The "UltraBooks" trend has been been made popular by Apple's efforts at making the computer an appliance. There are clear benefits to this, but for enthusiasts, it means less control to upgrade to hardware of their choosing. Let's contrast this experience with my own Dell Vostro 3500. It was purchased two years ago and yet through upgrades, it has many features the recently refreshed MacBook Pro with Retina display lacks, while offering the same processing power.
MacBook Pro Advantages
Let's be clear, the MacBook Pro (MBP) has a number advantages over my Dell. The Retina display of course trounces my 1376 x 768 resolution on a 15" display. For designers, photographers, and video editors, Retina is a great asset. For someone who spends their day inside VIM and SSH, not so much. Similarly, the MBP's seven hour battery life is impressive, although I'm sure with my processor intensive work load, it would be lower. But for me, I'm not terribly mobile. I need to be mobile from room to room perhaps, but I don't find myself without power and needing to complete mission critical work less frequently than my replaceable 90 watt-hour battery can provide over 3 to 4 hours. Similarly, weight is not my number one concern; I simply stash the laptop in my backpack and go.
With my Dell, I purchased the baseline Vostro 3500 for $1,000 which included next business day service and accidental damage protection for three years. This means for parts which I cannot easily replace myself, like the display and motherboard, I'm covered. Over the years, I've upgraded the:
- processor to an i5-580M, with Turbo Boost up 3.3GHz. Great for single threaded Ruby ($225).
- wireless card to an Intel Wifi Link 5300 for better signal strength and 802.11n support ($42).
- 65whr battery at it's end of life with a 90whr battery ($160 ouch!).
- original HDD with a 160GB Intel 320 series SSD ($220).
- optical drive with a 2.5" drive caddy ($52) and a 500GB Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid drive ($150).
- RAM to 8GB ($99).
For $950 of upgrades over two years, I've got a machine with specs that are powerful in the places I care about, at a price I can afford and pay for incrementally. To get the same processor and warranty on the MacBook Pro, I need to shell out $3,150 and give up my eSATA, HDMI, VGA, PCI-Express, Gigabit Ethernet ports and 500GB of storage (upgradable to 1TB for $100). In short, I'm expected to pay a premium price for features which aren't of my choosing, while giving up ports.
While this might not be possible for all people, developers should look long and hard at what it is they value in their workstation and not blindly accept whatever Apple hypes. You might find you don't care quite as much about the "features" Apple wants you to.