Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter — Issue #1024

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Gene Steinberg

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Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter
October 31, 2021


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Let me put this in perspective: While I have had Mac portables since the 1990s, when they first appeared, I always regarded them as just too slow to manage my workflow. From tepid drive performance, to general sluggishness, I could never consider any of the PowerBooks or MacBook Pros I’ve owned to be suitable as replacements for my Mac desktops.

But it’s not that it’s convenient to schlep a desktop computer to a hotel, although I’ve done that a few times. But before I got my first PowerBook, I remember taking Barbara to another city for surgery. The Steinberg family set up shop, so to speak, in a hotel room. I found a store from where I could rent a PowerBook for a few days, and I copied over the critical work files before making the trip.

In those days, PowerBooks used trackballs rather than trackpads, and I’ve never liked either. Regardless, I made sure my critical writing assignments were mostly done before the trip so I could focus on finishing an article or two, editing the ones my editors would return for revision, and just manage email.

So I haven’t traveled all that much in recent years, so my last MacBook Pro, a 2010 17-inch model, lies mostly unused. Indeed, the last time it was turned on was in late 2019 when my iMac’s Fusion Drive failed. Although operating system upgrades haven’t supported it for several years, it managed to run all my apps. A SSD replacement installed a few years back managed to improve performance to a usable level, so I managed for a few weeks with a smaller display.

And, yes, I still used my regular Mac keyboard and mouse.

In any case, Apple’s MacBook Pro has been a mixed experience for many users. In 2015, a slim and light 12-inch MacBook arrived with a low-travel butterfly keyboard. Despite the criticism, and pressed on and changed the rest of the notebook lineup to the same keyboard.

Over the years, customers complained about early failures, and the propensity to become dust magnets. There was even an extended repair program for some models, which is Apple’s tacit admission of a defective design.

With the 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro, Apple embraced the larger form factor anew, and restored the scissor-style keyboards of old. Customers loved them, but remained unhappy with Apple’s propensity to ditch ports, evidently in an overwrought effort to make them thinner and thinner. Even a relatively light notebook isn’t so light if you have to travel with annoying dongles to manage external peripherals.

When the first Mac with an Apple Silicon system-on-a-chip arrived in the fall of 2020, the new models were pretty much the same as their predecessors except for the internal workings.

But the decision to abandon Intel Inside was clearly justified, since the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac mini and iMac (the latter arriving in the spring of 2021) were all capable of performance that rivaled Apple’s speediest Macs with the older processors at all but the most extreme tasks

So I have a Late 2014 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina Display. It’s performance is quite decent, and its Fusion Drive performs close to that of a full SSD. You can expect speeds to improve over seven years, so when I looked at the results for the 24-inch iMac, I found that performance had improved tremendously despite it being an essentially consumer-level desktop; not quite twice as fast but fairly close in both single and multicore scores. But I won’t dwell on the numbers, since they’ve been posted numerous times, and are consistent from user to user.

More to the point, the things I wait for on my iMac would occur instantaneously, or close, on the 2021 iMac, even despite its modest position in the Mac lineup. What this means is that my typical workflows, which largely involve editing my radio shows and writing, would occur as fast as I can manage them for the most part. The next large iMac, the one to replace eh 27-inch model and, which may have a 30-inch display or something in that range, would no doubt use the same parts as the new MacBook Pros, and thus be considerably faster.

Possibly too fast!

So I wasn’t surprised to see scores of a maxed out MacBook Pro, with M1 Max processor, matching or beating the scores of a $6,000 graphics card on a Mac Pro. Except for heavy-duty 3D rendering and similar chores, or high-end gaming assuming developers will be tempted to deliver more titles for macOS that are properly optimized for the platform, most people won’t need the extra hardware.

But clearly Apple feels there are enough professional customers out there to support the new models, and don’t forget the bragging rights even if sales are a small subset of the total.

And remember we haven’t seen what Apple will do with the Mac Pro with Apple Silicon, although it’s fairly easy to speculate the value of more CPU and GPU cores with a mythical M2 Max, which may arrive by next summer to fulfill Apple’s plans to complete the switchover by then.

This doesn’t mean Apple will stop development because their products are too fast. Clearly AMD and Intel will be working overtime to try to meet the competition.

What it does mean is that today’s Macs are more than fast enough for most of you. Future updates will further reduce wait times to process extreme high-end tasks.

I’d call if the pinnacle of traditional personal computer technology, that a company has delivered machines so fast that users don’t have to wait for it to perform tasks most of the time, except for the extremes. So far, Apple has not added anything not in a computer before. Indeed, the latest MacBook Pros restore features that customers enjoyed, such as a MagSafe power adapter, and a few legacy ports. such as HDMI and memory cards. But no Ethernet, which is unfortunate, although an adapter can be connected to one of the Thunderbolt ports.

For now AI remains in the province of rumors in the Mac universe, though it’s clear Apple’s new processors are powerful enough to support the technology.

As you know, I’m an old guy and I’m at the point of considering what my next or perhaps last Macs will be like. On my shopping wish list so far as a tricked out 24-inch iMac, since it’ll be loads faster than my current iMac, and sacrificing three inches of screen space should not represent a serious comedown. Not for what I do.

So in 2009, I traded a Mac Pro with a 30-inch display when I bought my first large-screen iMac. I never felt I’d given up anything, although upgrading to the 5K Retina display six years later delivered the major difference.

My only regret is that Apple couldn’t deliver a fast-enough Mac before now. I would have loved to have one when I was younger.


Gene Steinberg’s Mac Radio Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.

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