Janw.xyz

Jack of all trades and a master of some

My next computer probably won’t be a Mac again

It’s been about a month now, since I ranted on the current generation of iPhones and how I’d like to try something new with Android. Therefore another rant has to happen and the target is the same as before.

I don’t do this intentionally. It’s just that after more than five years in the Apple ecosystem the honey moon phase is finally over, and I want to regain some of the freedom that you give up with it. I’m not going to argue about the good of hardware quality or the bad of software quality. Others have done that for me. This is about a student (me, Jan, hey there) looking back on four years of a first degree course and contemplating if his current machine is still up for the task of completing a second degree course and what it would mean to switch devices mid-courses.

Weirdest intro stanza ever. Anyhow, I’m going to study in a new field of expertise and my current machine is not really on par with what I expect a computer to do for me these days. Especially with new demands coming up from the new studies. In the past I’ve always just stuck with a reasonably well-spec’ed MacBook Pro. Basically one-click buying that thing.

Since I have to keep an eye on money these days (allowing yourself to start over after already completing a degree course is not exactly easy on the budget), I really compared pricings this time. My current machine’s hardware is sort-of the baseline for selecting the next one, and with that in mind, things look pretty dim.

Status Quo

My current Mac is a MacBook Pro 13-inch late 2011. It was the upper entry-level build, meaning it came with an Intel Core i7-2640M, and 4GB of RAM initially. Over the past 4 years, 3 months, and 18 days (from purchase date) I bumped the specs a little bit, to adjust to my needs:

  • RAM upgrade to 16GB (greatly needed since I work with VMs a lot)

  • HDD swapped with first a 250GB SSD, later a 500GB SSD

  • Optical Drive removed in favour of a secondary SSD when I put the 500GB one in, giving me a total of 750GB SSD-driven “disc space”

The processor has been a real blast up until recently. The last time I got the chance for a head-on-head benchmark with another MacBook Pro, it finished first by far (the contestant was the Mid 2012 MacBook Pro non-retina). Now it feels slow-ish, especially when it comes to graphics performance. It was already noticeable under OS X 10.10 (Yosemite), but it is just palpable under El Capitan that the HD 3000 graphics are not equipped for modern tasks anymore. Especially when run in a dual-monitor setup: animations are studdering, and even 720p Youtube gives you the signature sound of a blow dryer that previously I knew only from cheap PC laptops.

Even worse than the overall UI studder is mouse lag. This is especially kicking in when the Mac is waking up from sleep or when MDM service is doing his magic of re-indexing something that was perfectly indexed just two hours ago. Believe me: mouse lag is the worst. It brings me close to a freak-out, and that is not something I need when switching classes at university and I reopen the lid in the next room.

Ergo: that bitch has to go. Honestly I love that computer, we have been through a lot. But enough is enough, and that’s not only because of that piece-of-crap bloatware OSX has become the slightly dated hardware.

To up the ante

From all that arises the question what I want to buy next, and there lies a conundrum: Of course I’d really like to stick to the Mac, and OSX, and its integratedness with the rest of my digital lifestyle (buzzword alert!). But doing a bit of pricing research quickly kills that initial impulse1. Let’s take a look at the lineup: currently there are three base configurations available for the 13-inch retina MacBook Pro, differing most noticeably in SSD memory. I’d opt for 512GB of space, and I genuinely need it since this it’s supposed to be my main machine and supposed to store copies of my music and photo library. The only model that is equipped with 512GB of memory is the top of the line. No upgrade whatsoever available for any of the others. That sets the base price for “sticking to the Mac” to €1.879,66 (as per the Apple EDU store for Germany).

Unfortunately for my nit-picky and fastidious self that base price only includes 8GB of RAM and a yesterday-ish Core i5-5287U Dual-Core, from the Broadwell mid-range. It compares well to my 2011 i7, with a 15% effective speed increase but is still 13% behind the Core i7-5557U of the maxed-out configuration.

Even though I’d more likely go with the Core i7 ultimately, I’m sticking to the i5 for now, to not exaggerate the config. As for the RAM, 8GB are not an option. Especially considered it is fucking soldered to the logicboard. Outgrowing 4GB of RAM was a matter of months (held up til ca. May 2012), I don’t want to go through eternal distress when I break the 8GB barrier after maybe a year, and there is no way in hell to upgrade that. So 16GB it is, and that concludes the build-to-order steps for the latest rMBP 13-inch, setting the bar to a whopping €2.105,76, an amount of money that is just out of question for me right now.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t spend that amount of money if split over the course of five years. But it’s an upfront payment, and it’s due pretty soon. So that’s not going to happen. Not with all the dissatisfaction I have accumulated for that walled Apple orchard.

Going open

So what’s the only considerable alternative if you still have an OCD for reasonably well-built hardware, but want to dump the price tag, and the crappy software limitations? Thinkpad! Even chance intervened, and Lenovo just recently released this years notebook lineup and it’s looking pretty good so far. I developed a strong crush on the T460s which is more spec’ed to meet my demands. In Germany Campuspoint.de has some pretty cool discounts, and amongst the configuration options there is one that seems fits me best. The top-shelf processor (Intel Core i7-6600U) in the T460s is not quite as fast as the rMBP’s i7-5557U, but it’s only a 2% difference ultimately. The base configuration costs €1.499,00 with 12GB of RAM and 512GB of flash storage. When upping the RAM to 16GB, the price increases to €1578,90, and … that’s it. The display is almost on-par with Apple’s Retina panel (210 vs. 228ppi), and so is battery life (ca. 10 hours for both). Apart from that I like that the T460s is even a little lighter than the rMBP (1,45 vs. 1,58kg). And there is better connectivity since the ThinkPad comes with a Gigabit LAN-Port (network-admin high five!).

As for the openness of the hardware, ThinkPads are known to have unprecedented support for running Linux. And I really miss Arch Linux, dammit. And I would really miss opening my machine up every once in a while to get some dust out, upgrade components (NVMe will be going strong in the next years I bet!) and be my own genius whenever I want. Figure in a price difference of almost 500 european pesos1 there is no question about what happens next.

Conclusion

I really love the Mac. And I’ll probably keep my 2011 MBP around for shits and giggles. But pricing just got way out of hand when Apple went Retina and not adjusting back, when Retina got mainstream (which it fucking is by now). So a little more time for me to save up the money, and then I’ll thinkpad away heavily. I’m looking forward to it. Yay!

  • Please note that any named prices are from german EDU stores, so they include educational price cuts not generally available to anyone. Though relations still apply to regular prices in a way.