The 5-year Itch: Upgrading to a new MacBook Pro

It’s time for a new Mac. My old MacBook Pro, purchased in 2008 was a great machine, and worked great for four years. I put off upgrading for a year by adding more RAM and a bigger hard drive, but eventually I reached the point where the hardware wasn’t meeting my needs any more.

I’ve been a Mac guy from about 2000, and have no desire to switch. Macs do what I need with a minimum of fuss, and frankly that’s the big thing I want from my computers these days. I don’t have time to mess around with obscure driver issues or janky interfaces; I just want my computer to work, and work well. Macs fit the bill for me, though your mileage may vary.

So … which Mac? My first Mac was a 12″ iBook (the translucent white variety, not the clam shell). That was followed by a PowerMac desktop computer that was a mistake; I bought it shortly after my daughter was born, and I underestimate just how little time new dads get to spend in front of their computers (unless it’s playing Warcraft III at 2 a.m. while trying to get the baby to fall asleep). Next time around I learned from that mistake and got a 15″ MacBook Pro in 2008.

At the time I wanted something that fell between the size and power of a desktop and the portability of a laptop. I wasn’t ready to sacrifice essential screen real estate by getting a smaller 13″ laptop, and thought I’d spend a fair amount of time dual booting into Windows XP for games, RPG mapping, and Windows-only tasks. While I did spend a lot of time in Quicken, in truth the Windows partition wasn’t used for much more than paying bills.

This time around I’ve returned to the smaller, lighter laptop. My 15″ MacBook was a solid machine, but I’ve found that it’s awkward on business trips — there’s simply no way to use a 15″ laptop when you’re 6’1″ and flying coach. My computing needs have also changed; I don’t care about dual booting any more (I’ve got a Windows laptop I can use for that) and most of what I do on my computer revolves around programming, writing, photography, and audio editing. None of this really demands huge amounts of screen real estate, and even if it does I can easily jump between programs via Mac OS X’s Spaces. Weight was also a consideration; while a 15″ laptop is by not means a loadstone, I spend enough time walking to work that a more minimalist approach was appealing to me.

I considered the MacBook Air, but I found them to be too light and wedge like for my tastes. A 15″ laptop may feel like a slab of metal, but a MacBook Air feels like aluminum foil. Aesthetically, the form factor appealed to me, but it was just too … slight. Instead I went with the 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina display.

And I’m loving it.

The new Mac is everything I wanted from a new laptop. It’s slimmer than my old 15″ and weighs a lot less, but it feels natural, like carrying an tablet. The Retina display is beautiful and reaffirms how much I need new glasses. Everything is crisp and clean, and while I can’t say that a Retina display is a must-have, it sure is pretty.

The MacBook’s keyboard and trackpad layout are perfect for me; there’s just enough space below the keyboard for me to rest my palms. It’s a little thing, but it makes writing a relaxing, comfortable experience (as opposed to the rage-inducing, slightly-off center writing experience of my Windows 8 Toshiba, but I digress).

During normal use the computer is surprisingly quiet. It shouldn’t be a surprise — there’s no optical drive or conventional hard drive to spin — but it’s something I noticed as soon as I started using it. It’s a long way from my old “wind tunnel” G4 Quicksilver Mac tower…

If I’m writing, web browsing, audio or photo editing, or any engaging in other lightweight activities the MacBook runs cooler than any other computer I’ve owned. That said, coolness gives way to sweltering heat the minute I launch a game. When playing Civilization V all the fans kick in, and the MacBook becomes too hot for my lap; I’ve taken to resting it on a book if I want to play Civ on the sofa. The computer itself isn’t hot; it’s just the heat being thrown off by the fans that makes it uncomfortable.

Weight-wise, the computer’s perfect. It’s a little heavier than a tablet, but much lighter than my ancient 15″ MacBook. It’s thick enough that you’re not going to lose it in a pile of magazines. I’m looking forward to my first business trip with it.

The key now is to turn this love for my new computer into a surge of productivity. My old computer provided the perfect excuse for not writing, to give up on my picture a day project, to postpone podcasting. The new Macbook obliterates all those excuses.