The Stochastic Game

Ramblings of General Geekery

This is why people buy Macs

A few months ago I set out to get a new laptop for my wife. She only
had one requirement, after having shared a Macbook Pro with me for the past
couple years: that it ran Windows (queue OS flamewar).

I quickly decided I wanted to give her something slick and light, and look at
the new line of ultrabooks. I then narrowed the choices down to the Samsung
Series 9 and the ASUS Zenbook by reading reviews online… but that was just
the easy part.

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Much has been said already about the shopping and out-of-the-box experience of
PCs, compared to that of Macs, but I think we should keep beating that dead
horse until it’s underground. So keep reading for much deceased equidae action.

Getting your hands on the stuff

The first step is to actually get your hands on the models you’re looking for.
But if it’s easy with a Mac – just walk into any Apple store or Best Buy or
whatever – it’s not that easy with a PC.

Different stores carry different models, have different deals with
manufacturers, and have different supply chains. Even given one store franchise,
the availability of models will vary from store to store, and that’s not
counting which ones are actually available on display: for some reason, a lot of
stores wouldn’t let you touch expensive laptops like the 2 ones I wanted to try.
Paradoxically, the Apple mini-store located in the next aisle would always
happily provide multiple copies of each of their devices for people to play with.

In my case, London Drugs (here in Vancouver, Canada) was one of the only stores
to carry the 2 models I was looking for – the whole point being to compare them
side by side. But it still took me several visits to several stores all around
town to find one with both units actually on display.

During my search, I got some interesting tidbits of information from sales
people:

  • High-end laptops are already well taken care of by Apple, so shelf space is
    reserved for feature, mainstream, or budget oriented models from PC brands.
    Windows power-users therefore get forgotten in the process.

  • Some stores have issues securing those new ultrabooks, so they end up not
    having them on display at all. Unlike Apple, which provides appropriate locks
    for the Macbook Air, other manufacturers leave it up to the stores, who often
    use generic, bulky locks. But those locks often don’t work with ultra-thin
    cases… and when they do, they’re almost as heavy as the laptop itself, which
    completely ruins the experience of trying it out.

I eventually managed to test the models I was considering, and quickly decided
the ASUS Zenbook would work better. Good news: the Zenbook Prime was just about
to be released, with a much nicer body design and a supposedly better
trackpad… so after a couple weeks waiting for that one to show up in store, I
came back home one day with my precious gift.

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Stickers

The Zenbook is a beautiful machine, but like many PCs it comes with a bunch of
ugly stickers. This is always totally baffling to me: what’s the point?
Are people going to look at your laptop at Starbucks and go “I see your
laptop has an Intel CPU inside! Mine too, this is so awesome! Much better than
AMD, don’t you think?
”.

No, all they do is waste 5 minutes of your time as you remove them and then
clean up the sticky bits that they leave behind.

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The silver lining in this case was that all 3 stickers that come on the Zenbook
are mostly in grey-ish tones similar to the laptop’s body – no flashy ugly
colors here. So it’s not completely horrible. Just annoying.

Bloatware

Another expected downside of buying a PC: all the bloatware that comes
pre-loaded with it. Everything, from the moderately useful to the totally
useless, can be found on the Zenbook once you boot it up. I counted around 20
“utilities” installed.

Of course, I opted for the usual practice of wiping everything and installing a
fresh Windows on it. I had to fight the BIOS for a long time, trying to get the
default GUID Partition Table to work with my bootable USB key. But the
UEFI boot mode wouldn’t work for some reason, so eventually I gave up,
re-allocating the whole hard drive as a more classic Master Boot Record
partition. It’s kinda sad, this being 2012 and all, but as I understand it, I’m
not losing much when it comes to a single 128Gb partition.

Of course, once Windows is installed, the fun has only begun: you still have to
go to ASUS’ website to get the drivers for all kinds of components, along with
downloading a whole bunch of updates from Microsoft.

Conclusion

The Zenbook Prime, once you’ve been through all those hoops, is a wonderful little
machine. It looks gorgeous, is very portable, and the performance is pretty
good. The accessories are also nice, especially the leather-ish case for both
the laptop and some of the cables. The power cable is the only poorly designed
component in the whole package in my opinion, but overall, I recommend this laptop highly.

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But going through all these steps was pretty tedious. In comparison, the
shopping and out-of-the-box experience of a Mac goes along these lines:

  • Go into any computer store.
  • Try any Macbook.
  • Give lots of money.
  • Boot it up.

I guess Microsoft Stores and Samsung Stores and the like are trying to address
the issue, but it’s a long way away.