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MacBook Pro: How a slice of toast changed my mind

Posted on by Mike Evans

When the new Apple MacBook Pros were announced last October my thoughts began to turn to the old dilemma whether to have one computer or two. Up to then I had been running a late 2014 desktop iMac in conjunction with an early 2015 MacBook — the slim Jim that makes the perfect travel companion. After trying the one-computer solution, an older 15in MacBook Pro, I settled on two computers, primarily to lighten my bag when travelling. But it's a never-ending problem that keeps popping its head above the parapet.

The 13in MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is sufficiently powerful for both desk and travelling. But it puts all your computing eggs in one basket.

While keeping two computers in sync is an easy matter these days, there is still a good argument for just having one computer. Dropbox, iCloud and other cloud and synchronisation services take much of the hassle out of working with two devices.

Apple's new iCloud desktop has even solved the last problem of keeping two desktops in sync. Now, if you leave a file on your office desktop you'll find it on your laptop when you land in Hong Kong or wherever. 

Despite all these advances, there is a certain economy of scale in travelling with the same powerful computer that you use at home or in the office. You feel at home wherever you are.

I had been making a very good case in my own mind for replacing the iMac and the MacBook with a high-specification MacBook Pro 13in and a 27in monitor. It makes a lot of sense, despite the slightly increased travelling weight, and it is fair to say that life is a tad easier without swapping around from one computer to the other.

I had almost convinced myself. I nearly ordered the Apple-approved 27in LG monitor to take advantage of the current 25% discount; and I was on the point of snapping up a MacBook Pro to go with it.

Toast

The little MacBook has a 12in screen and is incredibly thin and light. It's a great travel companion and provides a computing backup when the other Mac fails.

Then came the day of reckoning when I was forced to have second thoughts. A power outage. No, not a power cut because I can’t remember the last time we had such a thing in London. This was the toaster that blew a fuse, taking with it the power supply to my desk bound iMac. It turned out to be a very stressful slice of toast.

I returned home to a black iMac screen. No problem, I thought. Press the power button and all will be well. Unfortunately it wasn’t. The computer went through the usual process of restarting, making all the right noises. Once booted, I could hear the sound the news coming from the EyeTV application and, encouragingly, the mouse pointer started to move around the (still black) screen. But no video.

This isn’t something I’ve encountered in all my years of Mac use. Nothing I could do, after frequent reboots and various fiddling, could bring the video back. All I could see was the mouse cursor, fully active, on the black screen. The computer was working but no image. I realised that a call to Apple was needed but I had urgent work to do first.

I actually like the single-port USB-C connector on the MacBook, good for power and data. It's a clean docking solution and avoids lots of trailing wires, even if it does mean buying extra dongles

Fortunately, the little MacBook was at my left hand and I powered it up to enable me to carry on working. It suddenly occurred to me that if I had had just the one computer I would have been without a backup. Worse, I imagined, losing the one computer (which would be my travelling computer) would be something of a disaster. It’s not about loss of data, which is not a danger these days; it is about the ability to carry on working.

iMac of no return

Later in the day I read up on the problem and tried a few tricks, including starting in safe mode. Nothing worked, so I spent a good 30 minutes chatting with an Apple service guru, trying various ideas but without success. Finally, just as we had both more or less given up, I touched the power button of the Mac and the screen came back to life. Neither I nor the Apple guy had any idea why this had happened. As far as I was concerned, it was a complete fluke. These things happen as we all know.

The 27in iMac is a good static desk solution but, in effect, you are buying a new monitor every time you wish to upgrade the computer. A separate monitor and a displayless computer such as the MacPro or MacMini could be a more economical option in the long run

But the lesson has been learned. What would happen if I were suddenly without a Mac for even a day or two while getting a Genius Bar appointment? It doesn’t bear thinking about. What I did think about, though, was the future. This episode has completely changed my view. I can no longer envisage putting all my eggs in the one MacBook Pro basket.

I realised that my present setup — a desktop computer and a lightweight travel laptop — is the best solution for me. So, instead of buying a one-size-fits-all portable computer I will stick with two machines just in case one goes AWOL.

This isn’t to say I won’t consider further options within the current two-computer framework. My MacBook is now showing its age and I am finding that the 500GB of storage to be inadequate. Ideally I would like to have a similar amount of storage (1TB) on both the desktop and the portable. The iMac, too, will need replacing sooner rather than later.

Settled

The decision is the subject of a whole new article. Do I buy another iMac or, perhaps, settle for a computer and monitor — Mac Mini or Mac Pro? For the travelling laptop I am more than happy with the form and weight of the MacBook, even if the function is somewhat lacking. It truly is a road warrior’s dream in terms of portability. Also, unlike many, I have absolutely no problem with the single USB-C port. Perhaps I will be seduced by a 13in MacBook Pro as my travel companion but I will have to weigh carefully the implications of the slightly larger, thicker and heavier carcass.

For the moment, peace reigns at Macfilos HQ. One iMac and a tiny MacBook Pro for travelling. There's some life left in both devices and all my options are open for further ponderings

For the moment, then, the issue is settled. I will keep my current two-computer setup and revisit the question later in the year, perhaps after iMacs and MacBook Pros (not to mention MacBooks) have been upgraded to the new Kaby Lake processors.

I might even buy a new toaster along the way, with or without Kaby Lake. Toast and marmalade is not very demanding, but it can lead to immense stress.

Product images: Apple

Afternote: If you are a photographer you will be interested to read Ming Thein's assessment of the current MacBook Pro with Touch Bar as a travel machine. He mirrors my experience in that he has a fast desktop iMac and uses a 12in MacBook when he is away from base. The MacBook, he says, is woefully slow (something I wouldn't disagree with). He is looking here at the 13in MacBook Pro, the latest model, and deciding if it would be a sensible replacement for the MacBook. Again, this is something I shall be looking at. Read Ming's full test here.

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