If Not a New MacBook Pro, Then What?
October 31, 2016 9:35 AM   Subscribe

95% of the time I use my Mac laptop at home, docked to monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Problem is, it's a 13" air, and I find I really need a 15" for times when I do work outside on laptop. So I need to make a change. But the new MacBook Pros don't seem for people who dock at home.

I couldn't use the new MBP's fancy new features when docked - touch ID, Apple Pay, TouchBar. Even retina screen is a waste. However, I'd enjoy its faster processor (and new faster SSD) while at home. Options:

- Buy a Mac Mini for at home plus a refurb/used 15" MBP, but I'd need to synch plus current Mac Minis are ancient/slow/sucky (two years since last upgrade).

- Buy an iMac for at home plus a refurb/used 15" MBP, but that would cost at least as much as a new MBP.

- Buy a prev-generation 15" MBP with everything maxed, but wouldn't cost much less than a new MBP, plus there'd be uncertainty from buying refurb/2nd-hand.

Seems like my only option is to pay $$$$ for new MBP, no?

I need my current software environment, so absolute must stay with Apple. Please let's not do the "Apple Sucks" thing here.
posted by Quisp Lover to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Forgot to note, my current Macbook Air was bought abnormally maxxed out. So the "any upgrade will feel great" line of thinking doesn't quite apply.
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:37 AM on October 31, 2016

Would it address your second-hand concerns if you bought a refurbished 15" MacBook Pro directly from Apple? It's still not a huge cost savings, but you avoid buying more machine than you need.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:39 AM on October 31, 2016

plus there'd be uncertainty from buying refurb/2nd-hand.

All three of my last Macbook Pros were from Apple's refurb department and they are basically new machines in all but name. Zero issues, zero way of even telling that they aren't new, to be honest.
posted by Brockles at 9:41 AM on October 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm in a similar situation. I'm going for the new MBP with Touch Bar anyway, but "docked" with screen open (as second monitor) and keyboard almost vertical, something along the lines of this (but with nicer laptop and monitor :) ). Time will tell whether I use Touch Bar and Touch ID at all in this setup.
posted by supercres at 9:50 AM on October 31, 2016

While you're using it at home, all the dongles to connect the new MacBook Pro to your current hardware will be a bit of extra cost, but you won't have to lug them around. Just because Apple doesn't really support that usage doesn't mean it's impossible. You can use the Microsoft Display Dock to hook up everything.
posted by demiurge at 9:58 AM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

supercres, yeah, forgot to mention that option. I doubt I'd use Touch Bar/ID in that config. But, anyway, as a staunch user of Isolator and other Zenware, I'm looking for LESS beyond-screen distraction rather than more!

I understand everyone's different (if you need to constantly monitor something, or you do a lot of coding and want to see final result in separate screen, that makes lots of sense, but I definitely do NOT want to have my email and social media more convenient to monitoring!
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:01 AM on October 31, 2016

If I'm you, I go with the $1,700 previous gen model. If my quick Google search is right, there was never more than a dual core CPU in a Macbook Air. Even that $1,700 refurb would get you to a quad core CPU from a dual core CPU. I'm assuming you're doing work that requires multiple cores, (imaging, video, compiling code, etc.) The $1,700 computer effectively doubles your computing speed for multithreaded tasks.

The equivalent new MBP is going to be maybe 15% faster for $700 more. Refurbs sold by Apple have a one year warranty, which is the same length of time for a new computer. You could obviously step up to the $2,100 model you linked there, and the equivalent new model is $2,600 with the same storage, for what is maybe a 10% speed increase.

I don't put much value on the touch bar, which would actually be a detriment in the work I do, but that's me.
posted by cnc at 10:02 AM on October 31, 2016


Microsoft Display Dock apparently can't charge a MacBook Pro, only a MacBook 12". Also the ports are USB 2.0.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:03 AM on October 31, 2016

"docked" with screen open (as second monitor) and keyboard almost vertical, something along the lines of this (

Exactly the same set up I used to have in my home office (which I no longer have, which is the only reason I stopped). An external keyboard and trackpad made it really great to work with like that. I found that a lot of my work involved flipping between screens or working on two documents at teh same time and it was incredibly useful once I started using it.

Incidentally, I found that I had to turn off all the notifications of new mail etc when I used this or I checked email all day and did no actual work. I have kept that system even now I work solely on Macbook Pro alone. I am looking forward to the touchID because of even just how often I use 1password (for instance) when booking stuff and logging into loads of different sites.
posted by Brockles at 10:05 AM on October 31, 2016

Re: pushback on refurbs, I'm not worried about concrete problems. That'd be easily addressed, not a worry. I'm afraid of weird, intermittent edge-case problems (not spottable by refurb techs) becoming MY weird, intermittent problems. That sort of thing drives me nuts, and the refurb process is filtered to increase its likeliness. I frequently buy refurb (plus have refurb experience via Apple replacement of bad equipment), and maybe 10% of the time a week or so after I get it home, I find myself saying "ah, so THAT'S why the last customer returned this". Never a big thing. Just annoying edge-case minor crap. Like gnats.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:09 AM on October 31, 2016

The MacBook Pro has 4 USB-C ports, correct? Charge from another one, use another one with a dongle for any usb 3.0 connectivity you need. (For a external hard drive? You didn't mention that in your current configuration.)
posted by demiurge at 10:17 AM on October 31, 2016

I have several external HDs, yes. Access to multiple USB 2 devices is a solution to a problem I don't have. I'll just daisy chain my USB 3 stuff and dongle right in.
posted by Quisp Lover at 10:20 AM on October 31, 2016

I'm sure plenty of folks will use it docked, so I wouldn't dismiss that idea. For YEARS I used a "docked" rMBP with its main screen open along side a secondary monitor.

This config still works if you're a single-monitor person, btw. Elevating the laptop at a desk makes it WAY more ergonomically friendly. I used a Giffin iCurve, which I think has been discontinued, but there is something similar still available.

I stopped with the dual-monitor thing when I upgraded 18 months ago and chose a 13" Pro + a Thunderbolt display, so now I run with the laptop closed instead, which I guess is what you'd do if you prefer a > 15" screen. Even so, I think you're right that the new machines are probably still your next move.
posted by uberchet at 10:30 AM on October 31, 2016

I think the question here is really do you want a desktop/latop setup (your first two options) or a desktop replacement (your last two options).

If you spend 95% of your time docked, I'd personally build a Hackintosh for home and get a decent but not maxed MBP for the other 5%. This depends on your level of DIY savvy, but desktop components are cheap and you get more bang for your buck than buying any of Apple's current Mac Mini or iMac builds and better performance than a desktop replacement.

But if you're really looking for desktop replacement, go with the maxed MBP.
posted by givennamesurname at 10:36 AM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've only bought referbs from the Apple store. 3 MBP and 2 Minis and I think an iMac over the last 10 years or so. Never had any issues because they were referbs.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:46 AM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

Great idea, givenamesurname. One immediate hackintosh question. Apple has apparently figured out some proprietary memory interface they call "PCIe-based Flash Storage" that's significantly faster than just vanilla SSD. I'm assumed that's lost to me with a hackintosh, no?
posted by Quisp Lover at 11:14 AM on October 31, 2016

I think M.2 storage would be your hackintosh alternative.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:21 AM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I read an interesting, detailed account of a non-tech building a Hackintosh earlier this year, clearly outlining the setbacks, issues, and pricings. Can anyone help me find it?

Found it!
posted by Quisp Lover at 11:31 AM on October 31, 2016

OTOH, $1200 Hackintosh plus $1600 refurb MBP would exceed cost of new MBP.

The Hackintosh would be more future-proofed (and higher-performing) than my other choices, but a MBP would offer reasonable future-proofing, as well, plus better laptop performance away from home.
posted by Quisp Lover at 11:52 AM on October 31, 2016

As that article notes, a Hackintosh will be very tinkery. Audio, iMessage, and a bunch of other stuff don't work on the one in the article. Plus, future OS updates could break things to do work. More powerful, obviously, but I'd only go that route if anything I was planning to do on that machine wasn't critical for my work.
posted by bluecore at 12:35 PM on October 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

I followed cnc's advice and bought the step-up 2015 MBP (2.5GHz 16GB 512GB, retina, MJLT2LL/A) new from a veteran 100% feedback seller on eBay for $1900, including (he promises; not sure how it actually works) an Apple warranty good till 10/17.

From Apple, as a refurb, it'd have cost $2200 plus sales tax.

Not particularly cheap, but no tinkering, no synching, fewer dongles, and decent specs even for 2016.
posted by Quisp Lover at 12:59 PM on October 31, 2016

Yeah, my impression on Hackintoshes are that while they may mostly work, who knows if they will become doorstops with the next incremental software update.
posted by blueberry at 1:24 PM on October 31, 2016

Just to tie up some loose ends:

* PCIe and PCIe SSDs aren't proprietary, Apple's firmware is.
* All the suggested hardware on TonyMac's guides are pretty reliable. Once you pick a stable motherboard and video card, you're 80% in the clear on compatibility issues.
* That $1200 Hackintosh builder made some egregious choices.

Nice buy on the MBP! May you have many happy years together. <3
posted by givennamesurname at 4:54 PM on October 31, 2016

MBP is surprisingly not much faster than the old MBA for non-multiprocessor tasks (e.g. simple Finder tasks). This is the least speed bumpy upgrade in 26 years of Mac computing.
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:14 PM on November 3, 2016

Welcome to the sunset years of Moore's law. Sounds like you got a solid machine, though, and hopefully your eyes are appreciating the Retina screen.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:02 AM on November 18, 2016

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