Never thought I'd be saying this but ... after dropping my top-of-the-line $3000+ MacBook pro off my standup desk, I'm considering a move back to a windows machine. Especially with Lion, OS X isn't exactly a trouble free OS.
I'm considering getting an HP Envy 14. Anyone have experience with this laptop? Hard to believe it's less than a thousand bucks. I know it's smaller than my 17" MBP, but at a third of the price I can afford to upgrade to a new laptop every year!
My original reason to switch to a Mac a few years back was to be able to do web development for both Mac and Windows browsers on the same machine. But in my experience, even my MBP with 8 GB of RAM ran Windows slowly on VM Fusion. And my web app is really no longer working great in IE because it's too much trouble for me to test it using a Mac that runs slow Windows. This is not a good thing when most users are still on Windows machines.
HP and especially the Compaq Laptops are not reliable machines, in my experience. I've not experienced the Envy-14 itself, but would expect the production quality to be about the same.
I've had more HP DV7 motherboards on my bench in the past year needing a GPU replacement than any other laptop issue -- including liquid spill damage. The only thing that makes these boards worth repairing is the abundance of reclaimed chips and parts available from Chinese distributors.
For that price range, you might be able to get an equivalently equipped Dell; or if you want a step up for reliability and repairability, I highly recommend Sager notebooks, as they''re based on Clevo hardware.
In general, any laptop that supports 2nd-Gen Intel i3/i5/i7 (SandyBridge CPUs) should have a nice, long useful life, as those CPU chips run much cooler than their older counterparts -- which means less internal heat to kill hardware or make plastic case parts brittle.
For Mac development, I'd suggest a modestly beefy Mac Mini, and (if you want to use your notebook as console) use remote desktop software.
Thanks, Laurence and Brian, for the the feedback. After I wrote that post, I watched a disappointing video review of the HP Envy 14 on YouTube which described some build quality issues. I don't want to risk it.
Laurence, those Sager laptops have pretty sweet specs, except for their weight. Do you own one? I wonder how the keyboard feels for all day coding sessions.
I've had a boring Dell before. It worked fine but yes it got slow. Dell's ordering page takes so long to go through I get tired just looking at it. :)
I might try out a MacBook Air after all.
I've got the (unbranded) equivalent of a Sager NP8130, fully loaded, as my primary development rig. The weight isn't too bad, but I'm biased -- my previous rig was a 17" Clevo D900T, which was twice the weight. FWIW, the old rig was purchased in 2005, still runs well, and is still the rig I'll take into the field and on road trips.
The keyboard is fine, though like most keyboards these days, your fingers will eventually "polish" the matte finish into a smooth finish on the most-used keys. It doesn't bother me much, as the wear personalizes the rig to me, and (IMHO) a worn, beat-up, unknown-brand notebook is less attractive to theft than a shiny new MacBook. :-)
The piano-black case with matte finish will probably also get "polished" by your wrists over time -- and if that's a concern, you might want to lay a vinyl-sticker sheet over the wristpad area and cut to form with an X-acto knife. (I recommend this for any plastic or painted laptop, where long-term cosmetic appeal may be a concern.)
The track-pad is also done in the matte finish, and is definitely prone to getting polished smooth. As the rig is my daily-driver, and this area is functionally critical, I cover the track-pad with a 2"-wide strip of blue painter's tape, and let the tape take the majority of wear n' tear. It looks like ass, but it works, and lends itself to the "beat-up" urban camouflage. :-)
If all the plastic protection is a bother, have a look at the "rubberized finsh" model, Sager NP8150. I opted against the rubberized stuff, as my rigs get beat up through my daily abuse. :-)
The MacBook Airs are nice rigs, and are certainly worth considering. The only thing that keeps me away from Apple hardware is the high-priced monopoly on repair options.