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Alex Hare Photography

Buying the Perfect Laptop
Kit, Caboodle & Reviews

Nov 28th 2016

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With every release of a new range of Apple MacBooks and MacBook Pros there's the inevitable thought of 'shall I, shan't I' splash out on one.  Here I'll look at the 2016 offerings and show you what I ended up buying.

In summary though, if you have an old style Apple MacBook Pro, like me, and find it a bit slow consider upgrading it before you pay for a expensive new machine.  You can even do it yourself it's so easy.  But read on to find out why I'd asvise against a 2016 Apple laptop and how it might be the best time to get MacBook Air...

I have a mid 2009 MacBook Pro which, as it transpires, is one of the last machines Apple made where you could take the back off and upgrade the main things like the RAM, hard drive and battery.  For a long time now, Apple have made their laptops without user access so upgrading after the purchase isn’t possible.  I find it infuriating from a customer POV.

It might be big, heavy and lacking in the latest SSD and processing power but it was top of the line once and still perfectly good for mobile working especially now its pumped up with 8 Gig of RAM.

For me, part of the appeal of Apple was simple all in one software, robust anti virus OS, great performance and easy access to upgrade their machines.  Now they make it impossible to even get in there to clean it and, after my recent RAM upgrade, I can tell you there was a lot of dust in there.  I even found a small leaf!

My situation was I had a slow machine which CleanMyMac software told me was occupying 99% of my RAM.  I had 43 megabytes to spare.  Not good.  The maximum my machine can carry is 8 gig of RAM so I bought this from UK supplier Crucial.  They have a great website where you can run a fast check on your machine and it directs you to the products you can choose for it to replace/upgrade.  Genius!  They also have helpful customer support.  Another alternative with similar service levels is OWC in the USA but this involves greater shipping costs, import duty and longer delivery time. 

I’m not technically savvy enough to know precisely how much better the machine is now but the spinning wheel of death appears far less and, when it does, it's for shorter periods. Photoshop used to take 18 seconds to fire up, now it takes 8 so I think that's a good indicator.  At £65 to get a machine like this back to fast performance with the latest apps etc it’s a modest investment compared to buying a new machine.  There are also plenty of videos (OWC are the best) on how to perform easy tasks like this with nothing more than a screwdriver.  Trust me, it really is easy!

Which takes me back to the issue of new Apple Macbooks and MacBook Pros.  I hadn’t looked at them for a long time but my wife wanted a small, fast laptop for work and I wondered if I needed to replace my MacBook Pro so I did some research for each of us in case a new machine was worth it.

I can’t see that any of the latest Apple laptops are good value.  Macbooks now have only 1 USB port, and that is also used to charge the machine.  I hate being coerced into paying for and relying upon the cloud for storage; attaching my own memory stick or hard drive in addition to charging the machine should not be too much to ask.  I suspect that they’ve done it to make it thinner for the marketing guys.

So instead you have to buy a fiddly multi port adapter which attaches to the USB port to give you some extra ports that hang out the side of the machine on the end of a wire.  Sure, that’s not annoying when it dangles itself in the coffee belonging to the guy sat next to you on the train as you scramble over him to get into the window seat. Plus, you still need to buy another adaptor to connect to a VGA projector, so that's an extra £80 all in for stuff that most PC laptops have as standard.

I’m sure having 1 port makes the look cool but then to attach some silly device with extra ports and at extra cost just so you can charge and access other USB devices just seems counterintuitive when this is the practical need for most of us.  That was what Apple were so good at before; being practical and intuitive…

So what about the MacBook Pro?  Well, you do get more ports and amazing performance from the various specs you can configure, but these machines go from £1,500 but actually more like £2,500 for a spec that you’d actually want if youre into photo processing.  That’s a lot of wonga and I can’t see there’s enough in them to justify it. 

The processor is still i5, not i7, which makes pushing large files around more of a drag than it could so easily be and the fancy new Touchbar looks like a limited usefulness addition that I could do without.  There's also no actual power button (yes, really) its integrated into the Touchbar, which sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.  So I wouldn’t go near one with a barge pole.  I expect my MacBook Pro will be forced into obsolescence soon by the lack of support for the OS, which they wont let me upgrade.  The Dell XPS is really beginning to look like a good idea in many ways…

And how about Mrs Hare?  She wanted something fast and portable to use at work to deal with all the admin she’s expected to do in between saving lives.  We opted for a 13inch MacBook Air.  It looks like it’ll be phased out now that the MacBook is as thin and small but it has 2 USB ports and 1 Thunderbolt with a separate charging socket so Hallelujah!

Sure, the other tech (graphics card, processor, hard drive capacity etc) is slightly less than what you can get in a pumped up MacBook but for the price it’s half the cost and, in the real world, just as quick at Word processing and internet use and it has the best battery life on the market.  And, at 13”, it fits easily in the handbag. 

I'm really not sure if Apple will get back to delivering great products at premiuim prices as opposed to ok ones at premiuim prices.  I would have thought there was room to keep the Air, maybe make the screen detach as a tablet/iPad, cut one USB port to help with thinning it (but keep Thunderbolt and separate charging ports) and then the MacBook can come with extra ports and performance for more serious, heavy duty work like photography at only a bit more size and weight.  But what do I know, I'm just a cusimter after all…?

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