Is The New (2016) MacBook Pro A Good Buy?

I went ahead and upgraded from my mid-2012 15″ retina MacBook Pro to the new 15″ MacBook Pro with touch bar. Here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

The old 2012 MBP was actually still a good computer, and after 4 years of daily service as my main computer, that’s pretty impressive. It, like the new laptop, had 16GB of memory, a 1TB SSD (I upgraded the SSD after the fact when the 256GB SSD that came with it became too cramped). While the new machine sounds similar on paper, it feels much better. Sure, the RAM and storage have the same capacity, in my case, but they are both MUCH MUCH faster! I had become so accustomed to the performance of my old machine that I could actually feel when a performance snag was a disk IO issue and I notice no such problem now. The faster RAM also ensures that applications stay snappier once they are read from the disk. While these things do contribute to a better experience, they aren’t necessarily the primary improvements compared to previous generations. So what are then?

The keyboard

I also own a 2015 MacBook with that introduced the new “butterfly” switched keyboard and I can say without a doubt that the version included in the 2016 MacBook Pro is worlds better. It is a bit noisier, but it’s actually got a sort of satisfying sound to it. Key travel is noticeable increased and improved over the former version and it’s actually a keyboard technology that I look forward to seeing in Apple’s standalone keyboard offering.

The backlighting is also a huge improvement over the previous generation. There’s not nearly as much light leakage around the keys (hardly any, in fact) and it’s more comfortable to look at the keys in low light situations, which is the whole point of the backlit keyboard. Now, if only Apple would include the backlighting in it’s standalone keyboards.

The trackpad

The trackpad is huge. I know that lots of people comment on that in the unboxing videos and whatnot, but it’s hard to fully understand until you actually have it in front of you. I’ve had a couple of instances of accidental input while typing, but overall, the palm rejection is good enough for it to not be a problem. I imagine it’ll only get better with future software updates to MacOS. I used to have to sort of gauge how far I needed to drag something and ramp up my drag speed to ensure it reached before. With this trackpad, however, it’s never really a problem to drag things from one edge of the screen to the other. Overall, I like it.

Form factor

The computer’s smaller packaging and lighter weight actually makes me more likely to take it out and about with me. Using it in my lap feels comfortable and enjoyable, whereas the old 2012 model felt a little too large to comfortably maneuver. It may not look like a huge size difference in the photos, but it actually does make a difference.

The speakers

The speakers are wonderful. Hands down the best speakers of any laptop I’ve ever come across. I watched a movie with them last night and was amazed every time I remembered that I was listening to it on the laptop’s built-in speakers. That Beats acquisition was a good idea for Apple.

USB C

A lot of people are upset about the inclusion of 4 USB type C\thunderbolt 3 ports as the only IO ports. I actually think this is a good idea. It’s painful for now, because we are in a transitional phase for the next year or so, but almost all of your basic accessories will be either USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 in the near future largely because of Apple’s decision to do this. They are one of the few companies with the pull to really get the accessory makers behind this and I’m glad. No more worrying about having enough of this port or that port, no more worrying which direction I need to plug the cable in and no more worrying about which side I want to plug the charging cable into. Dongles may be inconvenient for now, but it’ll be nice in the not so long run.

The touch bar

Notice that I saved this for last? Some people complain that the novelty wears off quickly, but that’s misleading. The reason why is that it’s a tool, not a novelty. Getting Doom to run on it or building apps for it is missing the point entirely. Keyboard shortcuts are always going to get you where you need to go faster, but you can’t honestly memorize every keyboard shortcut for every app you use and that’s where the touch bar really comes in. It’s much handier than digging through a menu for the tasks that you don’t have keyboard shortcuts memorized for and it can do so much more than a shortcut can. I think of it like I think of a Fluke toner or a DeWalt drill. It’s not something I use every day, but it’s nice to have the extra quality when it does actually count.

Final Thoughts

So, is it worth it? Well, that depends. $3,200 is quite a lot of money to spend on a computer and I honestly think they should shave a few hundred dollars off of the price tag. That said, if you aren’t scared off by the price and your computer is important enough to you to justify spending that kind of money on it, the new 2016 MacBook Pro is a solid computer that I doubt you would end up regretting.

Knowing When Not To Use Drive Snapshotting Software

Whether it’s Drive Vaccine, SmartShield, Deep Freeze, Time Freeze, or the old Steady State, there are pitfalls to using these tools and using them incorrectly or in the wrong situation will cause more harm than good. If you’re considering (or already are) using one of these programs, you should consider what your use case is and whether or not it’s really the right move.

Problem 1: Drive snapshotting causes performance degradation

Simply setting a snapshot (or baseline or whatever terminology the vendor decides on) and giving the computer to a user is a bad move. If you don’t set the computer to automatically restore to that snapshot everyday or sooner, the snapshot will just grow and grow and it won’t take long at all before the computer has to struggle to compute every block of commonly needed information against the original baseline. The more blocks need to be reconciled, the slower the computer will be. After a few weeks, the computer will be so sluggish and unresponsive, that your users will either start putting in tickets complaining about performance issues or they will just sit there and silently think less of you. These problems can also lead to other problems, like software installers stalling for no apparent reason.

It’s important to note that it doesn’t matter how recent the last snapshot is. The computations must be made against the baseline taken at the time that the software was initially installed. The only way to reset this situation is to completely uninstall and reinstall the software.

Problem 2: Drive snapshotting is a lousy backup strategy

The rapid recovery speed of a drive snapshotting technology may make you tempted to take a snapshot and leave it this way in case you need to restore to a working state at some point in the future. The performance issues mentioned in problem 1 make this a really crappy idea. Having a computer that’s slow all of the time is a poor tradeoff for being able to restore quickly. Just use drive imaging software (Clonezilla, Ghost, etc) or some other traditional backup strategy like a sane person. Sure, the recovery time is a little longer, but it has literally no impact on the daily operation of the computer. Of course, these backup strategies suffer from issues too, which leads us to the next and last point:

Problem 3: Snapshots become old and unreliable too

Reverting to a snapshot is like using an old\stale image to setup a computer. Say you take a snapshot and give the computer to a user. A year later it breaks and you go to restore to snapshot. Well, congratulations, you now have a broken domain trust relationship, old versions of browsers, plugins, etc, and are still missing all of the user’s newer data that was created\modified after the snapshot was taken. You now have an additional 30 minutes of work to get a computer to, what I consider to be, an unclean and unpredictable state.

When you use a modular imaging solution that stays up to date, like MDT, why not just simply put a new image on the computer and be done with it?

Conclusion

Essentially, the take away should be this: Only use drive snapshotting in situations where the computer will be automatically restoring to the snapshot frequently (daily or sooner). Don’t use snapshots as a longer term disaster recovery strategy. Either reimagine the computer like everything else or capture an image using cloning tools if the setup is really that precious.