The device was a company-provided MacBook Pro, 16″, i9/32GB/1TB notebook for the past nine months.
This is a productivity power-horse on the exterior: it can run a couple of virtual machines simultaneously while taking care of the standard “desktop user” needs. These were at least my expectations when I booted up the device for the first time.
Surprisingly though, today, I’m not convinced that the exterior matches the interior. Indeed, the device is quite a fast one: from 0 to login in just a couple of seconds. The troubles come after this first login when you’d expect to really feel the difference.
I’ve got a few specific complaints about this one, which I’ll lay down here. Since this is a corporate-managed device (with two antivirus sensors: McAffee and Carbon Black Cloud), that might add a negative effect on performance. However, I don’t believe the primary reason for the problems I’m encountering is hidden there.
The heat: my first, and biggest complaint
I have the feeling this case is not sized to bear the requirements of an i9 processor. The device gets very hot, fast. And I’m not talking in a scenario where I do run one or two virtual machines.
The device gets quite hot during login. And once it fires up the fans, they do not cut their spinning for quite some time. If at all.
During “normal” work, e.g., with many browser windows, Zoom conference with video, and eventually a couple of MS Office applications open, the device gets so hot it’s not possible to keep it on my legs. I must switch positions or find a surface (pad of any kind) to keep it from touching my legs.
The device is constantly hot: at least 35-40°C. Even when I close it and leave it on the desk while connected, it continues spinning the fans and “doing something” for another 30 minutes or so (if it does not go to sleep). I can configure the power policy to sleep the device immediately, but I don’t prefer this configuration policy.
When I remember this computer, I’ll be remembering the insane amount of heat it generates.
Secondly, the “black screen of death” crashes
Windows has its BSODs. In macOS, these are black. With a message, which explains that your computer restarted because of a problem.
These happen primarily for two reasons:
- Bad hardware: there was an unexpected hardware event, which the OS cannot handle in a graceful or safe way, and as a result it needs to perform emergency shutdown.
- Bad low-level software: each operating system has code, which runs in the “kernel”, the “heart” of the OS. Usually, this software is well tested and very reliable. One of the kernel’s responsibilities is to isolate the programs, which run in your operating system, thus protecting you, the user, and your data, from a program with a bug. When a program encounters critical condition, then the kernel takes care for shutting down this program without it interfering with the rest of the health of the operating system. However, when the kernel itself encounters such critical software exception, then there’s nothing else but to record the case and reboot: there’s no one left, who could keep the integrity of the operating system’s state.
Once you reboot after any of the critical conditions above, you can study (if you know how) the resulting log file and see where the crash originated. If you choose to send this log file to Apple, they can study it and identify the reason for the bad behavior. And if it’s a bug, they could fix it in a later version of their hardware and software.
Being a curious software engineer myself, I studied a couple of these logs. What I found there was that the primary reason for the crashes was the video system. I was not able (and didn’t want to spend more time) to dig what it is.
However, I have one primary version of why I see these black screens that often! And yes, I see them at least one time per week. I think I see those that often because the computer overheats. And once it overheats, at some point, the internal hardware components “drive it crazy,” resulting in a crash somewhere in the kernel.
This hypothesis of mine is not verified, though. The system reports what it reports: a crash in the video.
And last, but far not the least: the battery health hell
This is the third quite big disappointment.
I can accept that such high-end hardware will have short battery life. The machine cannot sustain a battery for longer than 3 hours. Which, taken into account that it’s an i9 with tons of hardware, is quite an achievement.
But I did not expect the battery health to degrade that quick. The battery is at 106 cycles today, for nine months of use. For these nine months, the battery health is already at 84%.
It is unacceptable to have battery degradation with 20% for the first year of usage. I’m glad I’m not paying for this laptop because if I were, I’d be pissed off: it’s one costly piece of hardware with a price tag of $3,400 (€4,200 price in Bulgaria) not justify this kind of problem. My employer provided me with it, and as such, our dear IT has all the great reasons why they chose this kind of machine.
What comes next?
Well, there are some changes on the way.
I will soon have the chance to evaluate the Macbook M1 Pro, the recently announced and highly praised for its performance, stability, and lack of heat Apple machine.
My biggest expectation is one: to have less heat on my legs! With so much heat on the legs and not so much on the belly, my body has become a body with legs without fat and a lot of belly fat, which is not fair! One would expect to have fat equally spread everywhere, right?
So I hope that the M1-based hardware will not generate that amount of heat, and as a result, I’ll be able to work without the discomfort I have today.
I still have a few concerns, though! It wouldn’t be me if there were no concerns.
My first concern is the (lack of) virtualization
Today the only native virtualization, which is available for the M1 hardware, is Parallels Desktop.
I was a pleased Parallels user back in 2010. And then for a couple of years in a row. I stopped using it somewhere around version 11. They’re at 16 today.
Once I get the M1, I will have to purchase Parallels Desktop, either a Standard or a Pro subscription, to evaluate how good it’s going to be. I doubt I’ll be able to do without a virtual machine there, and Parallels is the only provider today who can deliver this.
My second concern is the screen size
13″ is (much) less than 16″. I’m afraid there will be not so easy adaptation period.
On the other hand, it’s much easier to handle a 13″ sized laptop than 16″, and bearing in mind I move around quite a lot, 13″ might turn out to be actually an upgrade, compared to today’s situation.
Of course, I’ll still use an external monitor on my desk, but when I’m somewhere else, the only monitors I’ll have will be the 13″ M1 and my 7.9″ iPad.
I think it’s going to be an interesting transition. I’m looking forward to it.
We change. Constantly. For one thing, I cannot believe how much I changed for the past couple of years.
It all started when I had to purchase a personal phone. I chose iPhone XS. It turned out to be a great purchase: the phone is still in use, with excellent battery health and usability. Although it’s more than three years old, it keeps up to expectations from all ends.
Last year I wanted an upgrade of my tablet experience. It was clear that the most logical choice is the iPad. At that time, my experience with Windows Ink (via Surface Book 2) was not great, especially compared with Angel’s iPad Pro + Pen 2. That’s why I chose the iPad Mini + Pen 1. Although it was the first version of the Apple Pen, it still did (and does) what it’s supposed to do: I have a great digital ink workspace, which, thanks to Microsoft integrations, are fully compatible with my Office 365 family tools and documents.
Today, bowing up to the best vendor lock principles and practices, I chose to continue with MacBook M1, already knowing that it has excellent compatibility with the iPad (the screen mirror Apple implemented is unbeatable, at least in my experience). And if we trust the recent announcements, this compatibility will be even better with the new iPadOS / MacOS setup.
I’ll keep you posted.
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