CUDA Card Conundrum - Which Way to Go?

So in a few weeks I’m going to be updating my aging Powerbook G4 with a new mac laptop. (non-negotiable). However, the problem I’m facing is that I really want to get into CUDA programming for my research at the university. Should I just break down and get a Macbook Pro (at $1800+tax) over the $1250+tax vanilla Macbook, or should I get a cheaper Macbook ($1000) and spend the extra $800 on a homemade rig. If I do build a rig what Nvidia card would give me the most CUDA processing power for the buck? (8600GTS or 9600GT or …?)

I looked at the wikipedia page on the 8 series cards and saw that the 8600GTS has 128 stream processors or shaders or whatever they’re called. The 8600M supposedly has only 32, which is quite a lot less. As I’m just getting my feet wet, what would be the best option?

I hack on an MBP. It’s fine for development, but I wouldn’t use it for serious production stuff (just too slow compared to desktop cards). $800 would be cutting it pretty close for a home box–you could probably do a lower-end Intel processor and a 9600 GT without too much problem, but honestly if you’re building a desktop you should just save your money for a GTX 260 (so much nicer for CUDA).

Best answer: buy an MBP for you and get the university to buy you a workstation.

FWIW: I’m using a Mac Mini for day to day use, but a year ago I built a dedicated CUDA experimentation box by buying the cheapest possible $260 Dell PC and adding a 8600GT for $150. There are limitations to this approach, the non-standard form factor of Dell PCs comes to mind, which limits you to lower power GPU’s, but for what it was intented, it does the job just fine. These days, I would of course have gone for a 9600GT…

BTW, the 8600GTS only just 32 shaders, just like the 8600GT.

And, it’s pointless to make decisions based on rumors, but if the new Macbook pros have Nvidia-designed chipsets… maybe you’d want to wait for them.
It’d be sweet to have a mobile G200 chip. None have been announced but nvidia’s not going to ignore mobiles…

And finally Apple will be boosting GPGPU, and that may include hardware changes.

Sorry that this doesn’t make any of your choices easier…

I recommend this puppy instead:

The 9600GSO has 96 shaders but only a 192 bit bus. If you’re not expecting to be bandwidth limited in your application, this is a pretty sweet deal (starting from 65 Euros in Germany)