Choosing Another Mac
Towards the end of 2018, I started to find that my trusty MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2011) wasn’t quite powerful enough any more. I bought it new in 2012, and although it was fine for things like browsing the web, it wasn’t coping so well with apps like Xcode and iMovie, which were becoming too much for it.
My MacBook Air isn’t capable of running the latest version of macOS (Mojave). And sadly, its built-in 4 GB RAM and 128 GB SSD can’t be upgraded. Also, I’ve wanted a device with a retina screen for some time. That’s why the search for a new machine began.
I don’t like to upgrade very often, so I decided to look for 16 GB RAM and 512 GB SSD as a minimum, preferably with an i7 processor.
New MacBook Air / MacBook Pro?
The latest MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are more powerful than ever. But one thing continues to stop me from buying them: the keyboard.
Even though I might eventually get used to the feel of Apple’s latest laptop keyboards, the uncertainty over reliability troubles me so much that I can’t bring myself to buy one.
New Mac Mini?
When I was considering all the options, rumours were circulating about a new Mac mini. It was an exciting day when Apple announced it, and it looks like a great machine. However, its relatively high price-point put me off.
That was disappointing, and my only remaining options seemed to be an older iMac, or an older MacBook Pro.
(Incidentally, I still have a Late 2009 Mac Mini, and thanks to a RAM and SSD upgrade, it’s still useful for light duties.)
When looking at what iMacs were available on the used market, I found a few problems. Many machines only had 8 GB of RAM — and the RAM can’t be upgraded in some of the more recent models, which is where the more powerful processors are usually found.
Older models which did allow for RAM upgrades were either too old to have a useful lifespan, under-powered, or hard to find.
Another factor is that even today, the iMac still does not come with SSDs as standard, so an SSD upgrade would be needed when buying a second-hand machine in many cases, adding to the cost.
Used MacBook Pro?
In the end, a MacBook Pro no later than 2015 seemed like the best choice. That’s the last year before the keyboard design changed from being reliable, to questionable.
So I purchased a MacBook Pro 11,3 (Late 2013) from CEX.
I have to admit that I made a mistake in thinking that 11,3 meant it was Mid 2014, thanks to taking only a quick glance at Apple’s Identify Your MacBook Pro page. It was only after I’d ordered it that I realised that Apple’s page lists TWO models as 11,3: both the Mid 2014 and the Late 2013! I didn’t expect that.
I also had problems with CEX — they sent me a slightly different machine to the one I ordered. After all the problems, I’m finally quite happy with the machine itself.
Anyway, enough of all that — let’s move on to the performance comparison.
MacBook Air 2011 vs MacBook Pro 2013 Speed Comparison
On 1st January, I did some quick tests to compare the two machines, by recording how long certain tasks took on each machine (in seconds).
I know they’re not super-accurate, but they do give a feel for how the machines differ in performance — which gives me some hope that the upgrade has been worthwhile.
Air — MacBook Air Mid 2011
1.7 GHz i5, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD, macOS High Sierra 10.13.6
Pro — Retina MacBook Pro Late 2013
2.3 GHz i7, 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, macOS Mojave 10.14.2
|iMovie Export *1||75||26||2.9|
|iMovie Export *2||70||24||2.9|
|Xcode new tabbed project||8.5||6.5||1.3|
|… finish indexing||31||49||0.6|
|Run Xcode project (iPhone XR sim)||117||61||1.9|
|… second time||44||14||3.1|
*1 — Auto graphics switching on Pro
*2 — High performance graphics enabled on Pro (GT750M)
On average, the Pro was 2.0 times faster in my initial tests.
Today, I did a few additional tests and re-tests. The set-up is the same, except that the Pro is now running on High Sierra too.
|Open lid to being able to enter password after long sleep||11.0||1.5||7.3|
|iMovie Export *1||85.0||23.1||3.7|
|Build Xcode macOS project, 2nd time||31.4||9.0||3.5|
|… third time||27.0||9.5||2.8|
On average, the Pro was 3.8 times faster for the above tasks.
The following CPU benchmarks were taken from www.cpubenchmark.net
|Average CPU Mark||2678||9022||3.4|
|Single Thread Rating||1117||1947||1.7|
It didn’t take me long to see how much better the retina screen is. In the past, I’d made the mistake of thinking that my less-than-perfect eyesight would not appreciate the difference. But that’s not true.
Text is so much clearer and more readable. And it’s possible to use different scaling options to provide a greater desktop area if preferred.
The increased resolution is noticeable everywhere — even things like the Wi-Fi symbol in the menu bar, which is less bold and less blocky.
(The Pro has a screen resolution of 2880 x 1800 pixels, whereas the Air has a resolution of 1440 by 900.)
The Next Few Years
I’m hoping that this MacBook Pro will keep me going for at least another couple of years. It’s capable of running the latest version of macOS (Mojave), but I did end up downgrading back to High Sierra, because it’s more compatible with older software.
The main thing for me is that it runs the latest version of Xcode. Fortunately, High Sierra is still suitable for the latest Xcode, at least for the time being.
With Apple’s Marzipan project bringing iOS apps to the Mac, we seem to be getting ever closer to the day when they switch from Intel to Arm CPUs in the Mac.
That’s another reason why I’ve been reluctant to invest heavily in a brand new Intel-based Mac. I imagine that once the switch takes place, it won’t be long before Intel Macs get sidelined. And once that happens, they’re sure to drop in value on the used market.
Second hand Macs still seem to be holding their value quite well at the moment. I hope that when Arm Macs arrive, the transition won’t render the Intel machines obsolete too quickly.