Niall’s virtual diary archives – Wednesday 22 May 2019

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Wednesday 22 May 2019: 20:30. Apple just announced their 2019 MacBook Pro refresh. I had been awaiting it, as my 2016 MacBook Pro is beginning to show wear and tear. I have been fairly – thankfully – free of keyboard issues relative to some, but not immune. For a while there my V and B keys weren’t working. After prising off the caps – very gently, and still breaking two of the tiny nibs in the process – and manually cleaning underneath, they have since been fine. And since I have been utterly paranoid about eating or doing anything which might generate crumbs or lint anywhere within a metre of the keyboard. But, TBH, this is not the kind of crap you should be putting up with for a laptop costing three grand. No other laptop has such a delicate keyboard.

There are other issues, too. Just recently I’ve developed the infamous problem of half the backlights along the bottom of the screen failing. This is due to wear and tear on the power cable at the hinge. Apple will replace that, and the keyboard, for free as both are defective, but then I lose my laptop for six to eight weeks, because all EU MBPs get sent to Romania for the repairs. So I’m minded to replace the whole unit, move over my stuff, wipe and sell the old one. Let somebody else with more time freedom bother with all that stuff.

Before I bought this MacBook Pro in 2016, I did a cost-benefit calculation where, at that time, once you subtracted the recoupment cost of selling the old laptop given then second hand prices for MacBooks, the MBP beat out the Dell XPS 13, which was my next choice. Unfortunately, I could not have known that the MBP 2016 onwards would have defective keyboards and many other issues. This has rather wrecked their second hand value:

  • 2016 XPS 13 Originally cost €1,463 ex VAT, today on eBay €813 (-44% depreciation)

  • 2016 MacBook Pro 13 Originally cost €2,162 ex VAT, today on eBay €1,056 (-51% depreciation)

In other words, I made the wrong bet three years ago. But there was no way I could have known. Apple did, once upon a time, not miss a beat with their high end laptops.

Also, back in 2016, the MBP was markedly superior to the XPS 13. Far faster SSD, better sound, better display, better wifi, longer battery life. I had expected to use MacOS for development, but as actually happened in practice, I never really did thanks to the new Windows Subsystem for Linux, which is a very fair substitute for MacOS, and doesn’t require rebooting. Running Windows under Bootcamp, I have had constant problems with the Wifi, whose Windows drivers just don’t work right. The sound is tinny, as the bass doesn’t work on Windows. The high gamut display isn’t recognised by Windows, and renders as ordinary gamut. That very fast SSD however, that does work very well, though you are in pepetual fear of the day when the laptop dies, because it’s soldered on, which means bye bye your data. The fact that the screen power cable is fraying particularly adds to my nerves on this.

So, all in all, I’m not feeling that that all that extra money back in 2016 – some €700 ex VAT extra – was particularly good value for money. Sure, it was the better laptop, but it did not come cheap.

Fast forward to today, and the latest Dell XPS 13 model 9380 has improved on almost every area when compared to the just released MacBook Pro 13 2019. For the 512Gb SSD, performance is very similar (it’s a high end NVMe Samsung SSD). Battery life is much better, though still a bit shorter, eight hours versus ten. Display has improved, though still not quite as good. Sound and wifi are still quite inferior to the MBP, but not if you’re running your MBP in Windows. Keyboard doesn’t have any of the problems which the MBP keyboard has. SSD is removable.

Oh, and the latest Dell XPS 13 model 9380 costs almost exactly what its predecessor did in 2016: €1,476 ex VAT. Whereas the latest MBP has larded itself up to €2,397 ex VAT, a +10.8% price increase, and a full +62.4% more expensive than the Dell.

If the MBP were markedly superior to the Dell, then it might be the case that that extra price increase would be worth it. But, the specs are far closer than they were back in 2016, and it was a bit of an ask even back then. For marginally better on every measure, and markedly worse on the keyboard, that’s a ton more expensive for what you’re getting.

Plus, in the end I ended up having no use for MacOS. In the three years I’ve owned this MBP, I’ve probably booted into it only a few dozen times. Windows Subsystem for Linux has been good enough, and end of this year will get a lot better, as Microsoft are going to start shipping a full Linux kernel inside the Windows kernel, and thus WSL programs will now run on real Linux, rather than a syscall emulated Linux.

Which means that almost certainly my next laptop will be the Dell XPS 13 model 9380, pimped out to the full with 4K screen, top end CPU etc, but coming with Ubuntu instead of Windows as I already have a spare Windows 10 licence. However, I’m going to sleep on it first. It’s a lot of money, and no need to rush a decision.

I’ll resume the articles about investing in subprime lending and Mintos shortly. I have the next installment mostly written. It should land soon.

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