I'm thinking about replacing my older laptop with a newer one. Would you like to read about what I think I need and then argue about what you think I should get until we're both blue in the face?

coffee painting. Kirk Tuck

So, I have an early 2011 Apple MacBook Pro with a 2.3 Ghz Intel Core i5 processor, a 512 Gb, 5400 rpm hard drive and eight Gb of memory. It's USB connections are both USB 2.0. It does have a nifty SD card reader on one side. It's processed tens of thousands of files, responded to tens of thousands of e-mails and has its own frequent flier accounts with most major airlines. But relatively speaking it's getting slower and slower. Slow to start up and slow to process bigger files.

It's a 13 inch model and I like that because it fits into nearly every camera bag I have and is easier to travel with than the 15 inch model I had previously. I take it out in the field to use for on site back up of files and to process images for some projects that need near immediate image delivery. It fits into an eco system where everything is Apple. From my desktop to my iPhone to my family's computers and communications gear; everything is Apple. In the seven years I've owned this laptop it has never crashed, stopped working, required repair, demanded anything of me other than regular access to electrical power and reasonable upgrades to system software; all of which have been trouble free and easy.

Unless the brain trust here at VSL has some emphatic reasons to choose another course I am planning on buying a refurbished late 2017 version of pretty much the same machine. The processor in the new machine is supposedly much improved, the new machine has four USB 3 ports, a 512 SSD drive, a retina screen, faster memory and will cost me less than the purchase price of the original machine. I plan to buy it from Apple's refurbished stock.

The impetus for yet another hardware purchase is two fold. Recently I did a job that could have been better done by tethering my GH5 to a computer. Sadly, the tethering software in the camera only works with USB 3 connections. Secondly, I'm booked again this year to cover a high tech conference in downtown Austin. The client loves having fast turn around on materials. Their desire is to be able to upload images of speakers to their social media within minutes of finishing the speech and to have movie files delivered almost as quickly.

I was planning to push the big ole transaction button tomorrow around 2 pm so if you have secret (or not so secret) information about why I shouldn't do this or how you could handle this better please let me know via comments and I'll try to learn from your experiences. Don't waste time through convincing me to jump systems because I'm not going to embrace the use of Windows unless someone stands next to me and threatens my life. A seven year equipment use cycle with NO downtime is worth a lot more than saving a tiny amount of cash at the initial purchase....

Chime on in. I'm sure everyone is on the same page......(ha. ha.). KT

Edit: I ordered online and picked up my new 2018 MacBook Pro 13" on Friday. The combination of faster memory, SSD drive and a much faster processor was exactly what I was looking for. The initial set-up took minutes and then I migrated all my settings, etc. from the old computer to the new one, which took a couple hours, via wi-fi. Later that evening I edited and post processed 500+ raw files from a shoot at Zach Theatre and uploaded them, with nary a glitch, to a private gallery on Smugmug.com. Comfortable. Reliable. And pretty to look at (both my files and the new computer).

Someone suggested that I just buy any old PC and that everything would be great. They misunderstand the decades of trust I've gained with my Apple products, my years and years of self-training and my comfort with the Apple approach to software and GUI. I also find that every ad agency and professional client whose offices I walk into today are totally Apple. The client I'm working for this year (and the reason I needed to update) is a case in point; last year at their event I walked into their media and marketing room at the event site and the long conference table was covered with various recent vintages of Apple laptop computers. No PC's anywhere in sight. There's a lot to be said for fitting in with your clients and being able to work fluidly in the same environment. I have one client that doesn't use Apple computers. Only one. (And I have a fair number of good clients...) and that is Dell, Inc. Their resistance to switching is understandable.


James Weekes said...

I think you have made there right choice. I have two 13" MacBooks, an older Air that I leave in our vacation home and a spanking new 13" Pro that I use here. The newer one is faster, noticeably so, but the rest of it is good old Apple. Can't complain.

Brian said...

This is probably already disqualified to to the size, but the new 2018 15” MacBook Pros offer a couple new things that may be of interest:
- up to 32 GB of RAM
- 6 core i7 or i9 CPU (vs 4 in the previous i7)

The 2018 13” models also offer 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports vs 2 on the prior models, but are limited in RAM and fewer CPU cores.

Good luck!

Doug said...

You may want to consider the latest model of 13" Macbook Pro, as it offers a quad core i7 processor on the higher spec model, a first for the 13" size from Apple. I'd say it's a bit more future-proofing for someone who holds on to their machines for a while. If it will be used for light editing and emails, no need. If you will be doing substantial photo and video editing, it's worth considering.

Larry to be King said...

Sounds like you already know waht you want. Us PC users are not going to change your mind so go for it. I do love my ipad and iphone but have always been a PC user except for my first Apple II

Kristian Wannebo said...

I suppose you know about Lloyd Chambers' MacBook tests?


James Moule said...

Totally agree with the late 2017 choice. I did the same.

PittsburghDog said...

Please consider getting Apple Care with your purchase...or soon there after.
My wife bought the 2016 15" Macbook Pro (same keyboard as the 2017). You will have to get used to the way the new keyboard types, and you should consider performing regular dusting maintenance. My wife is tidy, careful and clean to a fault, and so I have no idea how any dust might have gotten into the inside to mess up the keyboard behavior to cause double characters to appear on certain key presses. However it happened and we had to have the keyboard replaced, which would have been a $600 repair.
Simply google "macbook keyboard issue" and you'll find plenty of comments and articles about it.
In their 2018 update to the macbook pro, they introduced a new keyboard. Speculation is that it is to correct the design flaw with the last one. I see where they have introduced a new service program that addresses this issue.
I'm not knocking Apple or Macs. My wife and daughter love theirs and have for years. I just wanted to make you aware of the issue if you are not.
Good luck.

MikeR said...

Sounds like a good plan.

My business laptop is a Dell that I bought late 2008. Just a few years ago, when each successive OS upgrade made it slower and slower, and I had already maxed out the memory, I decided to try replacing the HD with an SSD. New machine!

Not to dissuade you from what sounds like a nice upgrade, but if the HD is able to be swapped out, an SSD would be worth a try, for frugality's sake.

Gordon R. Brown said...

Re: AppleCare

Apple requires AppleCare to be purchased within 60 days of the Apple item purchased. A suggestion: Buy AppleCare at the same time you buy the computer. I've never had to make use of it, but some of my friends have.

garyB said...

Kirk, what is the difference in cost between the refurbished and the new core I7 13-inch version? the newer one is the bomb I'm a 20 yr mac user and have never had an issue with their products, all this stuff you read is BS. Flame Flame Flame crap. I work for a tech company in Silicon Valley use both types of machines. At the end of the day like a good camera if it fits the bill just use it and enjoy.


Gilly said...

The MacBook has Thunderbolt 3 ports Kirk which are USB type C, you will need dongles to attach USB 2 and 3 devices (or buy new cables for them).
I have a 13” MacBook Pro that does a pretty good job handling my photos when attached to the LG display. Enjoy your new machine you certainly have wrung the most out of your old one.

typingtalker said...

Is this your only computer or is there a big powerful desktop computer in the studio?

I ask because I used to have a portable (laptop) computer and a big powerful desktop computer with identical software and a method for keeping files on the two machines in sync and backed up to the cloud. I bought a new, more powerful laptop to replace the old one planning to keep the desktop.

The new laptop turned out to be so powerful and useful that I finally decommissioned the big desktop and now work happily with just the laptop. I can take it anywhere and work anywhere. Files are still automagically backed up to the cloud and my old laptop is on the shelf should disaster strike.

Note: When the laptop is on my desk, it drives two large screens in addition to its "little" one. A single connector is all it needs.

Technology is wonderful.

Craig Yuill said...

Your 2011 MacBook Pro could have its RAM doubled from 4 GB to 8 GB and its hard drive replaced with a solid-state drive. Both of those things would give your computer a definite speed boost. Unfortunately, you won't be able to update the OS in that 2011 computer to the upcoming macOS Mojave. High Sierra will be the very latest macOS version that will run on it. As long as your software doesn't requite Mojave, you will be okay.

I would be very reluctant to recommend a 2017 or (especially) a 2016 MacBook Pro. The "butterfly" keyboards on those machines are notoriously liable to stop functioning properly when small bits of matter get under the keys. As time has advanced Apple has made the MacBook Pros less and less upgradeable and repairable. Out-of-warranty keyboard replacements for the 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pros are supposed to be around $700. (Compare this with a complete top-plate replacement for a 2011 MacBook Pro that cost me only $200 five years ago.) Apple tried to ignore the problem - until it (reportedly) got hit with three class-action lawsuits on the matter. (Think of Nikon's reaction to D600, D800, D750, etc. problems.)

If you want to get a used/reconditioned MacBook Pro then you might be better considering a 2015 model, which was the last version to have the old keyboard. Otherwise, you might want to consider a 2018 model, which has a redesigned keyboard that analysts figure is supposed to improve their reliability. (Apple insists the redesign is just to make key strokes less "clicky".) And definitely consider the outrageously-priced AppleCare, in case the keyboards still suck. Another route to go is to get a MacBook Air, which is based on a 2015 refresh, and uses the old, reliable keyboards. One thing to keep in mind - RAM and the SSD are now soldered onto the motherboard, and cannot be upgraded. Get at least 8 GB of RAM and at least a 256 GB SSD.

Good luck.

Peter said...

I wouldn't dream of telling you what you should buy! I am often surprised how photographers who earn a living from their equipment manage to do so with much less than the rest of us amateurs seem to 'need'. (I know of one event/portrait/wedding photographer who uses a pair of 1" super zooms!) So it's interesting that you have been managing to make an income with prehistoric levels of laptop capability and internet connection. That said, unless you are short of money, and given that your son is now off on his own, (and you personally have a small? piece of Apple's $1 trillion valuation in your portfolio) I doubt it, I would suggest you may just want to spring for a 2018, 4 core machine.

I bought the 2018 MBP 13, with 4 cores and maxed out specs except for the SSD (1 TB in my case), and am very happy with it. Adobe is said to be reworking Lightroom and Photoshop to be more core aware, and you do get a keyboard that is intended to avoid future litigation against Apple. I find that it is much faster at ingesting files than the 2 cores machines I own, and that might be a consideration for someone who is somewhat profligate in shooting and needs to sort through many files in a hurry. As someone has pointed out, it could even be a replacement for your iMac, if you add a couple of displays.
Peter Wright.

pixtorial said...

Kirk, like you I'm an Apple die-hard, all the more so that in my professional capacity as a business software developer and consultant I'm forced to live in a Microsoft-centric world. I have no gripe with Microsoft and the Windows ecosystem, it has kept me employed for decades now. But for getting work done on the creative side, we greatly prefer the engineering and design choices of Macs and OS-X. It just gets out of our way and lets us get things done.

I have to echo a couple of the other posts here, you want to get the latest, greatest MacBook Pro. The savings of buying the late 2017 refurbished 13" are false economy. It isn't like when we buy used DSLR or mirroless bodies, the changes in this case are much more substantial in terms of performance and engineering decisions.

My argument is to get a mid-2018 (released this Summer) 13" MacBook Pro with the quad-core i5 option and as much storage as you can stomach paying for. Both storage and RAM on the recent generations cannot be upgraded. So that initial purchase decision is one you'll live with for a long time. Here are my arguments why you want this model:
- It uses the latest generation Intel i-series processor, which offers some incremental but real performance improvements.
- It is quad-core, there is no reason to invest in less when your time = money.
- As others pointed out, Apple revised the engineering of the keyboard, which we're all hopeful will resolve some issues experienced with the 2017 models.
- It uses the latest display update, offering a higher level of color accuracy and dynamic range than has ever been available in an Apple laptop (or most any for that matter).

Like many MacBook Pro users I'm clinging to my early 2015 13" MacBook Pro, mostly for the convenience of the array of integral ports it offers. But also like you, I'm starting to need the USB-C style Thunderbolt/USB-3 connectivity. The latest 2018 release is the first I've seriously considered as one I would replace my existing laptop with.

I'm sure you'll get years of productive use out of whichever choice you make!

Rick Keir said...

I've had good luck with AppleCare, since Apple and its stores actually stands behind their products (unlike 3rd party warranties, where notoriously once they have your money they look for reasons not to cover you).

Once, I had water drip onto my laptops power button and my machine wouldn't turn on. I took it in and told the Apple person what had happened, knowing that water damage wasn't covered. They opened it up, said there was no sign that the water sensors had been tripped, and they FIXED IT UNDER APPLECARE. That's unbelievably good service.

I've needed repair a number of times (if you carry a laptop with you everywhere, every day, it gets dinged up and battered), and they've always been great about service.

Jimbob said...

Love the title of the article.

Unknown said...

Kirk, thought this may be helpful if deciding towards a 2018 MacBook Pro...

Best, Doug

Bill H said...

Consider getting 16 GB of RAM instead of 8GB. Your photo and video editing may benefit.

Eric Rose said...

Your lucky your 2011 didn't crap out on you. I had a later 2011 which had the GPU issue. It conveniently didn't pack it in until just after the recall program ended. I didn't even know about the recall until I took into the Apple Store. Naturally this happened while I was in Guatemala doing video work. Grrrr. Now I have a mid 2012, 15in Retina with 8 gigs of RAM.

Quite frankly if I didn't have to use Final Cut Pro X for most of the non profits I deal with I would have never bought the Mac. I will use the current MBP until it craps out at which time I will go back to PC's and use Adobe Premiere Pro. Way better bang for the buck and user upgradable.


Alex said...

Next month, my 27" iMac will celebrate its 8th birthday. Still going strong after HDD to SSD upgrade.

Last year, I bought a PC laptop to save money – it cost exactly half of a Macbook of the same specs and even looks like a Macbook. I use it not nearly as much as I thought I would. Yes, Bill Gates did his homework, and Windows 10 is a nice usable system. Still I feel at home on Mac and like a not very welcomed guest on PC...

TMJ said...

Get 16GB of RAM.

I did and it makes a big difference in PS, LR, video-editing. (i5/16GB is much better than i7/8GB).

Patrick Dodds said...

Handy tip: don't drop toast and humus onto whatever laptop you buy.

Stovebolter50 said...

I'm sort of surprised nobody has mentioned the new unit possesses a Retina display. I would think the visual implications of what you're upgrading to might have a bearing on your decision.


Unknown said...

Add more ram if possible as well. open up bottlenecks in performance. ssd is first, ram second.

David A. said...

So, if I am reading this correctly, a brand new Macbook Pro with 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD, as well as a quad-core i7 processor is $2500. You can increase the price by increasing storage, of course. Going with a quad-core i5 instead of the i7 decreases the price to $2200.

A refurb dual-core i5 with same RAM and SSD is $1800 ($21 less, actually). I don't know if you found something cheaper.

For $300 I would probably take the new quad-core i5 instead of the older dual-core. If you want to make video processing on the spot even faster, it might make sense to get the i7, for $700 more than the refurb. B&H will save you $100 on either, but the i5 has to be ordered by end of day, today, apparently. That's a $100/year premium over 7 years of ownership, no?

It is a business, after all. And you will spend more than that next year, when you trade in the SLRs for 2 Nikon Z7s and 2 Z6s (just to be safe). What did you say about the best equipment being the *supporting* equipment a few posts below this one? 8^)

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

So Happy I posted this. I'm now not considering the 2017 refurb but will definitely buy the current model with the updated keyboard. Someone asked if this was my primary computer. No, I'm using a 27 inch iMac from 2015 with 32 GB of memory and an internal SSD. It performs quite well for everything I do with it. The only time it chokes is when doing video editing with 400Mbs 4K files. Then I switch to proxy files for editing....

The 13 inch is the location machine. No serious video editing on location but sometimes a need to tether and a need for upload speed with smaller Jpeg files.

Lots of really good information here. Thanks for the good advice and feedback.

Christer Almqvist said...

I have had Apple Macs since they ("Hello") first came out. Have had them for way more than 25 years. At the very least half a dozen of them. Never had a hardware problem. Never had Apple Care. Saved a lot of money that way.

Patrick Dodds said...

By the way, I like the coffee painting.

Joe Gilbert said...


I was a process engineer in the mid-90's in Fountain Co. We ran the repaired boards through the same tests as the new boards and they are better than new. The most common failure was due to bad solder connections. Every now and again we'd replace a BGA chip, but most often just a simple swipe with soldering iron by a tech to repair.

I have a 2017 MacBook Pro without all the ports and the crummy keyboard that often fails to respond or types multiples of a random chosen key. Refurb is not the question.. Needing a dongle and an inferior keyboard make this the first time ever that I've experienced buyers remorse. It has been relegated to power point demonstration duties.....



Kurt Friis Hansen said...

I will not waste any time telling you, what you should do or not do, when selecting a good machine for portable use with respect to the tools, you use. I just urge you to ask yourself a few questions (and also answer them):

1. Will the machine be connected to the internet when outside your premises?
2. If you connect to the internet, does the browser automagically suggest login name and password?
3. When you create a login to some site on ANY mac gear, is the login automagically known to all your (i)Devices?
4. When you’re “on set”, working somewhere, do you always have full and permanent control of your computer?
5. Does your “portable office” automatically close the screen and/or go to sleep after a short interval of no use, and does it require a new login after wakeup?
6. Do you have a procedure to delete the content of a machine out of control (if possible)?

In many respects, the default settings used by many if not most Apple users create a shared environment - in some sense a distributed hardware device with more or less equal access to many if not all informations in use. The problem is not so much if you’re in control, but when you’re not!

What happens, when someone steals your machine (or you forget it somewhere)?

How do you log in?

Is the content encrypted?

I’m not talking about a situation, where you have to insist on your rights as a citizen (which can easily be circumvented in many countries of the world by the wellknown “rubber hose” method or something similar - in many places it does not even matter, if someone can hear you cry).

I’m talking about simple theft, and how you plan to recover with a minimum of “side-effects”. What about your myriad of logins? Do have a plan for switching passwords in a hurry (hurry is relative, if you have 2-3-400 different logins, I can tell you)? I assume, that you have not shared passwords across several services. Do you have a list of all the services, you actually use (and some you probably also need to use in order to modify login credentials; not to mention verification “pass-phrases”)?

If you choose a machine with fingerprint or face recognition login, nobody will have the chance to glance your password to the machine while your mind is “on set”. And if the content on the internal media - SSD - is encrypted, you gain some respite to prevent a worse case scenario (whether you use Apple’s File Vault or Windows 10 Pro’s “Hello” verification methods). Especially if the machine can automatically shut down, and always require login to wake up/display screen content as well as activate keyboard and mouse.

How about it?

Jason Hindle said...

I have a foot in all systems, but it’s not my policy to try and get people to switch. Go with what you’re familiar with. Besides, the very latest 13” MacBook Pros look superb. Do you see yourself mucking about with very high megapixel cameras (e.g. medium format)? If you think you do, then go for 16Gb of memory. Also, if you’re going to be processing video on the laptop then going for the best processor Apple offers may well help.

Me? Perfectly happy with my 2015 MacBook Pro, 2015 Thinkpad X1 Carbon, iPad Air 2, Android phone etc... I like to tinker with everything (and that goes for cameras and lenses too).

Bill said...

I have a mid-2015 15 inch MBP with 16GB and a 1TB SSD. I got it with three years of Apple Care, in late 2015. That Apple Care is about to run out. I've never had to use Apple Care once, but considering how much that MBP cost and the fact that any type of repair was starting in the mid hundreds of dollars, I felt it was worth getting. I was traveling overseas quite a bit with this machine, and that factored into getting Apple Care as well.

I don't know if I'll get another MBP. I've not been happy with the so-called "courage" that Apple exercised when they removed all the ports my MBP has in favor of nothing but USB C. I was also less than thrilled with the quality of the keyboard, which has had a number of high-profile failure modes. I was also not pleased that MBPs were limited with a maximum memory amount of 16GB.

If I were contemplating another MBP, it would be this years models because it would appear that the keyboard issue may have been addressed and the maximum memory is now up to 32GB. I use my machine for software development as well as photography, and in order to support systems other than a Mac I run Linux and Windows VMs. I'm assuming that a pure visual creative, especially in video, would eat up that 32GB as fast if not faster than I would with post processing tools.

My recommendation would be to get a new 2018 or later MBP, and I would also recommend that larger 15 inch instead of the 13 inch, especially if you get the high end processors such as the i7 and especially the i9. You need the battery, but more importantly, you need the larger physical size to help dump the heat of the processor, especially when you jobs are taking all the memory and using every core and thread. Stay away from refurbished MBPs, they really are a bad business decision.

Wally said...

Buy a PC, most any PC laptop will do, Take the money you save and put it into lenses or gear you want. Did mention that 10 bit color wasn't available in a Mac till late 2017 and not in Apple monitors?

Mac is a state of mind lagging in innovation.

Personialy I use a Surface Pro 3 thats 3 years old, has a docking station, and is coverd by my mobile phone insurance. Its kinds like Paul C Buff lights the pesky thing just keeps working.