How to choose a MacBook Pro – which Mac should you buy?

The entire purpose of this post is to help share some of my thoughts and research with those of you wondering how to choose which Mac best suits your needs. Warning – it is long winded and demonstrates my own opinions, so it is biased in that fact. My demographics in a nutshell: 31, male, American, photographer, designer, educator, ADE, expat in Asia.

As you may know, I’m quite the Apple fan. Part of my job involves helping others learn how to best utilize Apple’s solutions within the educational world (I’m also an Apple Distinguished Educator).

Having said that, I’m currently in the market for a new Mac; and it’s gotta be a laptop this time around. My current machine is a 15″ MacBook Pro 2.16Ghz Core 2 Duo from Spring 2007. I installed 3GB of RAM, and the poor 160GB hard drive is full despite heavy culling. It’s been a real workhorse, and the most trouble-free Mac I’ve ever owned.

I’m currently bumping up against three main constraints: the battery life, the hard drive space, and the speed. I could easily shove a 500GB hard drive in there, perhaps pick up another battery, and it’d hum along nicely for quite some time. Unfortunately, the speed issue won’t remedy itself with any upgrade I can provide. It’s really only a problem with doing heavy photo work or video editing. Furthermore, the speed was never an issue until I started using my Canon 5D Mk II. With the massive RAW files and full HD video, it’s pushing the processor and RAM to the max.

The other major factor for upgrading is the fact that for the past couple of years I’ve had the pleasure of using an iMac with an external screen at work; with my shift to Manila, this will no longer be the case. My job will be different; much more mobile, and on the go vs desk work.

Fortunately, just a few weeks ago, Apple released updated versions of it’s portable Macs. So how does one go about choosing which MacBook Pro to buy?

Macbook Pro

Let’s weigh the options in Apple’s portable lineup:

MacBook Air: a glorious demonstration of the marriage of industrial design and engineering.

13″ MacBook Pro: Apple’s new answer to those who want power and portability, especially with the 4GB of RAM standard and Firewire 800. Fans of the 12″ PowerBook rejoice.

15″ MacBook Pro: In some ways, the perfect solution offering better resolution than the 13″ but with less weight than 17″. Also importantly offers the option for discrete GPU – not an option on the 13″ (I feel Apple is shafting pros who need a better GPU on the 13″ – especially with the ‘pro’ designation – perhaps they’ll include it in the next update – they have a habit of give/take/give/take.)

17″ MacBook Pro: The big guy, offering awesome resolution in the thinnest and lightest package on the planet. Also the only one that still has the Express-Card slot (Apple upset many pros by removing them from the 15″). Additionally, it’s the only model offering the ‘antiglare’ screen option for $50 more. (I find it funny that Apple calls it ‘antiglare’ – openly admitting the others have glare? – how about stick with good ‘ole ‘matte’ as the name?)

Most people will go for the 13″ or 15″ MacBook Pro. I’m leaning heavily towards the 17″. Why? I’ll break down some of the reasoning against the others – for my own needs – however, many people will have different requirements:


MacBook Air:


  • It’d be ideal for portability at only 3lbs.
  • It fits the needs of perhaps 70% of my workday requirements.


  • The RAM is not upgradeable at this time (soldered) and is maxed out at 2GB – so I’d be taking a step backwards in power – this alone is a deal-breaker for my needs.
  • Unfortunately the processor wouldn’t hold up to my heavy Lightroom, Photoshop, and HD editing with the 5D2.

Summary: I have a small netbook already. I also have another much much more portable netbook with me all the time; one that holds tremendous capabilities as a communication device, allows me to connect anytime, anywhere, and fits in my pocket – the iPhone. Overall, the Air really appeals to my design senses, and I think it’s perfect for many people, but simply isn’t an option for me at this time.


13″ Macbook Pro


  • Decent portability at 4.5lbs.
  • Great battery life with the newest version.
  • Includes Firewire 800 – I have many FW 800 drives and am happy to see this as an inclusion.


  • I personally find the 13″ 1280 x 800px resolution to be cramped for many apps that utilize palettes. (many will chime in that you simply could use an external monitor – more about that in a moment)
  • Lack of a discrete GPU.

Summary: I currently own (well Novita owns), the first generation 13″ MacBook. I find the screen size and resolution quite limiting for my uses beyond the basics. If you’re simply checking email and surfing the web, it’d be more than adequate, and likely is the most popular model of the MacBook Pro family. With the use of an external monitor, you’d have quite the mobile powerhouse. (as long as you’re not intogaming) However, for my own use, even with the option to plug into an external, I prefer a higher resolution screen when on the go.


15″ Macbook Pro


  • I’m used to this size and weight. At 5.5lbs, it doesn’t bother me.
  • Can be configured to match the performance of the 17″ MBP.
  • Resolution is more forgiving at 1440 x 900px.


  • Resolution: I mention this in the cons because I feel Apple should move the 15″ to 1680 x 1050px. That would be a good middle-ground between 13″ and 17″. It seems I’m not the only one wishing such a change.
  • Apple still doesn’t include the option to use ‘antiglare’ with the 15″ despite previously offering such an option. (give/take once again)
  • My current MBP includes the Express-Card port – I realize they probably removed it to make room for the new sealed battery, but for many professional photographers and videographers, this may be a huge negative.

Summary: I have found the 15″ form factor to strike an ideal balance between power, screen size, and portability. I really do wish the resolution was higher for design work and photography, but overall, this is quite a tempting and powerful laptop.


17″ Macbook Pro


  • The thinnest and lightest 17″ laptop in the world (according to Apple).
  • Resolution is a beautiful 1920 x 1200px.
  • Only model to include anti-glare (matte) option.
  • Still includes the Express-Card port.


  • Despite being the lightest 17″, it’s still not nearly as portable as the Air or 13″.
  • Footprint takes up a lot of space – may feel imposing to others nearby, and difficult to use on a flight (not a problem for me as I usually just watch movies on the iPhone or Touch or read a book)
  • The high resolution means small icons and occasionally small text – a problem for some.

Summary: This badboy may be the one for me. I’ll digress more in a moment. The PPI – pixels per inch – is higher than any other computer screen in Apple’s lineup (iPhone/Touch not included – but even higher at 160ppi) This takes some adjustment surely, as things like icons and text within applications may not be adjustable (Aperture?). However, this can also be a benefit – the higher the pixel density, the smoother text and lines will appear to the eye – making strain less of a problem.

This resolution matches Apple’s 23″ and 24″ displays – enticing for applications like Lightroom and Photoshop where pallettes can take up quite a lot of space, and matching resolution is perhaps helpful when working with an external monitor.

As far as the larger size is concerned, I’m over 200lbs and regularly hit the gym. If I can’t handle 6.6lbs, perhaps I better reconsider my workout. Also, think about it this way – with the 5-8 hour battery life, it’s feasible you could leave the charging cable at home at times – easily making up the difference in weight from 15″ to 17″ (ok, now I’m reaching). However, understandably, this will prove to be much more of a beast to carry around than many are willing to put up with. It’s definitely not for everyone.


There are some additional concerns when contemplating dropping such serious coin on a laptop. One of my biggest questions is when we’ll see quadcore processors hit these MBPs. From what I’ve come across in heavy research is that most likely the first half of 2010 will see the introduction of the first quadcores, with some speculating Q4 of 2009 following Snow Leopard’s release. If I had to gamble on timeframes, I’d say the earliest would be Q1 of 2010, not this year.

This leads into my next contemplation: for serious photo editing, most people would not recommend doing any color critical work on a laptop screen as they’re generally inferior to external monitors – I have yet to hear how much better the new screens are with the new, “60 percent greater color gamut than previous generations”. So, although I’d still be hesitiant to do serious editing on the MacBook Pro, it’d be nice to have the option to do editing on the go – I travel quite often – usually for a total of three months per year. Those three months would be much more enjoyable if I didn’t have to sacrifice screen resolution. The glossy vs matte screen debate is alive and well, but if I’m not planning to do color critical work, it may be less of a factor. I’m still undecided on that matter, and no stores around here have them in stock to compare.

Furthermore, as powerful as these Macbook Pros are, they’re still no match for the Mac Pro or even the iMac. So it seems there are two main options if you crave a larger screen for editing:

  1. Purchase an external monitor for use with a MBP
  2. Consider a desktop for home

Breaking this down, obviously the cheaper route is the use of an external monitor. There are some great options for 22-27″ monitors, as well as Apple’s own 24″ LED display. However, not everyone is a fan of connecting cables, setting things up, and using their laptop as a desktop, just as others find it terribly inefficient to balance more than one machine with syncing issues and maintaining updated files. Personally, I’m used to using two or more computers on a daily basis, but can’t say I’ve not desired the simplicity that comes with one machine.

The iMac is a beautiful machine – I’ve been using them since 2005 in various forms. I think the new 24″ are stunning. My hesitation with the iMacs are that, A) It’s a pain to continually sync two or more computers, and B) They’ll most likely adapt quadcore processors soon (perhaps sooner than the MBP). I believe it’s best to hold off on purchasing the iMac until they do so, as the benefits will be quite impressive, and they’re due for a refresh within the next 7 months or so.

The Mac Pro is another story. It’s a glorious demonstration of power, but at a significantly higher initial purchase point. However, when you really evaluate things, it’s not such a bad idea.

In fact, Lloyd Chambers states, Dead-end Macs are anything except a Mac Pro; all other models have extremely limited options for enhancing performance. A dead-end Mac is the most expensive one, because you’ll have to buy another Mac to get the performance, storage, or expansion you need.”

In reality, after you swallow the initial purchase price and throw some RAM and hard drives in there, you have a Mac that will churn out work for many years of service. The expandability helps to offset the processor’s aging, and will help maintain decent resale. Surely if time is money, and you need this kind of power and flexibility, the Mac Pro is probably the best investment (if you can call a computer that).

The iMacs are becoming increasingly difficult to upgrade, can only support one internal HDD, are limited to 8GB of RAM, video cards cannot be upgraded, and if the screen goes bad, the computer is unuseable.

That being said, I still think the iMacs are perfect for the vast majority of users who don’t require portability. You can easily get a few years out of the current model without needing to worry about bumping up against the constraints – unless you’re a very heavy user or are running specific apps that require such power. Knowing all of the limitations, I’d still seriously consider an iMac once again.

To wrap up this massive missive that’s become long winded, the current Mac lineup is looking quite promising, with the laptops sporting a truly marvelous design and the power to please most users.

For some, including myself, the 17″ Macbook Pro may be the perfect choice if the weight and size are not concerns. I’ll definitely need some option for working at home on a larger screen, but that’s something I can hold off on deciding for at least a couple of months. I’ll be carefully watching the iMac updates, and depending on how things go with work and photography, may even consider a Mac Pro at some point – but most likely not this year. I feel at this point and time, even the 17″ MacBook Pro will be sufficiently powerful while still being portable.

I hope, if nothing else, you’ve gathered a glimpse of how choosing the right Mac is a choice that’s best done only after serious consideration. Strolling into the Apple Store may gain you buyer’s remorse and provide you with possible overkill, or worse, an underpowered Mac for your particular useage. You have to carefully evaluate your needs, and match that with the amount you’re willing to spend. Lastly, don’t fear refurbished or second hand items. On that note, I personally always purchase Apple Care for portables.

In closing, there will always be “one more thing” on the horizon. A good rule is to wait as long as you can for a new machine, research carefully, and then use the hell out of it without worrying about the next update.

Packing up, books vs Kindle, and the joy of dead trees

The movers are here today, shipping our belongings to Manila.

We spent the week packing up and sorting through dusty memories. It’s really hard to narrow your life down to only 12 cubic meters; especially considering I arrived in Indonesia 7 years ago with only two suitcases. What goes? What stays? What gets donated to charity? What gets trashed?

I don’t want to become a pack rat – I enjoy simplicity and minimalism to a degree. However, I do have a slight problem with books; a problem meaning I buy far too many, and read far too few. Case in point? I spent no less than 9 hours categorizing and cataloging my books into Delicious Library 2 – software for Mac that uses the built in iSight to scan the barcode on the back of books (very cool). You can then sync it with your iPhone so you can view your library on the go.

Why would I ever need this? What, you’ve never bought the same movie or book twice? Never loaned out books and forgot to whom? Tedious and perhaps a bit OCD, but pretty sweet once it’s complete. After sorting many books to remain in Jakarta, and not including Novita’s Indonesian books, the grand total was 285 books.

Yes, 285. Maybe not a lot compared to some (including my parents), but considering I brought only a beat-up copy of Trainspotting and Sho-gun to Jakarta, it sure seems excessive. To put it in perpsective, if, say, I live another 60 years (hopefully more), I’d have enough books to read almost 5 per year – without ever buying another book. Ouch.

Why not just use Amazon’s Kindle?

I guess despite being a full on tech guy, books are one area in which I like the tangible item. I spend much of the day online reading and working with screens; books are a welcome respite from pixels. I realize digital formats are more sensible, devices have made great strides in readability, and probably are much more ‘green’; perhaps I’ll look back on this post in a decade and laugh at my naivety.

For now, I’ll stick with dead trees and expensive shipping.


Ironically, Novita just shipped the novel I’m reading. True to my post, I went searching for another book to read in the books that weren’t sent in the shipment – whaddya know – on the top of the pile was another copy of that very same novel.

See, there’s a perk to being a book monger!

Redesigned and sterilized

In order to completely rid myself of the malware plaguing this blog for over a week, I took dramatic action: reinstalling WordPress and installing a completely different theme, rather than try to fix the other. Dreamhost has been very little help and the problem is documented as having affected over 20,000 other WP blogs (some of which were hosted by Dreamhost). It’s disappointing that I have to struggle myself to fix such problems, when no one else can help.

If the problem happens again (which is a possibility), and Dreamhost does not take action to help me, I will definitely switch hosts. There have been a few incidents with them that are almost proving enough to switch. (accidentally charging customers’ credit cards, etc).

At any rate, the new design is definitely not finalized – I realize it’s a bit fugly and messy. However, with my mediocre coding, it’s slow going. I sincerely apologize if you received any type of malware after having visited my site. It’s really unfortunate, and I hope not too many people will be scared to return. All should be clear now.

A few quick issues I want to fix:

  • the categories in the header are sorted alphabetically, I’d like control over their order.
  • the header itself is a mess, but I whipped that up to be temporary.
  • somehow in the import from the other installation, I lost all of my blog subscribers and all of my links. :(
  • the comment .gif is displaying twice because I’m using Disqus and it’s conflicting with the WP comments – no idea how to remedy that.
  • i have the blog set to display full posts, but when you click on a category, it displays only a preview, not the full post. especially annoying with pics not showing.
  • my footer is non-existent. I think I lost the correct code – supposed to be widget enabled, but no go.
  • If anyone has design suggestions, by all means, please drop me a comment or criticism. I need all the help I can get.

    Choosing WordPress themes – paid vs free

    Changing your blog design is a bit like redecorating your home; invigorating, frightening, and possibly expensive. After all is said and done, the redesign probably makes you wonder why you didn’t do it earlier.

    Despite being trained as an industrial designer, my web design skills are quite beginning level. I can work my way around code by trial and error, but never having been formally trained, things can get ugly quickly. Not to mention the fact that it takes me to figure out these changes since I’m doing it mistake by mistake.

    The route I’ve taken with this blog since 2002, is “if it ain’t broke…. leave it alone!” and I’ve strived to focus on content, writing, and photos.

    As I mentioned, things lately have become broken, whether due to someone breaking into my FTP login, through third party software, or simply due to me being slow to update the WP software. It’s been giving many people ‘malware warnings’ and surely will begin turning some of you away.

    In the past week I upgraded WP twice, now to the latest – 2.8, and also upgraded K2 (the theme I use) to the latest nightly. However, with these upgrades, I also realized that K2 no longer seems to be as usable as previously. (unless it’s just me).

    I find it time for a redesign. Something fresh. Perhaps daring and bold. But the bottom line is that it still needs to be easy to navigate, and should focus on maintaining my 7 years of archives. This is where I begin to falter.

    If my images from years’ past are all 500px fixed width, how can I easily bring those into a new theme without things getting ugly? Not all themes will work nicely with photos, and dealing with the archives will be my weakness. If anyone has thoughts on integrating a new theme with my 7 years of blog posts, I’d be very appreciative.

    At the moment I’m trying to decide whether or not it’s worthwhile to pay for themes. In some ways it goes against the WP philosophy of open source sharing, but the reality is many paid themes will be more carefully designed and perhaps have better support in place, and updates on a regular basis.

    The themes that draw my attention first and foremost seem to be heavily based on the visual; incorporating large photos and visual based navigation. These may or may not be inviting to the typical user and I’m guessing they may not load as quickly as more text driven sites. However, looking at my current blog, I have no less than 8 larger images on the front page, so the other themes may actually be faster loading if I limit the size and number on the loading page.

    The other thing that I’m unsatisfied with, is the fact that I have always had set up to bounce to /blog – and never used as the splash page – seems more fitting. I also have a photoblog that is geared more towards just imagery. However, the code I use for that is not holding up well with newer versions of WP.
    If you were in my shoes, would you stick to a separate blog and photoblog, or go for a blended medium between the two, limiting things to one site?

    I have a two week window in which I can work on this stuff. After that, I’ll be flat out on the Manila transition for a while. So, it’s all or nothing at the moment. If all else fails I’d at least like to rid myself of the ugly blue header – the code for my rotating header images also isn’t working.

    Shouldn’t this all be a little easier?

    WordPress 2.8

    I’ve just upgraded to WordPress 2.8. I hope this helps to clear up the previous malware warnings many people experienced when visiting my blog. The lack of a proper solution has been waning on my patience and motivation to blog. If anyone with better skills would care to help me with investigating the issue with the possible code injection, please let me know.

    Also, if you still see warnings when visiting this blog, please drop a comment below.

    I also updated the theme to the latest build of K2 but don’t have time tonight to correct the CSS for things like title colors, etc. I hope it’s somewhat readable still. I’ll try to get it sorted out tomorrow, but hey, isn’t this what summer in Jakarta is for? 😉

    If anyone has a few favorite themes for WordPress you can recommend, I’d be up for trying something new. I’ve been using K2 since 2004!? (with modifications)

    Code injection? Sphinktersayswhat?

    It appears this blog has been attacked by some sort of *&#$@# malicious spam injection. Many people have written to me with concern, screenshots, and ponderings on what is going on. I believe I may have cleared the issue up, by removing the code and upgrading to the latest version of WP, but at the expense of the design of the blog. I am putting function over form at this point until I have the time to fix the aesthetics.
    If you happen to notice a malware warning, etc, please email me or drop me a comment; if it’s still happening I may have to rope in some additional help.