Computer conundrum

- Posted in computers - 2 comments

I have a retina Macbook Pro from 2012, and it has served me well. However, it’s practically dying (especially the battery), and I need a new Macbook.

The recent Macbook announcement got me thinking: do I replace my Macbook and start carrying dongles around, or do I try to find an alternate solution?

Apple announced three new Macbooks, where the first one (without the touch bar) is basically like a pumped up Macbook Air, and the 2 other ones are lighter than my current laptop, not necessarily much faster, and miss all the ports I regularly use.

When I configure the Macbook the way I want it, it’s going to be around €4000; and it won’t actually be much faster than my current laptop. The only thing that would become better is graphics performance, but from what I can tell that just means the Macbook will finally be able to run games a bit better than it used to. The performance won’t come anywhere near what you can get from a Windows gaming laptop.

My current inclination is to either pick up a refurbished 2015 Macbook Pro from eBay; or to replace my laptop’s battery for the second time.

Now, another point. When working at home sometimes I want a bigger screen. I find that a big screen can be very helpful when coding. If you are used to working on a retina screen, going to a non-retina one (e.g. the Dell 27″ I am using at the moment) is pretty jarring.

However, just buying a 4K or 5K display and attaching it to an older Macbook is a no-go. Depending on the specific combination of screen and Macbook you either have the problem that the older Thunderbolt connections can’t handle the amount of pixels; and when they can, you are stuck at a max frame rate of 30 frames per seconds.

Furthermore you have to deal with the crappy interfaces that Dell/Acer/etc provide to set up your screen.

One solution is to get the 2015 iMac 3.3Ghz, which I could buy together with a refurbished Macbook for around the price of a new Macbook. The good thing here is that it actually contains a semi-decent graphics card, and that it’s basically a much faster Mac than the Macbook is. This might be helpful when editing large Sketch documents, which is basically my daily job.

However, this will put me in a situation with 2 computers again, which I’ve had in the past, and which I wasn’t happy about. Things might be better today though with macOS Sierra’s desktop sync.

An Apple-built external 5K Thunderbolt display has long been on my wishlist, but it just doesn’t exist. Apple’s recommendation is to buy an LG UltraFine 4K Display. This has a worse resolution than the iMac and I’m not very convinced by its design.

I’ve also contemplated hacking my gaming PC to be a Hackintosh. Basically my gaming PC blows everything out of the water spec-wise (it has a quad core 4Ghz processor and a Geforce GTX 1080). Successfully doing a multi-boot setup where I can use it as a Mac will give me a machine that is basically faster than a Mac Pro.

The counter-argument to this is that I don’t feel like spending my weekends trying to find the right drivers to get basic things to work. I don’t want to have some hacky setup where hardware and software are not matched together. There is a reason I use macOS and not Linux; the same reason I use iOS and not some custom Android ROM.

It’s quite bizarre that after 4 years the Macbook that Apple announced is not really appealing to me; the touch bar looks like an interesting innovation and I can’t wait to play with it, but I’m not ready to spend €4k and carry around 4 dongles with me. I like that I have an HDMI port, SD card slot and 2 USB-A ports available at all times. There’s actually not a single port on my current Macbook that I don’t use regularly.

I’m pretty sure a lot of people are doing similar research, so please, share your thoughts.


  • Matthias says:

    You are not alone. Many are facing the same conundrum. Apple is forcing us to make a hard choice here and there are no trade-offs to be had. Either you live with the dongles, replacing your peripherals down the line, or you move away from the Apple platform all together.

    Many, me included, chose the platform for the seamless integration of all the bits and parts – hardware, drivers, OS, software,… – which enables them to reach their goals. Be it building websites, interfaces, apps, writing, editing, etc. The question of staying hinges on wether or not you will still be able to reach your goals if you stay with these changes.

    The answer is a matter of economics and preference. Are you willing to spend boatloads of moneys? Are you willing to spend time on a Hackintosh? Are you willing to spend time moving away towards another platform (be it Windows or *NIX)?

    Answering that question is different for everyone of us. And it’s nothing new. Change is always a challenge.

    Personally, I’m not actively looking for a new personal macbook, but down the road, I’ll be forced to make a choice either way. The longevity of a Macbook, up until now, at least negates the price. My concern is the evolution of the platform as a whole. Dongles and keyboard springs are small gripes yet indicative red flags. If Apple keeps going for a “more cowbell” approach instead of meaningful changes, the associated drop in appeal might become a major dealbreaker for me.

  • Stijn says:

    The dongle-problem can be solved by the Hub+ project on Kickstarter.

    As for me personally, I am considering just replacing my old battery with a new one. Surely that’s cheaper than purchasing an entirely new laptop. The money I save this way can go towards any future purchase that _are_ worth the investment. Preferably without any cables, dongles, or other peripherals. (CD-drives are long gone, right?)

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