The Day My Mac Died

I'd been having trouble with my nearly three-year-old MacBook Pro since the holidays. Last week, the problem elevated from occasional to frequent as my writing days were suddenly overrun with forced restarts called "kernel panics."

A visit to my local Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) Store confirmed my fears: I'd need to leave the machine for repair, with the likely fix either a new hard drive, new logic board, or both. A two-year-old Chromebook, given to me at Google's (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) early 2011 developer conference, would become my primary tool for getting work done.

Two reasonably productive days later, I think it's fair to say the Chromebook is a useful machine but a lousy Mac substitute.

3 reasons the Mac still rules
This isn't the new Pixel we're talking about. Rather, I use an original Samsung 500 series Chromebook with just 2GB of memory and 16GB of storage. A lightweight machine in every sense of the phrase, you might say. Comparing it with my full-fledged MacBook Pro was always going to be unfair.

Thing is, I didn't start the comparisons: Google did when it introduced the Pixel and priced it as if it were a Mac substitute. Unfortunately, its dual-core 1.8 GHz processor clocks in much slower than newer Macs. Even my old Pro and its single-core 2.66 GHz processor hold up well thanks to 8GB of RAM, important when you're working with lots of open tabs connected to cloud-hosted software.

Now imagine how the Series 500 might perform under the same conditions, and you'll get a sense of what my days were like. Every task took longer. Writing. Research. Just the act of switching between tabs forced the built-in Chrome OS to reload pages made idle in order to save on spare memory.

I'd need a USB adapter before plugging into the wired Ethernet network, only to find it faster to stick with Wi-Fi. And finally, try as I might, I'd fail at connecting my Chromebook to an external monitor. Samsung built a custom VGA adapter port into the Series 500 that a service rep I spoke with said was obtainable only via mail order.

So what's the good news, sparky?
For all the 500's drawbacks, it's important to note that I still got a lot of work done. Support for USB peripherals such as my external mouse and keyboard made writing easier, while the Chromebook's built-in Wi-Fi radio consumed bandwidth almost as fast as I needed.

As an investor, I draw three lessons from all this:

  1. The Chromebook is a decent alternative but not a substitute. Bring me a machine that's so loaded with memory and CPU power that there's never a need to idle a page. Performance matters on the Web, and constant loading and reloading make the Chromebook less a workhorse and more a luxury machine. Alter the equation, Google, and profits will follow.
  2. Google Drive and Dropbox are disrupting storage. Computer makers are displacing high-capacity magnetic hard drives in favor of power-friendly flash drives. That's good news for the likes of SanDisk (NASDAQ: SNDK  ) and Toshiba. But that's not the end of the story. I'd have been lost if all I had done was back up my Mac to Time Machine, since the Chromebook doesn't use the Mac OS. Fortunately, I store most of my work in the cloud using a combination of Google Drive and Dropbox. Microsoft has a similar service called SkyDrive for those who prefer to work online but within the Office suite of products. 
  3. Chips and memory will be the next big breakthrough areas. Flash won't be the only benefactor. Cloud services that execute scripts -- i.e., tiny snippets of code -- directly in a browser have a way of taxing even the most advanced processors. Expect Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) to push the boundaries of efficiency in its newest designs as ARM Holdings (NASDAQ: ARMH  ) brings its own finely crafted chips to newer laptops.

There will be a day when the Chromebook is every bit as good as the laptops it hopes to displace. But we're not there yet, and it probably won't be for a few years.  Do you agree? Disagree? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.

For further analysis of Apple, I invite you try our newest premium research service. The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, Eric Bleeker, will tell you whether Apple is a buy now and what opportunities remain for the company (and your portfolio) going forward. Just click here now to get instant access to his latest analysis.


Read/Post Comments (28) | Recommend This Article (13)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 1:18 PM, TimDoesKnow wrote:

    At the end of the day, you can purchase 3 of anything else for the price of your MAC. They are over priced and no better than most entry level notebooks these days.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 1:38 PM, Secs27 wrote:

    Why anyone would want to buy or use a chromebook. It cannot run the majority of the powerful software and Google controls everything about it. One must be online going through googles servers to do work. And my sensitive documents have to be stored on their cloud, no thanks.

    We just upgraded to windows 8. This os is fast, fluid and rock steady reliable. With the Dell One 27 touchscreens, there is anwealth of information at ones fingertips. Windows 8 and touchscreens has brought computing to the next level.

    We also bought Surface Pros. The surface is a beautiful device made from high end materials like the iPad. The pro is very fast, fluid and very powerful. It works flawlessly and is unbelievably intuitive. It learns from your behavior and nearly finishes your thoughts when composing letters, etc by suggesting the next word.

    Since I acquired the Surface, I have not picked up my iPad. I used to travel with a laptop and an iPad. Thanks to the beauty, power and portability of the Surface, it is all I need tomtake with me. In fact, unless I need a larger screen, the Pro has become my primary computing device. I no longer need a tablet and laptop.

    With so many powerful and diverse computers available from Microsoft and apple, why would any Intelligent being waste time with Google.

    Page and Brin really stole their idea for search from Mr. Li. They bought android and 97%of their revenues comes from good old fashioned advertising. What have they pioneered?

    I'll stick with the incredible Surface Pro and Windows 8. The surface is so good, I can't put it down.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 1:46 PM, applefan1 wrote:

    Yeah for low level computing, anything will do if that's what you want. But a lot of people do a little more than searching the internet and using basic word processing functionality. Certain types of professionals like content creation/production graphics, video production, audio production, etc. can't use a Chromebook, those would be too pathetically underpowered, with no REAL apps and third party hardware to choose from.

    I wouldn't even THINK about using a Chromebook to handle video editing.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 2:09 PM, crashq2 wrote:

    I guess that today is the day that you emphasize the "fool" part of Motley Fool. This is nothing but a Mac feel good piece. Don't get me wrong, Apple makes nice computers, but this is comparing apples to wingnuts. Chromebooks start at $249, while it will cost more than that to repair your Mac. They are not intended to do video editing or run 6 applications simultaneously while watching YouTube.They are (currently) a low cost alternative ENTRY level notebook. If they catch on, you will probably see higher end Chromebooks in the future, but not yet.

    Work a little harder when coming up with a topic next time.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 2:23 PM, Justtag wrote:

    "My Maserati is in the shop so I'm driving a Ford Focus. It's not fair to compare them, but I will in detail. Mind you I still got to the mall, but..."

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 3:52 PM, forshea8575 wrote:

    Oh my goodness! You MAC users all don the same emperor's clothes. MAC seems to be all there for those that want to buy a name. If you want a name and are easily aroused by a closed system of maintenance, software and hardware, so be it; that is your choice.

    I prefer to build to suit, repair, and upgrade at a day's notice with access to open-end software and hardware. Who needs a Maserati when I can drive my tank to the mall. I don't need no stinkin loaners!

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 4:38 PM, KaaJamm wrote:

    Ok so what was the end of the story with your MacBook Pro?

    About the closest comparison to the chromebook would be an old iBook. My Tangerine iBook from 1999 had a missive 6 Gig hard drive. lol

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 4:39 PM, KaaJamm wrote:

    * massive.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 6:08 PM, EasyEEE wrote:

    Well, eventually everything will be stored in the cloud and storing stuff on the device will be passé since you can work from the cloud anywhere and on most any devices. There is a new site that was launch for Beta recently at www.enmingle.com that promises a lot. It seems they have "unlimited" storage, Social Messaging Media, and the ability to form private groups. Seems like a good idea and so far, although new, it is operating and will eventually be better after Beta. Check it out and feedback here at the Fool.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 6:17 PM, drjsped wrote:

    Kind of had a similar experience. My macbook Pro is my workhorse computer, but after having a macair stolen last year, and going through the 7 stages of grief, I vowed never to have an expensive computer for travel again. Enter the 249 dollar Chromebook. Is it a serviceable product that will do the minimal functions while I travel? Yes. However, it does have its shortfalls. I have not encountered any of the difficulties cited in the article, but was a bit surprised that I had to print through Google Drive or save to a USB drive. In other words, you can not hook up and use a USB printer directly. I am sure that as time goes by, I will find other inconveniences, but this I can live with as a tradeoff for carrying my treasured Macbook Pro with me when I travel, and living in fear every time I go through an airport screener or breathing a sigh of relief every time I go back to my car and find all my windows in tact. I am also liking the seamless google syncing and updating so much that I scrapped my ipad and iphone for Nexus 4 & 7. Both products quite functional, and much cheaper than their Apple counterparts.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 6:38 PM, ww1330 wrote:

    FWIW, I am an avid Apple product user, but not because I like the cool little apple logo, and not because it's "trendy," and certainly not because I like to overpay for my technology. I am an avid Apple product user because the products all work together seamlessly and effortlessly, while maintaining fast, efficient, and reliable service for many years. For me, that is worth the extra cost.

    I own a 2007 MacBook, and the hard drive went awry last year. Thankfully, I back up my data hourly, and upon my trip to the Apple store, I was informed that the hard drive would have to be replaced. Although my MacBook was out of its warranty period, I was informed that there was a "bad batch" of hard drives in my particular model, and that Apple would replace the drive at no charge. So this presumed "bad" hard drive had only lasted 5 years, and it was replaced at no charge. I was at the Apple store for about 20 minutes while the technician swapped out the old drive for a new one. Upon my return home, I simply loaded my saved data back onto my new hard drive, and 45 minutes later, I was back up and running exactly where I had left off. Sorry folks, but I have to say I've never - NEVER - heard a success story like that from any other computer brand owner.

    There is no substitute for quality.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 8:40 PM, nine7one wrote:

    forshea8575, For the life of me I do not understand why so many non-Mac users make comments similar to yours. For the record; I primarily use Mac stuff but I also frequently use my Toshiba notebook, and I'm a Droid based phone user because I'm not a real big fan of iphones.

    That said, do you really not understand that the vast majority of computer users have absolutely no interest whatsoever in building their own computer systems. The just want something they can turn on and use that rarely crashes or freezes and requires the least amount of fiddling with programs and apps in order to keep them running.

    And yes, I admit I am more than willing to pay the extra money to Apple because for nearly twenty years I have found their hardware and OS to perform this function admirably. As another poster noted, I too had an ibook repaired by Apple even though the warrantee expired about a month earlier.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 10:29 PM, Linuxfan34 wrote:

    The only complaint that I have about apple is the price. The only reason I run with windows is because of the applications that I need to use. Other than that I rely on Linux, Microsoft has to many people that want to exploit it

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2013, at 11:43 PM, DrJS wrote:

    @Secs27:

    Nice review of the MS Surface Pro. I'm curious how you got yours, since I was told it could be ordered, but will not be out until next month.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 1:26 AM, gcp3rd wrote:

    They just work better - and last longer. I'm typing this on a G5 tower from 2004 that works great. And it just got dropped by movers so hard the aluminum frame is permanently bent...but it still works great. We are replacing an old Dell laptop with a Macbook Pro that we will have for probably 10 years because it will last that long and be relevant that long. No Windows OS computer I have ever had, including my own custom built win98 machine, lasts that long.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 11:21 AM, hatefulhappy wrote:

    You people are pathetic. You had to have someone swap your hard drive out for you? Wow. Apple makes such great products. PSSSH. If you have to take your machine somewhere to get rudimentary work such as that done, ntm by someone else, what business do you have talking about computers, at all? How is that convienient. I am looking at my hard drive right now.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 11:24 AM, hatefulhappy wrote:

    @gcp, my pc is that old and I am on it right now. core 2 duo and vista. All maintenence and parts swapped in and out by me and myself. I dont need some sniveling self proclaimed "genius" to do work on my computer a 12 year old could do. Still running strong. Mac heads are all the same. they think they are some master race becasue they have macs. Youre computer is no better than any other computer out there, it runs on the same components for gods sake. Intel.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 11:27 AM, hatefulhappy wrote:

    @nine7one, apple uses intel components. Hardly "their" so you feel better about paying 600 dollars for that operating system still?

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 11:41 AM, yazyazoo wrote:

    I have a cheap acer laptop from 2005 that is still running strong. Never had a problem with it.

    What is so funny is that this article says his 3 year old Apple laptop may need the motherboard AND hard drive replaced! 3 Years ONLY and needing these types of repair.

    Then you get the poster who says his MAC lasts forever and will never buy a PC cause they don't last that long.

    From the examples above it doesn't matter how much you pay. Your PC can break whether an Apple or cheap PC brand. It makes me laugh when I read these kind of posts where Apple is so much more reliable. The author was having Kernel Panic which is kind of like Windows BSOD.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 12:02 PM, Intuos wrote:

    "Store confirmed my fears: I'd need to leave the machine for repair, with the likely fix either a new hard drive, new logic board, or both."

    So what was wrong with it? The fact that you had to take it to an Apple store makes me question if you're qualified to write an article. The most common cause of kernel panics is bad RAM. That was the case with a Mac Pro here, but then that has nothing to do with Apple since Apple does not make the RAM, its a 3rd party not run by Apple. All you need to do to fix this is read the kernel panic to determine which RAM card it is, then pop in a new RAM card - about 15-20 minutes work, including the time required to power down the Mac Pro and restart.

    Now assuming it was your HD, well those are not made by Apple, they are the same units commonly used in Windows PCs. Why on earth would would not have a backup hard drive on hand that you could pop into the machine in a few minutes? Don't understand how? Well then, there are plenty of instructional videos - check out Other World Computing for some. I recently upgraded my RAM in my MacBook Pro beyond the Apple specifications using OWC guidelines.

    In over decade of using Macintosh computers, not including the use of pre Mac Apple computers, I've never had a bad logic board. One bad optical drive and two bad hard drives, which were all covered under warranty and have nothing to do with Apple as they were made by a 3rd party.

    It never ceases to amaze me when people say Apple is overpriced. I have two G4 Macs from 1999 and 2001 here for running older software and peripherals that can't be replaced and they still run fine. The hard drives have even been updated from the old PATA to larger SATA units as well as one graphics card. The dual processor 2001 unit runs Windows XP, Mac X, and Mac Classic at the same time - strange how a modern PC can't do that yet. Shutdown your machine every so often, take it outside, and blow the inside out with compressed air - dust is the number one enemy of electronics.

    It also amazes me that all these Apple haters who use Windows don't realize that every copy of Windows sold since the late 1990s had used Apple technology in it. Back in day around the time the iMac was to come out Apple was nearly bankrupt and the success of the iMac was not certain. To keep the company running they accepted nearly a billion dollar "investment" from Microsoft in exchange for licensing a number of Apple technologies into Windows, such as drag and drop technology. This was done to make Windows more like Apple's OS. If you really hate Apple that much then you should stop using your Windows machine that uses Apple technology - that would stop you from being a hypocrite at least.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 12:16 PM, xmirage2kx wrote:

    Comparing a $3000 mac to a $300 chrome book is kinda like comparing an iPhone to a tin can on a string.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 1:28 PM, southdakota1962 wrote:

    So.......he ate.....too many Big Mac's?

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 2:38 PM, Hexscyn wrote:

    Apple Mac book pros are one of the most common laptops I have to convert over to windows for corporate use. Our execs buy them because someone they know brags about them then they get one and find it impossible to adjust to, problematic when trying to do work related tasks and not supported by our corporate standards (security, VPN, email, Custom apps). So the only thing they find them good for is browsing the web. IMO after working in the industry for more then 18 years now supporting very large environments, unless you have a specific application that MAC performs on best like (Final cut pro) Go with a Lenovo "T" or "W" series. A true work horse and industry standard for most large corporations and government divisions for good reason.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2013, at 10:57 PM, TimSagan wrote:

    I don't get it... IS THIS ARTICLE TROLLING OR SOME SORT OF JOKE? Every part of the article is nonsense... the writer doesn't seem to have any comprehension of what a chromebook is, let alone cloud storage or cloud services. This is a joke right!? Somebody this clueless isn't really giving advice on tech stocks!?!?

  • Report this Comment On March 04, 2013, at 1:01 AM, deidrej66 wrote:

    I am a die hard Mac user even though I have a love/hate relationship with the brand. I bought my 13 year old daughter a Chromebook for her birthday. I couldn't justify spending over $1000 for a Mac for a 7th grader who will use it mostly for surfing the web and watching youtube videos. The Chromebook is quite slow compared to the Mac and it seemed as if the Chromebook had died after having it for less than a month. The screen went blank and we were unable to shut it down with the power button. Not being able to figure out where the battery is, I couldn't remove it. Even closing it and leaving it closed for a few hours did not get rid of the blue screen. So, we closed it, left it overnight and planned to return it it to the retailer. The next day I opened it and the blue screen had finally disappeared. I plugged it in and it started working again. Not sure if this was a fluke or a sign of more problems to come. I would say the Chromebook is appropriate for a young child/teen who does not need a high powered machine. I can't imagine using it for more than surfing the internet or writing the occasional school paper.

  • Report this Comment On March 04, 2013, at 3:28 AM, G4MacUser wrote:

    As my name implies, I have had my mac since the days of the G4 processor. My iBook is 7 years old and has only been in the shop twice. That is endurance and a well made machine, every bit worth the higher price tag. Once you have one, you will realize that you have purchased something more than just another laptop. I would put my iBook up against any Windows PC half its age, to prove how good of a product it is.

    The only down side, is my old OSX is becoming incompatible with some of the newer web software, that is just due to the age of my OS and nothing more. In addition, I have accidentally dropped my Mac out of my backpack or bag a couple of times. My heart stopped, when it fell in a parking lot landed on it's edge and cart-wheeled about 5-6 feet. Fearfully, when I got someplace to turn it on and check it, I opened it up, turned it on and crossed my fingers. It started without any delay. I am looking for a pentium Mac, because I need a faster processor, and want to keep up with updates. When I do I will still keep my 14" iBook G4 as a back up or as a first laptop for my 10 year old son.

    I used my first mac back in 1993, when I took a desktop publishing class. I was sold immediately, unfortunately it took me a marriage and 12 years before I was able to escape from PC land and work on a mac again. The OS is still a better working system than Microsoft's discount version of the Mac OS, (we all know where Bill Gates got the idea for windows, from Steve Jobs first Apple Os,) After all these years the Apple OS is still the better system, with only 1 known virus. so far. The virus did not require buying a whole bunch of anti virus software. It was combatted by getting a couple lines of code from Apple (no Charge) and insert it using the terminal, problem solved. How many Windows virus' can you shut down that way? If it's more than one it's too many.

  • Report this Comment On March 04, 2013, at 3:51 AM, G4MacUser wrote:

    FYI: the reason my Mac was in the shop twice, 1st was the circuit board that attached to the power plug, 2nd New hard drive, both times it cost me less than $150 to fix. I didn't take it to an Apple Store, I found a guy nearby who does PC and Mac Repair. You can complain about the price, but it's like comparing a Ferrari to a Ford Pinto, you aren't going to dish out a load of cash for a Pinto. But when you spend your money on a Ferrari, you know you are getting quality for your money.

  • Report this Comment On March 04, 2013, at 10:50 AM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    All,

    Thanks for the variety of comments. To answer some of your questions:

    >>So what was wrong with it? The fact that you had to take it to an Apple store makes me question if you're qualified to write an article.

    @intuos - Not an awful guess re RAM, but MacBooks have suffered well-documented graphics chip issues for a while now. That's what we had here, too. Apple replaced the logic board and now all is well. More:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=macbook%20pro%20graphics%20c...

    Separately, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and presume you didn't just suggest I piss away cash by making a repair that would cost more in time lost than it would have to take to the store for a free repair.

    >>So.......he ate.....too many Big Mac's?

    @southdakota1962 - Heh. I usually avoid McDonald's.

    >>Every part of the article is nonsense...

    @TimSagan - Sadly, that merits a -1. But you are of course welcome to reclaim that point by demonstrating where the errors are. Thanks.

    Bottom line: I still very much like the Chromebook. I never presumed it would be a Mac replacement but an enhancement, and most of the time it performs well in that role. The few days it had to step in weren't comfortable, but they also weren't so bad as I expected. A net win for both Apple and Google, I'd say. But I also think there's more upside for Google.

    A powerful successor to the Pixel -- i.e., one with real RAM and processor advantages, in addition to a sleek multithreaded browser OS -- could one day challenge the traditional laptop as we've known it. Until then, I'll keep buying Macs.

    Thanks again and Foolish best,

    Tim

    --

    TMFMileHigh in CAPS and on the boards

    @milehighfool on Twitter

    http://timbeyers.me

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