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Lenovo T530 or Apple Macbook Pro Retina
June 21, 2013 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Which of these laptops should I get? It is a personal preference or is one better than the other? This will be mostly used for business. But I will be taking it home with me in the evenings and it will be my main primary laptop for everyday use. Both laptops have 8 GB ram, 256 SSD hard drives. 15" screens. The Lenovo has a optical drive and more ports. The Macbook Pro doesn't have an optical drive and only two USB ports.
posted by alshain to Computers & Internet (25 answers total)
Well you can run Windows on a Mac if necessary. Mac on a Wintel not so easy.
posted by Gungho at 9:24 AM on June 21, 2013

What, exactly, does "business" mean? Do you need to run Windows-only software? Do you need Internet Explorer to connect to a corporate intranet?

For the most part, this is a personal-preference decision. Me, I love OS X and I can always dual-boot with Windows if I want to, so I'd go with the Macbook.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:25 AM on June 21, 2013

"Better" in what sense? What kind of software will you have to use on it? What kind of integration into your work's tech system does there have to be?

I have an older MBP. It has an optical drive that I haven't used in....three years? But I'm not you so I don't know if you'd find yourself suddenly needing to use that drive a lot. I have two USB ports and I can't think of a time when I've needed more. Again, though, you know your habits and needs better than we do. Are there times when you need to have more than two things plugged in simultaneously?
posted by rtha at 9:29 AM on June 21, 2013

By business I mean from 9-5 I will be using it for work. Opening large Excel sheets and doing email.
posted by alshain at 9:29 AM on June 21, 2013

Either will work; we need more information about what you want to do with them to decide (and even then it's hard). I like Macs and think an optical drive is a bad thing these days, but then I never use optical media. Likewise, I have a USB dock at home so don't care that my Air only has two ports. I think OSX is by far the best OS out there.
posted by katrielalex at 9:31 AM on June 21, 2013

On preview, any modern laptop can handle Excel and email; specs aren't an issue unless your Excel is running complex programs.
posted by katrielalex at 9:34 AM on June 21, 2013

I have the MacBook Pro retina display, and it's a sweet little machine. So I'm happy to recommend it strongly.

These days, there's basically no difference in available software. Apple's Keynote is a very nice presentation software, if you're into that sort of thing. As an academic, macs tend to outweigh windows machines at conferences. You should have no problem running Excel and mail, although if work uses and forces you to use Outlook that might be marginally trickier.

It's a little fiddly having to have a bunch of dongles to plug in for things like Ethernet and connecting to projectors, but not a big deal. But you'll need to remember to purchase them separately.

I haven't used or needed to use an optical drive in 5 years. The last thing I installed that came with drivers on a CD was super easy to find and download drivers for online. Same with my critical software---it's all downloaded and then activated once it's paid for.

My setup at work is that I have a big honking monitor (apple Cinema Display from 4 years ago, actually) that I plug the MacBook into. It's really nice. And then I have the flexibility of working from my laptop at home.

But really, this is a little like saying which fruit should I eat, an apple (hah) or a banana? They'll both feed you, but which you want comes down somewhat to personal preference.
posted by leahwrenn at 9:35 AM on June 21, 2013

I'd go with the Mac. From everything I've heard, including people I know actually using one, retina display is an awesome step up. Optical media is basically irrelevant now, and as Gungho says, it's a lot easier to run Windows on a Mac than OSX on a wintel. Your use case doesn't argue for one over the other, and if you'll use it a lot, the extra money for the MBP will be worth it over a couple years.
posted by fatbird at 9:36 AM on June 21, 2013

One is not really "better" than the other but they have different strengths, so one will be better for you depending on your needs. Personally I love my T430s, which is a fairly close relative of the T530 (I detailed some of the reasons listed in this comment). A few random considerations:

* The Mac has a better screen (higher resolution, brighter colours, better viewing angles). If you're planning to watch films with other people, or do colour-sensitive work, this is a big plus. For me it's not very important.

* The Lenovo can be used with a docking station. Big advantage for me.

* The Lenovo is far far more user-upgradeable. It was a doddle to swap out the hard drive for a 512GB HDD when I needed it.

* Lenovo has a removeable battery, so you can upgrade to a bigger one or have a charged spare to swap in.

* Mac is, I assume, smaller and lighter (this is the trade-off against the two points above).

... and so on. Of course there are dozens of more subjective points too, like keyboard and touchpad feel, overall design, shiny screen vs. matte screen, etc. Perhaps you need to think some more about what your requirements are. They are both good machines.
posted by pont at 9:36 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you would benefit from using a docking station or port replicator, either of which would let you leave power, monitor, mouse, kbd, other USB devices plugged in at a desk while you just connect the computer upon arrival, Lenovo offers a few possibilities for the T530.

For the Mac, the best offerings I've seen are not yet available for sale: HengeDock and ZenDock (the latter is a funded and closed kickstarter).
posted by Sunburnt at 9:38 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is price a concern, given that it's a business laptop? Would you be using Windows on the Lenovo, or a Linux distribution? The big reasons people tend to go for MacBooks are, roughly in order (in the cases where it's actually a practical decision):

1. It runs the only UNIX-like OS that runs a wide breadth of professional media applications like Ableton Live or the Adobe CS Suite, which is useful for people who want to do software development and media creation on the same computer. (Also, and this is more subjective, but OS X affords a lot more productivity-enabling interaction styles out of the box than any other OS I use regularly.)

2. Build quality. I'm not sure how Lenovo compares in this regard. Having used one briefly, my one takeaway is that MBPs win on the trackpad sensitivity front. I don't know if Lenovos have the little navigation ball thing that IBM laptops used to have, and if you're attached to that the MacBook may annoy you with its absence.

3. Support. Having an Apple Store around when something goes wrong makes the whole experience of having a hardware problem a lot more convenient and less stressful.

Finally, it's worth noting that if you don't care about the screen resolution, Apple still sells non-Retina MacBooks that have optical drives. I tend to think these are still a better buy, because subjectively speaking the high resolution does nothing for me and having a fraction of the pixel count means that it will perform well for longer, but your priorities may differ in that regard.

If price is a concern, if you've got a sizable library of Windows-only software, and if you don't particularly like OS X (definitely give it a try before you make a decision to see if you do), then I'd probably go with the Lenovo. They seem like solid computers in their own right.
posted by invitapriore at 9:38 AM on June 21, 2013

Apple sells a cheap USB optical drive you can plug in when you need it. My current MacBook Pro has an optical drive, and I go months without putting a disk in it. Number of USB ports is not important - what do you routinely need to plug in? I actually do have a ton of exotic USB stuff on my desk (Focusrite pro audio interface, various music hardware, weird clicky German keyboard), but the solution was just to buy a cheap powered hub that lives on my desk and is plugged into all those things. That gives me more ports than would fit on any laptop and let's me plug in just one USB cable whe I sit down there. The retina MBP is a lovely machine and I plan to upgrade to one as soon as the Haswell models come out, as they have done for the Airs.
posted by w0mbat at 9:46 AM on June 21, 2013

To address a couple of invitapriore's points:

1. Build quaity -- T-series ThinkPads are legendary for this. Feels as if I could beat a rhino unconscious with mine and still boot it afterwards. (The consumer-grade models are a different matter.)

2. Support -- again, seems to be pretty well regarded for ThinkPads, though I've never had occasion to use it. I do recall noticing some nice features when reading the T&Cs -- e.g. if your hard drive needs replacing you can keep the old one, because they expect business users to be concerned about data confidentiality.

Also, forgot to say in my last reply: if you do get the T530, do spec it with the 1600x900 screen upgrade. It's still no Retina display but it's a noticeable improvement.
posted by pont at 9:47 AM on June 21, 2013

w0mbat mentioned it, but I want to reiterate: If you can wait until the Haswell models are released, it'll probably be worth it. You might not get a huge spec jump, but, if the Haswell Air performance is any indicator, I'm guessing battery life will be much improved. I wouldn't be surprised if the new rMBP comes with Thunderbolt 2 ports as well.
posted by backwards guitar at 9:51 AM on June 21, 2013

My 3-year-old daily-used MacBook Pro is in better shape than three coworkers' plastic (HP, Dell, Lenovo) 1-year-old daily-used laptops. Apple builds damn good hardware.

I have the USB SuperDrive that I got with my new iMac. I've had need for it once, for about 2 minutes. Pretty much everything is downloadable these days, or you can pop the disc in another computer and dump the image to a flash drive or disk image.
posted by xedrik at 9:54 AM on June 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

While I generally dig both Lenovos and Macs, I'd lean toward the Macbook partly because the keyboard on the T530 does not appear to be the "classic" Thinkpad keyboard (which I really love). I type quite a bit, so keyboard quality is often as big a selling point as RAM or HD space for me. I've been really happy with the both keyboard and ease of navigation with the multi-touch trackpad on the Macbook. The other reason I like the Lenovos generally is because of the nipple-mouse (or whatever it's called), but with the Macbook's trackpad's ability to scroll and zoom (once you learn the gestures, if you haven't already), I don't miss it as much as I thought I would. If money is no issue, go for the Macbook.
posted by antonymous at 10:06 AM on June 21, 2013

If you would benefit from using a docking station or port replicator, either of which would let you leave power, monitor, mouse, kbd, other USB devices plugged in at a desk while you just connect the computer upon arrival, Lenovo offers a few possibilities for the T530.

For what it's worth, I have a backup drive plugged into my apple Cinema Display and a keyboard that plugs into the display and a bluetooth mouse, so I get to work, plug the ACD into the side of the laptop, and everything just works. I've got keyboard and mouse access no problem.
posted by leahwrenn at 10:13 AM on June 21, 2013

As a primary use laptop, I would find having to work on a 15" screen with large spreadsheets enormously frustrating. Heck, having to work on only one screen is frustrating.

What ever you decide, you will make your life a lot easier with a good external monitor/keyboard set up. My laptop sits in its dock most workdays, and I work on a 22" widescreen monitor. This makes a huge difference to working with spreadsheets or any analysis app. Having a real dock makes this easy. In contrast, USB "docks" are utter shit, IME.

Finally, as someone who helps run a conference every year, sorry, but Macs are still quite a bit more of a pain to support for presenters than PCs. We're always scrambling for dongles. If you go Mac, be sure to buy every possible connector/adapter under the sun (and don't leave them at home when you go to the conference).
posted by bonehead at 10:16 AM on June 21, 2013

For what it's worth, I have a backup drive plugged into my apple Cinema Display and a keyboard that plugs into the display and a bluetooth mouse, so I get to work, plug the ACD into the side of the laptop, and everything just works.

I'm not surprised, but most monitors won't have a USB and Firewire bus built in, nor can we assume that alshain will be connecting to the monitor with Thunderbolt, as I presume you are, since Thunderbolt is a data conduit in addition to being a monitor connection. Alshain could be connecting to an HDMI or DVI monitor using an adapter cable or adapter+cable converted from DisplayPort.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:52 AM on June 21, 2013

If it matters, I bought an X230, which is a smaller size but comperable in build to the T series Lenovos, and I thought I would hate the new chiclet keyboard. I love it. I now have a little difficulty using the older style laptop keyboards. I chose the X230 because I wanted a machine I could open up and work on myself. The screen upgrade to IPS is nice. I bought it with the mechanical HD and very easily (one screw!) replaced it with a Samsung 840 Pro 256 GB for less money than it would have cost me to get an SSD from Lenovo. It doesn't have an optical drive either, but I've got an external one for the very rare occasions when I need it.

I like matte black universality. Not so interested in shiny white specialization, though I understand it can be very nice.
posted by monopas at 12:32 PM on June 21, 2013

What do you currently use? Switching from PC to Mac is a pain. Test the Mac with Excel to make sure Excel for Mac has the tools you need and functions the way you're accustomed to.

Macs are built well, but they cost a lot more. Mac users are obviously loyal, there's a reason.

I've used both, and do not like the Mac's dependence on the mouse/ trackpad.

Do you prefer to have a numeric keyboard built in?

Compare warranties. I don't think Apple has a warranty that covers the screen, and check on accidental damage. If you carry the laptop back and forth between home and work, it will take a beating.

Talk to the IT Dept. to be sure there's a Mac client for any security software the company uses.
posted by theora55 at 12:40 PM on June 21, 2013

I service laptops, i've been doing it as a side-job since the middle of highschool. I've worked on a ridiculous amount of them from every manufacturer, and all kinds of weird models. I now work in IT supporting a medium sized company and service laptops for them as well.

In my(IMO, informed) opinion these are the two highest quality laptops on the market as far as build and reliability goes. You would be extremely happy with either(with some display caveats, see below), and it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if either one was still functioning properly ten years from now if it was treated nicely. I used a similarly high quality laptop from 2001-2010 or maybe early 2011.

If you're going to get the thinkpad, either get the high res screen or jump up to a W series and get the 1080p screen.

I would personally choose the mac for the stock solid state storage, extraordinarily high quality screen, and fully metal chasis(the thinkpads are internally metal, but not entirely on the exterior). The battery is also superior, but you trade the ability to exchange batteries. However you trade that for likely being close to having the run time of 1.5 or 2 for the thinkpad unless you order the extended battery from lenovo which adds weight and size.

The thinkpad will run cooler, but not quieter. It also has soft touch surfaces that feel a lot nicer than the metal of the macs at times. And if you're willing to pay for it lenovo will send someone to wherever you are the same day to repair it if it's damaged. My friend bought one that included this service. He damaged the machine late at night with a spill and it was completely dead. They woke him up at 5am to get in to his house and fix it, and they left an hour later with him having a working machine ready to go. Apple has applecare and the large network of stores which can do a lot of onsite service, but lenovo will treat the thing like a mission critical mainframe at Boeing if you're willing to pay the extra couple hundred bucks complete with insane turn around time.

To expand on the display thing, you will be disappointed with the resolution of the stock t530 screen for this kind of work. the 1600x900 screen will be ok, but what you really want is one of the "higher detail" modes that the retina screen offers. I domusic production/sequencing and adobe creative suite stuff on a 1920x1200 17in macbook pro from before they discontinued them, and the only machine i'd upgrade to would be the 15in retina pro. I'll groan through that type of work on a desktop on anything less than a 1680x1050 display, and hope for 1080p.

If you want windows, or a thinkpad, you want this machine in the "more storage" variety which includes the nicer screen. You will be unhappy with anything else displaywise, but likely not unhappy with a thinkpad in and of itself. It's like buying a cramped but well made car like a toyota yaris to commute for hours each way every day in.

I'd also recommend considering these and looking at the dell coupons. Precisions are in every way equal in quality of construction and design to thinkpads. You're basically comparing lexus to infiniti and BMW here.
posted by emptythought at 3:56 PM on June 21, 2013

The retina display looks better. I can't think of a more defining factor of distinction than the part of a laptop that you look at with your eyeballs the entire time you use the machine.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:20 PM on June 21, 2013

Thank you all for your excellent suggestions.

I have decided to go with the Macbook Pro Retina.

A few things why:

1) The macbook pro is an excellent sturdy build. The Lenovo seems a bit plastic(y) to me.
2) The display.
3) Size. Weight. The Lenovo is one thick laptop.
4) OS X. I can install Parallels and have Windows too. Not vise versa.

The MBPr is one expensive machine that is not upgradeable, without an optical built in drive. But this is one fantastic machine. I own my own business so I dont need to dock anywhere. Nor do I need any ports for protectors.

One thing I will miss is native Excel on Windows. I tried Parallels and its good but not great. Other than that, all other factors outweigh this negative.

Hopefully with the next release of Office 2014 for Mac, Excel is on par with the Windows ver and I can ditch Parallels altogether.
posted by alshain at 11:14 AM on June 22, 2013

Unless you already have a copy of Parallels, consider VMware Fusion instead. I started with Parallels, but switched to Fusion when I had some application issues with Parallels. Fusion is far more stable, much faster (the Filemaker Pro database I work with daily is more than twice as fast under Fusion), and easier to maintain and configure.
posted by xedrik at 1:51 PM on June 22, 2013

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