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Ask HN: Why do no other laptop manufacturers get it?
236 points by SandB0x on June 10, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 223 comments
I don't own a Macbook, but when people ask me what they should get it's hard to recommend a good alternative.

For every other manufacturer - do the model names and numbers have to be so opaque? They could all cut it down to 5 or 6 well designed, sensibly named models and still sell more units.

Whenever a friend is looking for a machine they try and wade through the HP, Dell and Sony websites. Eventually they give up trying to decipher the model names, and whether they should be looking iin "Everyday", "Performance", "Thin & Light" or "Business" categories and end up ordering a Macbook.

The HP G62-105SA? The Dell Latitude E5410? HP you also sell the Compaq Presario CQ61-406SA? What are these machines? What the hell is wrong with you?

I've owned the 13 inch Dell XPS machines. They were pretty good, but are apparently discontinued.

I am surprised nobody mentioned the disappearance of usable LCD panels from the laptop market. As far as I know there aren't any true 16 million color IPS models out there and nobody sells normal aspect ratio laptops either: they're all chopped off at the top, hence only 900 vertical pixels instead of 1024, including all Macbooks.

Yesterday I bumped into a person in the office with an oldie 15" IBM Thinkpad with 1440x1024 resolution true-color IPS panel with 174/174 degree viewing angle: it was gorgeous. That's the machine I want. And IBM used to market them simply too: TXY where X and Y were used to represent panel size and the generation.

My $900 TV beats the hell out of my laptops as far as picture quality is concerned (I own a matte screen MBP and a latest Thinkpad). And that's just a TV! When I get to work and stare at a proper IPS-equipped Dell I wonder if I ever see a picture that good on any laptop again.

I also don't get those "98% color gamut" 6-bit laptop panel ads: they're using 18 bits per pixel, who are they kidding?

You're making me miss my Thinkpad T60p. Compared to my new W500, it wasn't especially fast, ran annoyingly hot and didn't waste any time burning through its extra-capacity battery. The screen was vastly better though: IPS with a 1600x1200 resolution.

I don't actually need color accuracy, but I find myself slightly shocked by how bad other laptops look after getting used to the T60p. Laptop manufacturers: I'd pay extra for IPS (don't invent your own cute name for it or I won't know you have it) and I'd pay extra for high-res 4:3.

> I'd pay extra for high-res 4:3

I suspect they know this, and simply shifted the market to 16:9 so they could later charge a premium for what used to be the standard.

Matt Kohut from Lenovo blames LCD makers. He says they make much more profit selling panels for TVs than for laptops, so they standardized on HDTV aspect ratios and won't supply affordable 4:3 panels:


(I have no idea how accurate this is, but other computer makers have given similar explanations.)

I'd believe that if anyone was actually selling 4:3 laptops at a premium.

That wouldn't have happened yet. In my head, I have a loose projection of when I figure it would, it's something like 2013-2015

In any case, I'm not saying it's fact, just loose speculation

I don't think waiting until people decide they can tolerate 16:10 or 16:9 would be a good strategy. Thinkpads were some of the last laptops to offer 4:3 models, and people were buying them for that reason. They already have premium prices and a reputation for quality; I think if anybody was going to do this, Lenovo would already be doing it.

These are people who don't understand that marketing is important, despite the obvious example of Apple who seem to not only survive, but thrive almost purely on marketing...

I suspect the truth is more likely that 16:9/10 is so much more popular that its no longer economical to produce 4:3 laptops.

I prop mine up with a fan underneath the CPU all day long.

> My $900 TV beats the hell out of my laptops as far as picture quality is concerned (I own a matte screen MBP and a latest Thinkpad). And that's just a TV!

So you expect that a <$2000 computer (where almost all of that money is paying for it being a computer) whose screen can only be 1/8" thick to have better picture quality than a $900 device whose sole purpose is to display video and which has less extreme size contraints?

I agree! The 4:3 screens are much more useful for programming and reading the web, the "chopped off" are good only to watch wide videos. Are notebook users really mostly buying the notebook only to watch videos?

"There's simply no choice" -- I'd say of course, since consumers didn't care when they started to buy the worse ones, the manufacturers rightly concluded that they can kill the more expensive variants completely.

I've read more critiques of iPads that stated: "it doesn't have a wide screen." Were they written by competitors? Or are consumers really already trained to actually desire the worse?

I prefer wide over tall, assuming the same area. I like to view two documents side by side, and it's nice to have two 80-column terminals open on the screen without overlap or tiny fonts.

I'll also always pick two monitors over one large monitor for the ability to separate workspaces.

I hate "wide screens" with a passion - I call them short screens instead. My pet theory is that the LCD manufacturers like short screens better because they can sell fewer pixels while still advertising the same diagonal length.

Widescreens are great as long as you get one that can run at a high enough resolution that you can run things side by side (that point comes much sooner on a widescreen).

That's not a pet theory, it's simply true.

Heh, well, I can't think of a good way to prove that one, so I thought I'd be careful not to overstate my case. :)

This seems counterintuitive from a math perspective.

Having a bad math day? A square gives the best number of pixels per diagonal inch. The farther you get from a square (aka the wider the screen), the less pixels you get, even if the diagonal length stays the same. You can advertise a 22 inch monitor but if it's only 1 inch tall then it's worthless.

A 40 inch monitor that's 1 inch tall would also be useless.

Besides, 4:3 screens aren't square either. Why not demand 1:1 screens? Wide screens are more aesthetically pleasing (for most, not all).

most non-wide screen 17 and 19inch monitors were 1280x1024 which was 5:4 which is even more square. I'd happily buy two 1:1 monitors (no one makes an affordable monitor with more than 2048 pixels wide).

It seems impractical to me. I'd rather just have one screen that's wide but not too tall. It's a lot easier to look across wider things than up and down tall things.

1920 widescreens are not really wide enough for a webpage and a code window. A 2560 widescreen is the obvious answer but they cost 3 to 4 times as much.

You're right. I guess your other suggestion was really still making a "wide screen" but a super high res one out of two squarer ones :-) That seems a reasonable solution.

I have 2560 pixels wide but I have a 27" iMac and sorta consider the screen almost a "freebie" with the computer (considering how little extra the 27" costs). A similar stand alone screen is crazy money though..

Simple solution: buy two monitors. Only costs twice as much.

I've heard it has to do with the fact that the majority of demand for LCDs comes from televisions, so laptop manufacturers can't buy decent shapes anymore since they don't account for enough demand.

Are notebook users really mostly buying the notebook only to watch videos

Yes, that and do a little email and Facebook.

Most people who buy laptops (or any PC) are not programmers.

My Dell XPS 16 has a 1920x1080 screen with RGBLED. It can, quite literally, light up a room. My previous Dell (Vostro 1500) had 1680x1050 resolution. I'm quite liking this laptop, especially since it's $1000 cheaper than a lesser equipped MacBook Pro.

Yeah I'm using a Vostro 1500 running at 1680x1050 - its like 2.5 years old now too. I didn't know finding a laptop with a decent resolution was such a big deal.

I've said this before in other places but I'll say it again.

We get the features we want.

Most companies aren't so stupid that they would cut the features most desired by their customers. When features are cut it's because it didn't hurt sales to cut them. Imagine people wanted great screens on laptops more than anything else, what would happen? Every manufacturer would make a laptop with a great screen. They don't and that means that most people kept buying laptops even when they lost their great screens.

It's pretty basic economics, the market won't bare bad products in the face of competition.

For what it's worth, they recently changed the 15" MBP to have the option of a 1680 by 1050 screen. I don't know if it is an IPS screen but I don't think that it is a cheap TN panel.

It's not an IPS screen, but it does make going in to work and looking at the cheapo sony laptop they bought me incredibly painful. It's quite pretty, but I imagine there is a lot of room for improvement, especially with respect to vertical viewing angle.

I was about to buy a macbook for this very reason, but then found the Lenovo T500 with the same screen (although not LED-backlit).

I bought it off ebay for a fraction of the macbook price (cheap as a 3G iPad)), and I don't worry nearly as much about spilling water on the keyboard as I would with a macbook.

It's sad that this display option is fairly rare on 15" laptops, many either giving you too low resolutions (1366x768) or absurdly high resolutions (1920x1080)

The absence of a 1680x1050 screen option on the MacBook was one of the two reasons I didn't buy one when I last upgraded. Now I've just got to decide whether to sacrifice the freedom of Ubuntu for the polish of MacOS.

Just compile needed UNIX software for MacOS, you lose no freedom running OS X as a base OS.

It's a real UNIX, it even ships with Bash...

to be fair, you can customize the shell. I keep mine on the "professional" setting - black background, white text, tcsh shell.

You can always run bootcamp and keep Ubuntu too. :)

You can still get the T series Thinkpads in 4:3 but the display options are limited.

The new sony z series has a lot of pixels. I don't know much about IPS or colors though, specs from the website below.

The VPCZ117GG/X - 13.1 (33.2 cm) wide (FullHD: 1920 x 1080) ; VAIO Display Premium, LED backlight, Adobe RGB 96% coverage

They aren't IPS, but i saw one at Best Buy and it is really good. It's up there with the MacBook Air on color and viewing angles. Definitely the two best displays I've seen on a laptop in a really long time.

But TVs are no better than laptops when it comes to names/numbers. Models seem to last just a few weeks; then another one comes out with a letter or two added or removed, or the number incremented, or the whole name changed. Often its just another connector, or a different remote, or a software change, or a matte screen.,.

Lenevo has a series on x treemly portable computers called x-something or other which do have a 4x3 screen.

Not anymore; the latest models are all shortscreen.

aha, another shortscreener! You're the first other I've met.

re chopping the top off: LCD manufacturers appear to be transitioning from 16:10 displays to true 16:9 (which i guess is for better movie displays?)... This seems stupid to me as well.

off topic, but speaking of movie displays: This has always bothered me, as both a hacker, and a filmaker: Why do we focus so much an 16:9, 16:10 is mathematically superior to 16:9 [1], why don't we make movies in 16:10?


I'm not sure it's "mathematically" superior. Maybe aesthetically?

Anyway, aren't a lot of movies in 2.35:1 or something anyway?

The Golden Ratio is actually not very appealing aesthetically. And mathematics doesn't have much to say about comparing screen ratios.

Just to be pedantic, the golden ratio is irrational.

Some obscure technical reason, apparently: http://groups.google.com/group/rec.arts.movies.tech/msg/9e7d...

What about a keyboard layout that at least remotely resembles a real keyboard or uses the FN key intelligently. Like lets make the arrow keys + fn work like page up/down home/end. Instead they make these absolutely insane-o layouts which are impractical and different on every single f-ing laptop even of the same manufacturer. Look at macbooks. All of em. For last 5 yrs. Same keyboard layout AND it is usable because macos does not need the home/end/etc keys instead they have decent combinations. Still solvable by good fn key placements. Also who the hell needs numlock on a laptop. Never seen a single practical reason for it except to annoy the crap out of you "why do some keys make numbers for no good reason".

Just figure that crap out.

And the names are like car names. They don't want to give an impression that a computer is "bad" or "slow" or "crippled". Do you want to tell your friends "I got a Dell Crippled v3" so they go for the insane-o names. But apple has maybe 1000x less component combinations available as a baseline model. Remember they control the hardware, while these vendors sell mish-mashes of different hardwares.

Most of the Asus netbooks have the types of keyboard layouts you refer to (with numlock, scrolllock relegated to Fn+ keys). I don't know about their bigger laptops.

Agreed. There are two problems that compound on each other but are somewhat distinct

1. Excessive models. They make this look work than it is by essentially having 2-4 customizations of the same model and presenting them as different models.

2. Confusing attempts to segment. Having the first step on the website be choosing which "segment" you want confuses the user. I'll pick a segment, then be unsure if I'm not seeing models that I'd like to see. Savvy consumers assume that "Home" mean "crummy," but "Business" isn't exactly right either.

Moreover, the segmentation is crummy UI, like coupon codes at checkout. Dell (at least once in the past) prices out the same laptop at different prices, depending on if I'm a 'home' user or a 'business' user. That's bullshit, no matter how you slice it

If Business.Price > Home.Price then it would seem that they (manufacturers) are targeting big companies that aren't going to haggle laptop prices too much.

If Home.Price > Business.Price then it would seem that they are hoping businesses will see the lower price and do all of their computers & accessories through that manufacturer. Or, of course, they know that home buyers aren't as tech savvy and aren't going to notice.

Whenever I think about market segmentation and prices I think of Joel's great article on it: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/CamelsandRubberDuckie... (2004)

With respect, how sure are you that it was the "same" laptop? I've done that before too, but just because you have the same processor, hard drive, etc. doesn't mean you have the same motherboard, antenna, case, and a variety of other things you can't customize.

Between certain models, the Dell Inspiron and the Dell Latitude had interchangeable motherboards, had the same integrated graphics, and sourced the same LCD panel. But the actual 'same-ness' is irrelevant in this case - the real issue is my impression that I'm going to get 'ripped off' if I don't sit down for hours and compare their entire product lineup every time I want to buy another Dell laptop.

That's a terrible customer expectation and experience vs. Hey, I want an Apple laptop. Oh, I want the Macbook. Look, it's $999 + some basic options. Done.

I was once told that the 'home' and 'small business' sections of the Dell website were managed by different internal business units which set their prices independently. Thus, an identical laptop would differ not necessarily (though sometimes) in base price, but in add-ons, included options, free upgrades, or bundles.

I recently purchased a monitor from dell and they definitely have different prices for home, smb and government.

It's the same monitor, same model number and the same specs.

They also seem to have different discounts in different segments.

I'll weigh in as a consumer, not a programmer--I'm a writer and photographer, and ordered a 16-inch Toshiba (Satellite A500-ST6647, based on reliability surveys) on Monday. I spent about three weeks revising a spreadsheet, trying to figure out just this, how they differentiate their consumer, business, gaming and multimedia lines. But even harder was trying to calculate actual price.

As I'm sure you've seen, there are insane discounting schemes, and base retail price means nothing. And then after scouring for coupons and coming up with a number, that number is only good for two days, because it was a Memorial Day sale and that's over, but wait, here come the Father's Day discounts.

> having 2-4 customizations of the same model and presenting them as different models.

That means YOU Dell and HP.

I think these companies thrive with a confusing market. If you can easily compare two products then the purchase is muddied. I've seen this often with different grocery store products in regards to volumes and masses on sale for fungible items.

I think it's best to have confusing figures and specs when you have all these manufacturers who are really trying to produce the cheapest of something (in this case PCs or cellphones). You put the money and the marketing in maybe one overworked detail (big screen, big HDD, fast video card) and then cheap out on everything else. So if they want a certain user to buy their product, they emphasize what they think that user wants.

It is especially infuriating in the grocery store when they "go to the trouble" of adding conversion information to the shelf label but then aren't consistent with the units on similar products. Thanks HEB, since you did the math I know that this juice is $0.03/oz. and that juice is $0.79/liter. That helps alot.

I once saw a (pre-packaged, junk food) product that was priced at "$0.35 per 100g" or some such, when the individual portions within the box were 75g each.

This is much more frustrating when they do it with nutritional information, showing you the nutritional values for 0.87 individually wrapped jam cakes.

Even more infuriating is when they don't even bother to do the unit pricing! two sizes of the same product- one says "18.00/unit" and the other says "everyday price $21.99"!

Exactly! The main idea is to prevent the customer to easily compare features, especially with the offerings of other manufacturers, which would force the company to compete with lower prices, which is obviously undesirable. So it's really intentional in different businesses and there's a word for it, even if it's formulated by a cartoonist:


> I think these companies thrive with a confusing market

I don't understand why this is so common, that confusing and ultimately making people unhappy is somehow good for business. Does it actually work this way? I mean, it seems Apple is doing okay and makes customers generally very happy with their products - are they the only exception?

It's easier and cheaper. Apple's higher-margin prices allow them to spend more on things like design, usability and really great marketing.

If you're selling commodity products, the best you can do is make it difficult to compare to the other products. Go mattress shopping, you'll see what I'm talking about.

I think that the issue is that Apple spends the time to make quality products, while other manufacturers might just spend the time to make a product that is 'just good enough.' If someone were to be able to do direct comparisons between a 'good enough' and a 'great' product, they wouldn't even think twice about the 'good enough' product.

I have an idea about model numbers involving gross overgeneralization:

Asian cultures have a fetish for numbers. When working with a Korean company in the past, they would list their questions/answers in email in numbered lists; never bulleted or simply segmented in paragraphs, always numbered. In Mandarin, not only are the months simply numbered (it's not "June", it's "Month 6"), but extended family get the same treatment ("13th Aunt"). Goku and Vegeta (yeah, great example) keep blathering about numbered Power Levels.

Like I said, overgeneralization, but it's just a thought.

As for the original question; as most people say, the other laptop manufacturers provide a wider set of choices, and they offer them at prices people can actually afford.

I always thought that they did this as a courtesy to their dealers, to prevent price comparison. This has often been the case with stereo components. You might go into Store A and see that the Brand X 5667 preamp is going for $499. The photo store in New York's catalog has the Brand X 56672 preamp costing $449.

"Wait a minute," you ask the salesman, "this preamp is fifty dollars less if I order it from the photo store catalog."

"No, no, no," the salesman replied smoothly, "they're selling the Brand X 56672. This is the 5667. It's better."

Mattress manufacturers are even worse about this-- they create entirely separate model names for each retailer-- Macy's sells the Serta Supreme but Sleepy's sells the Serta Deluxe and 800-MATTRESS sells the Serta Max, all of which are exactly the same mattress.

Of course, mattress manufacturing is a swindle on a whole other level...

Build your own mattress, it's cheaper. http://www.ehow.com/how_4809580_own-foam-mattress.html And it's a fun geek project.

Out of curiosity, how does the numbering system for aunts work? I'd love to be able to assign integers to my aunts.

Not a native speaker, but how I refer to my Aunts/Uncles in Chinese is by referring to them in birth order in their family. E.g., "1st Aunt" is the first sister born in my mom's family. IIRC, her husband gets a similar moniker (i.e., Husband of 1st Aunt).

But what if your father had a sister who was older than your mother's oldest sister?

Or does Chinese use different words for "mother's sister" and "father's sister"?

Yes Chinese use different words for the two sides of the family.

Also, depending on which part of China you're from, first cousins whose fathers are brothers (thus having the same surnames) would refer to each other as brothers and sisters.

That part is rather confusing sometimes but otherwise Chinese is very precise in enumerating your relationships.

This is quite similar to the way things work in India as well (or at least the parts of Northern India I'm familiar with).

In several dialects there is also a variation of the word for oldest and youngest aunt/uncle/cousin/child/etc.

The middle ones just get referred to by number.

There's also the whole Confucian family numbers to. Sort of a degrees of separation metric in a way.

Wow, by that reckoning I'd have 23 siblings!

Most laptop manufacturers constantly update the hardware that is in each model. When they do this they change a number or a letter somewhere.

Apple only updates the hardware in its machines about once a year. You could spend $1300 on a new laptop only to learn the following week that Apple is now selling a significantly better machine for that same price.

Traditionally Apple has appealed more on the basis of emotion and design rather than hardware specs per dollar.

Most people don't care what video card is in their laptop, so Apple's approach seems to be better. The danger to Apple is that people would put off purchases while waiting for the newer model. This surely occurs, but to date Apple has offered enough other advantages (case design, OS design) to minimize the impact of this on sales. The commodity PC firms compete only on the basis of hardware, so a few hundred megahertz or gigabytes make a difference in their ability to differentiate.

Well, I ordered a 15" MBP about a month before this year's line came out. It was my first one, so I was unaware of their typical upgrade cycle, macrumors, etc. I was well past the return date and feeling like shit. I called them up and they RMA'd it, waived the restocking fee and paid the return shipping, no questions asked. I got a significantly better machine for about $300 cheaper. I was giddy like a schoolgirl.

I know several people who have all had that exact same experience, and Apple replaced their old Macbooks with new ones for free, just as in your case. I think it is a great policy, as it really leaves us Apple customers with a good feeling about Apple's customer support.

Yeah they can do this because A) most people don't care enough or even think to try this and B) at the end of the product cycle, the original one was so overpriced that they can still make a profit off selling the refurb.

and then you have those of us who buy the refurb, because it's not that bad a machine, especially when compared with the newer one in price per what you get.

It benefits all of us.

most people don't care enough

And in particular, the people who do care, get kept very happy.

It's never really a surprise when Apple refreshes their notebook lines. They do it infrequently, and there's enough predictability you can simply read the tea-leaves to get an idea: http://buyersguide.macrumors.com/

The difference in the recent crop of MacBooks is pretty minor apart from the massive gain in battery life due to it being built in. Most of the time regular consumers simply do not care, indifferent to the details. If you're particular about staying current, wait until the new notebooks are released and only by in that window.

Apple's marketing has appealed on the basis of emotion and design, but their hardware is spectacular, especially the solid-body, integrated battery case being used on the MacBook Pro. I haven't seen anything even close in terms of technology.

The build quality with most manufacturers, even their premium products, is extremely poor. They simply do not care, and since their customers shop on the basis of price and value, there's very little incentive to improve.

I just wish that other manufacturers would get in the game and challenge Apple. It's nice to see Google taking Android in that direction and staying competitive with the iOS.

As Nikon has a Canon, Apple needs a foil.

As Nikon has a Canon, Apple needs a foil.

Since I last looked, someone has taken bpple.com, so you never know...

Well put. There's nothing wrong with customising individual components when ordering, but most people seem to decide on a screen size first. IMO, the basic approach should be something like:

Little Model

13 Inch

13 Inch Plus

15 Inch

15 Inch Plus

Big Model

Normal models are fine for everything that normal people do, apart from maybe playing the latest greatest games. Plus (or Pro) models have discrete graphics, more RAM and a better processor by default. You can choose, say, a workstation level graphics card and SSDs and whatever if you need. There: Amateur consultancy complete!

"You could spend $1300 on a new laptop only to learn the following week that Apple is now selling a significantly better machine for that same price."

And if that happens you can just return it (after only 1 week) and get the new model.

Well, not always. I bought a laptop from Apple in college and tried to return it the next day and they refused. It wasn't until years later that I considered buying another Apple product and it was an iPod shuffle. Fortunately they got their act together on customer service a bit since those days.

Not just model #'s. Try and find a good and reliable 1900x1080 laptop. I tried and ended up getting a MacBook Pro. I've used a lot of laptops over the years (all Windows based), none of which were Macs. The build quality of this thing is amazing. Yes, it was expensive. Was it worth it? I think it's easily 2x better than the ASUS I almost bought--ASUS and Sony were the ones that had 1900x1080 or higher res. I never buy Sony because of the bad experiences I've had with their hardware. The ASUS got too many bad reviews on New Egg... hence the Mac purchase.

No wonder everyone wants a Mac laptop. They are simply the best.

And, I use Linux and Windows mainly, though I have a Mac mini as a media center. I own an Android phone. I am in no way a fanboy.

Someone on Hacker News told me about the Dell Precision M70 a few months ago. It's 1920x1200 15.4" screen. Cost me the equivalent of $300 (though it is second hand off Ebay).

Quite possibly me, as I used to run one.

Just checked my MBP, and it's a 17" 1920x1200. Bloody awesome screen.

The Dell shades it though, being a 15" panel rather than a 17", which is a bit on the gigantic side.

HP hides their best laptops:


These are the "Mobile Workstations." Basically, powerhouses. They're expensive, but they're very good. These Elitebooks are the ones that my school gave to the incoming freshmen. Before that they gave us the Compaq 8510w, which I love. Its resolution is 1920x1200.

They certainly go out of their way to NOT tell you the resolution of their screens. Nowhere on that page does it tell the resolution. Click to configure one, and it still doesn't say.

At best they say "HD", but that's meaningless, as there are several HD resolutions. They give the screen size, but that's meaningless.

WTF? Why do PC vendors do that? Either they don't say it all, or they use some obscure acronym. Would it kill them to just put in the frigging numbers?

Thinkpad t510 does 1900x1080 if you get the upgraded video card

And I know at least two people using linux on their T510 laptops so I can tell you that that works.

> 1900x1080


20 horizontal pixels short of full HD?


My guess is that they used to be 1900x1200, but someone got the clever idea that they could save a few bucks and market it as HD (it does have the number 1080 in it!) at the same time.

My #1 reason to buy Apple laptops: keyboard. All I want is a simple keyboard layout, like Apple's...no extra keys...no numeric keypad...no page-up&down...no custom keys to control media...oh yeah, and also drop all the extra ways to click the mouse...just give me a big touch area and drop the three extra keys and eraser-knob.

If anyone knows of a manufacturer doing it right, please let me know as I am tired of paying a premium to get a sane keyboard. At the moment going Apple for both desktop and laptop allows me to use the exact same keyboard whether I'm at home or on the road. So bonus points to a laptop manufacturer that also sells an external keyboard to match my desktop same as embedded in the laptop.

Seriously, there has to be a market for this!!! The keyboard is the single most important input device. Build it right and they will come.

Wow, I'm the complete opposite. So much so, that I bought an external keyboard with the 3 keys and eraser-knob for my desktop system. Damnit Apple, I'm USING those function keys, Fn-F7 for mute is no good; give me a single button for mute so I can make it shut-up! PLEASE give me a page-up and page-down, for when I need to go up a page and down a page, I also want a home and an end key. (Don't want a numeric keypad though.)

I do, however, very much want the same input - and the closest I've found is a Thinkpad w/ an eraser-knob and an external Thinkpad keyboard w/ the eraser-knob.

I wonder how hard it would be to build an external keyboard with 'a big touch area' out of mac parts - they're both usb to begin with, all you'd need is a sleek enclosure for it.

(Roughly $130 + labor, judging from this part - http://www.powerbookmedic.com/MacBook-Keyboard--Top-Case-Tra... )

People have commented on my Asus UL80vt as being very similar to the mac keyboard / touchpad layout, it does however have a large plastic bar that is supposed to act as left and right click, however in practice this is just ignored for the multitouch clicks that are parcelled into the touchpad.

thanks for the tip. looks like a great choice. My MacBook Air is toast...that's what happens when you solder the RAM onto the mobo...$900 repair fee, ouch...I'd rather just buy a new laptop.

If you do end up going this route, and you're not a windows user; if you want the nvidia card to work in linux you must set SATA mode in bios to legacy, yes, I know that makes no sense but there you go.

I sadly miss a Control key on the right side of my MacBook Pro.

Thinkpad without the touchpad, like on the ultraportables. It is like having a mouse right where you are typing.

It's brand reinforcement. Notice, each time you typed those, you typed the name of the manufacturer.

Not saying it's a better approach than the Macbook, but high end car manufacturers do it too. It's why Lexus and Mercedes have cars named like LS400, S500, etc. You have to say the brand name with each model, reinforcing the brand.

Mercedes names often have a meaning.

SL == Sport Leicht - Sport Light

The number generally refers to the volume of the engine, e.g.

SL 350 => 3.7 L engine SL 500 => 5.0 L engine

That's true for many Mercedes (SLK - Sport Leicht Kurtz) Mercedes C - Coupé.

You also have Mercedes A and B with the underlying meaning "it's a small Mercedes", etc.

Generally speaking car names make sense within the brand.

Just as apple does with Mac*....In their case "Mac" IS the brand.

Good point, they were just a bit more creative in their method of brand reinforcement.

It's easy to understand which car you're talking about when you say S500 or E320 or 325xi.

Not for people that aren't car geeks. I know a 325xi is a BMW, but if you asked the general public which manufacturer makes a 325xi it would probably be less than 50% accurate.

Neither do. I But cars often cost 10 – 40x what computers cost, so my willingness to spend a lot of time figuring out what stuff means goes up.

In addition, all cars share the fundamental feature of foot -> petal and foot -> break. The rest can be inferred from a test drive.

But when comparing different car companies you usually say BMW 325xi. The 325xi stands for something. Its a 3 series, which isn't as nice as the 5 series. The xi is the type of car it is. When looking for a car and you ask someone they can actually tell you what it is.

When people ask me if the Compaq Presario CQ61-406SA is any good, I have no idea what it even is.

"But when comparing different car companies you usually say BMW 325xi."

That was exactly the point of the grandparent poster. Obscure numbers enforces brand recognition because you have to say "BMW 325xi" if you expect everyone to know what you're talking about, thus enforcing the BMW brand. If Apple did this you would have to say "Apple MBPi750" every time just to tell people you're talking about an Apple MacBookPro. While it might help Apple's brand recognition it's a major fuck you to consumers as we appreciate simplicity over corporate brand recognition.

Right, and the "25" means a 2.5 litre engine (though they've started to break from this scheme recently), the "x" means four-wheel-drive and the "i" means "fuel injected". (Even though fuel injection is no longer a distinguishing feature they keep the "i" because it sounds cool).

There is, however, a limit to how much alphanumeric information one can generally keep track of. The 325xi is right on that limit. It's made easier for cars since we see hundreds of cars per day and they all proudly display their model name on the back whereas laptops hide theirs away in a corner. Also you've been able to buy a BMW 325i (+/- 5i) for well over thirty years whereas Compaq models change all the damn time.

To underline the "not for car geeks" point: Not only do I not know what kind of car the 325xi is (and I am from Bavaria, the home country of BMW), I also don't know what "2.5 litre engine" stands for (is that a lot? good? bad?), or what the hell is the point of "fuel injected". Don't all cars drive on fuel (except for the few exotic electric ones)?

Even though I am surrounded by cars, I never look at the model names.

Funny to think most people probably feel about computers the way I feel about cars. Although these days I don't know much about the internals of computers anymore, either. Mostly I care about "fast enough", "can run games/can't run games", "runs Linux", "noisy fan/not so noisy fan".

BMW is the ultimate driving machine though. It's not meant for the general public, it's meant for driving enthusiasts and people with too much money.

The general public doesn't call it a "driving machine," we call it a car.

I guess you don't live in europe :-)

it took acura/honda a while to figure that out. they used to have the integra, legend, vigor, etc. and then renamed all of them to have boring names like the rsx, cl/rl, and tl.

The 17" Dell XPS were just as good in terms of design as Apple, just with different goals. They are also fairly easy to maintain. I saved money by buying the "multimedia" model Inspiron with the same chassis. (And yes, I've replaced the keyboard and screen on my Dell. Straightforward and quick operations. I also own a Macbook, and let me tell you, the take apart is a lot more complicated.)

You will get good value, solid build, and maintainability at the expense of aesthetics and portability.

EDIT: FWIW, Dell have had a history of using standard parts, so Linux compatibility has been very high as well.

Interesting. Any other brands/models that have this modular design? I bought a Gateway (super cheap for the features) for work/gaming. Unfortunately, the build quality sucks. I should have known better, but I thought I was getting a bargain.

I must say the HP's that dayjob hands out are pretty darn tough, but also super expensive.

I don't know about the other manufacturers, but I'm ready to sing praises for Thinkpads here. Every single part inside has a part number and pretty much all of these parts are orderable online. Many are interchangeable between models, though the information on that can be a bit difficult to find. There are PDF service manuals that describe in detail how to completely strip down the machine piece by piece available for pretty much every single model since at least ten years ago if you know where to look (Thinkwiki).

It's not really the Apple way, but it's pretty awesome if you're the type of person who's into lots and lots of information about everything.

Apple offers a rather limited range of laptops. Other manufacturers are attempting to offer a greater range of options for all consumers (and consider for companies like HP and Dell, their largest customers are corporations). The codes allow for easier differentiation in a given product line.

That said, Dell seems to have the sanest conventions, with HP/Compaq offer nothing more than product codes.

I think Apple does that on purpose, they never seem to have more than about 3 choices for their devices (the paradox of choice? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Paradox_of_Choice)

2 sizes of iPod Nanos (you also pick the color)

3 sizes of iPod touches

3 sizes of iPhones (+ pick color)

3 15inch MacBook pros (+ 2 13inch and 1x 17inch)

It seems once you have made some basic choices like screen size or color you are down to 3 choices fairly spaced in price which equate to small, medium or large.

And having too many options is what is killing these companies compared to Apple. Quite frankly people don't care that you have XYZ mobo processor or graphics card inside. They just want the dam thing to work.

"Tyranny of Choice" at its best.

Wasn't that the lesson Apple learned the hard way? IIRC one of the first thing Jobs did on his return to Apple was to trim the product line.

Yep. Pre-Jobs, the Apple offerings were as muddled as the PC examples given above, especially with the introduction of the PPC boxes, which were all assigned names like 7200/75 or 7215/90. Steve did away with all of these and offered only four core products (iBook, PowerBook, G-series and iMac) until the intro of the Cube, which nobody remembers, and the iPod, which nobody can forget. :)

It was even worse than that because they had the Performa (low end) and Quadra (high end) lines and certain models were identical. Also at different times they had the "LC"(Low Cost) series and just plain "Power Macintosh" series.

Read this and try to keep it straight: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_Macintosh_5300

I think the major companies have become too attached to their habits to do much about it; the suggestions in this thread seem more directed towards the smaller fish who are still able to overhaul their business completely.

As much as I would love companies like Lenovo to get their act together.

I bought a Thinkpad not too long ago. Thinkpads have a good reputation, their new cheap(-ish) "SL" models are very affordable, and their website makes sense (just select a few things you want and they'll present you with a sensible list of options).

Of course, every country seems to have their own range of models, so Lenovo is not free of suck either.

I think the SL models are dangerously diluting the brand - the standard Thinkpad keyboard and touchpoint is a powerful selling point.

Plus I can't readily get my hands on a Thinkpad (even an SL) to try it out. I want to upgrade my laptops at the moment and would dearly love to walk into the equivalent of the Apple store, sit down, and try out each of the models that I'm interested in - but in London there are only a handful of retailers that stock Thinkpads, fewer that are up-to-date with the models that they sell, and none that I know of that have demo machines in store for any significant fraction of the range.

So if I want to buy one I essentially have to be willing to accept delivery (a pain when I can't predict where I'll be on any given day), and willing to risk buying a machine that I've never touched. If I decide to accept a Mac I can check out all of the options at the store over on Regent St any time until the late-ish evening.

Lenovo are just not geared up to retail customers - that might not be an issue at the moment, but I can't help but think that today's retail customers are tomorrows corporate buyers.

I've found the same thing in California. The only place I've seen a Thinkpad in the wild is at Fry's or (once) at the Microsoft store. Certainly never at Best Buy. But I suspect that the real customers for Thinkpads are corporate IT purchase managers as probably most Thinkpad users have their machines bought for them by their employers.

I've seen SLs at Best Buy, but I have to agree on the brand dilution thing. They feel like other laptops; they don't actually have the full keyboard, nor do they have the metal frame or matte finish that other Thinkpads do.

If you pretend that Lenovo makes nothing other than the T, W, and X series (and really only the X2xx models), then they are indeed the only other good option. I've used quite a number of their other machines, though, and have been thoroughly unimpressed, especially with the SL models.

But the T, W, and X are easy to understand (mainstream, heavy duty, small size) and are damn good quality.

I'll admit to being biased since I'm waiting for my new Thinkpad T410 to arrive, but I think the Thinkpad line is pretty logically segmented and named. The current convention is that each segment has a common prefix ("T" for their standard workhorse line, "X" for the ultra-portable line, "SL" for the more affordable small-business line etc.) w/ the suffix indicating the screen size, e.g., T410 for the 14", X201 for the 12". Of course there are exceptions such as the Thinkpad Edge, but generally it's pretty easy to compare the various models.

While Apple's practice of not publicizing their model names in their advertising might superficially make things simpler, it means you have to explicitly list the model year w/ specs to do a meaningful comparison between current and older models.

I have a T60 and love it. It's built like a tank. Has a good keyboard and the "stick" mouse pointer (which I really like). It is a bit heavy to lug around, but it is my only machine and it is a good compromise between portable and usable.

Lenovo (IBM) has the best naming convention of the ones I've dealt with. Dell's site is so confusing and abyssmal that I simply could not help a friend buy a PC - had to go with HP.

This will be the last Windows PC I help somebody buy.

Has a good keyboard and the "stick" mouse pointer (which I really like).

We're all friends here -- I think you mean the clit mouse: http://xkcd.com/243/ .

(Bad joke warning: no wonder you really like the "stick" mouse.)

I've got a X100e. The hardware's alright, but the linux compatibility is awful. Ubuntu 9.10 worked well enough, except it wanted its wireless drivers to be manually installed, and it crashed every time it autoslept.

10.04, wireless worked out of the box, but crashed when you adjusted the brightness, or did anything with ACPI. Installing the proprietary drivers let me adjust brightness, but it still doesn't like sleeping. And now the headphone jack doesn't work.

I read somewhere that the headphone jack works if a headphone is connected during boottime.

...it means you have to explicitly list the model year w/ specs to do a meaningful comparison between current and older models.

Which makes sense since when I'm looking for a new laptop (as I am now) I don't care about old models. And when I do care to discuss the relative merits of old vs. new models, the year is the natural way to differentiate them, rather than some opaque arbitrary naming convention.

> I bought a Thinkpad not too long ago. Thinkpads have a good reputation, their new cheap(-ish) "SL" models are very affordable, and their website makes sense

I did, too! Only I didn't realize that the SL models are basically plain black ideapads. It is a good laptop, but it is not a thinkpad. :/

Lenovo/Thinkpad are usually more expensive than the others. However, I bought the cheap version of Lenovo ($350 after rebates) last xmas as a replacement laptop. It's one of the best laptops I got over the year. The specs can't be beaten, and screen and build quality are superb.

The Sony Vaio Z series is a freaking awesome device. A friend got one recently and it's making me rethink getting another mac for my next laptop:


Core i7, 8 gigs of ram, I think he's got THREE SSD drives in Raid 0 in there ( I know you can buy outright with a 2 ssd raid 0 config but I found an engadget article referencing QUAD ssd - http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/19/sony-vaio-z-brings-quad-s...). It's a 13" machine and weighs 3 pounds.

It doesn't run Mac OS but I find myself needing Linux more often these days than Mac. It's hard to say no to a beautiful piece of hardware like that.

To be fair though - nothing beats walking into the Apple Store when my macbook breaks and having them do an overnight repair.

That's a great looking machine, and the specs are awesome, but I refuse to buy Sony Vaio. They have some of the worst driver support ever, supporting the exact version of Windows shipped and nothing else, ever. Forget about Linux support, it doesn't exist. Forget about even supporting future service packs of the Windows release.

When Windows 7 SP1 comes out and Sony refuses to update your drivers, enjoy your $3,000 paperweight. Been there, done that, refuse to buy a Vaio ever again.

I have been reading the whole thread, but this one made me jump in. I own a VAIO Z series and it is a kick ass machine. I have windows 7 running without any problems by using most of the Windows XP drivers from the Sony website. I agree that Sony are morons for not supporting future OS and linux, but we all know that there is always a way around. Also want to add that the Sony laptops, and particularly Z and F series are very well designed and very sturdy compared with the other brands that tend to make their new modesl cheaper and cheaper looking and feeling.

linux support doesnt exist? i plugged in Arch USB key and and wiped Win7 first thing - GMA500 is the only problem, but that effects so many devices these days that its inevitable a working driver comes out some time

Uh... without GMA500 support you're running Linux in either text only or 800x600 with no hardware acceleration. You call that usable?

But you still end up paying for a windows license? Perhaps my biggest reason for buying a mac was that there were no ultraportables without the windows tax. In fact, I don't want to have to install linux on my laptop first thing.

Also, Sony's 'fresh start' pay-us-to-not-install-crap-maybe-sometimes option really rubs me the wrong way.

I looked into it out of curiousity, and the configs are indeed nice, but buy Sony? Ick.

Effectively, all the crap you have to pay them not to install subsidizes your Windows tax. I'm with you in principle, but if they were willing to sell computers with no OS on them, they wouldn't be cheaper.

1. I wasn't really concerned about price. I don't think the original poster is either.

2. I don't give a rats ass why things are the way they are. (I know why.) I'm the consumer, dammit. And this is my cathartic whiny-complaining thread, dammit.

isnt sony the one that deliberately disables vt-x extensions ?


Interesting, that's a nice looking machine. The only downside I see is that it's more expensive than a 13" macbook pro configured the same way (although it has a better processor).

Totally agree, it's almost as if the HP, Dell and Sony websites are intentionally designed to drive any potential customers to Apple.

There's a class of people who just don't get that this is an issue. You can see it in the comments here. These model numbers are an opaque code that needs to be deciphered. Just because you happen to have learned how to decipher them doesn't make them any less opaque and cryptic.

Your comment is spot on. I am really amazed at some of the comments here that are attempting to explain in one way or another that all companies except Apple need to have dozens of different models. It's great to offer the consumer choice, but that's not really what is happening here. These companies are offering confusion. Apple also offers choice, but it's a choice between only three models and a few different configuration options. I could see other companies having maybe six or seven models and still being able to have something for pretty much any type of customer.

I was recently looking through the laptop section of ASUS's web site. I would estimate that they must have somewhere around 100 different models. Then they further compound the problem by making it hard to navigate between the pages for the different models. I just totally gave up. It seems like they might make some nice stuff, but figuring out which one is right for me is way too much effort.

That and the whole design issue.

I want to buy a laptop that looks nice, so sue me. Actually I had a discussion about this very topic today with someone.

Any non-Apple laptop suggestions that don't look ugly and will run some *nix variation?

Surprisingly, one of the best looking laptop designs I've seen in a while was one by Nokia, of all people. Unfortunately, it is a Netbook, and has all of the associated issues, and I have no idea about its linux support. But from a design aspect, it looks nice.


Now, if only we could locate a more powerful alternative.

Nice one, I like it.

I just got a Dell Vostro 3400, and am quite impressed. Clean design, multitouch trackpad, nice battery. Just missing the MagSafe power. It's the first PC laptop I could imagine myself using every day, if I couldn't use a MacBook.


Thinkpad. You can't beat the Darth Vader styling.

Absolutely. My brain must just not be wired right to appreciate Apple's designs because I think MacBooks aren't all that pretty. I liked the look of the iPhone when it first came out because the rest of the cellphone market was hideous, but by now Apple has fallen behind and even with the 4th gen phone the look is somewhat stale.

ThinkPads, on the other hand, have barely changed at all but still look like you can sit down and get some bloody work done.

The design is inspired by the Japanese bento box. There's an interesting note on it here: http://lenovoblogs.com/designmatters/?p=72

If you're looking for a Netbook, the Eee PC 1005/1008HA are, in my opinion, at least as good looking as Apple's laptop offerings. (They also have the best keyboard/touchpad of any netbook I've tried.)

The nice thing about buying a MacBook is that it's much easier to comparison shop on price. I almost bought my netbook from a major chain until I realized they sold it with a 3-cell battery instead of the awesome 6-cell battery in the one I found online. On the other hand, I just helped a friend buy a MacBook, and we knew we were comparing apples to apples while looking for the best deal. Also, hats off to Apple for not loading their machines with crapware when you buy from a retail store.

Hell yeah! While there are some nice looking Notebooks, PC cases are especially awful. What puzzles me is that this is even true for 300$+ aluminium pc cases specificaly made to please the design-sensitive crowd (e.g. Lian Li). It seems all respectable designers doing computer cases work at Apple. I believe there is a huge market waiting to be served, so: get rich quick! Make beautiful pc cases for a reasonable price so I can finally buy one!

I know what you mean, I have one of Lian Li's "mini fridge" cases because it has a ludicrous number of HD bays. But I also have an Antec p182, and it's frickin awesome: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129... (slightly newer model)

I was nervous about buying an HP laptop, but bought a HP Envy 15 recently because it was the only thing with the specs I wanted (1920x, good graphics card, SSD+HDD combo, fairly thin and light.) It's turned out well so far; it's good-looking, feels sturdy, runs Linux fine (although you need a recent kernel for some particular BIOS-related patches.)

But how badly did you get screwed on the price? Did you pay the two grand list price, or grab one at $1,199? http://dealnews.com/Loaded-HP-ENVY-15-Core-i7-Quad-1.6-GHz-1...

This practice of obscure and arbitrary discounting is at least as annoying as the obscure and arbitrary lineups.

Somewhere in between; I ended up paying about $1600 after a $400 discount. I felt it was a pretty good price -- thing has basically the best laptop specs you can buy without having a 10-pound 18-inch behemoth. I agree that it's bizarrely arbitrary. (Something's odd about that one you linked, though -- the graphics card is that of a first-generation one, not the ones they're selling now.)

I bought an Acer Aspire One a year or so ago, and I've been quite happy with it. It runs Ubuntu 10.04 with no issues. (I did have some trouble with wifi on 9.04 and had to compile madwifi from source to get it working, but it was fixed in 9.10.)

Used MacBook Pro. Seriously, they are the best laptops around right now and if you buy used they will cost a usual amount of money.

The Sony Vaio series laptops are generally pretty slick.

Furthermore, why is it that until recently you could not get a non-apple laptop that looked like they actually tried to design the case to be even remotely aesthetically pleasing. The smooth contours of my macbook pro totally outclass winbooks in this aspect. The Dell Adamo series is really the first non apple product Ive seen that comes close, but its still not there.

Agreed, virtually all modern notebooks are nasty and blingy, not to mention coated in gloss that seems custom-formulated to maximize fingerprint appearance.

The best looking winbook I've seen in a while was a deliberate MacBook Air clone by MSI. It was so well done as to be indistinguishable from the real thing at a distance of five meters or more.

I really don't understand glossy screens. I can't work anywhere with a light source behind me.

Why have they overtaken the PC laptop market so much?

Higher contrast ratio.

Because laptop buyers, like many apes, are attracted to shiny things.

(What? H. sapiens is a species of great ape.)

That's the same problem that General Motors has (had?).

Too many sub-brands and models that are almost all the same (lots of badge engineering) and are renamed constantly, nobody knows exactly what's what, and so they go to Toyota or Honda and pick one of the few models that everybody can immediately recognize.

I almost feel like I should do a separate 'Ask HN' for this but..

Does anyone else really want a netbook equivalent in a laptop sized model? When it comes to my development environment, especially with dynamic languages, I don't really NEED Core i7s and high end video cards. RAM size seems to matter much more as does HD speed.. But really, if I am using the computer for work I only really need it to run Chrome, Vim, and maybe Eclipse. My little EeePC netbook hand handle that quite easily.

The problem for me is the form factor. I love my EeePC to death for it's battery life and portability. It was a life safer for me on my vacation to S.Korea last year (small enough to easily slip into my day pack for regular access at Wifi hotspots). But I simply CAN NOT program on it. The screen is too small, the resolution is too small, and the keyboard is too small for me to type easily.

What I REALLY want is a super light laptop with a gorgeous 15/17 inch screen and a netbook-like 10+ hour battery life. The closest thing I know of toward my ideal is the Macbook Air, but even that seems to have a different design goal in mind (and is far too pricey).

Does anyone know any manufactures or models that fit this profile? I feel like there isn't anyone really focusing on providing a good "hacker's laptop"

MSI X-Slim and Acer Timeline are both available as 15" CULV machines - not sure if they are available in the US, but they are about as close as you get to a 15" Netbook.

Otherwise, a 13" Macbook Pro is also an option - 13", amazing battery life, only a bit heavier than a Macbook Air - and much cheaper.




Sony's Y Series uses the ultra-low voltage version of Core2 Duo, consuming about 10W with a 13" LCD. No internal disc, but Ubuntu and FreeBSD are easily installed via USB stick...

Unfortunately, Sony Y Series inventory has been depleted, so it's not listed on the US sonystyle website today. A chat with their sales rep indicated that the product line will return soon. Other series also seem to have limited inventory, so a full product line refresh seems due soon!

However, after reading other people's concerns (above) regarding Linux drivers and VT disabled, I'm reconsidering. A friend has the current F series (i7) running Linux just fine, btw.

Intel and MS have gradually relaxed restrictions on netbooks, so we should start seeing some 15" ones soon.

You can't out-Apple Apple.

It's been tried many times. No personal computer company besides Apple has succeeded at selling a lifestyle like they do. That's what product names like that are for--describing the sort of person a product is intended for. Since non-Apple laptop manufacturers don't aim their products at specific enviable lifestyles and instead try to market to everyone, they don't use names like that and instead opt for nondescript numbers.

I think Apple is picking out demographics/cohorts that are the most profitable, then marketing directly to them. It makes perfect sense for them to market to the style-conscious. Style-conscious demand gives the producer the opportunity to make a profit through the value-add of design.

This isn't shallowness. It's very smart economic thinking.

System76 does a great job of this. 6 laptops, 6 desktops, and 5 servers. They lay them out on a page so you can make a fairly quick guess about which one or two you want. They come with Ubuntu and seem fairly reasonably priced too.

I like my indie laptop manufacturer:


2 models, no confusion. And it's just upgrades on those models as in you customize those how you want it.

I have been using laptops since 1997, many different brands, shapes and colors. The one that I had stayed with the longest is ThinkPad. Very simple lines, non-descript raw functionally, the TrackPoint, and up until recently IPS displays. I was forced to buy a new laptop a month ago and went with the ThinkPad SL510. Installed an SSD myself. Very nice build quality, even the slightly less matte casing is an okay compromise to get the price to $680 in my option. The only thing is the pure crap TN panel in the thing and 16:9 ratio is not made for getting work done.

If the reason for crap laptop panels is the big three (Samsung, etc) making crap TN panels then lets get together and do something about it. Lenovo said that if they had only 15,000 confirmed orders they would make an IPS model to spec.

Many people believe that the sole reason the Japanese car companies started to beat the American car companies in the late 80s was because of quality. I think that is only part of the reason... To me, the biggest reason was choice and the purchasing process. When you went to buy an American car you literally had about 1000 options (and that might be too low of a number). When you went to buy a Japanese car you had like 3 options: SL, GL, SE (as an example), and about 3-5 colors to choose from. That was it!

We can see the same thing with computers today, and Apple is the equivalent of the Japanese car makes in terms of choice. Guess what, it works!

One of the reasons for model # segmentation amongst the laptops sold in retail stores: price competition offers ie: "If you find this model cheaper somewhere else in the next 14 days and we'll beat the price"

I have had a macbook. after 3 weeks with it, I gave it to my wife, and switched back to thinkpad.

She's happy with the mac, in fact, she can't use windows ever since she experienced mac, and I just missed my linux box, so were quite happy back home.

two weeks ago I purchased ThinkPad X200, it is loaded with the latest ubuntu and work like a charm.

I consider this set up far better than the Macbook in all terms. I am not familiar with the models you have mentioned though I only had two laptops (gateway and dell around year 2000) before I understood that thinkpad is the way to go.

I recently bought my first MacBook and was wondering exactly the same thing.

How can all of the other manufacturers miss the point to this extent?

Simple branding. Simple model distinction. "15 inch". Elegance. High quality. Visual appeal. No wonder Apple has been so successful... everyone else is so poor, and so caught up in the middle of the pack. Sony is the only other company offering laptops to appeal to the high-end and theirs are kind of a joke.

Just so you know, my 'sofa laptop' is my wife's old 'day 1' 13" MacBook.

Still trucking along! Great little machine. 4 years of use for $1099, and still runs XCode decently. Incredible value.

Tip for people with multiple macs. If you want to use two at once, download 'teleport' which allows one machine to cursor surf into the adjacent machine. I have a 20" iMac, 17" monitor, then my MBP parked on the end, with the mouse happily roaming across all 3 screens!

I also agree, but I have a feeling that at some point in the 90's when "tech geek" stuff was cool, the model numbers actually helped their marketing.

I know this will seem quite elitist but here goes...

Eventually they give up trying to decipher the model names, and whether they should be looking in "Everyday", "Performance", "Thin & Light" or "Business" categories and end up ordering a Macbook.

The thing is, if you don't know exactly what features you want(clock speed and manufacturer warranty on the RAM for instance), you will most likely be sold snake oil.

The model numbers on most OEMs are so complex because they are superfluous. After weeks of comparison shopping on motherboards, I can tell you the features and specs of my final purchase offhand, but I'd need to search for the model number simply because I don't need to know it.

Honestly that's what it comes down to in my opinion, you don't care about learning model numbers. I don't blame you, they are relatively meaningless. But you also don't want to learn about the hardware you're buying, and I assert this leaves the buyer at a disadvantage.

I know not everyone cares weather they are actually getting what they need for the best price. Many would rather not take the time, and are looking for a way to make smart purchases without bothering to understand what they buy.

It's just not possible, the compromises shift around from high price for high quality(apple) to good quality, good price and no service(oem brownbox) and everything else.

Again informed shopping isn't for everyone. When comparing laptops, the actual brand is almost the least important factor for me, above shipping costs but well below the manufacturers warranty(which is different on every unit).

The best, most popular brands sometimes ship crappy or broken products, this is a fact. How are you protected from that? Trust in a brand?

This is the same for anything really, from food to cars to USB drives.

There are advantages to a good naming system, but I don't think the MacBooks have a great one. Sure it is simple today, but their support pages end up a bit of a joke because of it, talking about late-2006 models and such. They end up abstracting away relevant distinctions.

The Thinkpad T60p is superb. I have an excellent screen that is 1600x1200 and large enough to run a 2x2 grid of SSH sessions. And the ultrabay is great for a second drive, second battery, or DVD. Very highly recommended.

My T60p's screen died (sob Im gonna miss that 1600x1200 IPS) and I recently replaced it with a new 15" MBP and find it better in almost every way except the screen (even with 1680x1050, its not same quality) and the excellent Lenovo/IBM CS where I now have to deal with the joke that is Applecare.

If you must do windows, do Sony Vaio + Windows 7 ... Might have to de-crapify depending on how you buy, but when done you'll have powerful, stylish machine that pretty much "just works".

I think the one factor is purely volume. Apple has a very small range of laptops, compared with other manufacturers. And they have a relatively large market share for the segment of the market they compete in ($1000 plus laptops). Hence, for x dollars of sales, they sell 1 model - compared with their competitors, who all have to sell many more models. So they can spend significantly more on the R&D and design for each model, and still be profitable. This shows in their systems.

They are geeks. Geeks like customization and will talk about gadget specs for hours. If one really cares about specs, then I'd argue the countless codes make it easier to shop among the hundreds of selections. You can quickly figure out what is "technologically superior", without derailing into an Mac-vs-PC sort of debate.

Most normal people just want a simple computer that works (tm). For them, a Macbooks is probably just fine. Anything else is probably equally ok too.

As a geek I'd like to be able to easily compare specs across a manufacturer's product line, and for some reason only Apple does this. Meanwhile Dell has taken to hiding the resolution of their displays, which is somewhat understandable since they're often the horrible 1366x768 at 15" or 1600x900 at 17". (Apple also gets credit for resisting the 16x9 trend for laptop screens. Note to everyone else: almost all documents are taller than they are wide).

Manufacturers generally do have very detailed spec pages for their products (e.g. http://accessories.dell.com/sna/products/Displays/productdet...)

Are you talking about side-by-side comparison pages? I'd imagine that if you only have so many products, having a page like this (http://www.apple.com/mac/whichmacbook/compare.html) is pretty much a no-brainer, but I'm not sure this would work so well when you're a manufacturer with several dozens offerings, dealing with people that care about what type of RAM they're getting, or what particular video card gives the most performance for their specific (limited) budgets.

But Apple gives you that level of customization once you select a general size and tier of computer type based on your needs and price - and they don't have to segment a single model as though they were all totally separate models to meet the needs of multiple audiences, cause it's pretty obvious the distinctions between all their models. No one model of 15" MacBook Pro but rather fifty different configurations of a 15" MBP with 2-8GB RAM, half a dozen HDD capacities, a couple of SSD options, a few more video cards....."oh the 8gb ram+SSD option is great for you, Pro User!" vs "As a casual home user, you should get this Super Basic Model!" where they're both basically the same except one's got more ram, a slightly better processor, and an SSD.

The really odd thing is that all these manufacturers like Dell let you further customize the laptop you're looking at once you actually manage to find one you want. But they don't make it easy to figure out what exactly you're getting in the very beginning, and the process to get started has never been less convoluted as far as I can remember.

I may be a geek, but that doesn't mean I have half an hour to dig through ten thousand useless configurations when all I want to start with is a very, very, very basic laptop and just customize it a bit. I very much like the way Apple makes it so braindead easy (and a lot cleaner). All I went was "I want a mid-size display", "I want a half decent spec" and ended up with a mid-2009 midrange 15" MBP with my own SSD installed. Perfect. The whole purchase took less time than looking for the right "audience" I fit into to get the best models+prices on other sites.

>> they don't make it easy to figure out what exactly you're getting in the very beginning

I've bought computers from both Dell and Apple, and I think their sites are about the same. If you go to the Dell site, right off the bat, you can choose whether it's a home or a business computer. Then you can pick based on rough specs and price, and then customize from there. Which is not to say you have to customize. You don't. Same with Apple.

The main difference was my mentality when choosing who to buy from. With Dell, I wanted to customize. With Apple I wanted to not have to care. I think generally that's the main determining factor when people choose a manufacturer.

If you go to the Dell site, right off the bat, you can choose whether it's a home or a business computer.

Not only "can", but "must", which is really obnoxious. If I pick "business", are they going to try to rip me off because they figure I'm not spending my own money? If I pick "home", are they only going to show me the cheap stuff? There's no reason (that benefits users) to segment their products like that.

>> If I pick "business", are they going to try to rip me off because they figure I'm not spending my own money? If I pick "home", are they only going to show me the cheap stuff?

That's a strawman, considering Apple computers generally cost way more than the PC equivalents, and that Apple can be quite the cheapskate in components also (e.g. when i bought mine, it had a crappy the-sort-of-thing-you'd-see-in-a-HP video card and no upgrade options). Also, if the wizard-style sites bug you, retailer sites are often more "window-shopping" oriented.

(On a off-topic side note, I just noticed you can search Dell laptops by screen size, by weight and some other parameters. That's pretty cool http://search.dell.com/results.aspx?c=ca&l=en&s=gen&...)

Incidentally, Apple was one of the first manufacturers to adopt 16:10 screens in favour of 4:3 screen.

The thing is though, even as geeks it is hard to really tell which slight CPU and GPU variations are actually better. Most of us still just have to go on online opinion and FPS/computational tests.

I spend most of my life with computers but wouldn't know how a certain clock speed i3 compares with a different speed i5 and exactly how AMD processors are stacking up to their similar intel ones.

Panasonic does it nicely with it's "Business Rugged" toughbooks (though they're in the same range as Apple's stuff in the price/perfs ratio):

* F-series for the high-rugged 14' high mobility (Qualcomm Gobi option) * T-series for the lightweight, 12", touchscreen * W-series for the more consumer oriented with DVD drive * The new C-series for the tablet convertible

Series letter comes with a digit (the generation) increased by one each time (F7, F8, F9). There, done.

The good laptops (often classified as gaming laptops) are made by ODMs (like Sager, Clevo and MSI) and resold by small boutique laptop sellers powernotebooks, xoticpc, etc are the ones with good reputation on notebookforums. Typically these sellers allow you to customize down to the thermal compound on the processors.

The VoodooPC notebooks a.k.a HP Envy is quite good too - check out the 16GB RAM capacity for future-proofing.

Lenovo is still pretty solid, though decreasing is quality pretty rapidly. I could probably name for you their 5 or 6 thinkpad brands (s,w,t,r,... well apparently I can only name 4) but I couldn't for the life of me tell you the difference between any of them.

But I don't think the branding is the primary problem.

Just out of curiosity (as it is closely related to a side project I'm working on), would you find utility in a listing of laptops across a range of manufacturers arranged in a way that would make comparisons of CPU/LCD/hard drive(s)/memory/etc painless?

13 Inch Dell XPS suck, I have one. It gets too hot. I don't like the poorly finished silver on the black. The screen is too glossy.

I hugely recommend the Lenevo X200. Awesome build quality.


Name-friendly, not just user-friendly needed.

Here here. The same for the iPhone. It's better this year because of the features, it's tiered because of storage space! That simple.

When I first got a cell phone I was pretty frustrated. There wasn't even any sort of good, better, better still. One phone had a camera, one could play music, another had some other shitty feature. What the hell? It seemed to me that a lot of those options could somehow be bundled together? I was never happy with any of the choices I made.

I think the philosophies of these companies is just to make a new model to "capture" a certain market sector they identified. So if they identified many different niches then that's what they build. Not to mention the fact that they keep old models around for years at lower and lower prices. Why discontinue it if they were able to lower the cost so much that they can maybe sell more?

Kind of stupid.

Only top-tier, status goods could be sold with a boutique system as a collections, like fashion clothes, elite cars and so on.

Apple got it years ago, almost everyone else are lagging behind.

The manufacturers of a cheap consumer goods must use appropriate strategies. Creating a mess with model numbers to puzzle a customer and promote them in terms of marketing slogans instead of actual specifications is the one of the most popular in consumer electronics.

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