I can burn iTunes stuff at 24x...I even think I might be able to burn straight mp3s faster.
A while back, OSX had issues with external devices, however, I haven't seen that problem since the early days of Jaguar or before. I am pleased with both the internal drives and any external drives I've connected. I particularly like having gigabit ethernet among the long list of likes......
As for folks not buying a iPod as the laptop is to be the centerpiece of the digital up, I'd agree to a point. I don't believe I or most others have an iPod for the reasons you state. I, and I would assume most folks buy one because it is a very good mp3 player IMHO. HP and a number of companies agree.
Laptops, although the centerpiece of the digital lifestyle, can be a pain to lug around, and if you boondock, the battery does run down rather quickly. If all you are doing is playing music, the iPod is a great little tool to pack your CD collection along without having to bring a bunch of CDs. If video is involved, I'd agree, a laptop can be the one of the best ways to go, but there are digital video devices similar to the iPod (though a bit larger) that cost less, are smaller, far more portable, and easier to store than a laptop, not to mention the entertainment pkg that you can get with an Airstream or install aftermarket that does almost everything (playing digital media) a workstation can do minus the obvious.
Now if you don't boondock, need a computer anyway, play DVDs, manipulate photos, surf the net, etc while on vacation, the laptop is a clear choice. However, I spend most of my time outside the Airstream sightseeing, using my smokey joe, playing music via my iPod and when I get home, place my nose under my keyboard to import all the pics I took while on vacation and load up my iPod for another go at it for the next trip.
Of course, I deal with Macs and networking all day long...so when I get away, I usually try to leave as many processors and workstations home, throw away my pager and cellphone and burry myself in vacation!
That does mean though that my number of posts per day go down when in the Airstream and away from home!