For the last couple of years I've been contemplating the replacement of my mid-2014 Macbook Pro 15" which I called Marvin, and which has been my workhorse laptop and one of my favourite computers overall ever. However, its battery has been aging, and the screen suffering from various blemishes, and of course the "new shiny" factor ...
However, I have not been that happy with the lack of escape or fn-keys on the more recent Macs, nor keen to find out how bad the butterfly keyboard was for myself, so have kept going with marvin.... until now. With the release of the updated M1 silicon, and the return of a proper keyboard, things looked good, and I mostly decided to buy one even before the official announcement.
In ordering it, I had to decide on the precise spec, and ended up going for the 16" model (I like big screens), with 32GB memory (16GB in marvin was for me a bit limiting though I'm expecting 32GB will probably be more than I need), and a 1TB SSD (marvin started with 512GB 2-lane SSD which after about 4 years I upgraded with an official Apple 4-lane 1TB SSD, which I have been very happy with.
That left the main question: M1 Pro or M1 Max? The main difference appears to be the better GPU on the Max, although there are some other aspects (eg to get the highest main memory capacity you need a Max). I looked around at the previews and decided that while I was not averse to a good GPU, the Pro GPU was already good-enough for me, so that's what I plumped for.
Well, it arrived a few days ago, about a week before it was scheduled to (nice), and I now have spent several days getting used to it. I should emphasise that my point of comparison here will be the mid-2014 Intel MacBook, rather than the more recent models. Marvin started with Yosemite, and spent quite some time running High Sierra before Catalina was installed in 2020. I have had very, very few complaints about it as a laptop, so for me the new model has a high bar to follow.
My first impressions:
- The packaging, as ever with Apple, was excellent, and I was glad to see a somewhat more 'eco' approach to materials.
- The new laptop felt heavier than marvin; Apple's spec says 2.02Kg for the 2014 MacBook Pro compared to 2.1Kg for the 2021 M1 Pro, so there's not much in it. My perception was that the newer model is also thicker, but the spec sheet says otherwise (1.8cm vs. 1.68cm), which I put down to the much thinner edges of the older case.
- The screen was lovely... the deep blacks are immediately noticeable, and the maximum screen brightness is almost too bright to use indoors.
Once I'd started it up I decided to use the built-in migration tool to import marvin's settings and files from my Time Machine, which takes the form of a 4TB USB-3 disk drive. That took ... some ... time.... about 5 hours! with about 350GB of files to transfer from a not particularly speedy disk. It did the job fine, though I could have wished for a more clarity when specifying parts of the system you are content to leave behind (mostly in my case because they added lots more GB and were also stored elsewhere).
My first login was uneventful, though with some more configuration to do including accepting the T&C (again!). The new screen really is lovely! Before buying it I did have concerns that the large touchpad would be too big for me, but so far my experience is that it is fine. However, for me, I was very happy with the smaller version on marvin and the large one is not an upgrade. In particular I have noticed some issues with false double-clicks (ie I intended one click and got two, or even 3)!
One strangeness of the new screen is the Retina scaled resolutions. The physical resolution is 3456 wide, and the 'normal' setting for the display is 1/2 that, 1728 pixels wide. The next (and only) bigger resolution is 2056 pixels (a rather strange ratio of 432/257). This compares in my mind poorly to the biggest 1920 scaled resolution of the 2014 model, although I cannot quite work out why. I just feel that unless using the 'more space' 2056 pixel option that everything is too big.
Much has been made in the press of the 'notch' in the new display. While I never noticed the camera on marvin unless it was in use, and was content with the bezel width, the notch is a tad annoying, having noticed its existence more than once. Probably this is more about change than an actual issue, but right now I would have liked the designers to look harder for another way forward (keep a bezel large enough for the camera?).
Talking of the camera... that is nice. I used it on a zoom call and it was a noticeably better picture with much less posterisation and noise. Of course it's now 1080p rather than 720p, which helps, but I think it's other aspects of the unit which make the difference here.
The other day I also watched a film on the newly-installed Apple TV app; there's a 7-day free period (but with auto renewal!) and I watched Tom Hanks in "Finch". A good film, by the way. The MacBook was running on battery and started at about 85%; by the end of the 1h55 film it had dropped to an astounding 74%. Both sound and vision was excellent and the overall experience was, bluntly, amazing.
Some of the other great parts of the experience:
- Finding that so much of the migration process from Marvin worked very well;
- Experiencing the speed of the new hardware, which is very very noticeably better than it was, even with a lot of the applications I use still compiled for Intel.
Some of the not so wonderful things have been:
- digging out the Intel apps that no longer work (e.g. VirtualBox) even though they were "installed" by the transfer process, or which are still on Intel even though there are Apple M1 versions;
- digging out the "system extensions" and "plugins" that need updating but which I cannot identify from just the name of the developer;
- discovering that Epson carries on with its rubbish support for expensive "pro" hardware drivers and software (they don't support anything but the driver itself for my LFP or high end scanner, while for Intel there are ~6 additional utility apps);
- updating licenses and installs for eg. Microsoft 365 local apps;
Oh... and what did I decide to call it? I usually call my computers after characters I from a novel I've read, and this one has become "merry", after I called my latest i9-9900 Linux/KDE desktop "pippin". I'll leave you to work out which book!
That's all for now... perhaps more later.