How to configure new MacBook
July 16, 2018 11:42 AM   Subscribe

I’m buying my first computer in nearly a decade—one of the new MacBook Pros—and could use some guidance on how to configure it to meet my needs.

My current computer is a quad core 2.7 Mac Pro, with 16 gigs of ram, and multiple terabytes of hard drives over five bays (including the second optical bay). It is still going strong, but Apple has obsoleted it and I haven’t been able to upgrade the OS for the past couple of years. I have loved this machine, and will continue to use it as a server as long as it holds up.

I mostly use a computer for regular office work (Word, Excel—not huge files), Lightroom (sometimes Photoshop), streaming video and music, and some music creation (GarageBand, Maschine). If I ever was one, I no longer consider myself a power user. But I am a Mac user, and I think I want a laptop again after my Mac Pro.

I think I want a 15” model. But how to configure, given my uses?

I was leaning towards the base 2.2Ghz 6 core (which Geekbench suggests is a full 3x the speed of my Mac Pro). Upgrading the RAM to 32 gigs is $400–and I assume a good idea. Upgrading the SSD to 512 gigs (from 256) may be as well.

I understand that the MacBook is not upgradable, so I want to be smart about the configuration. But the dollars add up quick.

How do you recommend I configure this machine?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Upgrading the ram to 32gb will future-proof it, I suppose, but I don't think it will really be necessary unless you anticipate some more extreme needs, like running virtual machines, 3d rendering workflows, or other very RAM-heavy usages. Software RAM usage has stabilized more or less, and 8gb of RAM would fit your needs just fine. Which means 16gb will have you set for the next 5 years. Upgrading storage is a great idea, though, but I wouldn't add the 32gb unless you know why you need that much RAM.

So, if the price was right, I would go for 512gb of storage and 16gb of ram.
posted by dis_integration at 11:54 AM on July 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would upgrade the RAM to 16 GB and the SSD to a solid 1 TB unless you know that you're not going to be storing big files (video and audio particularly). I've got a 512 GB SSD and I've got only 150 GB left; I store audio on it but not video.

You know your needs better than I do, but in general, if you know you'll be doing most of your work in one spot, I recommend getting the smaller machine (13" in this case) for portability and setting up a desktop workstation with external keyboard/mouse/video that you plug into. With the current MBPs, you can do it with a single cable connection if you set it up right.
posted by adamrice at 11:56 AM on July 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Upgrading the ram to 32gb will future-proof it, I suppose, but I don't think it will really be necessary unless you anticipate some more extreme needs, like running virtual machines, 3d rendering workflows, or other very RAM-heavy usages.

Yep. I'm considering a new Macbook Pro later this year, and I do use my computer for music production. My current 2011 iMac has 12GB RAM and the memory is never an issue (I don't use super-heavy sample libraries, but still), but the CPU always is. The 32GB option sure looks nice, but I don't think it's worth the cost unless you're pretty sure you need it. (I don't necessarily think big bucks for future-proofing in a laptop is a great idea... the hardware probably won't last as long as your Mac Pro has.)
posted by uncleozzy at 12:00 PM on July 16, 2018

When thinking about future-proofing and future uses, you may also want to consider iCloud (or any cloud) storage as part of the equation of how much SSD you want. Most of my files are photos and design work, so on my MacBook Air I opted for less on-device storage (128 gigs fwiw, but today I'd do 256) and more iCloud storage for a couple bucks a month. For me, it means I can access every photo I've ever taken, all my work, and all my music, from any of my devices, anytime. The tradeoff is needing internet access to ensure I have work-files on hand when I need them, but it's rarely an issue since many things are mirrored on-device.
posted by homesickness at 12:24 PM on July 16, 2018

The 15" is something I like having--I have the 2016 model, of course--but it is harder to find bags that fit a 15" laptop these days without them being kind of enormous, so that's probably worth considering. The 13" models are a lot more portable and the 15" is bigger but still smaller than I find that I actually want when I'm sitting at my desk at home, so I still wind up on an external monitor a lot of the time. If you haven't yet, you might want to go try them in person to see if the bigger one actually suits you.
posted by Sequence at 12:33 PM on July 16, 2018

Seconding (Thirding?) the 16GB 1TB setup, but also suggest getting the non-touchbar model. The touchbar is buggy, often freezing the entire OS for several seconds, and horribly designed for web use. The "touch" page refresh button is located just above and between the 3 and 4 keys, and overreaching means refreshing the page and losing whatever form progress you've gotten through. I've owned the new touchbar 15" mbp for about a year now and regret this purchase.
posted by TheNegativeInfluence at 1:04 PM on July 16, 2018

The control strip can be customized! I use it on the "expanded" version, not the app version, and have customized what buttons show up because I was in fact accidentally triggering Siri regularly, but now it's much improved. I don't think it's worth paying extra just for that, but I wouldn't downgrade other stuff just to avoid getting the touchbar when it's configurable.
posted by Sequence at 1:18 PM on July 16, 2018

FWIW, you can't get a non-touchbar model anymore, except the 13" with last-generation processors. I think the point is moot.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:42 PM on July 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Since you already are using several TB of storage, a 1 TB drive internal SSD will not be enough for everything. I'd consider going with a smaller SSD and putting the money towards a fast reliable external storage option and backup storage.

Also make sure to get one with the fixed keyboard (I think I read that not all of the new models have the protective membrane).
posted by exogenous at 1:43 PM on July 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I use it on the "expanded" version

OH MY. I had no idea. This is so much better.
posted by TheNegativeInfluence at 1:56 PM on July 16, 2018

You can skip the 32GB RAM upgrade, given your uses. Ever since changes in memory management and compression in OS X 10.9 (nearly 5 years ago), the installed RAM capacity goes much, much farther. At this point, the only reason you would need 32GB is if you plan to do work with many RAM-heavy applications, and the ones you listed are not RAM-heavy. Think multiple virtual machines, or lots of Docker containers, or professional editing of multiple 4k raw video streams. Even then, 16GB is plenty for 99% users.

Upgrading the SSD capacity is more useful to more people, compared to RAM. Even then, the base 256GB is plenty for most uses. If you will mostly use it as a workstation, and want the extra storage, using a dedicated external RAID should work fine. If you want to be more mobile, then consider springing for the beefier SSD.
posted by jraenar at 2:58 PM on July 16, 2018

I've owned both 13'' and 15'' macbook pros. My advice is to get the largest screen that will fit your lifestyle. Are you going to mostly keep the computer at home, maybe usually hooked up to a dock? Then the 15'' will serve you best. Portable enough to be used around the house, but kind of annoying to lug around the city. The 13'' is best if portablity is your main concern. If you're going to take it to the coffee shop, to your friend's house, to work or school, etc a 13'' is much, much easier to haul around and easier to fit in smaller spaces. The tradeoff is of course, the screen. But if you plan to use it mostly with an external monitor at home, it can be a moot point.
posted by Aranquis at 5:54 AM on July 17, 2018

I wouldn't buy any laptop today that didn't have 16GB and a 500GB SSD. Life is too short to wait on spinning drives. (You understand the difference, right?)

32GB is probably overkill for the life of this laptop unless you know for a fact you're doing something that's insanely RAM-intensive. It might be that music is; I don't know.

If you can afford it, get the 1TB SSD -- but STAY ON SSD. Fast 500GB is better than slow 1TB.

Absolutely be sure you're getting the just-released-last-week version, and absolutely buy AppleCare.

Remember that, at Apple, the 15" machines are all materially more powerful than the 13" ones, so the choice isn't just about screen real estate. Since you mention Lightroom, the 15" is probably a better choice for BOTH reasons.

I have a 13" I got 3 years ago to replace an aging 15", and I kinda regret that decision every time I open Lightroom for reasons of screen real estate and for reasons of speed. They're not that heavy; just get the 15".

If *I* were going to buy a new MBP right now, I'd choose the cheaper of the two base 15" configurations (2.2Ghz, 256GB to start) and upgrade the SSD to 512 or 1024GB. The base price is $2399US. Add $200 for the 512GB version, or $600 for the 1TB version.

And, again, buy AppleCare. The keyboard shenanigans are real, and while initial reports are that there's a design change on the just-released versions that should ameliorate that problem, a laptop has a riskier duty cycle. Get the coverage.
posted by uberchet at 6:44 AM on July 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Lots of good suggestions here.

I'm using a 2017 MacBook Pro 13" - I held out as long as I could with my older MacBook Air before upgrading, but it turns out I didn't hold out quite long enough, because I've already had several of the keys on the keyboard get sticky or unresponsive. Luckily, it's been temporary so far, but I do dislike this keyboard. The new model apparently adds a membrane under the keys for "quietness" but the expectation is that it'll help with the keyboard reliability issues.

Other than the keyboard issue - which is pretty #@#%ing major - I love this laptop. The USB-C / Thunderbolt ports work great, I can get by with just one multipurpose dongle, the TouchBar is surprisingly versatile, and the screen is gorgeous.

For my use case - daily work machine, often in clamshell mode with an external monitor, daily walk back and forth from home, quite a bit of travel - I went with a 13" machine. The processor is a non-issue - all my heavy stuff goes on servers, so a Core i5 is plenty. I went with 16 GB RAM, and 1 TB SSD - I think 16 GB is reasonably good future-proofing for the next 4 years, but my transferred files (and photos, and movies) already take up ~500 GB on this machine.

Some of this will translate to your situation. Regardless of the other choices, do get AppleCare. Unlike AppleCare on the iPhone, it's a good deal for a laptop.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:29 AM on July 17, 2018

« Older Name of this restaurant in Atlanta?   |   I need to sync my documents folders across... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.