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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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Downsizing or upgrading? On choosing a new Mac laptop

February 8th, 2014 · 9 Comments

I haven’t mentioned my recent period of digital transition.

My main computer for several years has been a 15″ MacBook Pro. I bought it reconditioned in June 2010, as I recall. What I don’t remember is whether it is a 2009 or 2010 model. In any case, it gave me that wonderful amount of screen real estate, what was at the time a processor of reasonable speed, and upgradable memory. I did some internal surgery a couple of years ago, swapping out the hard drive for a new and supposedly faster “hybrid” drive, and replacing the DVD drive with a small solid state drive. With the system and applications on the SSD drive, and a faster hard drive, it was faster than the original, and helped stave off the pressure to invest in a new computer. But it weighs a bit over 5 and a half pounds, and in the past six months it developed a glitch affecting the SSD drive. I think it might be a bad cable, but my initial attempt at intervention failed. In any case, it still works but has not been as reliable as previously, allowing upgrade fever to set in.

So I’ve been looking at the current generation of Mac laptops for a while. We have an underpowered but reasonably priced 11″ Macbook Air that Meda and I both use for travel. My decision was between a new MacBook Pro 15″ with today’s faster processor and memory, or the 13″ version. It was a very hard call.

Specifications say the 15″ is much faster. And with the right setup, that 15″ MacBook might be the best laptop available. That’s usually irresistible.

But my other half pushed back. I once had a 12″ Aluminum PowerBook which I loved, and which served as my primary computer until it was stolen. That was when I moved to a 15″ laptop, loved it as well, but have to admit I missed the more portable form factor.

There are passionate reviewers who argue on both sides of this selection. Some say the 15″ is so much faster, at only a moderately price premium, that it’s silly to look elsewhere. Backers of the 13″ say it is plenty fast enough, few people will notice the speed difference, and anyone not spending all day, every day editing video or audio will be extremely happy with the smaller package.

Finally, with fear and trembling, I decided a well-decked out 13″ would serve my needs better than a low-end 15″.

Once I made the decision, I had to wait weeks until something close to the model I was looking for showed up in the Apple Store’s reconditioned section. Finally that happened a couple of weeks ago, and I quickly hit to “order” button.

So my new computer is a 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina screen, 2.6 GHz i5 processor, 16GB ram, and a full terabyte of solid state memory. Purchased reconditioned, with full warranty, it cost less than the discounted price available to students and faculty through the Apple Education Store.

I would have normally relied on Apple’s “migration assistant” to transfer my applications and data over from my 15-incher, but it was fooled by the SSD/Hybrid dual drives on that computer. So I had to go through the process of transferring from back-up copies of those drives made with Carbon Copy Cloner. It meant 24-hours or so of anxiety, but now, after a little relying on the new computer, it all seems to have transferred and all is now running smoothly.

I’ve archived up some miscellaneous files to an external drive, and will be deleting them from the every day computer to free up more space. I was surprised to have more than 40 GB of files in that category, including what are probably duplicate copies of photos and videos that got dropped into the wrong place, or that I failed to track properly.

The i5 processor is plenty fast enough, especially with the super fast solid state memory in this computer. It doesn’t get very warm, or hasn’t yet. Battery life is excellent, and seems to pretty easily get through a full working day, although not with computer running the entire time. But it’s all coming together.

So I’m a very happy camper. Now if I can just figure out how to remove the gremlins from the prior 15″ laptop, I’ll offer it up for sale at a discounted price and make someone else happy as well.

Tags: Computers · Consumer issues

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Rob Kin // Feb 9, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Carbon Copy Cloner works very well. My partner’s 8y laptop just crashed. She decided on a new 13″ Macbook Pro through Education store rather than the refurbished version. Used Migration Assistant worked flawlessly. 160Gb to 1Tb drive should be good for another 8y!

  • 2 Aaron // Feb 9, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    If you think the SSD is the problem in your old MBP, why not remove it and reinstall the optical drive? I had one SSD fail after about a year. They generally seem have shorter lives. If you are unsure about the installation, ifixit.com is a great resource.

  • 3 C // Feb 9, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    Congratulations! Wishing you many uneventful years with your new 13-inch MacBook Pro. I faced the “screen real estate vs. speed” situation a couple of years ago and have no regrets with applying the savings on a smaller screen to faster innards. The portability is a plus.

  • 4 Leslie Lang // Feb 10, 2014 at 12:00 am

    I too love my 13-inch MacBook Pro. I carry my laptop around a lot, and I love its size and weight.

    And while I’ve never minded the size of its screen, I recently got a 21-inch, I think it is, external monitor and I plug into that when I’m working at my desk. I gotta say, I’m new to the external monitor but I am a True Believer. It’s large enough that I can have two documents open on it, while working on a third document on the laptop. Not having to flip back and forth, back and forth — what a luxury.

  • 5 Rlb_hawaii // Feb 10, 2014 at 7:06 am

    I got the the 13″ MacBook Pro too. Very happy with the size, mass, and performance.

  • 6 James Lindblad // Feb 10, 2014 at 8:32 am

    I’ve had good luck with OWC Mercury Elite Pro Mini housing with SSD drive inside making use of Firewire port to boot off the new SSD. Just clone system to new SSD, then hold Alt key to boot off the SSD and wow! I’ve done this with both iMac and Mac Mini. I used Carbon copy and think it is great. On the older iMac the USB 2 also works well when booting from OWC Mercury Elite Pro Mini & SSD.

  • 7 Ian Lind // Feb 10, 2014 at 11:33 am

    I’m also a regular customer and fan of OWC and its various drives. Good products, good service. Find them at Macsales.com.

  • 8 Ian Lind // Feb 10, 2014 at 11:33 am

    I’m also a regular customer and fan of OWC and its various drives. Good products, good service. Find them at Macsales.com.

  • 9 aikea808 // Feb 10, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    Good for you! My MBP is early 2008 and I’m not tech-savvy enough to change anything, so I’d be interested in your old one if you solve the dilemas … shoot me an email.

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