I’ve ordered a machine to replace my Macbook Pro in the office: Dell Precision T3500 Xeon W3540 2.66GHz w/12GB 🙂
Great performance at 1/10th the cost?! What the Dell?!
I have been suffering as a would-be Mac user for the best part of 10 months now, on and off. It’s been a painful experience, physically and mentally. I was only going to post a short “microblog” post and be done with this topic, but I felt the need to expand upon my decision to do this.
Perhaps it will help dissuade potential future purchasers of Apple‘s overpriced, underwhelming and non-expandable machines. I hope it does, as one of the worst problems we create for ourselves in the 21st century is planned obsolescence – something, arguably, which Apple is guilty of.
In my day job as managing director (CEO) of a UK web development & cloud hosting business, I – predictably – develop websites and administer servers. I’m the kind of guy who likes to keep his hands dirty, and my skills up.
Very basic things, in fact.
Very Basic Things I continue to rely upon, to get work done:
- A keyboard with sufficient key travel, tactile feedback;
- A keyboard that broadly adheres to the standard PC 105-key layout (with or without a numeric keypad). This means:
- Not putting CTRL (Control) in a stupid place.
- Not putting ALT (Option) in an equally stupid place.
- Not having a ⌘ (“Command”) key full-stop. It’s a redundant modifier.
- Having an operating system that gets out of my way.
- Having a computer fast enough to run an operating system that gets out of my way.
- Seeing the SMART status of connected drives.
- Confidence in the device’s security.
- Confidence in its ability to stay cool when working hard for long periods.
- A system-native text editor that doesn’t refuse to edit the files I tell it to!
For me, the Macbook Pro fails in all of the above.
Appeasing Mac fans & celebrating the good stuff
In April 2016, I bought this “Early 2015” Macbook Pro. It has a Core i5 5257U processor, 8GB RAM and 256GB PCIe SSD. When I mentioned to fellow designers I bought this, it was met with a knowing smile and the instant acknowledgement, “ahh wow, the SSD in those machines makes them so fast!”. I also, regretfully, bought a 27″ Thunderbolt display. The total cost of these two: a few pence short of £2,100. Two-thousand, one-hundred pounds for an average-spec 2015 laptop and 27-inch QHD monitor.
Fast is something I have never, ever considered a Mac to be, and especially this MBP. It booted quick, sure, but in general use… nah. Really, no. But I’m not in the habit of upsetting people, so more often than not I’d reply with some kind of non-opinionated remark like, “yeah? Right… I look forward to seeing that”. I’d argue, though, that the apparent lack of speed is much more to do with the operating system than the hardware.
This isn’t an Apple-bashing post. It’s just an expression of my preference. Yet there are things I really do like about the MBP:
- Ambient light-sensitive backlit keyboard – very classy
- A 3:2 ratio screen. Apple has the right idea here, and the rest of the world is stupid for putting widescreen displays in productivity laptops. Stupid. Well done Apple.
- Build quality is really excellent. If you like computers because they can be built well, I guess you may already have a Mac. 😉
- Key spacing & travel. You’re probably thinking, “but you just said…”. More on this in a sec.
- The port selection, while not excellent, still rocks more than on a MBP 2016 (like, duh!)
- The 13″ retina display
- The laptop’s general weight, shape, size and physical feel. It’s solid, if a little cold to the touch sometimes.
I am typiubg this post on Apple’s “Magic Keyboard 2”. This section, including heading, is intentionally left with all the typos in as I make them. Why? Because the MAgic Ketword 2 is uterly crap compared to the keyvoard on the MBP itself. It pales in comparison in terms of typing experience. I would strongly recommend against anyone buying it, unless it’s vital to you to have a mininalist desk you can take photos of and swoon over all day. I spend hours of wasted time correcting typos that occur as a direct resylt of using this keyvoard.
By comparison, I was really quite glad how usable the keyboard on the MBO really is. ITs typing experience, much to my genuine surprisem ws excellent. The key travel is good abd the spacing between keys works really well. Although chiclet in style, with slightly rteduced key sizes compared to, say, an old school LEnobo Thinkpad (like my old T420), it’s so much more intuitive to use than the Magix Keyboard 2 that I shall no longer labvout the point and just move on.
The Problem with using a Mac: Mac OS / OS X / macos
- macos requires two keys for Mission Control and Launchpad. You cannot view open windows and search for an application in the same mode. In contrast, GNOME provides an overview by pressing the Super (Windows) key to see open windows, and accepts text search for launching a new app immediately.
- macos doesn’t support writing to NTFS partitions. Or writing to any Extended File System (EXT2,3,4), or other UNIX-based file systems.
- macos’ Finder doesn’t handle SFTP connections to remote servers.
- macos Finder supports the file operation ‘Move’ across file systems only through the undocumented keystroke, Shift-Command-V. Why is this undocumented (or at least so hard to find in the documentation)?!
- macos doesn’t do workspaces / virtual desktops as well as GNOME. No other OS does. GNOME uses the extra horizontal width to manage a vertical list of workspaces. It’s totally logical and fluid in use, if unconventional. But then, one has to “Think Different” to get on with unconventional.
- macos doesn’t open an application in the workspace in which it was launched. It seems to “remember” the last-used workspace in which the application was opened, which is pretty stupid when a second display is connected.
- macos doesn’t support focus under the pointer. When you move the pointer over another window, the previous window is still active. Clicking, say on a button on the inactive window, first activates the window. You then have to click on the button again in order to perform the expected action. Again, serious inefficiencies when done multiple times per day.
- Some macos keyboard shortcuts, relying on Cmd, really suck. Here’s an example:
- Like other proprietary operating systems, macos includes features that are not wanted (Siri?! Siri-ously..?) or installed as standard (i.e. bloatware) that have no place on a business machine, Garageband being one example.
- The list could go on, and on, and on… [ EDIT 15 Feb 2017 ] and it will!
- Open a Finder window and the icons are not automatically sorted. There is no general sorting setting, so each folder must have a “Arrange by” setting applied.
- Copy a file from one Finder window and Paste into another. The new file doesn’t appear in the destination Finder window. That’s ok, just refresh the window’s contents…. except you can’t refresh a Finder window’s contents (amazing design decision there)! And why does the file not even appear in the folder you’ve just pasted it into?!
But the most important thing is that GNU+Linux and GNOME (or really any other free software desktop environment) is so much better. At least for someone like me, working with remote servers, or SSH sessions in a terminal, or doing lots of text editing.
What’s in a saying?
Here is a phrase you may have heard somewhen:
- Choose an occupation you love, and you will never work a day in your life
I believe this is true. I love my occupation and I am so privileged that people pay me to do it. When I get into the office, I cherish that feeling of biting off more than I can possibly chew, and working the problem towards a solution.
In the business, we make every effort to deliver the highest quality at the lowest possible cost. However, in web design, development and hosting, there are quite a number of significant costs to meet while trying to keep the end price reasonable. One such cost is test equipment.
Another cost is time; a hidden cost if, as a developer, you are always fighting your equipment in order to achieve a comfortable, efficient workflow. Using a Mac, while semi-enjoyable, also taught me just how efficient I had become using GNU+Linux to deliver results to clients. I can’t imagine a more fluid workflow than Emacs, Chrome and GNOME.
Looks are nothing
So, to the new (old) machine, which will be with me tomorrow. For the enormous sum of £179.99 + VAT and delivery (£9.99), I am getting:
- T3500 Workstation
- Windows 10 Pro 64-bit (this will be kept on the HDD for testing purposes)
- Intel Xeon W3520 2.66GHz (4 Cores / 8 Threads)
- 12GB RAM
- 500GB SATA drive
- 512MB NVIDIA Quadro FX 580
There are a few discussions online about the merits of this workstation, and I’m glad I opted for one instead of a new laptop to supplant the MBP. The Xeon 3520 processor is not new by any stretch of the imagination. It’s 8 years old. But it’s still capable enough by far and comparable to a core i7 920; a processor we still have in use in a server at Warp.
But let’s focus instead on someone else’s video, which is a nice way to tail off…