Do I really want the new MacBook?
March 9, 2015 7:21 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me decide between the new MacBook announced today and the almost-as-new Dell XPS 13?

I'm experienced and comfortable with both macs and windows and this would not be my first or only one of either. Most of what I do is web-based or otherwise cross platform. I would use this laptop mostly on a commuter train, with a 4G data wireless modem, or while traveling on business. I don't care about a touch screen so I would get the XPS without it.

In the XPS corner: bigger screen, longer battery life, and better specs at $1000 than the MacBook at $1300.

On the MacBook side: half a pound lighter (could be a big plus, I'm finding it hard to quantify though), looks a little better, I really liked my old MacBook Air, I've had some bad Dell experiences (but in the distant past)...

What do you think? What am I missing?
posted by neat graffitist to Technology (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My big concern with the new MacBook is the processor. That Intel Core M is... slow. Based on what I've read, it's on par with the MacBook Air from 2012.. And, yeah.

Here's a relevant bit about performance from this nice Ars Technica write-up:

"We’ll need to have the system in hand to examine how the laptop throttles its CPU and GPU to save power, which will be important for things like gaming, video editing, and heavy Photoshop work. For general-use tasks that don’t peg the processor, the oversimplified version is that Core M performs a lot like the Ivy Bridge Core i5 and i7 CPUs in the 2012 MacBook Airs. If you’ve got a 2013 or 2015 MacBook Air, it will be a step down. If you have a 2012 MacBook Air, it’s a step sideways at best."

Yech. That XPS will trounce it twice a day and three times on Sunday. I guess it depends on what you want to do with it, but for me that would be a non-starter for even looking at the MacBook.
posted by kbanas at 7:29 PM on March 9, 2015

Best answer: How about ports? The new MacBook uses a single USB-C port for everything: power, data, accessories, external monitors, etc.

What's the cost of the breakout hub to attach all of your stuff? How much is a VGA/DVI/Projector dongle going to run you? External hard drives? I could see the pricey accessories piling up like crazy as you check out of the Apple Store.

Also: this is Rev 1.0 of new technology. Are you comfortable with being a early adopter?

But I want one too
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:32 PM on March 9, 2015

The MacBook has a Core M processor. It looks like your Dell has a regular i5 chip. So if performance matters the Dell looks like it'll be a bit more powerful.

Also, the MacBook doesn't have a standard USB port so if you plan on plugging in a USB modem you'd first have to plug in the Apple port adapter.

Your MacBook will likely have a better resale value.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:33 PM on March 9, 2015

The Dell has soldered-in RAM. No upgrades for you.
posted by scruss at 7:42 PM on March 9, 2015

Best answer: The Dell has soldered-in RAM. No upgrades for you.

You can update the Dell's mSATA SSD. Upgradability hasn't been confirmed on the 12" Retina Macbook, but it's virtually assured that the RAM will be soldered in, and the SSD may be as well.

There's lots of downsides of the 12" Retina Macbook compared with the XPS 13: the cost, the anemic processor, the lack of ports, the lack of upgradability. However, it's shockingly small and light, and I think you'd immediately see that difference even compared with the XPS 13. (Not to mention that Mac OS makes much better use of High DPI displays than Windows 8.1 does.)

If you're still waffling, I'd wait until you're able to visit the Apple Store and a Dell retailer and actually type for a little while on both. The keyboards on Ultrabooks have varied from awful to serviceable, and the new Macbook keyboard looks like a radical change for Apple, so it's probably worth actually using one before making the decision.
posted by eschatfische at 7:58 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My big concern with the new MacBook is the processor. That Intel Core M is... slow. Based on what I've read, it's on par with the MacBook Air from 2012.. And, yeah.

I'm on a Macbook Pro from 2010, and I do more complex stuff than it sounds like OP does (lots of Adobe stuff), and I am very rarely cpu-constrained. It's usually network or disk. I really don't think CPU speed is going to be a problem for someone who mostly does stuff on the web. I personally would not buy the new MacBook for other reasons (too little RAM, too few ports), but I don't think CPU is an issue.

Honestly, the issue here is whether you want to use Windows or OS X. The OS is going to have a much bigger impact on your experience than the hardware specs. Even if most of what you do is cross-platform, there are lots of little differences in the interactions, and surely there's one you prefer. That's your answer.
posted by primethyme at 8:10 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love my Macbook Air 11inch from 2013, and I had the 2010 version of it before that. I was ready to be all over the new 12 inch Macbook. But yeah, that processor - as the quote from Ars Technica upthread says, I'd be looking at a slightly slower machine than the one I've had for nearly two years, just at the point that this one is starting to feel a bit pokey in certain aspects.

I want the new Macbook badly for its looks and I think the one port thing is a not a deal breaker for me since I already use dongles to 'dock' it when I take my Air to the office... but I'm very disappointed by the processor choice.

Can you wait another year?
posted by modernnomad at 8:29 PM on March 9, 2015

You should buy the new MacBook if you carry your laptop with you every day or travel with it a lot, and do work that focuses on non-processor intensive work such as writing, presentations, web research or some forms of web development.
posted by furtive at 8:36 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The new MacBook feels like a reprise of the original MacBook Air, which was expensive and slow and also expensive and after two iterations became a great piece of kit, but needed those two iterations in order to become a great piece of kit. It will be bought by people who fly a lot, wear suits and give presentations. In two iterations it will be fantastic. Let others be the people who get it to that point.
posted by holgate at 9:33 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I would go for the macbook. While dell looks like they finally care about, and understand how to make a decent consumer grade machine... this isn't their first swing at this sort of thing(the adamo, ugh).

The way i'd look at this is what does the dell do that you care about that the macbook wont? The dell doesn't have a huge litany of ports, just a couple USBs and an SD slot. And it's worth noting that dirt cheap $2 usb-c>usb3/2 adapters will be available very soon, just like usb OTG adapters for phone. You can slap your 4g dongle on that, unless you just use a wireless hotspot already.

CPUs have been way faster than they needed to be for 99% of things for years. Any computer newer than 2010 with a decent amount of ram and an SSD will feel seat of your pants, basically just as fast for most tasks that aren't really cpu bound like rendering out video from adobe premiere or something. I'd take a lighter machine with no fan over more power.

In the XPS corner: bigger screen, longer battery life,

The dell only wins on this front with the 1080p screen, with the HiDPI display the battery life is crap. See here.

Now, i think the 1080p machine is both a good deal and more than enough resolution for that display size, but you're not really comparing apples to apples(lol) if you're looking at the HiDPI/"retina" version of the macbook vs the 1080p version of the dell. I know you say you don't care about the touch screen, but the dell is cheaper with a screen that isn't as good.

You also have to factor in that the base model of the macbook comes with a 256gb SSD and 8gb of ram. Only the upgraded dell comes with that, and that model costs $1400. 128gb is just... not enough space for a primary machine anymore, unless you're actively moving stuff on and off of the onboard storage as you need it.

I implicitly trust apples judgement when it comes to input devices. Their new keyboard and trackpad may be "weird", but i doubt they're bad. I've used apple laptops all the way back to the 100 series, and they've consistently had great keyboards/trackspads(or even trackballs, heh). If they say it's good, i'm willing to believe them at this point.

The dell is constructed in the classic style, from several panels of aluminum and some carbon fiber and plastic bits. The macbook is one solid hunk of metal, which looks like it even wraps around the hinge this time where it was plastic on older macs. It will feel more solid and hold up to the test of time better. I've owned higher end dells that were incredibly long lived and reliable, but bits always started falling off after a couple years. Unibody macs are not like that. I'm also skeptical over their "soft touch" coating on the keyboard tray of the XPS. That tends to wear off and look terrible after a few years. My partners parents have an older XPS with a similar coating and not only does it look terrible now, but it's actually rough, weird, and somewhat unpleasant around the edges of the area where palms wore it down.

Basically, a high end dell can be a quality used machine when it's a couple years old and the price has fallen a lot second hand. I'd never buy a new one.

Dell got caught with their pants down here. The base model is $1000, but really the upgraded model should be that price. The upgraded one is equivalent, in some ways, to the apple. It's actually not though because for $100 less you get somewhat better build quality, a far superior trackpad, and likely better battery longevity. My 2009 macbook pro still got the rated battery life last year. I'm confused here, other than the CPU what specs are better on the base dell? the macbook has double the storage and double the ram, and a higher resolution display.

I don't think it's a non-fully-baked device, and i wouldn't be scared off by the breakout box required for ports. Cheap chinese knockoff adapters will be available soon for peanuts that will work fine, since this is a standard port. Cheapo usb 3 docks already work with the USB 3 equipped macs. Another advantage for apple is that it charges with well, USB. USB 3.1 $20 battery packs will show up on slickdeals in a couple months that will be able to charge this thing while it's in your bag.

For what it's worth, i have a 15in quad core retina macbook pro. I plan on trading it for this machine soon. I was intrigued by the XPS, but am both weary of "high end" design statement dells, and just don't think it's that great of a value. The equivalent machine to the apple costs $100 more. Borrrinngggg. I also just don't think the $1000 machine is a good value even if the mac didn't exist. 4gb of ram, a 128gb ssd, and a 1080p screen should not cost $1000 even if the case looks cool.(worth noting, i also think this about the base model 11in macbook air...)
posted by emptythought at 9:54 PM on March 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

One thing you'll be able to do with the Apple, which you cannot do with the Dell, is try it out without risk for 14 days.

If you get it from the Apple Store, you can use it for up to 14 days, and then return it with a 0% restocking fee if it doesn't meet your needs. Dell will charge a 15% restocking fee on returns.

So while the new MacBook is a considerably major reinvention of the portable, you would at least be able to see if its design can integrate with your workflow.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 11:38 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've heard people complain about the typing experience with the new Mac.
posted by persona au gratin at 11:50 PM on March 9, 2015

I hate Macs, so I guess I am biased (I use a MacBook Air for work, PCs at home), but I wouldn't buy a first-generation of something using a new technology. Instead of a normal USB port, you will need to use a special port with an adapter, and you will only have one of those ports. Personally, having one USB port would already annoy me, but having one that requires a special adapter all the time would be even worse. You will either need to always have an adapter with you, and you may even buy new accessories to avoid using adapters, which seems like a huge waste. Keep in mind, Mac accessories almost always cost more than PC accessories, too. I agree with the others that you should wait a while. Use that few hundred bucks you will save buying a PC on your next Mac after it's less of a hassle.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:53 AM on March 10, 2015

With some trepidation given my experience with Dell product, I bought the highest-spec version of the XPS (touch screen reversible for tablet mode, extra RAM, extra disk) in December 2013. In 15 months of near-daily use I can say that it is one of the best pieces of hardware I have ever owned. I gladly ditched my iPad not long after. It is silky smooth even when running a lot of stuff. When I attach a mouse, I use it gladly for hours on end when working from the road, when I am used to a very large array of displays on the trading desk during a non-road day.
posted by MattD at 6:22 AM on March 10, 2015

The new MacBook uses a single USB-C port for everything: power, data, accessories, external monitors, etc.
What's the cost of the breakout hub to attach all of your stuff?

About $80.00 and several ounces. This for me is a must have as you will not be able to power your laptop AND have any other external connections. NOTE: From what I can tell there is no attachment to convert USB-C to Ethernet.
posted by Gungho at 8:51 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think you'd be absolutely mad to go for the MacBook. Even though I generally dislike Windows, the Dell trounces it in every category apart from weight. The lack of ports on the MacBook is idiotic. Even if you don't plug things in often, you know that at some point you'll need to, and either it will be charging, or you won't have an adaptor or hub on you.
posted by salmacis at 9:29 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

One advantage of using USB-C is that it is basically future-proof for the next 5-10 years, as that's what new USB devices will support. This reflects the general rule that Apple is skating to the puck will be, and not where it was a few years ago. So beyond holding resale value, it should be a pretty decent long-term purchase with respect to its feature set, if that's also a consideration.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 3:37 PM on March 10, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for all the feedback. The XPS just arrived yesterday and so far it's great.
posted by neat graffitist at 4:42 AM on March 27, 2015

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