Data Mining

It seems we’re back in full swing here at LOW. This is because Theresa came home today with a stack of books about eight high, covering the full scope of South America. So it seems she was serious about her request to get things more organized once I got home. Anyway, stay tuned for plenty more updates and we get further and further planned. But that is not what I want to discuss today. I want help from all of you in internet-land.

South America Guidebooks

We have decided to take a computer with us. This, in fact, has been decided for a while, but thinking about it again has been sparked by the current inability of our desktop computer to stay powered on. Like a teenager (in fact, that might actually be how old it is), it’s getting very touchy when you ask it to do anything. So its time to start looking for a new one. Anyway, having a computer with us will make blogging so much easier, Theresa will be able to do some freelance writing, and we’ll be able to look at our pictures as we go, and perhaps watch a movie now and again.

So as the technically inclined one of our little duo, it pretty much falls to me to figure this out. But I’m struggling to figure out what type of computer we’ll want to have, let alone a particular model. Here’s what we’d ideally like: an easily portable, incredibly durable, powerful, long-lasting laptop for a minimum of dollars. These, unfortunately, don’t exist, and we’re going to have to compromise somewhere. Let me lay out some of the options I’ve been researching for you.

Ultra-portable: These are all the rage lately, like the eee pc and the samsung q1. They’re tiny, shiny, relatively inexpensive, and … not very useful at all. They combine tiny screens with poor processors and very little memory, which, with the amount of pictures we’ll take and work with, probably won’t cut it. Combine that with a tiny and uncomfortable keyboard and I don’t think we’re in business.

12″ and under: Businessman love these workhorse type computers. Small and light, pretty durable, relatively powerful, but very expensive. We’re talking over 2 grand for a computer that isn’t much more powerful than our finicky desktop (though hopefully they have much less sass). A top of the line computer in this class probably would be our choice if money was no object.

14″ and under: Now we’re getting into the relatively larger laptops (though the MacBook Air technically fits in this category). Nevertheless, as we’re just backpacking around, size and weight is a big issue. These are the laptops that are more inexpensive and more powerful, but with every dollar you save you sacrifice a little durability and a little size. I’m a big fan of Macs now that I use one at work, so a regular MacBook is definitely in the running. Its funny to talk about Apple as a value purchase, but the basic MacBook definitely represents one to me. I don’t like the lack of an SD port though. The MacBook Air doesn’t have enough ports in general to make me happy, and frankly, I’d be scared to break the thing.

So not that that is a complete review, but I’m sure many of you out there know much more about this than I do. Right now the competition seems to be between a MacBook and a higher end 12″ or so laptop. We’re looking for something that will have a quality, long lasting battery, an SD slot (I know the MacBook doesn’t have this =( ), decent power, all the internet connectivity ports you can cram in, durable construction, and low price. Does anyone know the magic solution? Has anyone traveled backpacker style with a laptop? What did you find to be the most important factors? Thanks for all the input guys.

9 Replies to “Data Mining”

  1. Of the numerous ports & gadgets on my laptop, only 3 were ever really used when I traveled. 1) SD port, 2) DVD burner, 3) USB port. Everything else just took up space. I even brought an ethernet cable for back up…never used it. Like Visa, wi-fi is everywhere you want to be.

    The MacBook Air seems ideal for traveling with it’s weight/size, but the regular MacBook seems a bit more practical since all the important pieces are already attached. Plus, Apple stuff just seems to work better overall. One thing to check is compatibility with your iPod…if you have a windows configured iPod, I’m not sure if it’ll be compatible with a Mac (oddly enough) or if it can be reconfigured. When I was looking at a Mac, I recall the Apple folks saying mine would not work.

    If you go the windows route, definitely check out HP’s line up. Solid quality/durability in my experience. Much better than numerous Dell’s I’ve had for business. I went with the 14″ Pavilion dv2000 with 65GB, core solo, dvd burner, 3 USBs, 1 firewire, 1 expansion port, 1 s-video, 1 modem port, 1 ethernet port and a removable remote for the DVD player. Didn’t need half of that stuff, but it came with it, all for around $750 at Best Buy. I believe the current model is around $650-$750. Does everything I could want it to, not too big, not too heavy, and it’s standing up to significant use. I’d prefer a Mac, but couldn’t beat the price. Hope it helps.

  2. “If you go the Windows route”…. you are a moron. Because you are family, I can say that about you.

    I’d go Apple, and I’d go Air, and I’d do it without worrying about the cost. Air is that good.

    But if you want to go with something less expensive, I’d go with the standard 12″ MacBook(13.3” diagonal widescreen) and be done with it. Wait, I want to say that, but…

    I honestly think Apple skimps on “standard” models but gives it good on “upgraded” models. In other words, I think your assessment of “regular” Macs is right on target. As an owner of the last model of the Ibook G4 (12″), I’m both entitled and authorized to say so. The financial jump from MacBook to MacBook Pro is sizable; Air would be your better option. Powerbook was the best line, but alas….

    Although a fan of Mac (a big, big fan), I’m not sure the Macbook, Air, Macbook Pro trinity offers you an option with strong offerings in both durability and performance all with a decent price. You either bite the bullet for Air, or look elsewhere. But elsewhere leads you back to Windows…


  3. Shit, I got all wrapped up in Apple talk and I missed my other point.

    You say Theresa wants to get organized. Color me shocked. Shocked I say.

  4. While my knowledge of SD ports and the like is lacking, we recently purchased a 13″ Macbook and are delighted with it. It is lightweight (compared to my old Dell laptop) and user-friendly. We have taken it on some trips and plan on bringing it to Spain in the fall. Bryan did some magic upgrading to increase the memory and whatnot, but you’ll have to ask him about that one. He says it was really easy.

  5. Ruthie asked me to write about our new macbook… Ruthie and I bought a refurbished black macbook (the 2.2GHz) for $1,050. Which was a much better deal at the time than getting the upgraded model with the newer 2.4 GHz models. I also bought the 3 year extended warranty for it. It looked and acted brand new when we got it. I also upgraded the hard drive to a 320Gb western digital scorpio drive for $160, and upgraded the memory from 1Gb to 4Gb for $100. Apple changes three times that to upgrade the memory to 4Gb at the time of purchase. Both the hard drive and memory are very easy to install. Thats what we did. Great computer, and it’ll last us years with those upgrades I did.

    As a side note, I know it’s another thing to carry around, but we have a little USB drive that you can put your SD card in that works well and was only $7.

    If you decide on a refurbished mac, check their online store early in the morning. They restock the refurbs overnight.

    One other side note. If you decide on a mac and wait until mid June, there is most likely going to be a major upgrade for the macbooks

    Good luck!

  6. Sorry guys, long day. Thanks for all the thoughts and comments though. There’s a lot of Mac lovers around here, and I get it. I’m a big fan of my work computer, it does great things. Its reasonably priced, powerful, elegant, and seems pretty durable. It is, however, less photo capable as far as I’m concerned with no built in SD slot (we have a little adapter also Bryan, but like you said, its another thing to carry around and if you lose it, as I am prone to doing, no pictures) and no Picasa on mac. iPhoto is just not very good, I don’t like its organization, its waste of space, and how unintuitive it is to edit/crop/export pictures. I know some people like it, but I’m not one of them. Picasa, on the other hand, is magic. But so far, no mac version, though I hear they’re working on it. Maybe all of these problems will be answered in this rumored Macbook upgrade (thanks for the link, Bryan!), we can get an SD slot included and some Picasa. If those things come true, I think I’m sold on a Macbook. An Air would be sweet, but until I get my hands on one myself, I’m still concerned about durability. Anyway, thanks for the input everybody. We’ll definitely update you with a final decision when we finally pick something up. Probably not till June, though, I’d like to see what Steve Jobs will come up with for us.

  7. iPhoto seems to be one of those Apple creations that lack that expected user-friendly interface, along with other shortcomings Jeff mentions. I unsold myself on iPhoto after running into issues with importation of the 5,000 or so photos I had on CD and other computers. Apple seems quite attached to the platform, but I’d very much like to see an overhaul or another option, such as Jeff’s wish for an Apple version of Picasa.

    As much as I’m a sales person for Apple, I basically use my laptop as a desktop and, therefore, expect my next purchase to be a desktop. Having done some traveling with the iBook G4(and it shows because of it), I can vouch for it’s viability as a travel companion. I’ve done nothing like the traveling you guys have planned, so I’m out of place to really comment much more on that aspect.

    I would be quite interested in what the MacBook upgrades bring. In streamlining from IBook/Powerbook to simply MacBook, I think Apple has overlooked some niches in the market. Many people are satisfying such cravings through the refurb/upgrade/customize route Bryan describes.

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