February 13, 2015
My laptop died recently, and I began an impromptu search for a replacement. I was hoping to get another year or two from my old system, waiting until new systems designed for Windows 10 were available. But my venerable Lenovo W510 didn’t make it that far, dying from a system board failure.
I had been considering a move to Apple hardware and OS, and as it ended up, I decided this was a good opportunity to attempt a cross-over. Since this is my primary work machine, and I primarily used Windows, this is a big change with important workflows needing adjustment.
Since my work is primarily Windows based, I needed a way to access Windows applications locally. Bootcamp is initially out, since I want to also use OS X and get the full Apple experience. I am running trials of both Parallels and Fusion and will post my findings and conclusions in a future post.
One of my biggest pains now is regarding my office desktop arrangement. Previously I had a traditional laptop docking station, to which had:
- a display port monitor
- USB hub (on the monitor)
- Audio out to desktop speakers
- USB to an external optical drive (no longer a requirement)
- USB dongle for Logitech wireless mouse
- a power button
- a kensington lock slot
- a locking ability with key
- Power supply
- “Hardline” gigabit ethernet
This arrangement functioned very well. It allowed me to take a turned-off system, slide it onto the dock, and press the power button to power it on. Keyboard, audio, video, networking would all come up on my desktop peripherals as if I had a dedicated desktop system. I could un-dock and re-dock a running system without issue, audio, video, network, etc. would all switch as necessary. This worked with the laptop screen open or closed.
My sleek MacBook Pro does not have a dedicated docking connection (also lacking on many newer sleek Windows laptops) so I started looking at thunderbolt docks. These looked promising. It seemed I might only need two connections at the office desk: one for power and a thunderbolt connection for everything else.
My first attempt at this was with the Belkin Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock … Not cheap at $300. However there are a number of issues with this setup. Firstly, when the laptop is closed, there is no power button to turn on or wake up the system. You must open the screen to access the power button on the keyboard. This is also a two hand operation, since the laptop is not secured to the desk in a physical dock, it tends to move around a bit if you try to open it one-handed.
Next, once the system is on, I found that the external keyboard and mouse would not work until I was logged in. Only the built-in keyboard and trackpad would respond on the login screen.
Also, once logged in, it was annoying that the main <dock> is only on the (now open) laptop’s screen. The large screen in front of me is empty at the bottom, and if I want to make it my main screen, I need to close the laptop lid. (see if other option)
Also I was finding that the audio was switching back from the dock to the laptop speakers. With the laptop up and running when the dock is connected, the audio does switch automatically. It may be that it only stays on the laptop when booting with the dock connected (the dock is always powered up by it’s own power supply, so that is not an issue)
The dock gigabit ethernet was only negotiating 100 Base T with my gig switch. The Thunderbolt to ethernet dongle detects automatically at gig speed. Sometimes I get gig negotiation with the dock, however, so I am not sure yet what has caused to 100Mbps speed.
I used a lot of keyboard shortcuts in Windows. Below are some common ones and the new equivalent. Some changes are due to differences between OS X and Windows, and others are specific to the somewhat limited keyboard of the Macbook Pro. The Lenovo had a fairly complete keyboard with a mostly traditional PC keyboard layout.
Command right arrow – end
Command left arrow – home
“delete” – Backspace
fn “delete” – delete
control shift power (or control shift eject) – Windows L
command option left, right arrow
page up and page down operate differently, they scroll the screen, but leave the cursor in place (at least in chrome)
The sound of my W510 was barely adequate. The sound of the MacBook Pro is much better. Sure it lacks any bass, but it produces quite pleasant sound and can be pushed to loud enough levels.
My battery life requirements were never extreme. I work plugged in, and only need to survive on battery for meetings typically an hour or two long, once every day or two if that. My old brute of a workstation laptop would last 2 hours on a new battery, and when that dropped to one hour I replaced the battery. As it turned out, I only needed to buy one replacement battery before the entire system died after 5 years.
The Macbook Pro runs circles around my old laptop’s battery life and would prove useful at conferences or workshops where I might want to use my laptop. My only concern is that the battery is not user serviceable, so as it ages this may become an issue.
My old system was a beast weight-wise as well, so pretty much any new system would end up better. I considered the Air and 13″ models for their lighter weight, but felt the tradeoff of screen size and power were worth the extra weight of the 15″ MBP.
Old system travel weight with laptop and 135W power supply: 7.8 lbs!
New travel weight 85W apple mag safe 2 power supply without AC cord extension and laptop: 5.2 lbs, a reduction of 2.6 lbs!
My old system was corporate workhorse look, not flashy but business sense quality. My particular system was a bit bulky and bloated by today’s standards.
While the MBP design is a bit old it is much sleaker and stylish.
My new system is mostly golden-silent. I love working without the constant drone of a cooling fan. Amazing given the power of this system. Of course it spins up if pushing the CPU or GPU, but most of the time it is quiet.
I love how the exhaust vents are hidden behind the screen hinge. At first I couldn’t figure out where the heat was going. Even once I knew where the vent was, I was still concerned with the screen closed that the heat would be trapped, then I realized the hinge deflects the air differently as it rotates to the closed position, and it still can exhaust the air outward without exposing the vent directly to view.
The keyboard backlighting is functional, and better than the “ThinkLight” of the Lenovo system. It also adjusts brightness levels well and turns off completely when not needed. I have never manually adjusted the keyboard lighting.
The Lenovo system was good at cooling, and didn’t let heat seep through the keyboard or palm rest areas. The MBP, when pushed hard, will get noticeably hot just above the function keys, and the heat is sensed even when typing. I have seen third party cooling fan control programs suggested as a way to combat higher system component and case temperatures, but one commonly recommended app hasn’t been updated in over a year, and I am leary of any software that could cause physical damage if it fails or misbehaves.
Display configuration: Make sure the vmware tools are installed in the virutal machine. (Menu bar, Virtual Machine, Install VMware tools) I have found that I do not like Windows 7 built in dpi scaling. I provides very inconsistent results that make things look very off when you are used to 100% scaling. Thus I am using Fusion scaling to make things larger. This seems to do a good job with the vmware tools in the vm.
I am not using desktop integration, I want my windows applications in my full screen windows desktop.
VLC some videos play back in a way that looks like old VHS tape vertical sync issues, you must go to VLC preferences, video options, and select Open GL acceleration. (Note some suggest to use GDI, but video scaling in GDI looks more pixelated, and Fusion supports Open GL acceleration so I found that to work best.
Configure video acceleration to use the base integrated Intel graphics. With the Nvidia acceleration configured, the system would heat up quite a bit more in the VM and the fans would spin up, sometimes to seemingly max speed. Switching to intel acceleration kept cpu temps in check. I may manually change this if I find a need for more accelerated graphics.