If you want to skip right to the review, click here, as I’d like to start with a bit of the story on how my current laptop came to be.
I’m often asked why I use a Mac, especially considering my first computer from 1996 was a PC – one that was my main computer for eleven years as I refused to upgrade. Its retirement eventually came in the form of a motherboard failure, and I was given our crappy 1999 Compaq PC to replace it, which very much so was not built for Windows XP. However, it ran Linux rather well, but it wouldn’t run the operating system that really got my attention around that time, Mac OS X Tiger. Macs were radically different, both in terms of hardware and software. The first Mac desktop I saw was the “Luxo” iMac G4; my first laptop was the “Clamshell” iBook G3. I thought they were stunning, bold departures from the boring white boxes I was more familiar with. As luck would have it, one of my uncles was (and still is) a Mac user who was looking to clear out his garage. So, if I would pay for shipping it across the country, he would gladly send me his PowerMac G4 DA. About three years later, he would send over his fully loaded first-generation Intel Mac Pro too, free of charge this time.
A couple of months before I started at Drexel, I bought my first “modern” Mac, a Mid-2010 15in MacBook Pro. While it was much newer than my 2006 Mac Pro, my Mac Pro out performed it by a huge margin. Even my current 2008 Mac Pro, which replaced the ’06, out performed it. Earlier this year, the battery on my Mid-2010 reached the dreaded “Service Now” status. Around the same time, a certain organization I worked for received about ten mid-tier Late-2011 15in MacBook Pros for refurbishment. I opted to drop the extra $20 to purchase one rather than pay Apple $110 to replace my battery.
However, my Mac Pro still out performed the 2011 MacBook Pro, especially with regards to graphics. For one, both of the graphics cards in my Mac Pro actually worked. The 2011 MacBook Pro, on the other hand, had a recall launched one week after I got it – and the day after I brought mine in for service for graphics issues. After three visits for service, the third just a week after the second, Apple offered to replace my machine, but I would have to wait a bit longer than usual because they were having trouble sourcing a replacement machine. Waiting that extra bit was the best Apple-related decision I ever made because the following Monday, a new model was announced. On Tuesday, I got the call from the Apple Store that Apple would like to offer me – free of charge – a brand-new mid-tier Mid-2015 MacBook Pro. That kind of service is why I’m sticking with Apple – and gladly shelling out the extra for AppleCare.
After a full month of using just my complementary MacBook Pro, I can say with no doubt at all, that I’ve finally found a MacBook that can replace my Mac Pro. Mostly.
In terms of performance, the Mid-2015 MacBook Pro blows away my Mac Pro in every single test. The first time I turned it on, I was stunned with disbelief. It was on. On and ready to use on. In 15 seconds. My Mac Pro would still be thinking about drawing the progress bar. Its weight was a very welcome change as well compared to my previous MacBook Pros. However, it achieves that lighter weight by being thinner, rendering my sleeve and dock riskier gambles as they’re now too large to securely hold my machine. I also didn’t think I’d miss not having an optical drive, but the reality is I still rent movies from my local library – a lot – and my TV and PS4 aren’t exactly portable. I have no interest in Netflix when the library is free/tax-dollars-at-work and Prime Video is included in my Amazon Prime subscription.
With regards to the MacBook Pro’s ports, I really wish it had an ethernet port, although it’s very nice finally having a machine that can actually take advantage of my 802.11AC router (Almond+ for those interested). Three USB ports would be nice as well, as one is constantly occupied by my Time Machine drive. I don’t have anything that uses Thunderbolt, so I can’t speak for the performance upgrade Thunderbolt offers over USB 2, but I do know USB 3 is one hell of an upgrade over USB 2. I had honestly forgotten all of my external hard drives were USB 3, but the file transfer speeds were a quick reminder.
However, having now experienced the performance of a solid-state drive, I think my hard-disks’ days may be numbered, especially when the prices of SSDs go down – considerably – for the storage space I need. Storage is one thing my Mac Pro still beats my MacBook Pro in, especially with its four internal drive bays (all of which are full of 1TB+ drives), although it does have two external drives connected as well (three if you include the hot-swappable dock). But, I suspect my Mac Pro will be transitioning to the roll of a file server. Logic and Final Cut simply run beautifully on the Mid-2015 MacBook Pro. So does everything else I run. The days of overnight rendering for me are gone, and I love it.
For years I’ve sworn by a double monitor setup, but the Retina Display on the MacBook Pro is so beautiful, it feels like hooking up an external 1080p monitor is an insult to it, even when I can finally make use of an HDMI connection to one. By the way, you can easily plug in two 1080p monitors, an old Apple Cinema Display, and have the built-in Retina Display all on at the same time with no problem.
Yes, I know the laptop is closed in the shot, but trust me, it works. I very much wish I had 4K monitors to test, but I don’t. I expect it would still work though, as the Mid-2015 is an absolute beast of a portable machine. It’s enough of a beast that I’ve yet to actually max out usage of its performance – even with BOINC and Folding@Home running at all times (except for scheduled sleep between 1:30am and 7am.)
I wouldn’t call the Mid-2015 15in MacBook Pro the perfect machine for me, even at the middle tier. Is it an upgrade I love? Absolutely, but I’d love it more with an ethernet port, couple more USB ports, and even larger on-board storage – and yes, that’s even with the 500GB SSD upgrade that is part of the middle tier; the low-end model comes with 256GB, which I would not be able to live with, unless I maybe carried around an external drive at all times. Do I see my MacBook Pro fully replacing my Mac Pro? No, but I do see the Mac Pro transitioning to more of a proper server rather than a server/main workstation hybrid. I suspect the Mid-2015 MacBook Pro will be my new primary machine for the next couple of years. It is a beautiful powerhouse of a machine (but a modern Mac Pro probably would out perform it.)