Back to the Mac - Part 3

June 21, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Today is the day. It's on a FedEx truck finding it's way to my doorstep. Just enough time for some final thoughts before things get hands-on!


There seems to be equal amounts of praise and criticism to the new MacBook Pro Retina. Fortunately I ordered mine before a lot of it came to the surface. Had I waited, the sceptics might have soured my enthusiasm and I might have waited. I had a chance to play with a demo yesterday and it seemed fine to me.


It's amazing to me how much negativity has sprouted on the internet over this computer. Perhaps that was already there in the Apple world and I've been oblivious to it for the most part until's surprising none the less. It seems that every group from designers to photographers to video editors to plain old fanboys have a bone to pick...even celebrity status professionals have chimed in with equal parts enthusiasm and scepticism. I thought I would narrow in on a few popular arguments and offer my two cents. This one's a bit wordy and there aren't any pictures. I'll make it up once I it in my hands, I promise!


The RAM and Hard Drive aren't upgradable.

It's true! All of the RAM is solid state and all of it is soldered directly to the motherboard. The 'hard drive' is also solid state and on a proprietary daughter board. I'm not sure why it couldn't have been mSata like in an Ultrabook but it's Apple and they like to do things their own way sometimes. Apple says that this is approach has something to do with them working more closely with hardware partners but all I see is marketing. Consumers have whole heartedly embraced the Macbook Air (which was the first of their computers to have non-upgradable Solid State storage). We have told Apple that having a thin, light machine is more important than the ability to upgrade in the future...they don't have to be told twice.


My take? I have used notebook computers almost exclusively for many years now and all have had components which could be upgraded. Some more than others but always the hard drive and the RAM. Since my first notebook I've only upgraded the RAM in one of them once to try and breathe life into a 4 year old machine, and the hard drive in one of them once but only because of an out of warranty failure. With this purchase, I'm already upgrading from 4GB of RAM to 8GB and to the latest generation of i7 processor...from a computer which performs perfectly well today for my needs. I can't see myself wanting more than this for at least 2 or 3 years. At the rate these computers are advancing, 3 years is about as long any machine lasts before it's obsoleted by new technology anyhow. I have no doubt that most notebook computers (PC and  Apple alike) will be suffering to keep up with the demands of users and the requirements of software by then...adding some RAM or a bigger hard drive won't really do much to delay that. I'd rather have a smaller notebook with the power I require as I am a power user and will likely upgrade the whole system (regardless of who's I buy) before 3 years. I feel that this design helps them bring costs down as well. It's not a secret that the new MacBook Pro Retina costs less than a 15 inch 'old' MacBook Pro with similar specifications. The fact is that even with the maximum storage Apple offers (over 700GB), I'd still be using external hard drives for video work and for backing everything up so either way my workflow stays the same. It might not be as fast as it can be in an ideal world but it will be faster than I'm used to and that's fine with me.


The battery is glued in!

Also true! The huge 90Wh battery is built in and glued to the Aluminium chassis. To upgrade the battery will require a trip to a Mac Genius with $200 in your hand. Many folks are upset about this but this is also a trend started by Apple. This is in fact, by my math, the 5th generation (at least) of non-upgrade ready batteries in Apple products starting back with the iPod. The iPod, iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Air have all been incredibly successful with the same design. I can't help but wonder how many nay sayers own one of these previous products happily.


I've done the math and for me this isn't a big deal. Apple claims the battery will last for 1000 full recharge cycles. By the standards of most electronics hardware, that's a very high number (the original MacBook Air was good for only 300 cycles). If you fully recharge the battery every day, that's 2 years and 9 months. Plus you have to realize that the battery isn't going to just quit at that point. It should have at least 80% capacity from when it was new...more than the standard battery in the 'old' Macbook Pro models or about 72Wh. I've used notebooks for years and some Dell's I've used would need a new battery annually as they would degrade to the point where they could barely run the computer for 30 minutes. Mind you this was in the day when there was no such thing as a 'mobile' processor and power notebooks used full blown desktop Pentium 4 chips...they were hot and very hard on the batteries.


In my case I also use my notebooks plugged in when ever possible. You never know when you're going to need to run on the battery so why do it when you don't have to? The 10 minutes it takes me to find an outlet in the airport could pay dividends when the plane is stuck on the tarmac having it's wings de-iced. Not only does this provide you with working time when you need it, but it preserves the battery in the long run. If I fully charge the battery only every other day (for's likely to be less often than that in reality), the longevity of the battery jumps to at least 5 years before it will 'only' hold 80% charge. If anybody is using this notebook in 5 years it will be my wife, another relative who was in need of a good computer, or a school to which I charitably donated won't be the computer I still edit on...that I'm sure of.


It's Unfixable!

iFixit is a very popular website famous for tearing down consumer electronics just days after (or even before) they hit shelves to show us the insides to help people fix their own hardware. I love their tear downs and coming from a computer engineering background, I can appreciate the service they're providing. They have stated  that the new MBP Retina is 'unfixable'...and they're not happy about it. I respectfully disagree and think that their comment should have been that it's not 'fixable at home in your living room'. I've owned notebook computers for nearly 2 decades and even while it was my every day job as a bench technician to take apart and fix notebook computers, I didn't fix my own at home. Very few people do. The reality is, as a professional photographer, I don't have the time or the skills to do this myself with the level of quality, speed, and confidence it takes to get me back into my editing quickly enough. I leave this to the experts because without my computer I can't make money and could lose customers. Even if I can't fix it, Apple can. And even if I could, I'd still take it to Apple for service and not do it myself.


Now there are other arguments which do hold some water...The LCD screen is fixed/glued to the glass and aluminium housing making it impossible to replace without replacing the whole unit. This makes the replacement cost more. That said, I've worked for Dell and I can tell you that replacing the whole LCD panel is standard practice for most computer notebook manufacturers. Regardless of the cost of the whole unit vs just the LCD panel inside, the time it takes to replace the whole unit is much much shorter (minutes) than the time it takes to replace the LCD inside of it. The time it takes to replace is certainly factored into the cost and the higher the skill level required of the technician, the more that replacement costs per hour. The bottom line always rules and the path of quickest, cheapest resistance always prevails.


As long as Apple can fix it, there is no difference to me and there won't be to many many others. If you're a DIY type or a tinkerer or plan to use this notebook for 7 years past the warranty might not be the best choice for you. Many won't be buying one because it's hard to service and that's fine...we all have different needs. It's not enough to make me regret my decision.


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