My laptop, Daedalus, a stalwart of the old Dell XPS Studio line, has lasted well for nearly six years. That realisation came as a surprise since I generally expect a machine to last me only three to four. In the interim I built a new desktop, JARVIS, but found I now lack the necessary time to diagnose and repair a custom rig like that when things go wrong. As a result, for a while now I have wanted to streamline down just to a laptop with a docking solution that made it easy to use with a full desk setup for long work or photo editing sessions and indie/less powerful games (since I now prefer to play most mainstream games on a large TV in the comfort of my living room). The problem is that consumer docks are still unusual and no one was really making the laptop I wanted.
So Daedalus’ successor, Helios (Deus Ex fans will recognise the progressing AI namesakes), took careful selection. The result, as a Buzzfeed headline would no doubt claim, might surprise you. It transpired that the ideal Windows laptop for me is actually an Apple MacBook Pro. It hit each of my requirements:
- 13″ for portability;
- SSD for the OS and total storage of at least 500GB;
- 8GB RAM;
- Graphics capability for indie games;
- Ultra hi-res screen;
- Slide-in dock — the third-party henge dock.
Some of you might reasonably treat this as a weird hoax, but it is important to understand the reasoning behind my general distaste for Apple products. It is not fanboyism, but a desire for interoperability and freedom. That is, when making any technology purchasing decision, I want a device that will work happily with everything else I own and that will not restrict my choices when later upgrading, because I want to be free to select the best product for my use. In general this rules out the “walled garden” of Apple products and particularly iOS. However, since their decision to switch to Intel architecture, Macs are essentially just PC hardware running different software. The introduction of Boot Camp with appropriate drivers for the hardware means Windows can not only be installed but it can be made the default operating system.
I had not been into an Apple store for several years and was impressed by the experience. After asking a few questions I was handed over to someone more knowledgeable about running Windows on Apple hardware and they already had it set up on a demo machine. Purchasing was slick and easy, running the transaction on a portable terminal with the laptop being delivered down to us while we chatted about software and potential pitfalls.
The only tricky part of the Boot Camp setup process was preparing a bootable Windows installation on a USB stick, since the MacBook Pro lacks an optical drive. Within a couple of hours I had Windows loaded up and ready to take over as the default OS, with OSX relegated to a minimal partition on the drive. Whilst Apple provides Windows drivers, it has little incentive to optimise them. As a result, better results can be received from component manufacturers or even third parties like the Trackpad++ project, which reinstates a host of customisable multitouch gesture controls on the generous trackpad. Another quirk is that the high-res screen requires Windows’ full 150% scaling to be readable, but when connected to a standard resolution monitor that becomes unwieldy. The easiest solution is to have a separate user account for use in docked mode and that also allows me to tweak the applications that launch on startup.
The hardware is exceptional as one would expect from Apple. The machined unibody chassis is sleek and incredibly thin, yet is surprisingly good at heat dissipation given that it runs extremely quiet in general use. The screen is stellar and input is as comfortable as the competition. The Apple keyboard layout differs from Windows but SharpKeys offers an easy way to remap them to something more familiar (like reinstating a dedicated “delete” key or reordering Alt and Command/Winkey).
The metal Henge Dock is a big improvement on the original plastic design and the finish looks as though it could have shipped with the MacBook. It ships with all the necessary cables other than the power adapter (so you really need a second one for travelling since one will be fixed to the dock). Connecting and disconnecting the laptop is as easy as slotting it in the right way round, and a rubber insert protects it from scratches whilst providing a snug fit. The result looks like a ridiculously slim mini tower sitting on the desk. Most of the body is exposed to air which limits overheating and the MacBook’s rear vent is specifically designed to be exposed whether the lid is open or closed, so I have little concern about running it in “clamshell mode”. It was this docking option that really sold me on the MacBook in the first place and I find myself surprised both by how well it works and how few non-business options there are from PC manufacturers.
1 February 2015 at 9:54 am
hey bro. Did the same thing, but went for the 15″ with dedicated nvidia. I also went for using native osx but virtualisation of windows 7 and 10 preview and Linux – all using VMware fusion.
My reasoning was same as yours: best hardware / design for me, especially the ultra high resolution screen. That’s another reason to boot natively into OS X, as it tends to handle the resolution better. Also battery life takes a notable hit with bootcamp.
1 February 2015 at 1:15 pm
Oh, and forgot to mention, get yourself a Kuzy case (£20-£30 on amazon, mine’s a dark grey colour but they have all sorts), and is sort of rubberised 2-part plastic clip-on style, but very svelte and gives the machine a nice matte finish/texture, and saved mine from an otherwise fatal drop. Also, there’s a very good matte black HP bluetooth mouse, which means you don’t need to add a usb-dongle. Also, the Microsoft Remote Desktop app is great for remotely controlling other computers, including Windows PCs and my raspberry pi.
1 February 2015 at 5:08 pm
I considered the 15″ too for the dedicated graphics but any bigger than 13″ becomes a problem when combined with the camera gear.
I’m expecting Windows 10 will handle scaling better for hi-res screens and it’s a free upgrade.
There’s definitely a battery life hit from boot camp but my understanding is that it’s related to the Apple drivers for Windows. It might make sense for me to use OSX for pure web browsing but generally Windows allows everything on my network to talk seamlessly so I’d rarely spend much time in the OSX environment even if I booted into it.
2 February 2015 at 7:52 pm
That’s how it starts. Five years ago, I got my first Macbook Pro. I needed to run Final Cut Pro, and with Boot Camp I could spend the rest of my time in Windows. And I did, 95% of all my computing was spent as a microserf, and OSX languished on a 10th of the hard drive. But then, little by little, I started booting into OSX more often. Then, it was almost every time.
Five years later I have a new Macbook PRo 15″, an iPhone, and an iPad. I still keep Windows 7 on a Boot Camp partition, but it’s now tiny, and basically there to play games, when once in a blue moon the one I want doesn’t exist for OSX.
It’ll happen to you too. Mark my words.
3 February 2015 at 10:58 am
We shall certainly see. Given the reasons behind me ditching building desktops, it’s certainly possible though I still feel it’s unlikely. So far the only time I’ve booted into OSX was to install an update to fix an Apple EFI issue that had knock-on effects in Windows…