This week my beloved MacBook has to go into the shop. The computer I’ve owned for barely six months has to take a vacation with the Apple Geniuses. Why is pretty important.
I mainly took the computer in because of this business. Clearly, something was going quite horribly wrong. Thankfully, only once or twice a week. Everything would continue to function normally, but the windows would black out, the screen would blitz, and eventually the computer would crash. It’s like my MacBook had too much to drink and was going to pass out.
I had some theories about this, and sadly, they were confirmed by the Apple Geniuses. Essentially, my m5 series Mac just isn’t rated to handle Photoshop or Illustrator. Mind you, I’m not talking about full-size billboard art here. We’re only looking at moderate Photoshop use and some slightly more intense Illustrator designs.
The tech told me the GPU is overheating, causing those systems to crash or error out. Looking at the logs, resets related to the graphics processor litter the sheet. Clearly, there’s a real problem here.
My battery life is also beginning to suffer greatly. There’s a chance there’s a software problem at the root of this, but my habits have not changed since the purchase date. Still, I’m only getting around four or five hours of screen time, barely making it through an entire work day. Before, I could easily manage a full nine hours or more.
Lastly, my command key is worn out. There’s an obvious crater where my thumb sits. I asked about this too and was told it’s fairly common.
“Don’t put too much pressure on it, or it could happen again,” the Genius said. Which is fair, considering how thin the keys are. But also unfair, considering the computer is barely six months old. It’s hard not to feel like my Mac is running into some serious walls.
Thankfully, it’s all under warranty, and they’re replacing my worn-out command (and N key, of all things) tonight. Hopefully, they’ll also replace the battery if needed, though hardware tests revealed no obvious initial fault.
Either way, it’s all beginning to stack up. At some point, I really have to wonder: What if I’m just . . . over Apple?
Coming to Terms with Modern-Day Apple
First, some back-story: If there’s such a thing as an Apple fanboy, I am the definition. My first computer was this guy, back when I was young enough to be listening to audio on tape. I was brought up (rightly so, for the time) to think only Linux was a viable alternative. Until recently, I’d reflexively debate the benefits of Unix over DOS. That upbringing runs deep.
In the last week, however, I’ve been forced to take a hard look at the current Mac ecosystem. And it’s worth noting some forward-thinking problems. Let’s start with my specific device, the 12” MacBook:
When I bought this bad boy back in late September of 2016, I intentionally paid more for the Core m5 model. I did this because of the benchmarks, as well as the assurance that it would handle light graphics work with ease.
Flash forward to today, and it’s clear the architecture of the MacBook can only do so much. With no moving parts (notably a fan for cooling) the CPU and GPU can quickly overheat. As evidenced by my previous issue, the GPU is especially vulnerable to this when under heavy load.
Weirdly, you don’t even have to use the computer to have a bricked MacBook. I once left it in a moderately hot car on a 75 degree day. When I grabbed it for a meeting, it refused to boot until it had cooled sufficiently – almost 15 minutes later. After booting, my battery had depleted to about 45% from a full charge.
All of this is physically understandable. Except for the fact that I paid almost $1,700 for this computer. That’s used car money. I even paid more for boosted performance. And lest we forget the thumb-crater, a worn-out key at five months in (with that pricetag) is utterly ridiculous.
But I can try to not put pressure on the keys, I suppose.
What if I Want to Stay in Apple Land?
So what’s left? Obviously I need a performance boost, one with architecture that can support some moderate graphics work without melting the GPU. I knew I was buying an ultraportable from the get-go, I’m not offended by this.
Taking a quick look at the Apple Store, though, will induce a sharp shrinking of the sphincter. At a minimum, a new 2016 MacBook Pro is going to cost $1,500. And that’s for a device rocking the previous year’s CPU and only 8GB of RAM.
For a little more hitch in the gettiyup, there’s the mid-tier 13” MacBook Pro with a 2.9 GHz base clock speed on its i5. That’s more reasonable for graphics performance, but let’s add 16GB of RAM just to be safe.
The end result? A $1,999 price tag, before tax.
Before you say, “Apple has always been premium, and it’s priced to match,” take a second to truly think about that. For a *mid-tier, *13” MacBook Pro from Apple these days, it’s going to cost nearly two grand. That’s not even mentioning the truly ridiculous $2,399 cost of a bottom-tier 15” model. If we decide to go crazy and max out the specs, the price tops out at $4,399.
That’s not used-car money, that’s borderline down-payment-for-a-house change. Who on earth would buy that?
On top of the price, the devices are also known to have bugs and performance issues. There’s a real possibility that by using your “Pro” laptop for graphics or video you’ll shoot your battery time down to a couple of hours. I won’t even go into the whole ports debate, or the fact that the touch bar is, at best, a gimmick.
All of this is pretty dizzying. And if you’re a dedicated Apple fan, you might feel a turning sensation in your stomach. I certainly do. Which leads us to:
What the Hell Happened?
Remember the MacBook Air? I bought the 11” model with a dual-core i3 for less than $1,000. And it was a beast. I designed everything from billboards to full web apps with it. Sure it sniffled occasionally, but it never once fully sneezed. All of that with 4GB of RAM. If it weren’t for Docker requirements, I might have kept it forever.
Today, Apple has more-or-less discontinued the Air line, replacing it with the MacBook series. For now you can still purchase an Air at a $799 base price, but with an off-putting fifth generation Intel CPU. If neither that nor the ultraportable, single-hole thing are appealing, you can always invest in the MacBook Pro. That may sound perfectly reasonable, until you start to look at the price tags. And then the circle goes round again after that.
It’s clear that Apple has shifted its focus away from the professional, and is now aiming itself squarely at the typical consumer. And they’re selling laptops, for sure. It’s likely a good strategy for them, and I’m sure the stockholders (among whom I used to number) will be pleased. Who can really blame them? If you’re making bold choices and selling lots of product, why bother to pivot to an older model?
That leaves the dedicated web professional in a bit of a lurch. Do you spend an enormous amount of money on a computer that can handle *all *your needs? Do you make spec compromises where you honestly shouldn’t need to? Or do you buy an equally expensive, ultraportable model that may exhibit advanced wear-and-tear in a short amount of time?
Or . . .
What if You Just Buy a PC?
A few months ago I built a gaming rig from scratch – big thanks to LinusTechTips for helping me isolate the parts I needed. I didn’t intend to work off the machine, but a recent ASP.NET project meant I was spending more time on the box than expected. To my surprise, I actually really liked the Windows 10 experience. I was able to work productively more-or-less without issue, minus the occasional irritating Windows update.
As a diehard Mac OS fan . . . what does that mean? Furthermore, what does it mean that the machine I’ve come to love cost me only $500, even with a splurge on the graphics card?
I’m not entirely sure. But as of today, I intend to find out. As the subheader suggests, I bought a Windows ultraportable laptop. My brand-new Dell XPS 13 arrives at my doorstep today, just as my Mac is going into the shop. As one comes in, the other will be going out – at least for now.
Based on reviews and specs, the XPS 13 is a good replacement for either a MacBook or a MacBook Pro. In fact, it boasts an equivalent or better GeekBench score than both of them. It also costs just under $1,000. However, I’m still full of questions and concerns:
Is all of that enough to make it a faster, better machine? What about that famous Apple software / hardware optimization?
Will I be able to do everything I need from the Windows 10 ecosystem?
How in the hemmoraghing hell am I going to do anything I currently do in iTerm?
How many times will I have to powerwash my body to remove the feeling of abandoning something I’ve loved?
I have no answers yet. But that’s the fun of our hypothetical series. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be trying to use the XPS 13 exclusively. Unlike the Chromebook test, I won’t allow myself to lapse back to the Mac, even after it’s been returned from the Genius Bar. This time, it’s all or nothing.
Given the current Apple climate, and the 2016 lineup in general, it’s time we had a definitive answer: What if You Give up on Apple and Begin Anew in Windows?
In a couple of weeks, you can expect the answer right here! In the meantime, feel free to tweet` us your own experiences. Have a MacBook you’re disappointed with? Did you buy one of the new 2016 Pros? Did you return it, too? Anybody already made the swap to Windows? We’d love to hear about it!