While Apple was introducing the new 2016 MacBook Pro during its recent media event, I was ready to place my order. My workhorse 2010 MacBook Pro, which I’ve Frankenstein’d in various ways to eke out more life, is now enough behind the curve that it’s time for an upgrade. (It’ll make a great Mac for my daughter to use.)
Apple’s events build in a predictable manner: introduce the new product, play a video about it, go over the technical details and new features, play another video about it (often with plenty of design and engineering photography to make one salivate), and then, finally, reveal the specifications, price, and availability. The floating breakdowns in the MacBook Pro design video are stunning:
But like a lot of people, I didn’t order one right away. The 16 GB RAM limit was the first thing to make me pause; my current machine is maxed out at 8 GB and I often hit that ceiling when I’m editing photos and running many applications in the background. We’ve since learned that the limit is due to a Intel’s memory chips to maintain acceptable battery life using the available processors.
Also, these new models are expensive. Macs have often cost more (although just as often they shake out pretty even or better when you configure competitors’ low-priced computers evenly), but these are definitely a few hundred dollars more than previous models. I realized that I could buy an existing 27-inch 5K iMac (announced last year) and a new base 13-inch MacBook for roughly the same price. That initiated a lot of internal analysis.
And I still bought one. As I was deliberating, I wrote up the following list of reasons this MacBook Pro, at this time, is the new computer for me. Let me reinforce that this is my situation; I’m not trying to be universal or tell you what to buy. But I thought that posting my thought process might help other people who are also weighing many of the same questions.
If I’d gone through these mental exercises in the hours after the machines were announced, I’d be getting one two weeks earlier. Ah well. Now I’m looking at the first week of December.
Why I’m Buying One
Here we go (generally in no particular order):
- At the top of my list, and certainly one of the most important factors, is that I spend all of my professional time on my Mac. It’s not like the machine won’t get used.
- My 2010 MacBook Pro has served me well, but it’s old. It doesn’t have modern technologies like Handoff, a Retina display, USB 3, or Thunderbolt of any variety. In fact, even though I’ve written about all of these things, none of the machines I own include them. (For things like Handoff I’ve had to borrow machines or have used review units that go back to Apple.) For the record, in addition to my workhorse MacBook Pro, I also own an Early 2009 Mac mini and a Mid 2011 Mac mini, both of which are used as internal servers and test machines.
- I often do client work that requires me to use applications such as Photoshop, InDesign, Lightroom, etc., where more horsepower and a better screen will be assets. Making the jump from my existing MacBook Pro to one with modern internal hardware will hopefully be quite a shift.
- The new MacBook Pro runs macOS. I know, obvious, but I have no desire to switch to Windows. I’m not knocking people who use Windows (and I do, too, in emulation), but it’s not the everyday OS for me. Too often critics fail to take this into account when they’re obsessing over specs. Sure, go get a laptop with better specs and a lower price point, and have fun when ads start popping up everywhere.
- While it’s true that I spend much of my time in my home office, I’m a mobile worker. I sometimes work in coffee shops or on my couch. Although a 27-inch iMac 5K is sorely tempting, it means I can’t do much of my work if I’m not sitting in front of it. If I was solely writing about general topics, I could envision using an iPad Pro as my carry-around computer. (Believe me, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past six months pondering this.) However, I already carry a 9.7-inch iPad, and although the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a great device, it’s too big for me on an everyday basis.
- I upgraded to the 1 TB storage option (an extra $400) because I currently have two 512 GB SSDs in my Frankenstein’d MacBook Pro, and use most of it. (I wrote about replacing the optical drive with an SSD at TidBITS.) I believe I could get down to 512 GB with a lot of work, but I’m concerned about having enough overhead to handle scratch files and such for media that I work on. The storage in modern MacBook Pros isn’t upgradeable in the future. Also, the storage is fast—speedier than most standalone SSDs.
- Similarly, I paid $100 more to double the memory in the graphics card, from 2 GB to 4 GB. That’s because many apps now take advantage of graphics processing to speed up operations (like image and media apps), but also because I want this machine to last longer. It’s not lost on me that I continue to use my MacBook Pro after 6 years of daily work.
- I look forward to Thunderbolt 3 and getting an external RAID that can store my photos and media library. Right now I have about 2.1 TB of data stored on an old Drobo that is just glacial over FireWire 800. It’s painful. That said, I’m holding off on that until Thunderbolt 3 is more widespread. In the meantime, I ordered a USB 3.0-only G-Technology drive to replace the Drobo in the short term. (More on external purchases below.)
- Space Gray. Space. Gray.
- I could save some money by buying a 13-inch model, but it feels cramped to me. I’ve used a 13-inch MacBook Pro provided by a client this year, and it’s fine, but especially when I’m working on photos, the 15-inch model is better. Also, the 15-inch model uses full Thunderbolt 3 connections on each of its four ports; the 13-inch offers limited connection on two of the four ports.
- The Touch Bar is definitely interesting, but it’s not a deciding factor. It will probably get limited use on my desk at home, because I connect to an external monitor and use the MacBook Pro’s display as a second screen. I am, however, eager to see how non-power-users will react to the Touch Bar. I’ve spent my career encouraging people to use keyboard shortcuts, and yet I think that most people don’t bother with them. Having logical options appear as a button on the keyboard—without having to junk up the interface on the screen—could be great for discoverability.
- Related to above: I’d love to get a new 5K monitor that would work with the MacBook Pro, but I’m not made of money. The LG announced at the event seems good—and Apple even reduced the price to $974 through the end of the year!—but we’ll have to see more specifics. I may get The Wirecutter’s pick for a 4K 27-inch display, but for now I’ll stick with what I have. It’s not great, but it’s paid for.
- Battery life! Right now my 2010 MacBook Pro is lucky to get about an hour’s worth of battery time before it needs to be plugged in. I could have had the battery replaced at some point, but I knew that a new machine was coming up soon and it didn’t seem worth the expense. FruitJuice tells me that it’s at 56% of capacity, having clocked 1198 out of 1000 recharge cycles (Apple’s estimate for battery life). Apple is advertising the new MacBook Pro as getting 10 hours of battery life on a charge, which sounds luxurious! In fact, lost in the moans about Apple abandoning the MagSafe connector is the idea behind that, having so much battery life, you won’t be plugged into power if you’re out and about. I won’t need to. I’ll still keep the included power adapter in my bag, but hopefully I won’t need to take it out often.
- The wide color gamut screen.
- Thin and light. I agree with the arguments that Apple’s obsession with making every product thinner and lighter is getting to be overkill. Why not make it the same size and add a bigger battery? But I can also say that I do like thin and light. My MacBook Pro, itself thinner and lighter than some laptops I’ve carried in the past, is still kinda bulky and heavy in my bag. And even though this machine is old, I swear to you that every day when I pick it up, I enjoy—real tactile enjoyment—that its unibody construction is so solid. When I buy a new piece of technology, I want to feel like I’m embracing the future. And whether that’s an iPhone 7 or MacBook Pro, Apple design delivers.
I ordered the top-end MacBook Pro configuration, which includes a 2.7 GHz quad-core i7 processor and 16 GB of memory. I opted to not increase the processor to 2.9 GHz for $200.
I upgraded the storage from 512 GB to 1 TB for $400. Although 2 TB sounds lovely, and perhaps in six years I’ll regret it, another $1,200 felt too steep for me.
I spent $100 to increase the graphics card to the Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB memory.
I did spend the $349 for AppleCare+. In my decades of owning Apple laptops, it’s been helpful every time. Even if it hurts to pay that upfront (and double injury when you see that first “Your order has shipped!” notice, and realize it’s just for the box with the AppleCare information).
Grand total, with estimated tax (and free shipping! Damn right they should include free shipping) was $3,998.20.
Yeah. Ouch. I know.
So, before I pulled the trigger on the order, I went back and calculated how much I’ve spent on my 2010 MacBook Pro over the years. Including AppleCare, tax, a RAM upgrade (to 8 GB), and SSDs, I spent $3,785.
So, the new machine costs more, and it’s more all at once instead of parceled over several years, but it’s not terribly more expensive.
However, that’s not the end. I also need accessories to bring everything up to modern standards. Of course, nothing I own has USB-C, so that meant ordering dongles and adapters. But to my surprise, that wasn’t as bad as I feared: an extra $400. Here’s how it broke down. (These all include affiliate links; if you order them from here I get a small percentage of the sale to help me pay it all off.)
- Kanex USB-C to DVI Adapter 8.25 Inches (21 cm)-White: $17.82. My external monitor, an NEC MultiSync P221W, only has a DVI connector, so I need this.
- CalDigit USB-C Docking Station: $149.99. Right now I plug everything individually into their ports on my MacBook Pro. With Thunderbolt 3/USB-C, I look forward to having most everything plug into this dock: Ethernet, USB (for a ScanSnap scanner, headset, iPhone and iPad occasionally, speakers, etc.). Not known offhand is whether I can connect an external hard disk toaster to this via USB 3.0 for duplicates I make to internal drives. I think so, but we’ll have to see.
- G-Technology G-DRIVE USB 3.0 4TB External Hard Drive: $179.95. This is the drive that will replace my FireWire 800-based Drobo (which will go to one of the Mac minis). USB 3.0 is fast enough for what I do most of the time, and this is an affordable stopgap until I switch to Thunderbolt 3 down the line.
- Anker PowerLine USB-C to USB 3.0 Cable: $6.99.
This cable will connect the G-Drive to the MacBook Pro directly via USB 3.Oops—this has the wrong connector for the G-Drive. Let this be a lesson, kids: don’t shop for USB-C accessories really late at night!
- Cable Matters USB 3.1 Type C (USB-C) to Type B (USB-B) Cable: $8.99. Here’s the cable to use with the G-Drive, with a USB-B connector.
- AUKEY USB C to USB 3.0 Adapter (2 Pack): $7.99. Adapters for existing USB cables. I figure it’s good to have a couple in my bag for when I’m out and about. If I need to charge my iPhone 7 via the MacBook Pro, I can do it using one of these and my existing Lightning to USB cable; I don’t need to buy a dedicated Lightning to USB-C cable.
- SanDisk Extreme Pro SD UHS-II Card USB-C Reader, $29. One thing I will miss on the MacBook Pro is a dedicated SD card slot. There are other, less-expensive card readers that plug into USB-C, but I went with this one so I can test faster transfer speeds in the future.
To be sure, this is a lot of money, especially all in one chunk. But my alternatives were to look into an iMac plus some mobile option (maybe even a basic MacBook), in which case I’d be chained to my office desk for some tasks; or wait a year and see if the next MacBook Pro models are better or cheaper. They’ll most certainly be better in some ways, but a year longer with my current machine isn’t a good option.
I hope this breakdown has been helpful to you, or at least mildly entertaining!
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I’m not sure that USB-C cable is the one you want to connect to your G-Drive. On the back of the G-Drive is a USB 3.0 Type B connector and neither end of the cable you’ve picked has one of those. It’ll probably come with a cable in the box that will work with the adapters you’ve picked but for a direct connection you’ll probably want one of these: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cable-Matters®-USB-C-USB-B-Black-1m/dp/B00UXKTJE0
Ah, yep! This is what happens when one shops for USB-C accessories very late at night. Well I’m sure I’ll get some use for it!
Hello Jeff, very interesting and down-to-earth read.
Can I ask why didn’t you decide to go with last year’s top of the line rMBP 15″?
I think this would fit greatly to your needs + you’d save some $ not buying extra dongles.
I’m hesitating to get one myself.
Tried to convince myself to get the newest model but I really have no honest justification here and this laptop costs tons of money here, in Poland.
What’s also sad is that you pay lots of money upfront and have to wait until December or maybe even longer for the new MBP. I know this is usual for Apple but… come’on, this situation repeats itself almost every year.
Good question, Sebastian. Mostly I went with the new model because I expect to use it for many years and want to get the best one I can. Yeah, the price hurts right now, but I need to remember that I’m getting the benefit over several years. Plus, having the latest one opens up possibilities for me to write about USB-C devices, the Touch Bar, and other possible income opportunities. (That’s also why I stressed that these choices were specific to my situation.)
As for the actual payment, fortunately my credit card won’t see the payment until Apple actually ships the machine. So I haven’t put out very much money *right now*, but that last week this month will probably hurt. 🙂
[…] Update (2016-11-06): Jeff Carlson: […]
Hi Jeff, I also just ordered a new Macbook Pro 2016 and my story is surprisingly similar. My Frankenstein Macbook Pro is from 2009. My son is having an eye on this one already for a while. I did the same weighting of options, and finally settled for one with 512gb ssd. Regarding the touchbar, my calculation was, that on my Frankenstein macbook, I perhaps entered my password 5000 times throughtout those years. With the touchbar, I save myself from entering a password for the next 6 years/5000 times!! This is a major argument for the touchbar model. I wish you a great time with your new Macbook pro! I expect mine+plus the adapters around new year and for the next weeks I avoid showing my Frankenstein MacBook to clients..
[…] my latest Practical Mac column in the Seattle Times, I outline (in a more concise version than what I posted previously) why the perceived MacBook Pro limitations—RAM, price, etc.—didn’t stop me from ordering […]