Bad time to buy a new computer?
April 22, 2020 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I teach college classes online and my lightweight laptop is driving me mad. Is this a terrible time to invest in a new one, especially if my contract doesn't pay over summer? (A potential move, PC questions, and more details inside.)

In late 2018, I bought one of the then-new MacBook Airs, which supposedly had a fixed version of the butterfly keyboard (it didn't). What's more, it has proven to be wildly under-powered for design work and teaching, even compared to the 2013 Air it succeeded. I do a lot of video for class now, including Zoom conferences, editing, and live streaming for school events. What had been aches and pains are now actively stopping me from doing things. Premiere basically isn't usable at all, for instance, and OBS is really only able to put out a sub-Rocky & Bullwinkle frame rate.

I can't get a computer through my institution (long story). I also don't get paid on my contract from July through the start of school in September, and I'm not likely to be able to freelance much over the summer. My partner wants us to find a new apartment in August if that is possible in our city by then.

Since I'd never even consider another Mac with a butterfly keyboard, the only Macs that I feel like might be an improvement seem to be:
  • The very expensive new 16" MacBook Pro with the restored old keyboard
  • The iMac or Mac mini, which are basically only negligibly less expensive when given the RAM (or display) to match my current setup
  • Or, a refurbished 2015 15" MacBook Pro that might turn out to also be under-powered given its age
Maybe a supplementary cheaper PC for streaming and video capture would be a better fit, but there seems to be way less of a gap in cost between comparably specced Macs and PCs than I'd seen in previous years.

Should I get one of these machines, and which one if so? Would the annoyance of shifting over to a new machine outweigh all the frustration of the one I'm familiar with? Is this all really unwise?
posted by caliche to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The new Air that was just released has the same keyboard mech as the new 16, so maybe that's an option for you. You can can choose to get it with a i5 or i7 processor to get more processor speed too, if that floats your boat.
posted by advicepig at 11:45 AM on April 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you are up for another improved Air, as advicepig says, the new ones have the "Magic Keyboard" that is not a butterfly keyboard. Personally, I am waiting a bit to replace my mid-2012 Macbook Pro for a new smaller-sized Macbook Pro, which is rumored to be released sometime vaguely soonish. I wouldn't be surprised if it was announced around WWDC in early June, though who knows on a shipping date.

This site might be helpful for an outline of most recent releases/rumors for future releases.
posted by past unusual at 12:32 PM on April 22, 2020

How sustained are these video workflow needs? Will portability matter for you? An iMac is more powerful than a MBP than it looks on paper because it has a desktop GPU and it handles heat from the CPU better.

Since this is such a big financial risk, I think you should borrow or rent a couple of these options and put them through their paces.
posted by michaelh at 1:19 PM on April 22, 2020

On one hand, I feel like the new i5 and i7 Macbook Air options are perfect for what you're talking about, and I want to buy one for myself. On the other hand, while I have cash and credit for it... even with a job that is less directly tied to education than yours appears to be, I'm pretty nervous about my job prospects for the next 18 months.
posted by wotsac at 1:42 PM on April 22, 2020

I had one of those Airs at work so I totally feel your pain. I have a MBP now via work but I’m soon in need of a new personal computer. There have been loads of rumors that new 13” MacBook Pros will be announced in May. I’m holding out for that and maybe they’ll be good for you too - I’m personally scared to trust an Air again. It was the most underpowered Mac I’ve ever used.
posted by jdl at 7:27 PM on April 22, 2020

With respect to the refurbished Macbook Pro: we're long past the point where CPU performance doubles every 18 months. The performance difference between computers made in the last decade (at the same price point) isn't huge, if it's changed at all. There's a pretty good chance a five year old Pro is going to be adequate for your needs.

(That being said: try before you buy, make sure you have a good return strategy, etc. This is a rule of thumb and your specific mileage will vary.)
posted by suetanvil at 7:44 AM on April 23, 2020

Don't spend too much when you are not ready now. I would suggest to upgrade the parts of the laptop or fix the issue, buying i5 or i7 macbook air is not worth. Being computer hardware engineer I would suggest you to buy macbook pro on september once you get proper paid classes started.
posted by feroz at 12:55 PM on April 26, 2020

By the way, a new MacBook Pro 13” was recently announced with the new keyboard.
posted by advicepig at 2:55 PM on May 5, 2020

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