Law Office Technology — Optical Drives

CD Drive Lens
By Ioan Sameli ( [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
After visiting the DA’s office in Montgomery County, Texas yesterday to look at discovery on a case, I’m having a hard time thinking that OS X is a viable platform for a law firm that handles any sort of criminal litigation, or potentially civil litigation.  In addition to the paper-based offense reports that needed to be copied and scanned, there were two DVD-ROMs containing videos, photos, and audio. If I didn’t have an optical drive, I wouldn’t be able to review this evidence, and that leads me to one of my biggest frustrations with what Apple is trying to do with its computer lineup.

No Pity for Legacy Optical Drives

It’s no secret that Apple likes to kill off technology that is inefficient. The original iMac famously did not include a 3.5″ floppy drive because the format was inefficient–why support something that only holds 1.44MB of data when you can attach a Zip drive that holds 100MB, or even better, a USB drive that holds 256MB?  (Remember, this was the ’90s, so storage capacity was a mere fraction of what it is now, though the recent move to favoring SSD in the name of speed has greatly redefined what counts as an acceptable amount of internal storage.)  The new MacBook takes this dearth of legacy support to a new extreme: it not only doesn’t include an optical drive (the death of that support began with the original MacBook Air’s debut), but it has only one USB-type C port, which also serves as its power port. The MacBook is entirely focused on wireless data transfer, peripherals and legacy support be damned.

Critics of this one-port strategy like to counter by saying “well, then, this is not the laptop for you; get something with more ports.”  Which is all well and good if these design decisions didn’t begin to affect the other product lines offered by Apple and the design choices of PC manufacturers.  When the MacBook Air came out, it eschewed the optical drive, and many people didn’t mind so much because they weren’t buying music on CDs, weren’t buying software on DVDs, and weren’t renting movies on Blu-Ray.  Cloud storage was just beginning to take off, and it has only expanded in the ensuing years.  Optical disks are slow to access and slow to burn, and they have a limited amount of storage per disc (approximately 700MB for CD-Roms, and approximately 8GB for DVD-Roms).  If people really wanted the optical drive, they could simply purchase an external drive or a computer with an optical drive.  The point of the Air, it was argued, was that it would be thin and light, not a powerhouse.

Time Has Made it Worse

That was 2008.  At that time, all Apple machines besides the Air offered optical drives, ranging from the Mac mini to the Mac Pro.  Now, though?  There is one machine (the 13″ MacBook Pro without a Retina display) that still offers a built-in optical drive.  That’s it. The Mac mini doesn’t offer it anymore, the iMac doesn’t, the Mac Pro doesn’t, and none of the other laptops–even the other MacBook Pros with the Retina display–offer it anymore.  Yes, you can buy an external Superdrive (or other brand of optical drive) if you want it, but it creates clutter and extra weight, is potentially even slower than those that are included internally, and incurs extra expenses.

This lack of optical drive support is just one reason why I feel like an attorney looking to purchase new technology for his office should probably avoid OS X. Yes, it seems a little weird to essentially reject an entire computing platform because there isn’t an optical drive built into a particular machine.  It goes beyond that, though, which I will address in my next post in this series.

Law Office Technology–Value Propositions Pt. 3

Sourced from wikimedia, By dnm (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Sourced from wikimedia, By dnm (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve said it a lot, and I’ll maintain it here, that waiting until this fall is probably a better time to buy a new computer, when Windows 10 is supposed to be released (though the pace of TP releases admittedly causes a little concern) and when even newer, more efficient processors are available. That being said, it makes sense to start thinking about things right now to get a feel for what you’re really comparing.

The past couple of posts in this series have focused on the “Apple tax” and this post continues the trend. For this exercise’s purpose, I’m going to look at machines in the so-called Ultrabook class, which are light-weight, decently powerful laptops with 11-13″ screens.  Full disclosure, I’m using a table to do this, and I fully expect it to wreck formatting for people on smaller screens. I’m sorry, but I don’t really know how else to organize a comparison of 6 different devices.  I’m also going to limit myself to off-the-shelf configurations. As I showed in the last post in this series, configuring something as limited as a MacBook Air leads to a lot of expensive variance.

To make sure the comparisons are accurate, I will only choose Core i5 configurations with SSDs, and the computers I am going to compare are: the Microsoft Surface Pro 3;  Dell XPS 13; HP Spectre x360; Acer s7; MacBook; MacBook Air 11″; and MacBook Pro 13″.

 MS Surface Pro 3 Dell XPS13 HP Spectre x360 Acer s7-392-5410  MacBook Air 11″ MacBook Pro 13″
 Price $999 / $1130 with Type Cover  $899  $899  $1199  $899  $1299
 Processor Core i5 (4th Gen) 1.9GHz  Core i5 (4th Gen) 1.7GHz  Core i5 (5th Gen) 2.2GHz  Core i5 (4th Gen) 1.7GHz  Core i5 (5th Gen) 1.6GHz  Core i5 (5th Gen) 2.7GHz
 Memory 4GB  8GB  4GB  8GB  4GB  8GB
 HDD 128GB SSD  128GB SSD  128GB SSD  256GB SSD  128GB SSD  128GB SSD
 Screen 12″ (2160 x 1440) (touch)  13.3″ (1920 x 1080) (touch)  13.3″ (1920 x 1080) (touch)  13.3″ (1920 x 1080) (touch)  11.6″ (1366 x 768)  13.3″ (2560 x 1600)
 Ports 1 USB 3.0, microSD reader, Mini DisplayPort  2 USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort  3 USB 3.0, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, SD reader  2 USB 3.0, SD reader, HDMI  2 USD 3.0, Thunderbolt 2  2 Thunderbolt 2, 2 USB 3.0, HDMI, SDXC reader
Battery Life Up to 9 hours  Up to 11 hours Up to 12.5 hours   Up to 7.5 hours  Up to 10 hours  Up to 12 hours
Stylus Input  Yes  No  Yes1  No  No  No
Weight 1.76 lbs (without cover), 2.42 lbs(with cover)  3.07 lbs  3.26 lbs  2.87 lbs  2.38 lbs  3.48 lbs

Clearly, the price that Apple charges for its products is largely in line with the prices charged by other PC manufacturers, if perhaps a tad more expensive. This means that when it comes down to the technology you are going to purchase, it really comes down more to the OS environment you want to work in, more so than the price of the hardware. That will be subject of the next entry in this series.


1This is based on reports I have read; I can’t see anything on HP’s website that confirms this.

Law Office Technology–Value Propositions Pt. 2

Image sourced from Pål Alvsaker's flickr page under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Image sourced from Pål Alvsaker’s flickr page under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

In my previous post, part of an on-going series about law office technology, I touched on the “Apple tax” and briefly compared the Stream and the MacBook Air, showing that yes, you can indeed purchase a passable device for a couple hundred bucks if you’re willing to put up with suboptimal hardware.

The price differential begins to erode, however, when you start to look at base configuration machines using similar hardware.  This isn’t a straight-forward exercise, however, because customization accounts for a lot of price variance.  Even within Apple’s offerings, as exceptionally limited as they are, you can take a base model computer and turn it into a very expensive machine. (Doing this does lead to a fair amount of Apple Tax.)

For example: Apple’s website offers two varieties of the 11-inch Air to begin your customization experience. The $899 version includes 128GB of PCIe-based flash storage, while the $1099 version includes 256GB of PCIe-based flash storage. That’s a $200 jump to double your storage space, which isn’t really warranted based on the component price; as of today, on a 128GB M.2 PCIe drive made by Plextor goes for $120 while a 256GB M.2 PCIe drive made by the same manufacturer goes for $243.

Depending on the size of the hard drive you choose (you can get up to 512GB installed), you can then select the processor (getting an i7 raises the price by $150), and add additional memory (getting 8GB of 1600MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM instead of 4GB adds $100 (which is probably not warranted since a Kingston 8GB 1600MHZ DDR3L module only costs $65 on and even at Staples its only $100)), and before you know it, maxing out your $899 11″ Macbook Air will cost $1649; the 13″ model can max out at $1749.  That’s getting into MacBook territory: a 256GB 13″ MacBook Pro with a “Retina” display starts at $1499, and comes with a faster processor, a higher resolution screen, more standard RAM, a bettter graphics card, and weighs only a little more.

Obviously, comparing apples to apples is convoluted enough, and that doesn’t even take into account trying to compare computers from other manufacturers.  But that is exactly what I am going to try to do in my next post in this series.