Traded my 2019 16" MacBook Pro for a M1 MacBook Air

Posted by Ryan Himmelwright on Thu, Feb 11, 2021
Tags hardware, apple, laptop, macbook, macos
Durham, NC

Over a year has passed since I purchased a base model 2019 16” MacBook Pro. My first Mac. With it’s large “retina” display, resurrected magic keyboard, and truly amazing speakers, it might be the most pleasurable laptop I have ever owned. However, I decided to trade it in… for a new MacBook air. Here’s why.

Background

Installing macOS Cataline on old air

Installing macOS Catalina on my wife’s old MacBook Air for my Mac challenge

In the Fall of 2019, I decided to do a 30 day macOS challenge. During the challenge, I learned that while I think Linux is still my go-to and indispensable OS, I did enjoy having a mac available for doing more “normal life computing”. Web browsing, writing emails, managing calendars, personal finance, planning home projects with my wife, ssh’ing into servers to code… that type of stuff.

After the challenge, I decided to acquire a mac for myself. I choose the 16” MBP mostly because it was the only MacBook at the time with the new magic keyboard. That was a hard requirement I had. I wouldn’t even consider buying a butterfly MacBook. Keyboard aside, as my only Mac, I did want it to be powerful enough to be my ‘workstation’ mac/laptop. And it was.

the mbp had better cooling

While the 16” MacBook Pro did improve cooling compared to it’s predecessor, it was still too warm for my tastes

After a few months of use, a problem emerged regarding that power… I didn’t utilize it. As I discovered the last time I had a more “workstation laptop”, I don’t like when my computers overheat and spin up their fans. The 16” macbook was relatively thin for its specs (did you see the size of my previous workstaion laptop!?!?). However, that sleek design came at a cost. While the re-designed cooling on the 16” was considered quite good for a MacBook… it didn’t meet my standards.

Importing photos, turbo boost made temps 100c

While using the CPU (importing photos), the temps stayed at 80C with turbo boost disabled. After enabling it, the temps shot up to 100C!

I eventually purchased and installed turbo boost switcher, to disable turbo boost on my cpu This runs the cpu at it’s base clock, without boosting it up for more ‘bursty’ performance. This didn’t seem to hinder my small day-to-day usage, and in my mind, was more than worth the trade to keep the computer a little bit cooler, and prevent the fans from spinning up all the time. It was just a shame to pay so much money for such powerful computer… and then purposefully hinder it.

The M1 Macs are Released

Apple's M1 Announcement

Apple announced it’s first Apple Silicon CPU, the M1

Then, in November, Apple announced the new M1 Macs, the first computers in the company’s planned 2 transition to switch from Intel CPUs to Apple’s own “Apple Silicon” arm processors. And they were a hit.

While I was skeptical about the smoothness of a cpu architecture switch, early reviewers indicated that Apple handled it extremely well. This had me tempted to immediately swap my MBP in for one of the newer ones. But, I decided to hold out for a bit, reasoning that my 16” computer was still an amazing laptop that was more than capable of what I needed it for.

Still, the seed of questioning how I use a mac had been planted.

How I use a Mac

I started to map out my Mac use-cases in two broad categories: What I use my mac for, and where I use it. After some brainstorming, I had the following lists:

What I use a Mac For

I most commonly use my Mac for:

  • Utilizing Apple apps and services (Messages, FaceTime, Notes, Reminders, Photos, GarageBand, Music, iCloud, Etc)
  • Web Browsing
  • Online Courses/Proctored Exams
  • SSH and/or VS Code (I do coding, writing, and all those other tasks on my workstation, and remote in when on my MacBook)
  • Personal Planning/organizing, emails
  • Listen to podcasts or music
  • Watching videos or livestreams
  • Chatting with Friends and Family
  • Maybe a light game if I’m on the go or not at my desk (possibly streamed from my gaming VM)

Where I use a MacBook

Macbook on a stand

As my main laptop, my MacBook occasionally has to serve as my portable workstation

Being both my only Mac, as well as my main portable computer, there is actually quite a range of where and how I setup my MacBook. Some examples include:

  • Portable: I use it as my portable machine, in a few types of locations:
    • Sitting on the couch
    • At a Table, by itself
    • At a table on a stand w/ Keyboard, and possibly other external displays
  • As my single portable workstation if I travel or visit family
  • As my Mac ‘desktop’, connected to all the devices at my desk via a thunderbolt hub.

Best Tool for the Job

Using my macbook while running benchmarks on my desktop

Using my MBP while running benchmarks on my desktop after some upgrades. Dispite its pwer, my Mac is a secondary computer.

A disparity stood out to me while makings these lists. I generally try to use appropriate hardware for my need (at least within reason). Looking over what I wrote, it felt weird to have a $2000+ laptop for what I use it for. I did not need that much for my secondary computer, even if I loved the speakers and screen.

If this was my main computer, it would be fine. But it isn’t. I have a powerful linux workstation for my heavy lifting and complicated, virtual workloads. Hell, macOS isn’t even my main OS. I do all my power-user computing on Linux… even if it’s from my mac (as previously stated, I ssh into my desktop for nearly everything… including writing these posts). The MBP met the role I needed it for, but it didn’t necessarily fit that role.

16” MBP vs. Air

Both Macs, closed on table

The 2019 16” MacBook Pro and the 2020 M1 Macbook Air

After hammering out my MacBook use cases, I theorized how a M1 MacBook Air might compare to my 16” MBP in meeting those needs. I came up with the following conclusions:

  • While I do occasionally use some of the mac’s heavier software (garageband, imovie, Photos, and others), the performance of the M1 is more than enough for what I would need it to do, and even beats my Intel MBP on some tasks.
  • It wouldn’t benefit me to wait for more powerful Apple Silicon Macs, as my needs are already passed for what I need this device to do. Even if an Apple Silicon 16” MBP was available, tempting as it might be, I’ve already established it isn’t a good fit for this device.
  • While I would miss the screen space and speakers, the air would be much more portable. Not only would this be great when traveling, but it would also be appreciated when picking it up with one hand to take into another room.
  • The dedicated GPU in the MBP doesn’t really benefit me, as I do all my gaming in a Windows VM on my workstation. In fact, it may actually hurt my experience by generating excess heat and kicking up the fans.
  • And on that note… the air doesn’t even have a fan to spin up, and doesn’t appear to get too warm either. Unlike the M1 MBP, it will throttle to cool the CPU during sustained workloads, but we’ve already established that I am currently doing that on my 16” anyway ☺︎.

Overall, I concluded that the Air should be able to do most of the tasks my 16” MBP does, at around the same level of perfomrance, if not better. In the case of portability and noise, the air would be much better suited than my Pro. Additionally, most of the workloads the MBP is better at, aren’t as important for my needs.

Decided to Go for it

Current trade-in-value

I knew my trade-in value would only get worse, and I didn’t need to wait for the new 16” Pro to come out

Eventually, I decided to make the trade-in. My main reasons were:

  1. The current trade-in price would cover the cost of the “higher end” M1 Macbook Air, and I would only have to pay tax and for any other updgrades I wanted to make.

  2. I knew I would slowly get less and less for my MBP. I figured once a new 16” MBP was released, the value for mine would likely plummet.

So, I ordered the higher tier Air ( with 8gpu cores + 512GB of storage), and bumped up the RAM to 16GB. If I was going to be be “downgrading” from a MBP to an Air, I wanted to at least keep the same amount of RAM and storage that I had before. It took almost a month to arrive, but now it’s here, and I’m packing up the MBP to send back.

I need this secondary computer to function as my portable laptop, and only (physical) Mac. I think the m1 air will fill both of these roles extremely well. If I needed a laptop to be my main machine… I would have probably kept the MBP and upgrade after a newer Apple Silicon version is released.

Conclusion

My mbp.

My old 16” MacBook Pro

The 2019 16” MacBook Pro was, and still is, an amazing machine. I will miss it. Ultimately though, a combination of the M1 Macs being very good, and the fact that a smaller, thin and light laptop fit my use case best, finalized my decision to switch.

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