Probably buying a Macbook Pro 2020. What haven't I thought of?
June 23, 2020 11:57 AM   Subscribe

My new job is extremely fast-paced social media manager / graphic designer. I work freelance and supply all of my own equipment. My 2015 Macbook Air just is seemingly not cutting it. I'm eyeing a new 13" MacBook Pro (1.4GHz quad‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz, 8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory, 256GB SSD storage) but is there anything else I should consider before I hit "purchase"? More details inside.

I am very lucky to have found another job almost immediately after being laid off. I wasn't exactly "prepared" for it though - I'm scrambling a bit to get used to this new workflow that is so unlike a salaried job, and I definitely have never been in a position where I needed to supply my own equipment before. I often need to have 20+ tabs open and at least 4 different applications open at a time, some intensive (ex. Photoshop) and the amount of slowdown I currently experience trying to just get tasks done is not acceptable to me.

One consideration to sway me to buy a new machine is that I am starting to run into issues where a job that really should be 15 min billable time is regularly taking me 20-22 minutes for instance, because I'm just sitting around waiting for graphics-intensive tabs or programs to load. Many of the clients my agency works with are on VERY fixed budgets so the ability to deliver fast-turnaround jobs is really important.

I should also note it's just really starting to bug ME too, as the user - it's not just a billable hours issue.

My current machine specs:

MacBook Air 13-in, Early 2015
1.6 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5
Memory: 4 GB 1600 MHz DDR3
HD: 128 GB Flash Storage

What I'm looking at:

13" MacBook Pro (2020)
1.4GHz quad‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz
8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
256GB SSD storage
$1299 before discounts (will probably be able to swing the .edu $100 discount and may trade in MB Air for $200)

Other context that might be helpful:

- I am Mac only for reasons
- My max budget is $1500 total (so let's say $1300 + tax)
- I want the machine I buy to last me through a solid 5+ years of regular graphic design work
- I am a leeeeeeettle nervous about buying a 2020 MBP because I remember hearing how awful the 2017? 2018? version was
- I'd be willing to buy used if you have solid recommendations for resellers and specific models to look for

Thank you in advance!
posted by seemoorglass to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I believe your potential macbook pro only has thunderbolt 3 ports. Consider the cost of adapters/hubs/docks into your budget.

I just got a new macbook air for work-at-home purposes. One thing I did not consider but has turned into a real pain in the ass is that it only has two thunderbolt 3 ports. So my raid enclosure, my film scanner, my flatbed scanner, my card reader, my usb hub, and my keyboard charging cable all now have to run through yet another (powered) hub or through adapters. And when I needed to hard-wire an ethernet connection - another adapter dongle. It all works, but it's a real octopus of cables and I really miss being able to just plug things in.
posted by niicholas at 12:15 PM on June 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

If you're doing graphics work you probably want to consider 16GB of memory. Remember you can't upgrade these things afterwards. This especially applies if you're going to be using virtual machines (VMWare Fusion; also lots of website development environments run in VMs) or iOS Simulator.

I am a leeeeeeettle nervous about buying a 2020 MBP because I remember hearing how awful the 2017? 2018? version was

The Touchbar-era Macbooks had awful keyboards that regularly failed and weren't easily replaceable. I don't have any experience with the new model but it's my understanding that they fixed that.
posted by neckro23 at 12:17 PM on June 23, 2020 [8 favorites]

8GB of RAM is pretty low these days, and 256GB of storage is also low. If you want to future-proof this machine as much as possible, you should max out the RAM and get as much internal storage as you can afford. It'll be more expensive now, but cheaper than buying a new laptop in 2-3 years when 8GB is no longer viable.
posted by number9dream at 12:24 PM on June 23, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I was in a similar situation recently, and opted for the $1799 model version of the MBPro.

It has more hard drive space, which your Adobe programs and their resulting files will need. I also like that it has a newer generation i5 chip. It also has the extra ports, which can come in handy, especially if one is dedicated to an external monitor.

I know it's outside your budget, but I believe that paying more now will get you a computer that will last 7-9 years instead of the 5+ you're hoping for.

Since this is new for you, don't forget to track all expenses - these can (probably) be accounted for in your taxes next year, and lower your tax bill (assuming you're in the U.S.). But, IANYTaxAccountant.
posted by hydra77 at 12:25 PM on June 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

I would strongly advise against getting a new machine today, that you expect to use for graphics and design work, with 8GB of memory and 256GB of SSD. I would recommend 16GB and 512GB as a minimum. RAM cannot be upgraded at all post purchase, and the only upgrade options for storage are external. It’s tough to use external storage if you’re using the machine as a laptop.

As for a dock, a USB-C Dock will work fine. I use an older version of this one and it works perfectly. USB-C hubs generally will support a single 4K monitor. (Thunderbolt’s main advantage is multi-monitor support). I recommend against getting one with power passthrough as they are more expensive, more complicated, and only really matter if you have a single-port machine, and I only recommend one of the full-featured Thunderbolt ones if you absolutely need multiple monitors.
posted by doomsey at 12:26 PM on June 23, 2020 [3 favorites]

Please, please, please get more RAM (16 minimum) and storage (512 minimum).

Neither RAM nor storage can be upgraded later, and under-buying on these can drastically shorten the useful life. Don't do that in the name of saving a few dollars now.

USB-C docks are a way of life. You'll need one. But the idea of a dock really isn't new or confined to USB-C laptops, or laptops with low port counts.

I've used a Thunderbolt Display for years and years, and it's functioned as a "docking station" on all the laptops I used with it, including the 2019 15" Pro on my desk now. My wired keyboard, headset, Time Machine drive, wired ethernet, and a couple other things all hang off it, and the whole thing runs down a TB to USB-C cable to my Mac.

Basically, if you've got a bunch of stuff to plug in, consolidating it through a hub makes your life easier even if you have the ports to plug them all in directly.

Something worth looking into that I think many folks don't know about: Apple is pretty good about having zero-interest financing deals. For years it was all with Barclay, but now I suspect they're tied to the Apple Card. Free money is free money. I haven't paid cash for a Mac in a long, long time.

This isn't a good reason to go nuts, but it COULD make buying a more well-equipped, more future-proof Mac possible/palatable.
posted by uberchet at 12:50 PM on June 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

The new keyboard on the 16-inch MBP is fine. I find the Touchbar oversensitive, but it's not like you have options on that if you're getting a Mac. I haven't checked to see if the 13-inch MBP has been upgraded--it was NOT in the first, 2019 iteration, so make sure of that, because you don't want that keyboard.

If you can manage it at all, get more memory and storage. I have 512 MB and frankly I'm already wishing I could've squeaked the extra out of my budget to go to a gig.
posted by praemunire at 12:55 PM on June 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I just bought the latest 13 inch MBP and pretty much agree with everything that hydra77 and uberchet said. The latest version has fixed the godawful keyboard issue that everyone was complaining about. I went with 16GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive. More memory + hard drive now will save you having to upgrade for quite some time.

And as hydra77 said, if you are now a freelancer, you can most likely deduct your work computer as a business expense on your taxes. Source: my accountant, but check with your own.
posted by bedhead at 1:02 PM on June 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, this was really helpful feedback. I just got off the phone with Apple and between the education discount, the old Macbook Air trade-in discount, and being able to use my old Barclaycard financing card for 18 months of financing, I will be able to pull off the $1799 version. I'll go grab it tomorrow!
posted by seemoorglass at 2:25 PM on June 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

I recently upgraded from a 2013 13" MBP that I was very happy with (I opted for a few upgrades back then to make it more robust) to the 2020 13" model that is $1799. Even though my use case is less intensive than yours and I was happy with my 2013 model, I really like the 2020 version! My tech-savvy partner checked out all the specs both times to make sure I was getting a solid machine that will serve me well.

Believe everyone when they say you're going to need the additional RAM, especially if you're using multiple large programs. Apps are only going to get more resource-intensive, you're going to be very happy you opted for more memory or you're going to regret it very quickly.

I bought an all-in-one dock to care of all my port needs, I can see if I can find it and link it later.

I was also able to buy my laptop at a slight discount through my workplace. Being self-employed that doesn't sound like an option for you, but many larger institutions offer similar discounts by buying through them. If you have a sibling, parent, friend, etc. who works at a university or large company, it's worth asking them if they have access to Apple discounts!

OK I see on preview you are already set! Then just one more vote of confidence that you're making a good choice!
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 2:29 PM on June 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Will your clients be requiring you to work with any 32 bit software? Catalina won’t run it...64 bit only.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:48 PM on June 23, 2020

Response by poster: @bonobo thankfully almost every graphic project I work on is cloud-based in some way or another, including the softwares.
posted by seemoorglass at 2:56 PM on June 23, 2020

get the higher end one with the newer intel processor. just got it, game changer.
oh, get applecare.
posted by evilmonk at 3:24 PM on June 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

and being able to use my old Barclaycard financing card for 18 months of financing,

Sorry if this is too late, but if you have/get an Apple Card you can get the new machine without paying interest and get cash back.
posted by terrapin at 5:52 AM on June 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

You don't say whether you're using an external monitor, and if so, what kind, but if you are using a 4K external monitor or more than one monitor, I would avoid a USB-C hub and go directly to a Thunderbolt 3 hub. This will be more expensive (about $200 vs $100), but if you're running video over USB-C, you're either limiting your USB signal or your video signal (which in turn limits resolution or frame rate). All current Macs support Thunderbolt 3 (which has a connector that looks exactly like, and can be used as, USB-C).
posted by adamrice at 8:59 AM on June 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: typing this update from my new macbook pro, 16gb RAM and 512 GB HD. Including tax it was $1550 after all the discounts I used. Thanks everyone for spurring me to get the better-equipped model. Dazzled by how fast it runs!!
posted by seemoorglass at 12:48 PM on June 24, 2020 [3 favorites]

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