Sunday, May 11, 2014

Buying a New Apple Mac Laptop -- Some Considerations

I just had a 2011 model MacBook Pro die on me.  It is perhaps the first in a long line of Macs that have failed on me.  I bought my first Mac -- the original Mac -- in 1983 as a senior at Stanford.   Since then, I've always had one or two Macs around my home and office.  From 1990 through 2005 or so, I had a small business with as many as six staff.  I went through two ImageWriter dot matrix printers, a Starmax clone made by Motorola, Performa machines, a really crappy LC550 which was a precursor to the colorful iMacs that came out in 1998, and a Powerbook 100.  I still have, in my garages and elsewhere, a Powerbook 540c,  Powerbook G3 (Wall Street), Titanium Powerbook, G4 MacBook Pro, and the list goes on.

I've been happy with this 2011 model MacBook Pro.  I used OWC's great Data Doubler bracket, which allowed me to put in two laptop-sized hard drives in the laptop.  I had to remove the SuperDrive (DVD writer/reader) to do this, but for the past six months, I've enjoyed having a lightning-fast Samsung 250Gb SSD drive along with a pretty huge 1 Tb traditional hard drive, both in my laptop.  The speed of starting up my laptop, along with starting applications, was phenomenal, like having a new machine.  Having such a large hard drive is pretty important to me, as I keep a huge amount of my electronic life on my laptop.   I enjoyed the larger 15" screen when I was traveling, and I could do all my work on this laptop when traveling since all my files were on it (except for my giant photo and video files, which are on separate hard drives in my office).  When I was at home, I hooked this laptop up to a 25" monitor, and I had two screens to do my work on.  It has been a very nice arrangement.  I did not have to try to coordinate changes in documents across multiple machines, since I used the one laptop for just about everything.  The only downside was that this 15" MacBook Pro was pretty heavy at 5.5 pounds. 

Apple has taken my laptop for repair.  I started researching the newer laptops, thinking that I might look into buying a smaller, lighter 13-inch MacBook Pro or MacBook Air.  I was pretty disappointed to learn that Apple's new Macs are increasingly hard-wired so that the user cannot change hard drives or RAM.

Thanks to my old friend Lloyd Chambers (aka Diglloyd) who blogs about technology and photography at, I started seriously considering buying a mid-2012 model 13" MacBook Pro.  Here's why, and here's a guide to buying new Mac laptops from a perspective of a professional photographer who travels a lot, and needs a laptop with over 1Tb of internal storage.

If you want to be able to put in a larger hard drive or larger SSD drive in your Mac laptop, then be aware that you CANNOT swap out hard drives or SSD drives on any current Mac laptop. The last Macbook Pro that allows its hard drive to be replaced (look for an SATA hard drive) is the 2012 MacBook Pro Retina.  The newer MacBook Pros have "PCIe" connected hard drives, which as of today cannot be swapped out. 
If you wish to put in two internal hard drives and/or SSDs into your MacBook Pro, then the last machines where you can do this are the mid-2012 13" MacBook Pro model, and the mid-2012 15" MacBook Pro model.  Look for Mac laptops that have a Superdrive.  The second hard drive will go into this Superdrive slot using an OWC Data Doubler. 
If you want to be able to upgrade RAM yourself after purchasing a Mac laptop, then none of the current models allow you to upgrade RAM (the RAM modules are soldered in place).  Here's what the awesome site says:

The now discontinued 13-Inch "Late 2012" and "Early 2013" MacBook Pro models could not be upgraded beyond the stock 8 GB of RAM, period, either at the time of purchase or otherwise.

All current "Late 2013" MacBook Pro models -- regardless of display size -- can be upgraded to 16 GB of RAM at the time of purchase. would strongly recommend upgrading to 16 GB of RAM at the time of purchase, if at all possible, to prolong the usable life of the notebook.

If having the ability to upgrade the RAM yourself after purchase is important to you, you might instead prefer to buy a traditional 13-Inch or 15-Inch "Mid-2012" MacBook Pro model -- which actually are capable of supporting 16 GB of RAM regardless of display size -- or alternately, you might even feel compelled to purchase a notebook from a company other than Apple.  

I am pretty bummed.  I placed an order for a  "Mid-2012" MacBook Pro model after doing the above research.  I am forced to buy a two-year-old machine because I wish to have internal hard drive/SSD capacity of more than 1 Tb.  Sure, I could buy a newer machine, buy tons of RAM initially, and carry around an external hard drive for all my files -- but this is not a good solution.  I've been doing just this the past two weeks -- carrying around an external hard drive for all my files and working on a temporarly laptop while Apple repairs my old laptop -- and it is a pain in the butt, especially if you are traveling a lot.  

I don't want to come off as an Apple-hater, but it really seems that Apple has forsaken the pro community -- which carried them through Apple's dark days in the late 1990s -- in favor of the mass consumer. 

They pretty much killed Final Cut Pro. I am buying a 2-year-old laptop because their new machines won't allow me to put in RAM or a second hard drive, or even put in a large SSD drive of my own. They're faster, sure, but I have a 1Tb hard drive and a 250Gb SSD drive on my 3-year-old laptop and am super happy with it, except it is heavy and does not have USB3, and just died on me. 


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