My MacBook Pro feels awesome these days July 7, 2012
I enhanced my MacBook Pro
I recently upgraded the RAM and hard drive in my 2011-era MacBook Pro.
My MBP has a sandy bridge quad-core processor and a 1680x1050 screen, so it's reasonably fast and has a large enough screen to do real work.
Unfortunately, with only 8GB of RAM, the machine went into swap-land when I was working on Scala projects (my IDE needs 2GB of RAM, the compiler needs 2GB of RAM, plus Firefox, Chrome, mail, etc…)
Plus the machine has the factory 5,400 RPM hard drive and it seems that Apple is tuning OS X more and more for SSD drives.
I recently upgraded the RAM on the machine to 16GB and upgraded the drive to a hybrid 750GB 7,200 RPM drive with 8GB of SSD.
It's a world of change.
The machine doesn't go into swap anymore. It boots much, much faster and launches apps much faster.
What's most important is that I can run a Linux virtual machine inside OS X. That means I have a configuration that's identical to the Telegram machine so I can test Telegram locally.
Battery life is an issue
Battery life on the MacBook Pro is pretty lame. My MacBook Air runs on battery for a good 5 hours when I'm doing Scala and Haskell coding. I can rarely get my MBP to run for more than 2 hours doing the same tasks.
It seems that the combination of the discrete graphics chip and the quad core processor sucks down a huge amount of power. Yes, I used the most awesome gfxCardStatus app to try to force use of the integrated graphics card while on battery power, yet my MBP has poor battery life compared with my Air.
No need for a Retina MBP
I looked into the latest MBP including the ones with the awesome Retina display.
There are a couple of issue with the new MBP.
First, despite having a larger battery, the battery life is no longer according to Apple. This is likely because the graphics chip is on more often because there are significantly more bits to push around on the screen. This is, in my opinion, a huge step backward.
Second, according to some reviews, the frame rate for the MBP with Retina is lower and there are sometimes screen artifacts while scrolling around web pages. It doesn't seem worth it to get a higher resolution, but a visibly poorer frame rate, especially when it's costing a ton more battery.
But, the most amazingly bad thing about the MBP Retina is that the RAM is soldered to the motherboard. Come on guys… some of us who purchase a MBP might be buying something we can upgrade. And oddly, the soldered RAM issue was the issue that convinced me not to drop $2,500 on a new machine but instead drop $300 to upgrade my existing machine.
16GB seems like enough today, but next year, the Scala compiler will need 4GB and I'll need 32B of RAM in my machine. I'm not going to buy a machine I know will be obsolete next year, despite the fact that I usually buy 1 or 2 new laptops a year.
Sad about the state of machines
I've been looking around at laptops and the landscape is pretty lame.
Apple is moving towards sealed consumer boxes… no upgrades allowed. Sigh. I wish they had a high res screen (1680x1050 or 1920x1080) on a 15 inch unit with no DVD player but with a low power (2 core) i7 and upgradeable RAM and hard drive. All in a alb package. Kind of a mix between an Air and a MBP.
Maybe running Ubuntu on a WinTel box
So, I look around at the other manufactures and think about running Ubuntu on a generic Intel laptop… I love Ubuntu… but…
Samsung has a bunch of not quite right machines. Either they don't have enough RAM or they don't have upgradeable RAM. The screen resolution is generally crap (who can do anything on a 1300x768 screen?!?). And the higher res units often have a discrete graphics chip. Come on, there are 85 different Samsung laptops and they can't get the geek mix right in any of them?
I have had 1 Dell laptop and, while the screen is awesome, the keyboard sucks and the plastic case is lame.
I was thinking about an XPS 13, but they are sealed units and they have last generation chips in them. Sigh.
The Zenbook Prime is almost there… except the one with reasonable screen resolution also has a max of 8gb of RAM… and it's soldered to the motherboard… and it's also got a discrete processor.
Sony has a nice 13" laptop with a 3rd gen i7 processor, integrated graphics, and a 1920x1080 screen. Seems almost perfect except getting Linux to run on Sony laptops is a constant battle and I want something that will work from Kernel upgrade to Kernel upgrade.
Plus a friend has really bad experiences with Sony's laptop repair and if I'm going to drop a premium over an Apple machine on a Sony, I expect the best customer service on the planet.
The ThinkPad 430s is almost there. It's got all the specs right and has a reasonable package (about 4lbs). Almost every ThinkPad I've had is still running… and I've got a closet full of them. They are built well and have nice keyboards. I love TrackPoints.
The 430s has 2 SODIMM slots so I can put 16GB of RAM into the machine.
ThinkPads run Linux very well, so I've got no worries about installing Ubuntu and having it "just work."
The only downside to the ThinkPad is that Lenovo uses poor screens. Yes, the resolution is fine, but the brightness and overall quality is poor. I never really noticed the issue until I started buying Macs… then the difference in screen quality became very apparent.
So, I whine
Yes, these are all very whine-like problems. I probably sound like Goldilocks… "this laptop is too cold" "this laptop is too lumpy"… but I spend 10+ hours a day in front of my machine and I really want one that meets all my needs. So far, the MBP best meets my needs except when I'm on the road… then it's not so good.