Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011
I just bought a new 15″ MacBook Pro with 2.0GHz i7 quad-core processor, 8GB memory, 512GB SSD, Hi-Res Antiglare (matte) screen. I didn’t want to buy it but my granddaughter forced me to. (wink)
As some of you know I upgraded my 3 year old 2.5GHz MacBook Pro with the addition of an OWC 240GB SSD in December. It was the best upgrade I’ve ever done on any computer and to this day it has worked flawlessly.
In our house we subscribe to the “trickle down” rule when buying new computer hardware: I get the new computer, Anne (my wife) gets my old computer and if anyone “under” her needs her computer, they get it.
However, I’ve been so happy with my SSD-equipped computer that I was in no rush to get a new one and given that Apple didn’t upgrade the new 2011 MacBook Pro with as many solid state features of the new MacBook Air models as I wanted, I was hoping to wait for the next generation.
My granddaughter Erin’s ancient trickled-down iBook started to fail and my stepdaughter Bonnie’s old MacBook isn’t doing all that well so instead of push trickle down we decided to do “pull trickle down” with me getting a new computer, Anne getting my SSD-equipped MacBook Pro, Bonnie getting Anne’s unibody MacBook (a great computer, like a 13″ MBP sans Firewire) so that Erin could get Bonnie’s 13″ MacBook. I’ll take back Erin’s old iBook and recycle it with Apple.
What to get
There are two models of 15″ MacBook Pro with a small processor speed and graphics card speed and memory difference between them. I tend to buy the higher end of any particular model so it will last longer so I ordered the top end 15″ MacBook Pro with the “low res” standard glossy screen, 8GB of memory and a 500GB 7200 RPM hard disk. I knew I’d miss the SSD but figured the rest of the machine would be so fast that I’d miss it less than on older hardware.
The machine came, I set it up, migrated my stuff over and I knew I’d made a mistake within the first two hours of using it.
I’ve never been a fan of glossy screens but I also have a hard time seeing the smaller text on the glossy or matte HD screen. I thought given that I use a glossy screen on both iPhone and iPad I could get used to it. For an hour all I could focus on was my reflection in the screen. Not good.
Two things happened: the fan came on because of this now known graphics card hardware issue (fixed with the 10.6.7 system update) and no matter how fast the new MacBook Pros are with a fast hard disk, they’re not as fast as my old machine with an SSD in booting, running almost any application, and moving around in the system. In short, I really missed the SSD.
I swore that I would not get a machine with a glossy screen and a hard disk again if I could help it. I thought I’d sworn that before but Apple hasn’t made getting a solid state MacBook Pro very accessible or affordable and I have problems reading the high resolution matte screen.
One option I had with this machine was to replace the hard disk with an SSD myself as I’d done on my older machine. Had I not wanted a matte screen I might have considered this but I had to unload the machine to get a new screen. And, frankly, I feel odd about spending all this money and then doing my own upgrade. Ideally I wish Apple had folded more solid state options into these new MacBook Pros, but, they didn’t so there you have it. In the end SSD is still an expensive proposition, from Apple or from a third party like OWC.
So, I called Apple, told them what I’d decided and true to form they were amazing on the phone, saying they understood my indecision and that they’d send a pre-paid fedEx label and all I had to do was box it up and return it for a full refund. They cancelled the AppleCare and that was that. To be safe, I erased the hard disk and reinstalled the system on the new machine before boxing it.
What to get, part 2
In the process of buying the wrong machine I’d learned two things:
1. I wanted to get a matte screen although was concerned about readability of text on the higher resolution screen that would make text and all screen elements smaller. This is why I took a chance on the glossy screen. I knew from prior experience that changing screen resolution to something lower res for easier readability might adversely affect anti-aliasing making things not only tough to read but ugly. My feeling was that I needed to be able to read the screen in its native resolution.
2. I wanted to get an Apple-supplied SSD if possible.
I decided to make a visit to a local Apple store to see about the screen, which I did and in the process found that the 17″ MacBook Pro with matte HD screen was readable at its native resolution although tougher but that it had a lower resolution setting that didn’t kill the anti-aliasing on text.
The 15″ MacBook Pro was also readable at its native resolution although again, like the 17″ screen elements and text were smaller and a bit tougher to read.
However, the matte screens on both models were beautiful.
In the end, what tipped me toward going with the higher resolution matte screen was the fact that in a browser (Safari) and in each of the applications I use to deal with text I could easily bump text size up a bit to make things easier to read and if this would solve the readability issue then having more screen real estate would actually be a good thing in that I’d be able to see more of a web page or a document.
The 17″ model, while attractive with its large screen just seemed a bit too much like a cafeteria tray and while I now use an iPad on planes and wasn’t worried about size there, in the end I settled on the 15″ model because it’s a size I’ve had for many years and I’m comfortable with it.
As far as I can tell, Apple doesn’t stock SSD-equipped MacBook Pros in their retail stores so there’s no way to test one before buying. Using the 13″ MacBook Air is the closest you can come in a store to feeling what an SSD feels like to use. I highly recommend doing this for anyone who hasn’t. It will change the way you think about computing.
The two SSDs I was considering were the 256GB and the 512GB. The 250GB is what I had in my old machine and while I hadn’t quite outgrown it yet no doubt I’d have the drive more than 3/4 full in a year or so and even on an SSD things slow down as a storage device gets close to full. OS X needs some scratch space to do various tasks.
The 512GB SSD put the higher end MacBook Pro over my budget so in the end, I decided to go with the lower end 2.0GHz i7 15″ model with 8GB of memory and the 512GB SSD and matte HD screen.
I ordered it, it came today and I’ve migrated my information onto it which went very quickly from one SSD to another.
There have been a few bumps today as I dealt with a bluetooth mouse, mobile me, reconnecting apps to the new App Store and my iTunes account but those got ironed out and I seem to be up and running.
The 10.6.7 update must have solved the graphics processor hang/fan problem because this machine hasn’t hung at all and the fan hasn’t come on once. The machine is dead silent and cool as a cucumber.
And, most important, it’s as fast or faster than my old machine with its OWC SSD. The SSD in this new machine is labeled: APPLE SSD TS512C. I don’t know if anyone can discern brand from that, I’m thinking maybe Intel but I have no idea really.
I’ve not tested sleep yet but the machine boots almost instantaneously, applications run and quit instantaneously and web pages, even complex ones load as fast as I’ve ever seen them load on any computer. In short, this new machine is a dream and I have absolutely no reservations about having bought it.
I’ve also prepared my old computer for my wife, erasing the SSD and migrating her files onto it and have prepared her MacBook for my step daughter. This entire process went very smoothly thanks to a few external hard disk drives and SuperDuper.
I can now say with little doubt that an SSD rather than a hard disk (HD) is the single most important upgrade for an older computer or hardware decision when putting together a new computer. Many people focus on processor speed or how much memory the graphics co-processor has and these are no doubt important but the addition of an SSD will make everyday computing as silent and fast as a MacBook Air.
Solid state is the future, and if you can swing stepping into the future now you will not regret it.