I few weeks ago I started work at Vyatta, which had been recently acquired by Brocade. On my first day, I was handed a Brocade corporate laptop. It’s a Dell: 13″ screen, 4GB, 128GB SSD, Windows 7. As corporate laptops go, it’s perfectly nice, but I’ve been a Mac user for many years now, and Windows Just. Feels. Wrong. The first time I tried to send a reply to a meeting invitation in Outlook and found that I couldn’t navigate back to look at another email message, I realized that (a) Outlook still had many of the bugs we first encountered 15 years ago, and (b) I was damned if I was going to use that crap to run my work.

As I wandered around Vyatta and Brocade, I noticed many MacBooks in use. Apparently many others felt the same way that I did. As an experiment, I configured my personal MacBook Air as a work machine – (guest) wireless network, Exchange, Lync for IM, Office, etc. – and apart from a few corporate functions it all seemed to work just fine. However, as a matter of policy I don’t want to mix work and personal stuff – certificates, passwords, email, browser settings – on one machine. So I’m planning to go out and get myself a MacBook for dedicated work use, and I would like some help in making the choice. (And yes, I’ll keep the Dell laptop, chained to my desk, for those occasions when I need to log in to Oracle or other corporate systems.)

Weight is important. Today I love my 11-inch MacBook Air: it’s as light as a feather. On the other hand, putting together a complicated PowerPoint or Keynote presentation is challenging on such a small screen. And power is also important: I want enough RAM and CPU to run DevStack or CloudStack under VirtualBox. And of course I don’t want to spend too much…

So the choices seem to be:

  • MacBook Air: 13-inch screen, 2.0GHz Dual Core i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 2.96 lbs. – $1,599
  • MacBook Pro: 13-inch Retina screen, 2.9GHz Dual Core i7, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, 3.57 lbs. – $1,699
  • MacBook Pro: 15-inch Retina screen, 2.4GHz Quad Core i7, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 4.46 lbs. – $2,199

There are pros and cons for each. Reviews are all over the map. Thoughts?

6 Responses to “My next laptop: a tough choice”
  1. Rory says:

    I have a 13 inch retina MacBook Pro. My advise would be stick it out with your Dell and save yourself some cash. The Macbook Pro is not worth the money they ask for

  2. J. Lasser says:

    I’d stay away from the 15″ machine, if only because it’s not really any more performant than the 13, and a huge jump for you in terms of weight and size.

    If you’re really stuck with the 128GB SSD for the 13″ retina, I’d have to say the 13″ air, as you’ll be running out of drive space before anything else.

    The screen on the retinas is beautiful, and the extra CPU would be handy for a VM environment, so if you’re willing to take the extra .6 pounds (and can get the 256 GB SSD in it), I’d recommend the 13″ retina. On the other hand, if you can’t get the larger SSD or don’t want the extra weight, the Air isn’t a bad choice.

    (For personal use, I have my 11″ Air, which you can pry from my hands when they get a retina screen in that form factor. For work, I have an older 13″ MacBook Pro. I’m happy with both, but since my VM needs are more modest than “full cloud computing environment” I’d go with the 13″ Air for work if someone gave me the choice.)

  3. Roger Riggs says:

    If you have an office, get a large monitor to plug in when you need more screen real estate and carry with you the adapter to plug into someone else’s monitor. The 13″ Pro might be a good tradeoff; faster processor, bigger screen and just a bit more weight. But if you are mobile all the time, weight might be the deciding factor.

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