CPU. But Apple's MacBook Pro uses dual-core CPUs, with two processing units within each processor chip, so the actual boost is as much as twice the processor speed -- or about 46 times the speed of that computer of a decade ago.
So it's understandable if your first reaction is "Whew!" The MacBook Pro 17-inch model, which lists for $2,799, is a very fast computer. But another "Whew!" is appropriate, too: I installed Windows 2000 on our new computer, using $79 software called Parallels Desktop (from www.parallels.com), which allows Windows to run alongside Mac OS X, and quickly realized I was sitting in front of the fastest Windows computer I'd ever used.
All our Windows programs ran exceptionally well, at speeds I could only have dreamed of a few years ago. On the Mac OS X side, the standard Mac software I use daily -- Apple's Safari Web browser, its Mail software, and iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie and iDVD -- ran much faster than they do on any of our other Macs.
But it was Parallels that amazed me most. The program takes advantage of the so-called "hardware virtualization" capabilities of the MacBook Pro's Intel processor to run Windows at the hardware level, just as an ordinary PC would do, while still controlling Windows within Mac OS X. It deserves a review of its own, which I'll present next week.
As for Apple's MacBook Pro, it's clearly a league ahead of laptops that can only run Windows. I couldn't recommend it any more highly.
(A few cautions: You have to supply your own version of Windows when you want to install Windows on your new Mac. Apple doesn't give it to you. And if you don't want to buy the Parallels software, you can install Windows on your new Mac using Apple's own Boot Camp software, which comes free with the Mac. However, Apple's software does not let you run Mac OS X and Windows at the same time.)