One year into my Mac reboot

posted by Jeff | Friday, January 26, 2024, 10:57 PM | comments: 0

As I was preparing my tax documentation, I noticed that I ordered my 16" M2 MacBook Pro a year ago today. I wrote some thoughts about it a month after that. I was so sold on it that I bought a Mac Mini with the same silicon in it by the end of March, for my desk. Obviously I was pretty confident that it was the right move.

I suppose the most important thing to talk about is the "important" thing, that it's amazing for software development. The nuttiest thing about this is that I'm a Microsoft stack guy, mostly, but the primary runtime and framework, .Net, has been relatively platform neutral now for years. So add in JetBrains' Rider development environment, and all of the stuff you can run in a Docker container, and rest assured that it's super easy to write code on the Mac. And honestly, after years of Visual Studio with ReSharper (which is the refactoring plugin that's also part of Rider), and the terrible performance associated with it, this is a breath of fresh air. That's probably less about the Mac than it is the software, but it makes me wonder why I wasn't using the Windows version of Rider.

My previous laptop was a Surface Laptop 4. I ended up having it less than two years, and that included a service return because it stopped charging through the Surface connector. I labored over the decision to buy that, with its sweet Alcantera keyboard and "ice blue" color, but it disappointed me. Part of it was the mushy keyboard, but also I hoped for better than 7-ish hours of battery life. The IPS screen was fine, and touch, but not as deep even as the screen I had on my previous HP.

The MacBook Pro doesn't have an OLED screen either, but with the high pixel density and whatever else is going on, it's obviously a really great panel. The lack of touch screen still annoys the shit out of me (I'll get back to that), but it sure is pretty. And while it's not light, the bigger screen is welcome. Apple also went back to the things they abandoned with their dumb changes in 2016. That's when they started putting that stupid touch bar instead of function keys over the mushy-ass keyboard, and stopped putting useful ports on the machines. That's why my 2014 13" MBP was my last and I went back to Windows machines, for the first time in 12 years, in 2018. But with the return of the smart MagSafe power connector, three Thunderbolt 4 ports, one regular USB and an SD card slot, there are no constraints, no dongles. The keyboard is solid and comfortable and responsive, and the weird haptic touchpad that feels like it moves when you "click" it but doesn't fantastic. I also put a hexagonal "Swarm" dbrand skin on it, which I'm obsessed with. Having that texture on the touchpad appeals to my sensory needs. It never gets oily gross either. Oh, and the realistic battery time is 12 hours with a development load. That's not even an exaggeration or best case, that's average. It's unreal. But that's the promise of ARM processors, the low power requirement. The thing never even gets warm (with one notable exception).

Video editing has been a longer journey than I expected, but both the MBP and the Mini I bought with only 500 gig SSD's. There isn't a lot of room inside for video footage. If I wanted to get the appropriate 4 TB of storage in either one, that's an extra $1,200, which is insane. I was already feeling weird about the extra $300 on the Mini for more CPU and GPU cores to match the MBP. I bought a cheap enclosure for the hard drives I had in my Windows computer, but they largely topped out around read speeds of 850 MB/s, which ain't great for 4K video editing. Eventually I bought a proper USB4/Thunderbolt 4 enclosure and a loose 4 TB SSD to put in it, and I got 2,800 MB/s. Having 3x the speed is obviously a big deal (or 7x the speed of the SATA drive I had in the Windows computer), and it makes editing useful.

I've talked about gaming a ton in the last year, and where I am with that is, I guess, feeling in a weird limbo place. Apple released a game porting kit that acts as a bridge between Windows' Direct3D and Apple's Metal, and with the open source Wine that acts as a bridge between various other Windows API's and the Mac, you can essentially run many Windows games through this translation layer. Some work, others don't, but I've been using it for Against The Storm for some time, and it works flawlessly. The problem is that, since there's all that computationally heavy translation going on, the 12-hour battery lasts at best two hours. There has been this chicken and egg situation that developers believe is a thing, where they don't port games because they don't believe there's enough market share, but if 1 in 4 new computers is a Mac, I don't see how that's not a huge opportunity. The base hardware is so capable, compared to needing a Windows rig with expensive Nvidia or AMD hardware.

Anyway, to solve this, I relented and replaced our aging Xbox One with a Series X, and I'm really enjoying the Lenovo Legion Go, despite its quirks when using it on a TV. But I still have these insanely powerful and energy efficient Macs that could theoretically be great gaming computers. It's annoying. One possible solution: If Microsoft would allow the Xbox app to run on ARM Windows, which I've tried on my Mini in a VM, even with the translation layer, it could be excellent for many, many games on Game Pass.

Also, I want to get back to the touch screen thing. Admittedly, this is probably not important in most cases, except for one really important one: My lighting thing. I want to buy a lighting console, I've committed to it, but because I'm pursuing the "on PC" variety, because it's cheaper, that means the computer and touch screens are a "bring your own" affair. Well, Macs are not touch screens. This is such a drag. I have a portable external touch screen, and it does work with the Mac, but you need at least two screens to pair with the console, so it's not ideal. Amazingly, Asus announced what is probably the ultimate solution to this, as in, it changes the usefulness and value of these PC-based consoles, and it's not super expensive (relative to the console), so I'll probably end up getting one of those. There's a side benefit of this shortcoming though... it solves the gaming problem.

The short story though is that going back to Macs as my daily drivers has been great. They're honestly overkill even, although I suppose they should be given the cost (the laptop at the time was $2,500, the Mini was $1,600). They're still not the most expensive computers I've bought (the $3,000 Sony in 2001 still wins), and that's saying something given what people often call the "Apple tax." But the math is different because these machines have abandoned Intel. If ARM computing on Windows ever really takes off, and to be clear, ARM Windows does exist and I've tried it in a VM on the Mac, it could be a game changer for Windows and a very bad situation for Intel. Regardless, I'm super happy with the switch back. Even just the smaller scope experience with the Legion Go and Windows (drivers, firmware, game incompatibility) has made me appreciate the relative simplicity and "just works" nature of Macs. So glad that the hardware no longer sucks.


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