Meet Intrepid: The New Notebook


Back in March I built Excelsior, my first home-built PC. It has been serving me wonderfully and I have no serious complaints. It did run a little hot since I’m always pegging the processor at 100 percent with my Boinc projects, so I added an aftermarket cooler and an extra couple of fans after the initial build (which has reduced processor temps by over 10°C), but otherwise it’s been performing pretty much flawlessly.

Meanwhile, I continued using Katia 2 (my five-year old MacBook Pro) and Selina (my Google Cr-48 coffee-table machine) for my mobile purposes, but each of these machines had serious shortcomings. The MacBook Pro always seemed to run too hot—especially when booted into Windows—and had an increasingly anemic battery life with its age. The Cr-48 had an excellent battery life, but was little more than a web browser and didn’t allow me to do web development, remote access to my home or work machines, and so on.

In other words, it was time for a mobile upgrade. Since I moved back to a desktop as my ‘primary’ machine, I didn’t need a speed-demon as my notebook, but I did need something than ran cool, had a decent battery life, and ran a real operating system. In the end I settled for a refurbished Asus UL80J with Windows 7 Home Premium, which I was able to get from for only $559.97 (including the additional 1-year warranty, since Asus refurbs only come with a 90-day warranty).

Somewhat surprisingly, the MacBook Pro (15″, Core 2 Duo 2.16ghz) was still worth about $500 despite being a half-decade old. We sold it to a friend of ours at a discounted $400, but even then my real out-of-pocket cost for the new machine was only about $160. Not bad, if you ask me, and I still have the Cr-48 to play around with (or sell, or give away, or whatever . . . I haven’t decided on its disposition yet).

Anyway, I christened the new machine ‘Intrepid,’ in keeping with my new Star Trek starship theme. There have been at least three ships in the Trek universe with the name Intrepid, but mine specifically refers to NCC-74600—the prototype of the Intrepid Class. Intrepid was designed to be small, fast, modern, innovative, and nimble in comparison to its contemporaries. USS Voyager (NCC-74656) was the second Intrepid Class starship, and the focal point of the Star Trek: Voyager television series, so if you want to know what Intrepid looked like, look at Voyager.

Here are the specs of Intrepid (the computer, not the starship):

  • Processor: Intel Core i3 330UM (dual-core), 1.2ghz.
  • RAM: 4gb DDR3.
  • Hard Drive: 500gb (5400 RPM).
  • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce G 310M, 1gb VRAM.
  • Display: 14″ LED-backlit LCD, 1366×768.
  • Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium.

All-in-all it’s a nice little notebook. I haven’t had much time to really test out the battery, but it seems to be giving me at least 5-hours. It runs nice and cool compared to the MacBook Pro, although it does pump some heat out of the left-side vent—which is better than radiating the heat into my legs through the metal base as the MacBook Pro did. Running it on my lap for several hours was perfectly comfortable, which is a lot more than I can say for its predecessor.

I’m a real fan of Asus now, by the way. I had good experiences with my two Asus EeePC netbooks (which have both been sold-off to new homes via eBay), and the Asus motherboard in Excelsior has been flawless (and was very easy to configure). I was not very surprised that my OEM Asus motherboard in Excelsior had a mechanism for setting a custom boot image, but I was pleasantly surprised that my Asus notebook came with the same feature. I doubt Dell, HP, Lenovo, or anybody else would allow you to substitute your own logo or graphic for the manufacturer’s logo in the machine’s startup sequence. Kudos to Asus for letting me control my own machine. It’s little touches like this (and the relative lack of crapware to uninstall) that are quickly endearing Asus as the go-to company for nerds and novices alike.

Lastly, it is worth noting that I have now retired the last of my Apple hardware. The sale of Katia 2 ends a decade-long period of loyalty to Apple and to Mac OS X, running through three primary machines: Nadia (Power Mac G4 733mhz), Katia (PowerBook G4 1.66ghz), and Katia 2 (MacBook Pro 2.16ghz) and a number of secondary machines including Power Macs, iMacs, PowerBooks, and iBooks. I stuck with Mac OS X as my primary operating system from version 10.0.4 (which came preinstalled on Nadia) up ’til ‘Snow Leopard’ 10.6.8 (to-which I upgraded my MacBook Pro).

Mac OS X is still a great operating system, but it is no longer better enough to justify its increasingly-absurd price premium. For a spec-equivalent Mac to Intrepid, which cost me about $560, I would need to pay at least $999 and possibly more. This was acceptable when Windows crashed every hour-and-a-half, but in the age of Windows 7 it just doesn’t make sense any more. Macs were worth more for a solid decade because their operating system was light-years ahead of the competition. It just isn’t that far ahead anymore. In fact, as Apple focuses more and more attention on its needlessly-limited iOS at the expense of Mac OS, the gap between Windows and Mac OS is growing more and more narrow. Apple has essentially abdicated the ‘power user’ market. I’m certainly not becoming a Mac-hater, but for my needs Macs just don’t make sense any more. They are no longer worth the price premium except at the very low-end of the market—for the computer novices. This is unfortunate, since what made Mac OS X so great for the last decade was that it was the perfect hybrid of usability and power. It appealed to nerds like me and total newbies all at the same time. Apparently there is more money in catering solely to the newbies.

Mac OS X in Windows 7

The last thing keeping a Mac on my desk was the fact that, as a web developer, I need to be able to test my site on all of the major platforms, including Mac OS X and iOS. Well, sorry Apple, but the ‘Hackintosh’ enthusiast community has managed to get your system running on non-Macs. As you can see in this screenshot, Mac OS X can now be run inside a VMWare virtual machine within Windows (or Linux). Apple will claim this is illegal; it isn’t. I bought the software, and it is mine to install wherever I wish. You can decide you won’t support it in this environment, but you can’t tell me I can’t put it there. It’s called the ‘first sale’ doctrine. You have a right to the money from the first sale of your copyrighted product, and from there that copy of the product belongs to the purchaser who may do with it pretty much whatever he wishes. The author of a book may not dictate the positions in which the reader reads that book. The performer of an album may not dictate the size of the room in which the listener plays it. Once you’ve sold the copyrighted material, it is out of your hands, so long as the purchaser doesn’t make new copies (except for personal use).

In case any Apple lawyers are reading, I’d be perfectly happy to fight this in court. And if I lose, oh well. What damages have I caused to you in running a copy of Mac OS X in a virtual machine? What reparations are you entitled to? I figure, at most, you would be ‘damaged’ by the $29.99 cost of one license of Mac OS X 10.6 ‘Snow Leopard.’ You might be able to stretch that into the price of a Mac purchase; that’s $599.00 for the base Mac Mini. Okay. I’ll write you a check. No problem. Try me. I guarantee the PR cost of your suing me will far outweigh the value of the damages, even if I lose . . . and that’s assuming I lose, which I probably won’t anyway.

But I digress.

My computer refresh is now complete. Excelsior and Intrepid, both running on variants of Intel’s newest chip platform and Microsoft’s best-ever operating system, should carry me for the next several years. I am, so far, pleased with their performance. As is always the case in platform switches there have been little hiccups here and there, but all-in-all it’s business as usual here at Scott Bradford Creative Enterprises, even though I am now officially a ‘Windows guy’ again. It’s a good thing I spent so much time and effort over the last five or six years making sure all of my data was kept in platform-agnostic, open, convertible formats ;-).

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.