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.
http://www.pcper.com/article.php?aid=598
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.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenCL

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)