Tuesday, January 5, 2016 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Why the 2012 non-Retina MacBook Pro Still Sells

Marco Arment:

As we’ve progressed toward thinner, lighter, more integrated Macs, we’ve paid dearly in upgradeability, versatility, and value. There are many Macs to choose from today, but in some ways, we have less choice than ever. The 101 represents the world we’re leaving behind, and our progress hasn’t all been positive.

The better question isn’t why anyone still buys the 101, but why the rest of the MacBook lineup is still less compelling for the 101’s buyers after almost four years, and whether Apple will sell and support the 101 for long enough for newer MacBook models to become compelling, economical replacements.

I hope they don’t get rid of the 11-inch MacBook Air.

Update (2016-01-07): John Gruber:

It occurs to me that for all our collective worrying about the iOS-ification of Mac OS X, it’s the MacBook hardware that’s gotten iOS-ified, not the software. Thinness as a top priority, and an almost complete lack of upgradeability.

Nick Heer:

I think most kids would have their eyes opened at just how straightforward it is to snoop around inside many of today’s tech products. I replaced the SSD in my MacBook Air this past weekend and was pleasantly surprised at how much easier it was than replacing the hard drive in my mid-2007 MacBook Pro. It took just ten screws to remove the back panel and a single screw to remove the drive, as opposed to the far more screws and clips required to remove the top case of the Pro.

13 Comments

Marco raises a good point. I had to replace my 7 year old MacBook Pro 15" a couple of years ago (2013), and ended up going with a REFURB 2011 model because all of the Retina and other models were simply useless from many standpoints. I already had bigger HD than your could buy an SSD. They aren't upgradeable (RAM or drive), etc.

If they don't keep the non-Retina MacBook Pro available, and UPGRADE it, then I'm afraid I may have purchased the last Mac I'll ever own, after using Mac and Apple products exclusively since 1984.

I will absolutely NOT buy any MacBook that is not upgradeable. PERIOD. I have used PowerBooks and MacBooks exclusively since the PowerBook 180. I always upgrade the RAM and storage in my unit, sometimes multiple times. Not being able to upgrade them without having to buy a whole new unit is a deal breaker. Despite what too many Mac owners claim, Macs are NOT really cheaper, especially if they are not upgradable!

I could live without the DVD drive, or use that external one. I'd rather not, but I could. But the non-upgradability and high prices to bring ANY of the Retina units up to what my current 2011 NON-Retina 15" MacBook pro already has for RAM and storage is absolutely unacceptable.

And two years later, it's not any better!!! This does not bode well for Apple's future and the Mac.

I'm starting to be really worried.

I do NOT want to switch my personal computer to Linux or Windows. But Apple's starting to make it hard not to. I know that the Mac is an afterthought for them now...but the people who DO use it are power users, and they tend to be technology leaders and advisors too. If they kill the Mac, they may inadvertently kill the iOS platform too. If prices don't drop SO significantly in the next couple of years when I am ready to get a new Mac laptop again that I can get a better laptop and not have to worry about being able to afford an ALL new one much sooner because of the lack of RAM and storage upgradability, then I'm done with Apple entirely. If I'm going to move off the Mac, I may as well move off of iOS too.

Damn it.

I don't understand Bill Davis. I've only upgraded my Macs in the past because the were ridiculously low-specs by design. When powerbooks were shipping with _a lot less_ RAM than the cheapest Windows computer and their RAM prices were extremely expensive, yes, that's why you wanted (and had to) upgrade the RAM and Storage because it was crappy and overpriced.

Now? Just max it out. 16 GB RAM is gonna be plenty for a while, unless you really need to do big rendering (or similar performance intensive tasks). Laptops have gotten more powerful, but they don't have the graphic power of a dedicated box and the same goes for CPU and what not, in part possibly because of thermal issues.

So "i'm starting to be really worried" is really a little bit too much… the prices are high but the machines last for YEARS, like MAX IT OUT when you buy it, then keep it for 5+ years. I'm not a fanboy, I don't care about either (I've used OS X and Mac hardware since early Jaguar days, not much of System 7/8/9 users), but I don't get this attitude of "omg i must upgrade this and that"…

Anyway, to each his own.

@Martin I don’t see the RAM upgradeability as a major issue, either. It’s not as expensive to max out as it used to be. I’m more concerned with the RAM ceiling, which hasn’t been raised in years. I could easily use a lot more than 16 GB because I have VMs running, etc., but the Mac doesn’t support it.

Persistent storage does seem like a real issue, since the max SSD is expensive and not that high in capacity. But I’m not sure what Apple could do there. It would be nice to have a swappable internal hard drive in addition to the SSD, but I can’t see Apple ever doing that.

Still, upgradability is nice. It's nice to have a "pro" laptop you can open up and service. I've opened up MBP's a bunch of times. It is nice.

But hell, like Bill Davis, I also want to get out of Apple. But my reasons are software, not hardware. Unfortunately, I don't see his two options are being more viable, much as I'd like them to be. Where's BeOS when you need it?

(Personally, I think the Early-2011 MPB's are the ones to stock up on for the apocalypse. All the advantages Marco discusses, plus you can run the last good version of the OS.)

> I've only upgraded my Macs in the past because the were ridiculously low-specs by design.

I've upgraded almost every MacBook I've owned (where it was possible). In the past, I used to upgrade the RAM, but like Michael says, that's no longer possible, since they max out at 16GB anyway. What I did to every upgradeable MacBook I owned, though, was to replace the disk with a faster, larger one about three years into its lifespan. This really makes a huge difference for portables, and easily extends a device's lifespan by two or three years. I've also done the same for many of my non-tech friends. SSDs get faster and larger so quickly that it's almost like getting a whole new computer.

Having said that, I do think we're reaching a point with laptops where progress in almost all areas (except, at the moment, SSDs and battery life) is starting to slow down to the point where it makes less sense to upgrade them (or even replace them, unless they break).

I've also looked into alternatives, and I'm starting to use Windows more and more, but also mainly because of the OS. I do find that it is difficult to find really compelling Windows alternatives to some of the Mac apps I use (e.g. Sketch, Coda).

@Martin There's always been a *huge* price difference between maxing out when buying and upgrading years later when the need arises. For many of us this was the only way we could afford it.

From my first iBook to my last upgradeable MacBook Pro, I have upgrades *every* one. I just could not afford the maxed out configurations to begin with (which often are intentionally expensive with high margins). Sometimes the upgrades I put in where not even available when I bought the machine. The most magic of all upgrades I ever made was the first switch from HD to SSD, it literally gave me *years* of extended life. The SSD:s were expansive as well, so I hade to upgrade them many times over. And then I finally through out the DVD and used both SSD and HD at the same time, getting both speed and affordable storage built in, in a way that just is not possible any more.

"From my first iBook to my last upgradeable MacBook Pro, I have upgrades *every* one."

Did you upgrade the hard drive in that iBook? And was it a clamshell model? If so, kudos, sir. Kudos.

I was in the Midwest at the time, and paid a veteran Apple authorized service guy $30 to install a bigger hard drive I'd brought with me into a 1st gen iBook. It took him well over an hour, and he was copiously sweating and shaking by the end of it. He told me he'd badly undercharged me, which I told him I agreed with wholeheartedly. (Sent more business his way later, so it all worked out.)

@Chucky The later iBooks were a dream to install hard drives in, though.

"The later iBooks were a dream to install hard drives in, though."

Indeed. But those clamshells were really something. A triumph of ultra-miniaturization, surrounded by enough padding that you could toss the thing across the room and not damage it.

I did 15 minutes of research on upgrading the hard drive myself, and just started laughing...

I have upgraded all the upgradable Macs I've had (I had Mac Pros too), but for these laptops, yes, maybe being able to add 32gb ram would be nice, but I sit in Xcode all day and I don't see needing more than 16GB of RAM. I run Xplane on this Macbook Pro with an external display and "it works". If anything, I wish I could upgrade the video card, that's the thing that gets really behind in 3+ years.

"Did you upgrade the hard drive in that iBook? And was it a clamshell model? If so, kudos, sir. Kudos."

No, I never thought the clamshells were good enough to make me leave my old Power Macintosh (and I couldn't afford the PowerBooks). But those white iBook G3 released in the spring of 2001, they were great. They had it "all", from the 1024×768 display to the Firewire port. They were smaller, lighter, faster and still very competitively priced (really one of the most affordable Macs ever I think). And even though they were easier to upgrade than the clamshell it was still kind of a challenge back then for me. But with the help of iFixit I managed to do it! :)

"No, I never thought the clamshells were good enough ... But those white iBook G3 released in the spring of 2001, they were great"

I do hear you. I moved from Clamshell to dual USB iBook, which was a quite nice machine, cuz you really needed that to run OS X.

But at the same time, I must say, you missed out. The Clamshells were my single favorite form factor Apple Ever Made. No joke. Ergonomically, it was a dream never seen before or after. Took cues from the eMate to create a friend that was soooo wonderful to use. Absurdly comfortable to type on, to lie/sit with, you could literally toss it around the room, and that damn handle. I loved walking a few blocks with it like a pocketbook.

Don't get me wrong. It wasn't a power performer. I had a Yosemite workstation crammed full of hard drives that I'd use it to Timbuktu into. But I usually preferred to use the Clamshell remotely to sitting at the workstation. As a pure human/machine interface, it's never gotten better than the Clamshell. It was the greatest literal LAPTOP ever created by humans.

Page & Plant even warbled out a paean to the experience...

> "The Clamshells were my single favorite form factor Apple Ever Made"

Yeah, the only thing I didn't like about them was the small screen. I, and many of my friends, had them when we were students. You could throw them in backpacks full of pointy junk, people stepped on them, accidentally sat on them, stumbled over power the cable and pulled them off tables, fell on them while skateboarding (yes, that's an actual thing that happened)... I've never seen one break. They were fantastic machines.

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