I recently wrote a rather lengthy post about why I bought a MacBook Pro. It got rather convoluted and I didn't get the chance to write about my day-to-day experience using it - particularly as I'm running Win8 on it. So here's my thoughts on running a machine from 'the other side'.
I always planned on writing a blog post about the experience of installing Win8 on a MacBook Pro via Boot Camp. There were some pitfalls, some drivers which wouldn't update (namely the Nvidia graphics driver) and the Boot Camp Control Panel's inability to run on Windows (a problem with permission or access to the drive). There are ways around these which I was going to detail here... but a couple of weeks ago Apple released updated drivers for Windows 8, so most of that planned post no longer has a point.
However, there are other details which I'd like to explain.
One of the reasons I purchased a MacBook Pro to run Win8 was based on advice from some people whose opinions I respect, and who told me that there's no better machine on which to run Windows than a MacBook. So I looked at the options available.
I was persuaded that the faster processor (2.7GHz) wouldn't offer me any substantial benefit for the difference in price. I don't plan on editing 4k video, neither do I plan on mixing multi-track music; I wanted a faster machine to reduce the time I wait while it boots up and while I open applications. The extra processor muscle would only kick in when the standard 2.3GHz is running at maximum, and that doesn't happen very often through normal usage. In fact, even when your computer is sluggish, unresponsive and the fan sounds like it's about to take off, your processor probably still isn't over 90%. So anyway, I opted for the 2.3GHz processor model.
My plan was to install 16GB of RAM. Apple don't offer the MacBook Pro with that much (though the Retina model can be bought with 16GB RAM) so as I was going to have to install the RAM myself, I opted to purchase the base model. The RAM that I then bought and installed was Corsair Vengeance: €123 for 16GB from Amazon.de.
I also decided to buy a model with a legacy hard drive, and then install my own choice of SSD. There were two reasons for this. The first was price: buying an SSD from Apple is a lot more expensive than buying an SSD from virtually anywhere else. The second reason is that the SSDs that Apple installed then - and I think they've now changed them to the Samsung 840 Pro - were not too fast (I think Apple used the Samsung 840 - not the now-released Pro model). I did a bit of research and the fastest read and write speeds for a notebook-sized SSD look to be (and remember that this was October 2012) the Kingston Hyper X. For this I paid £194 from Amazon.co.uk. For some bizarre reason not related to cost I ordered the 240GB SSD rather than the 480GB model, which I regretted as soon as I received it. However, this has panned out to be of little consequence as I store most files on my NAS and really only have applications on the MacBook. [I ordered the RAM from the German Amazon because I live in Switzerland and the non-Amazon supplier that was selling the Corsair Vengeance RAM wouldn't post to Switzerland.]
I was a little apprehensive about taking a brand new (expensive) MacBook, opening it up and replacing the guts, but it turned out to be a cinch.
It was a little problematic to install OSX on the new drive. The guide that I found made a few assumptions that didn't apply in my case. Perhaps if I was more familiar with OSX it wouldn't have been a problem, but it was solved quite easily when I realised that holding CMD+R while booting the machine presents you with the option of installing direct from the web.
I won't offer a step-by-step guide to installing Windows on a MacBook, but suffice to say that having found a guide, gone through the Boot Camp steps, installed my license of Win7, was then presented with the option of upgrading to Win8, went ahead with this, and had everything installed in a single evening.
So how does it run? Is it what I hoped it would be? Well...
Yes and no.
I'll get my biggest gripe out the way first: when I power up the MacBook it takes 11-12 seconds to get past the EFI phase. After this has completed it takes around 3 seconds to boot Win8. This is one of the things I spent so much money trying to beat, so you can understand my frustration that the BIOS-emulation phase in the hardware (as far as I'm aware, this is not related to RAM or the SSD speeds) goes some way to ruining the experience. Also, and this is a rather minor point, but during the EFI phase the screen is pure, bright white. If you want to boot the MacBook late at night, or even first thing on a wintery morning, you might need to shield your eyes after hitting the power button.
Once it's booted up, the MacBook is fast. Most users would be blown away by, for example, Visual Studio 2012 taking around 3 or 4 second to start up. On the other hand, at work I use a Lenovo desktop with a slightly slower SSD, the same amount of RAM, and although it has a slightly higher-speed processor, like I explained earlier, I don't believe this will make a significant difference for starting applications or booting up the OS. However, I have a suspicion that my desktop PC is faster. Leaving aside the bootup time, and although I haven't actually timed it with a stopwatch, I'm convinced that the Lenovo desktop is just that bit faster. Maybe I'm wrong and the slightly higher-rated CPU does offer a noticeable advantage, but for the price difference I probably still wouldn't have opted for it.
My previous laptop was a Dell XPS M1530 (and I have good reasons never to buy another product from Dell). When I bought it, it was one of the highest-powered laptops that Dell offered. Consequently it was heavier than most other laptops around, and the 9-cell battery, when new, lasted around 90 minutes. But my only real day-to-day problem with this laptop's performance (leaving build quality and Dell's customer service aside) was that when I brought the laptop out of hibernation, it never worked smoothly. Each power-up from hibernation made it less and less responsive - I usually got around 5 hibernation cycles out of it before it needed a full reboot. But if I had Visual Studio open when I hibernated it I had almost no chance of powering it up again and using Visual Studio with any degree of usability. For this reason I got into the habit of closing Visual Studio before I hibernated the laptop, which kind of defeats the purpose of hibernating it.
Anyway, I'm telling you this because even with 3 instances of Visual Studio open, I can hibernate and then power-up the MacBook and it runs as smoothly as it did before hibernating it. To date, the only times I've done a full reboot on the MacBook is when required after major OS updates. And even then, white EFI screen excepted, it shuts down and powers up so quickly that I don't mind performing full reboots. I'm right back where I was with all the applications open about 25 seconds after telling it to shut down.
It's a lovely-looking machine, there's no doubting that. It's sleek, elegant... and heavy. It's actually surprisingly heavy, but it was my choice not to opt for an ultrabook.
The sub-HD screen was actually a concern before I made the purchase - I had used a full-HD screen for over 4 years on my previous laptop and I wasn't too keen on the prospect of 'dropping down' in resolution. However, the MacBook's screen has won me over. On the odd occasion that I've booted up the old laptop I wonder how I could have used it for so long; the text is minute. The MacBook has a lovely, bright and crisp screen. And very reflective it is too. Sit with your MacBook next to a window on a sunny day and you'll give yourself a headache squinting through the reflections. But glare aside, I'm perfectly happy with the screen. [Thus far I've only used it through the winter.]
I still haven't become accustomed to the keyboard. Yes, the keys have a nice, slightly cushioned action when pressed. They're a little farther apart than my previous keyboard, but I think I've got used to the spacing. However, I still make more typing mistakes than I expect to. I'll come onto what I suspect is the reason for this a little later.
The other issue with the keyboard is the layout. Windows recognises that I'm using an Apple keyboard, but I cannot find the tilde key for love nor money. There is a key which is labelled with the tilde symbol, but it produces these two symbols: § and ±. I'm not sure I'll ever need either of those - I'm not even sure what the § symbol represents, whereas due to my work as a web developer I do occasionally use the tilde symbol. I've also had to search the web to find out which key combination to use for actions like print screen because Apple don't print these on the keys.
The last problem I have with the keyboard layout is due to my using the keyboard for navigating my way around a project in Visual Studio. I use the keyboard for navigating to functions or variable definitions and implementations; I use the keyboard for scrolling up and down files; I use the keyboard for moving back and forth through a line of code. I only reach for the mouse if I absolutely have to. A lot of these actions are carried out using a combination of SHIFT+[key] or CTRL+SHIFT+[key]. Take a look at the keyboard that you're sitting in front of now. Unless you're using a MacBook, is the CTRL key in the bottom-left corner? In the vast majority of cases it will be. I even use an Apple keyboard with my desktop Lenovo in the office, and it has CTRL in the bottom-left corner. Not on a MacBook, though. It's one key in from the bottom-left. And yet after about 5 months of using this MacBook day-in, day-out, atleast once a minute I still reach for CTRL in the bottom-left corner.
The touchpad is great. It's slightly larger than I previously used, and the two-finger right-click action feels very natural. One downside is that I did find myself inadvertently dragging an awful lot of things instead of just clicking them. But then I found an option to turn this off in the Boot Camp Control Panel. I didn't previously tap the touchpad for clicking, but the reason I've started doing this on the MacBook is because the actual clicking action (depressing the bottom-left or bottom-right of the touchpad) results in a loud #dunk# noise. This got on my girlfriend's nerves quite soon after I took the MacBook out of the box.
Oh, and one other thing: do the edges of the MacBook have to be so sharp? With the lid open and your hands in the normal position on the MacBook, your wrists rub a little against the leading edge of the MacBook's body. And it really starts to irritate my wrists after some time. I mean, the edge isn't exactly razor sharp per se, but every other laptop I've used has a slight bezel or chamfer to the leading edge under your wrists. Not so on the MacBook: I think it's just about as close to being an exact right-angle as they could achieve.
Admittedly this does change with your seating position. If I'm sitting at a desk then my wrists are scraping against the sharp edge; if the MacBook is in my lap then they're not and it's more comfortable.
One of the points that put me off buying a MacBook is that I didn't want to appear as one of the Mac-owning crowd. They'll disagree with this but I feel there's a certain smugness, a computing arrogance, that comes from owning a Mac. I decided that if I was going to to buy a MacBook then I wanted to make it outwardly appear as little like a MacBook as I could. To this end I ordered enough skins from Macstyle to cover every surface... except the glowing Apple logo on the lid. After all, isn't that why a lot of people buy a MacBook? This is the one thing I mostly wanted covered up, but it's something that not only do most MacBook stickers/skins provide a hole for, in a lot of cases the sticker/skin makes a feature out of the Apple logo. I decided to tackle that later, but went ahead and ordered stickers for the underside, the lid, touchpad, the keyboard and the palm-rest. No two the same colour. And having applied them, I now love the look of my MacBook. They send you two copies of the touchpad skin so I used the second of these in an attempt to cover up the glowing Apple logo on the lid, which it does when the MacBook is powered down, but apply power and that logo lights up like the sun. A green sun, now.
And let me tell you, those skins are not easy to apply. On the contrary, it took my girlfriend and I (you'll need more than two hands) about 90 minutes to get them on, and even now I'm not 100% happy with the touchpad or the keyboard. You see, because you apply the skin to one corner, and then peel slowly across to the other side of that surface, the slightest, tiniest error at the start is magnified as you move across the surface. And starting again is strongly advised against.
The result is that the skin surrounding the keys appears to be perfectly placed in the top-left of the keyboard, but in the bottom-right it touches the edge of the keys. You can just hear the key moving the edge of the vinyl sticker when you depress a key on the right-hand side of the keyboard. Furthermore, depressing keys on the right-hand edge requires a tiny bit more force than the rest of the keyboard, which frequently results in typing errors.
My hope is that over time these up-aganst-the-keys edges will become... I don't know... softer or permanently curling away from the key.
To my liking, the MacBook certainly looks a lot more fun than the unadorned silver, out-of-the-box appearance, though to fanboys that have seen it, this is sacrilege. They just can't get their heads around why someone would buy an Apple product and then try to mask the appearance. I'll tell you why: because it's mine; I paid for it, and it belongs to me now, not Apple.
Which reminds me of another gripe I have, though this isn't related to the piece of hardware itself. Without a second thought about who I was ordering from, I ordered directly from the Apple store. I've always been under the impression that resellers have to adhere to Apple's pricing, so it didn't matter where you bought it from.
Here's a screenshot from store.apple.com (this screenshot is taken the from the Swiss version of the site) showing the option to buy the model I chose. I've highlighted something of minor significance.
The text that I've highlighted says that it usually ships within 24 hours. I won't include similar screenshots but you can see for yourself if you visit Apple's UK store it says "Dispatched: within 24 hours" and the US store says "Available to ship: within 24 hours". The impression this gives is that you order your MacBook, they take payment, and within 24 hours you receive an email to say that it's on its way.
But you're being misled.
What actually happens is that you order your MacBook, a few hours later you receive an email to say that they've taken payment and will let you know when it's ready to ship. You can also see in this email the expected delivery date. Below is a screenshot of the email I received.
Can you see what's changed? For a start, that "usually ships within 24 hours" has changed to "1 to 3 working days" (1 - 3 Arbeitstage), but worse, the approximate delivery date (Voraussichtl. Anlieferung) is over a fortnight after I made the order. So aside from the "ready to ship / Available within" days having changed, what Apple are advertising on their website is the time taken for them to prepare the MacBook and put it into packaging for the courier. But this is clearly different from the time that it will take them to get it to you. And it's not the case that courier takes two weeks from Ireland to Switzerland - when it finally did ship it arrived within 24 hours, but this was two weeks after waiting; two weeks of my package sitting in Apple's warehouse, waiting for it to be handed over to a courier. Apple will take your money as soon as you make the order, but they'll ship it at their convenience. So Apple had the 2000 francs that I'd paid them, but continued to act as if it was theirMacBook that they would give me when they were good and ready, despite what their website claims.
For anyone looking to do the same as I've done, and run Windows on a MacBook, here's what I'd suggest. Ignore the Apple store, the price of a MacBook is not fixed. Furthermore, if you buy from the Apple store the warranty lacks a lot. Whereas most manufacturers will offer atleast a 1 year hardware failure repair (and sometimes 3 years) Apple offer none... unless you pay them $349. What's more, as Jason Perlow wrote for zdnet.com:
That $349 AppleCare+ policy on your new MacBook? That strictly covers phone support and priority support at an Apple store.
If you crack the LCD on your pricey Macbook Retina or have any other damage that is deemed as being accidental or "abuse", the company will almost certainly charge you to have it repaired. I've heard of people getting lucky with sympathetic Geniuses at specific stores, but generally speaking, you're on your own.
My advice would be to buy instead from Amazon. Yes, Amazon sell MacBooks, and yes, they are cheaper than buying from Apple. A lot cheaper. The model that I purchased costs £1499.00 from Apple's UK website, whereas the same model costs £1277.99 from Amazon's UK website which, as Amazon correctly point out, is 15% cheaper than buying direct from Apple. In fact, you could buy from Amazon and include a 2-year full parts-replacement warranty (Amazon's Square Trade) for virtually the same price as buying the MacBook from Apple. [In the US the Square Trade warranty is less than half the price of the Amazon UK offering.]
Furthermore, the third-party seller who sells the MacBooks on Amazon's behalf says that they will "[dispatch] all items within the same day of receiving confirmed order from Amazon". The same cannot be said of the more expensive Apple.
So there's 3 reasons not to buy the MacBook from Apple themselves.
Anyway, after all that, would I buy another one? If I dropped my MacBook and it shattered, or if it was stolen, would I replace it with another MacBook Pro? In a word, no. No, I wouldn't. That's not to say that I regret my purchase or have any major concerns with it. Yes, I feel ripped after buying it direct from Apple, and I feel a bit hacked off with waiting 10+ seconds to get through the EFI boot phase, but those are really the only issues that I take umbrage with. The MacBook runs smoothly, has a gorgeous screen (if you're not sitting next to a window on a sunny day), the battery lasts for ages, the keys feel very comfortable, and once it's booted, it's fast.
So why wouldn't I buy another one? Because in all honesty, I expected something more. I don't know what, exactly, but I'm just not blown away by it. You have to remember that compared to other laptop manufacturers, Apple charge a lot of money for their devices. They set themselves up as the premium vendor for laptops and the impression they want to give out is that you couldpay less for your laptop, but that would be a compromise, and if you want absolutely no quibbles and you want the best-possible working machine, then the last stop is a MacBook Pro. And while that may be true, I think I could get the same experience for what I use it for from a cheaper, lighter, more comfortable laptop.
I was actually intentionally looking for a 14" laptop before I made this purchase, and had decided that Lenovo's X1 Carbon (or latterly the Carbon Touch) would be my next laptop. Lenovo announced the X1 Carbon around about May 2012, but it then slipped under the radar until it became available to buy in around September. However, although they would let you buy a model with an i5 processor and 8GB of RAM, they only offered an i7 processor with 4GB of RAM, whereas I was looking to buy an i7 processor with 8GB of RAM. There were rumours that Lenovo were going to release such a model once they had solved some thermal problem, but after waiting a couple of months I gave up. I felt I had already waited 5 or 6 months for it to be released and the i7/8GB model was only a rumour. So that's when I bought the MacBook.
And in between making the order on Apple's website and the MacBook being shipped, Lenovo announced the X1 Carbon i7 model with 8GB of RAM was now available to buy.
I consoled myself with the thought that it was only8GB of RAM, after all (which can't be upgraded because it's soldered to the board), a slower, smaller SSD, and less battery life.
But Lenovo recently unveiled the T431S, and that is the machine that I would buy as of writing this post. In fact, truth be told, I've recently contemplated selling this MacBook to do just that. The reason I haven't is down to a combination of 'better the devil you know than the devil you don't', by which I mean that the T431S hasn't even been reviewed yet. And who's to say that they won't repeat the X1 Carbon experience again and hold back the higher-powered model(s) from the initial release? I would also lose money on the MacBook: if I thought I could recoup, say, 80% of what I paid Apple for it then maybe I would, but that's almost the same price as it costs for a new model from Amazon.
So I'll continue to use the MacBook Pro. And aside from that 10+ second bright white screen when it powers up, I'll happily use it.