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View Full Version : Tell me about using a notebook for a desktop (external display, etc.)


pscates2.0
2009-10-22, 17:09
No, this isn't for me. But for a couple I know who are *this close* to switching.

:)

They currently have a four-year-old 15" Gateway laptop (running Vista) that NEVER leaves their desk, even though they travel a good bit (I'm not sure of the reason, other than "we just can't seem to get it to do anything").

I'd originally thought they should just have an iMac, but now, out of the blue, they've been talking about a "netbook" (which I just don't get, being that a) they've got 60-year-old eyes, b) they don't maintain/update/understand the Windows-based system they currently have and c) they'd be looking at two computers/platforms to deal with, and I just know something's going to fall through the cracks.

They're casual users (surf, e-mail, occasional Office stuff...and that's it). They do have a digital camera, but because they don't know how to get them from the camera to the computer (and they don't have something nice like iPhoto to make it all fun and easy), they've got three-plus years of photos living on the camera...that's how they view/show them (they pass the camera around).

:o

So, in order to kill about nine birds with one stone (no dual platforms, no small, shoddy netbook, no multiple systems and syncing hassles, etc.), I'd like to suggest to them that they simply consider a "two-for-one" approach...getting a MacBook of some sort and, while at home, connecting it to a 19-20" third-party LCD and keyboard. When they go on a trip, unhook it and head out. One machine, one set of data, etc. BTW, their house is blanketed in Wi-Fi, but they still don't use their existing computer anywhere but the desk (and they've got a nice couch, cozy kitchen, upstairs "relax room", etc.

If they got a MacBook and the tech/OS "got out of the way", I'm certain they'd use the thing in more places, take it with them on trips and actually get more use and joy from their digital camera (a pretty nice Kodak model).

So...physically, is it a hassle to connect a display to the Mini DVI or DisplayPort connector found on MacBooks? No "clamping" or screws involved (like those old VGA connectors)? Is it "hot pluggable/unpluggable", or do they have to shut the MacBook down? When they plug the display into the MacBook, does it automatically configure/sense the external display and respond accordingly (or do they have to perform some key command or otherwise smack it around?)

And, heat/performance-wise, are there are drawbacks or downsides to such an arrangement...using the MacBook as a desktop for much (most?) of its existence? Any benefits or minuses to closed vs. open operation? Anything I should know about external keyboards and the order they're attached in regards to the display?

Or is it all fairly slick and goof-proof, and requires no real thinking or effort?

I'd like to get them going on this sooner rather than later. If I can get the notion of a "netbook" out of their heads, my above idea is quite a bit cheaper (around $1,000 for a refurb MacBook, third-party LCD and keyboard) than the "iMac + netbook + aggravation that would ensue".

:)

I'd like to get them into a refurb 2.0-2.4GHz aluminum MacBook. Nice display, keyboard, everything they need, nothing they don't, slim and light, built-in iSight, plus all the other thousands of benefits and positives that go with a Mac/OS X...

:\

Money isn't a total issue...they'll get whatever I recommend, I'm sure. But there's no sense in overdoing it, considering their usage levels and patterns (no talk about a 15" or 17" MacBook Pro, please...or barreling too far past that $1,000 ceiling).

In addition to the above, where does a guy go to find a ~$150 semi-respectable LCD in the 19-20" range? I see these at Best Buy, but if Best Buy is carrying a 20" LCD for $149, then I have to assume there are places online that do it for much, much less?

Maciej
2009-10-22, 17:20
I currently have a 15" MBP that I use as a desktop replacement, and when I'm on the go. I don't have an external keyboard, just a mouse, and a 24" monitor from Dell.

I would say Dell is the best place to go for an LCD, their online store often has coupons and you could find something for a respectable price, I have no doubts about it.

The first thing about hooking up the Dell, that you should know, is that in most likelihood you'll need a miniDP to DVI adapter, or some sort of a cabling solution - but that you can figure out once you order the display. The first time I hooked up my MBP, I used it with the lid open, and everything configured itself as if the 24" display was just another 24" of real-estate to the right of my desktop. Very easy. Only thing I needed to do was drag the display to the other side (in system preferences) because it's on the left side of my laptop and choose a better color profile (because I'm picky with that).

In terms of using the display with the lid down, I've noticed that it builds up heat a little more. I don't do this usually so I can't really speak whether this affects the laptop's performance after an extended period. Maybe someone else can attest to this a little further (if not I'll do a little experimenting, but I don't know how valid it would be WRT 15" vs. 13"). I only sometimes close the lid a little bit, just so that it's not shinning in my eyes when I go to sleep and put on a little music. When I wake up the laptop is a little bit warmer, from being awake all night.

I can't imagine my grandparents, or even my parents using a netbook though. And I always hear my mom complaining about how 13" is too small for her. But I guess, to each their own.

Luca
2009-10-22, 17:37
I'd get the cheapest refurb MacBook from the refurb store to start.

As for the monitor, there are a few options. Dell makes pretty good monitors. Where you get it from isn't that important as long as it's a trusted source. Perhaps a more difficult problem is how to get a monitor that they will be able to use comfortably. You can look for a computer LCD with a low resolution for its size, such as a 19" at 1280x1024 or 1440x900, or a 22" at 1680x1050. Avoid ones with a small size but high resolution such as 19-20" 1680x1050 monitors or 21.5" 1920x1080 displays. Those are only good if you have great eyes.

Another option is to look for a 720p LCD TV. I used a 32" at 720p for a while and while it made everything a bit too large for me, it would be perfect for someone with bad eyes. Maybe go a little smaller than 32" though. It's kind of overwhelming.

I bought my current display (a 32" 1080p LCD TV) from a website called unclevic.com. They are basically a refurb shop. If you're comfortable with that, they do have some pretty good deals. Most 720p LCD TVs have a native resolution of 1366x768 that can be used via the VGA connector. Something in the 19-26" range would probably work pretty well, and they'd get a TV to boot.

Not sure if you're interested in that, but ever since I started using a TV as my monitor I haven't wanted to go back. Right now unclevic has a Sony 19" 720p for $240 and a Vizio 19" 720p for $180. I'm sure there are several other shops selling 720p LCDs for good prices. You could even look on Craigslist for someone selling one and try to talk them down. I bet you could get a 27" 720p for under $200.

pscates2.0
2009-10-22, 17:41
I currently have a 15" MBP that I use as a desktop replacement, and when I'm on the go. I don't have an external keyboard, just a mouse, and a 24" monitor from Dell.

I would say Dell is the best place to go for an LCD, their online store often has coupons and you could find something for a respectable price, I have no doubts about it.

The first thing about hooking up the Dell, that you should know, is that in most likelihood you'll need a miniDP to DVI adapter, or some sort of a cabling solution - but that you can figure out once you order the display. The first time I hooked up my MBP, I used it with the lid open, and everything configured itself as if the 24" display was just another 24" of real-estate to the right of my desktop. Very easy. Only thing I needed to do was drag the display to the other side (in system preferences) because it's on the left side of my laptop and choose a better color profile (because I'm picky with that).

In terms of using the display with the lid down, I've noticed that it builds up heat a little more. I don't do this usually so I can't really speak whether this affects the laptop's performance after an extended period. Maybe someone else can attest to this a little further (if not I'll do a little experimenting, but I don't know how valid it would be WRT 15" vs. 13"). I only sometimes close the lid a little bit, just so that it's not shinning in my eyes when I go to sleep and put on a little music. When I wake up the laptop is a little bit warmer, from being awake all night.

I can't imagine my grandparents, or even my parents using a netbook though. And I always hear my mom complaining about how 13" is too small for her. But I guess, to each their own.

Well that's one of my big concerns. This couple is about my parent's ages (early 60's), and the wife just recently got glasses because her reading vision was going down some.

So the notion of them, in an RV and dealing with a 10-11" display just makes no sense to me. I think they were pulled in by the "cute and little" factor more than "how is this thing going to work and feel in real usage?"

:)

So I'd like to think they'd be open to my idea above, and just streamlining/simplifying the whole deal...one machine, doing double-duty. Versus an ugly alternative.

Hell, if I knew that tablet was a real thing, I'd almost drag this out another 4-5 months and then suggest a big honking iMac (perhaps a refurb 21.5" ;) ) for home use and any "real work" (Office, serious writing, etc.), and then the rumored tablet for simple "stay in touch/contact/surfing" while out and about (I'm assuming any "tablet" released by Apple will, like the iPod touch, be Wi-Fi/E-mail/Safari-enabled).

I would suggest just getting an iMac now and - if they're dead-set on going as small as a netbook, just take it to the next level and get a damn iPod touch, since the only thing they'll be doing on-the-go is e-mailing, surfing, looking up restaurants and movie theater locations/showtimes.

:)

The iPod touch, as we know, could fit that bill nicely...in a much smaller package than the netbook (or mythical Apple tablet).

I just don't know if they'd be able to see it, let alone use it.

pscates2.0
2009-10-22, 17:49
I'd get the cheapest refurb MacBook from the refurb store to start.

As for the monitor, there are a few options. Dell makes pretty good monitors. Where you get it from isn't that important as long as it's a trusted source. Perhaps a more difficult problem is how to get a monitor that they will be able to use comfortably. You can look for a computer LCD with a low resolution for its size, such as a 19" at 1280x1024 or 1440x900, or a 22" at 1680x1050. Avoid ones with a small size but high resolution such as 19-20" 1680x1050 monitors or 21.5" 1920x1080 displays. Those are only good if you have great eyes.

Another option is to look for a 720p LCD TV. I used a 32" at 720p for a while and while it made everything a bit too large for me, it would be perfect for someone with bad eyes. Maybe go a little smaller than 32" though. It's kind of overwhelming.

I bought my current display (a 32" 1080p LCD TV) from a website called unclevic.com. They are basically a refurb shop. If you're comfortable with that, they do have some pretty good deals. Most 720p LCD TVs have a native resolution of 1366x768 that can be used via the VGA connector. Something in the 19-26" range would probably work pretty well, and they'd get a TV to boot.

Not sure if you're interested in that, but ever since I started using a TV as my monitor I haven't wanted to go back. Right now unclevic has a Sony 19" 720p for $240 and a Vizio 19" 720p for $180. I'm sure there are several other shops selling 720p LCDs for good prices. You could even look on Craigslist for someone selling one and try to talk them down. I bet you could get a 27" 720p for under $200.

Interesting, good info. Thanks.

I didn't mean to imply that they're going blind or are truly struggling with "sight". They're no better or worse than any other healthy, active 60-62 year olds, I suppose. So I don't need to go to any outrageous extremes in terms of getting them a big monitor with low resolution. I was thinking about a 19" at whatever comes below the 1680x1020 on my 20" iMac...something just a skootch bigger, but not "Fisher-Price" big (they don't need half-inch tall letters or anything like that).

It was an easy choice, MacBook-wise, until Tuesday...

:D

Because now I'm looking at that new, rounded model and the long battery life and nice display...

My friend recently got her 2.0 white plastic refurb for $749, so I was originally looking in that area (leaving ~$250 for a display, keyboard and a simple carrying sleeve/case).

I'd also like to replace their old Linksys router with a refurb Time Capsule. Currently they're not backing up, and if their Gateway went down tonight, God knows what they'd lose...e-mails, bookmarks, letters, their Quicken/financial stuff, etc.

:(

This might be the toughest "switch" I've done yet, strictly from an age and "they have all the necessary components...they just don't know anything about them" standpoint. But, unlike my Mom, they're not doing any creative or money-making work, so there's a lot I wouldn't have to cover or install. Other than perhaps that Home/Student version of Office 2008, everything else they'd do would be covered by the stock OS X apps (Mail, Safari, iChat, iPhoto, etc.).

A tough one...in some ways an easy switch (apps and so forth), but, in other ways, a good bit more difficult (lifelong Windows users, a son who works at Microsoft, a camera they barely use, etc.).

:D

I'll see them this weekend, and maybe we can sit down and discuss things in detail a bit more.

I just wanted to make sure a "notebook as the sole computer, hooked to a display most of the time" was a sound, workable idea (on a technical and practicality front). Beats the alternatives all to hell...

Luca
2009-10-22, 17:57
I didn't mean to imply that they're going blind or are truly struggling with "sight". They're no better or worse than any other 60-62 year olds, I suppose. So I don't need to go to any outrageous extremes in terms of getting them a big monitor with low resolution. I was thinking about a 19" at whatever comes below the 1680x1020 on my 20" iMac...something just a skootch bigger, but not "Fisher-Price" big (they don't need half-inch tall letters or anything at all.

Seemingly all of my coworkers have their 19" LCD monitors (native resolution 1280x1024) set to 1024x768 or lower. Looks like shit. Most of them are women between 40 and 65. That's what I'm basing it on. If it was really bad, a slightly larger pixel pitch won't help and they'd have to lower the resolution anyway.

I think a 19" at 1440x900 would be perfect. You can get they very cheap. $119 from NewEgg. (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16824009151) Or one of these (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16824005132) (22" LG at 1680x1050, $149, free shipping).

Given their very limited needs, I'm not sure it's worth it to buy a brand new MacBook. The old ones are still way more capable than they'd ever need, it seems. I guess it depends on the pricing and availability of the refurbs.

pscates2.0
2009-10-22, 18:12
Yeah, that's really what I'm leaning toward...$749-849 white plastic MacBook and a 18-19" display at that 1440x900 setting. I think that would be a usable and comfortable choice (those older 17" iMacs and current 15" MacBook Pros make fine use of that resolution). It's physically bigger than what they have (a 4:3 15"). I'm not sure what resolution they're using. I need to look, or ask, sometime.

They'd think I was The Man if I got them into a new rig for $1,000 or less, and they'd feel good about taking it on the road and getting online easily (their current notebook is quite heavy and thick, so that might be one of the reasons they don't like to lug it around).

Bless their hearts...they're so pulled and conflicted! Their son works at Microsoft (yeah, in Redmond), and their ex son-in-law is the biggest Apple hound in six counties (but they see me way more, these days, than their son, so I think The Force is stronger with me these days).

:D

But I do know they need to simplify their set-up and computer-using existence (and take advantage of the camera and other things they have). The downstairs rig was their son's doing, but he's 3,000 miles away and I'm a bit closer. A lot closer. If they were on a Mac, I could actually be of use. And between the cute grandkids they have and the traveling they do (they just went to the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC last weekend and didn't take their camera because they must've felt "why bother?" :o ), they'd be so happy with something like iPhoto...I don't doubt that for a second.

I think I should just sit down in Pages and whip up some simple, easy-to-digest bulleted "proposal" (with a few pics, maybe a table or chart, etc.), outlining my idea and the benefits (as well as the "ugh...are you sure?" aspects of a Mac desktop and ??? netbook...one of which will get neglected and underused, trust me). They kinda work in that setting, so a "report" type of thing might catch their eye and hold their attention...

Plus, I've always wanted to have a reason to launch Pages and Numbers.

:lol:

Better to make a full-blown switch, 100%, I think. Otherwise you'll hang on to those familiar "crutches" and training wheels and never fully embrace the Mac. My Mom originally wanted to keep her PC (her shitty, problem-causing PC) around for those very reasons and I was strongly against it.

Luca
2009-10-22, 18:17
(as well as the "ugh...are you sure?" aspects of a Mac desktop and ??? netbook...one of which will get neglected and underused, trust me).

Put emphasis on this, seriously. I've had multiple computers at certain points. It never went well. Keeping everything up to date was a major headache. And this is from a computer-savvy guy.

pscates2.0
2009-10-22, 18:28
Exactly. Me too. I had a tangerine iMac and used (tangerine) iBook back around mid-late 2000. For a very short period (like four or so months). Was just more trouble than it was worth, and I wasn't using either to its fullest. And I actually knew how to copy/place items I wanted synced, and so forth. And it was still an no-fun pain-in-the-butt. I've not done it sense (and with my iPhone, there's not as much desire since my e-mail and surfing are now in the palm of my hand, everywhere I go, 24/7).

There's no way I'd suggest such a thing to casual, non-savvy users, unless both of them were on different schedules and traveled (alone) frequently, where one would be home with the iMac and the other on the road with a MacBook. But that doesn't describe this couple.

My Mom got a refurb MacBook about 5-6 weeks ago and already hates having it and her Mac mini. She's already gone through the hassle of keeping the iPhoto and music libraries together, and, since she's on Comcast e-mail, it's not synced. So she's always "cleaning house" and doing "double-duty" organizing on her e-mail. And bookmarks and contacts? Forget it...

:\

She mentioned, just last week before her trip to Wisconsin, "I think I'm going to sell the Mac mini and just keep this MacBook...I like it better" (and is it much more machine than her mini, in every way, so I don't blame her...I would too).

I was happy to hear her bring that up, on her own. Means she's already seeing the downsides, with her own eyes.