macbooks

The laptop is such an obvious part of music making today, it’s almost easy to understate its importance. But here’s the bottom line: for many musicians, it’s the most important gadget they’ll haul around with them. The glowing Apple logo may be the butt of some jokes, but it’s there for a reason. It’s tough to beat the versatility of a laptop for music making – and it’s tough to beat Apple on value.

No, I really said that. On paper, Apple’s machines are pricey. But while OS X, like any OS, is a complex beast and far from perfect, it’s still in my experience the easiest to maintain for music making. (And I’ve spent a lot of time with Linux and Windows, too, and I know many developers working cross-platform who tend to agree.) And so you buy this hardware to run that OS. Now, that said, Apple’s value equation isn’t so hot when it comes to desktops. The Mac Pro bests machines configured similarly, but Apple doesn’t have desktop offerings across the whole range of what you can build in a full-sized enclosure on the PC. (Let’s leave iMacs out of it for the moment.) I think there’s a reason some have turned to “Hackintosh” solutions when it comes to desktop builds.

But when it comes to the slim, battery-conscious confines of the laptop, it’s another story. What Apple gives you for that premium price is excellent support for high-speed devices (FireWire and Thunderbolt), a ridiculously fast SSD, great-feeling, thin hardware, long battery life, and a ridiculously nice display.

I’ll admit, when it came time to replace a MacBook Pro, I gulped a bit at pricing – especially here in Europe, where we pay both an import premium and added tax. MacBooks’ internal storage is especially pricey; sure, you can use external drives, but you don’t want to run out of internal space.

After a few weeks with a 13″ Retina MacBook Pro, I’ve changed my mind. The SSDs from Apple are so expensive partly because they’re high-end spec drives. Macworld’s benchmarks have consistently shown that (and likewise showed when Apple skimped on the MacBook Air); you can even read those benchmarks alongside PC World benchmarks and determine that, Mac or PC, you want a fast drive. Fortunately, this isn’t just a benchmark thing – the difference in real-world usage is astounding. Apps are responsive. Sample-heavy music apps (including clips, as in Ableton Live) purr. Multitrack audio is never an issue. The machine boots faster, loads software faster.

Recent CPU changes make a huge difference, too. Forget what people have told you about the end of the CPU: just a difference of a couple of years in Apple models has an enormous impact on CPU load using modern synths and other processor-intensive music tools.

Performance makes a difference in creativity. It means not having to worry about running out of horsepower, not losing the flow as you wait for your machine to start up or your music tool to load or a plug-in to start responding.

And then there’s the display. It’s been over a decade since I used a 13″ display in day-to-day work, and the Retina Display on the 13″ MacBook Pro makes it all possible. Unfortunately, most music apps haven’t caught up yet: Ableton Live and most of my plug-ins actually look blurry, and it took some time before I could actually feel comfortable using them. But they’ll get there soon, partly because all these new Retina machines (and similar PCs) are making their way onto the desks of developers, who are just as appalled at what they see as you are.

Battery life and mobility matters, too. Carrying a MacBook Pro around is now as easy as bringing an iPad – you get the same forget-about-it battery life and thinness and lightness that’s reminiscent of a tablet. (The MacBook Air would be even better, but it’s not as good a buy, because of an inferior display, one fewer USB port, and a slower CPU, at roughly the same price. Just get the Pro; you won’t regret it.)

I’m not going to say here get a Mac and not a PC, only that if you have been on OS X, there’s reason to feel comfortable about the price. A MacBook Pro is still a great machine to run Windows (though spend extra to make space on your internal drive to dual boot). The PC laptops wading into the same territory tend to cost the same or, most often, slightly more, if you want extended battery performance and a great display. One exception is if you want a powerful GPU; there, Apple’s premium is fairly painful, and there are fewer options. But that’s a niche application even for people doing live visuals; you have to have really intensive 3D needs (or an addiction to gaming, which doesn’t matter much at CDM) to want that GPU.

Why does this week’s “speed bump” refresh matter? Well, I was already set to recommend the 13″ Retina Pro machine as the best bang for your buck. But I was going to have to point out that you absolutely wanted 8GB RAM and not 4GB, and the bigger SSD. Now, Apple’s made that job a little easier. New this week:

1. If you’re on a budget, and mostly use your laptop with an external display attached, the non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro is just US$1099. It still has 4GB of RAM (ugh), but you could spend all the money on the upgrade.

2. The Retina 13″ machines all have marginally faster processors and come standard with 8GB of RAM. You should still have a look at refurbished computers or open box units of the most recent generation – that’s how I managed to afford my machine. But otherwise, US$1499 gets you the 256GB internal drive I’d consider a minimum, and represents the best price.

3. If you do have a little extra to spend, you can now get a quad-core i7 and up to 16GB of RAM in the 15″ models.

In my studio, I’ve opted for the 13″. Even without 16GB of RAM or an i7, it’s plenty fast – I’ve been editing HD videos in Final Cut on it with no issue, and it’s tough to max out the processor with music apps. But at least the 15″ does also give you some power for your added cash investment. And with both, refurbished models can get you a bargain.

Also, Thunderbolt is a revelation. Well, it’s first a painful revelation when you realize how much cables will cost you. (Fortunately, your existing video adapters from the previous generations of Mac will plug right into the same port; the connector is the same.)

But then, you use something like Universal Audio’s Apollo Twin, and you have a compact, rock-solid audio box that can add DSP with zero latency and stream audio from the computer with low latency. Or you try out one of the excellent new video capture tools for this bus. (This is really a topic for another article, so I don’t mean to gloss over the potential of USB and FireWire for similar applications. But in the meantime, there are certainly plenty of uses for this connection. And I will say this: even if Thunderbolt performs exactly the same as USB does, you don’t have a dedicated USB bus for each USB device. Just being able to move to that separate bus is already an advantage.)

Yes, you’ll need to buy a USB hub. But all in all, these are great machines.

On the PC side, honestly, I’m less sure of what to recommend than I was fairly recently – I haven’t been as impressed with Lenovo as I once was, for instance. I’d be curious to know what you’re using. But even for Windows, if we’re talking a laptop (key word, not desktop), I think the Mac is an easy box to recommend, and you have the option of running another OS if you need.

Now, there’s just one problem: we need a better way of masking out that Apple logo so it doesn’t distract when we play. Until then, I’m sticking with the 13″ MBP and a roll of gaffer tape. Done.

I realize I’ve opened a potential platform war on a weekend, but I am curious what people think. I’ll stay out of it; I’m reasonably confident in my experience with different platforms. Do have at it.

  • Nagasaki Nightrider

    Thanks for your thoughts, Peter. Personally, I wouldn’t let the prospect of getting a Macbook with lower RAM or hard drive specs put anyone off. It’s easy and not terribly expensive to max the RAM and add a bigger SSD down the road when you’ve recovered from the initial outlay of cash. Meanwhile, you get to use a great laptop. I upped my Macbook’s 4GB RAM to 16GB for a laughably low price compared to what I’ve spent on far less memory for other machines. It dawned on me recently that my Macbook has more RAM in it than I’ve had in all of my previous music laptops and desktops COMBINED.

  • Mike

    Instead of buying new, another option is to get one from Apple’s online store refurbished department.

    You’re basically getting a new machine with the same 1 year warranty coverage as the new. I’m pretty sure you’re even getting the MBP in the same box as you would buying new (I’m mentioning that because there was at time when buying refurbished means getting a plain white box). And you can still purchase the additional AppleCare coverage (within one after the purchase).

    The only downside especially around this time is that you’re not getting the 0.2GHz speed bump of current refresh but for 1.189,00 €/US$1,189, it’s the late 2013 Haswell model (hence the same chassis and PCie SSD) with 8GB/256GB SSD, it’s a great $300 saving.

    http://store.apple.com/de/product/FE865D/A/generalüberholtes-133-macbook-pro-mit-24-ghz-dual-core-intel-i5-und-retina-display

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yeah, agreed – it almost never makes sense to buy the new model if you can find a refurb or (rarer, but available from some retailers) open box discount.

  • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

    I love my 13″ Retina MacBook. I love it so much, I even sold my iPad…

    But, what I love most (apart from the ridiculously lovely screen) is the fact that OSX gets so much out of your way, when using the machine. I use Windows 7 at work, and I see Windows 8 on friends’ or family’s computers. OSX is just elegant in its way of doing things, and disappearing when you run your preferred DAW or the like. And whenever you need it, it’s just there to do the job in a nice, easy and pleasing way. Windows still doesn’t do the same job as elegantly.

    However, the major pain in the neck with the Retina screen is that – until today – basically only Logic and Garageband (minus the old, 90s style Logic plugins) are fully updated to make use of the high resolution. Yes, Ableton and others claim that they “support” Retina, but Live, Maschine, Reason… they all look rubbish. Live doesn’t even use OSX’s objects for file-open dialog boxes and other system related tasks. They even build their own red-yellow-green buttons for minimising/maximising the application window! No wonder, it takes them ages to support Retina properly.

    How many manufacturers running on Windows/Linux do have Retina-alike screens out there? And I don’t just mean the same pixel resolution, but also the colours and the viewing angle? It would be interesting to see these models, compare specs and prices.

    • areunuts

      crap…. my Win 8 laptop kills that and I spend 1/2 the money :)

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      Killed what? Oh, and congratulations for your bargain.

  • Freeks

    It’s rare to see apple logo masked out on stage. I’ve had mine taped out since day one as it looks really silly on stage. Maybe for some, glowing apple in dark stage is still cool. Dunno.

    I’m pretty happy with my 2011 2.2ghz i7 with 8gb MBP. Will upgrade to 16gb soon. Did already upgrade to 256gbSSD as system os and switched superdrive for 750gb drive. Could not think that i could have machine with just one 250gb drive. I don’t want to connect usb drives when i work on my couch :D

    On stage i still use 2008 MBP with 10.5 and live 8. Solid as a rock.

    • areunuts

      having a crapple laptop is what is silly….

    • Max

      No it’s silly to have to mess around with asio.
      And it’s silly that you can’t use 2 audio interfaces at the same time.
      Now, go and play with your cheap windows jojo.

    • choking sun

      THIS is why i’m returning back to using a mac in the studio. however i’m going with a mac mini later this year so that i can continue using my touchscreen. once i started using one in the studio, there is no turning back. at least for me. and it has nothing to do with “drawing.” for the most part i don’t have to use a mouse or keyboard anymore.

  • Michael McDermott

    Great article. I recently sold my 2006 Mac Pro Xeon studio computer and 2011 15″ MacBook Pro for a 2013 MBPr i7 3.0 w/ 8 GB RAM and 512 MB SSD and I’m loving it. Also using the UAD Apollo Audio for my interface. In the studio, I use the MBPr in clamshell mode with a 23″ monitor, bluetooth keyboard and mouse and everything zips along. No hiccups, intrusions or other creativity killing tech issues with the 13″ MBPr (now my LaCie d2 drive with 2 TB of samples, projects and video work stage diving off my desk and crashing on the floor rendering it useless, that’s another story). It’s truly a great time to be making music!

  • http://avene.org/ Glenn Thomas

    Personally I think Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 is the best creative device out there at the moment if you’re doing visual stuff as well as music. Being able to paint directly on the screen with a pen in Photoshop is something that is not possible on anything by Apple. And would also come in handy in video compositing apps for masking and rotoscoping.

    For music, I know some products like Sonar support touch, and from what I’ve seen it works really well. Although I guess more so on larger all in one computers. But still, it’s the kind of functionality that should be standard by now. And being able to paint automation curves with a pen I’m sure would benefit a lot of people too.

    It surprises me Apple still don’t offer touch on anything other than iOS devices. No matter how slim and powerful Macbooks have become, without touch it’s hard not to look at them as being dated technology. Even those bulky cheap rubbish $400 Windows laptops have touch screens now. I know Apple want people to buy iPads, but they’re still extremely limited without a proper OS.

    • Kristoffer Lislegaard

      I don’t like touch ‘cos i can’t draw but http://www.modbook.com/modbookpro

    • Tombo

      1) Surface 3 not a bad device. However way behind the 8 ball. And whats funny is that as you wrote your critique, thousands of people were making music using iPads because they are super intuitive and have had the development for VERY good apps for the past 3-4 years. The are considerably more portable and just work. People are using them ALL the time. Every time this debate comes up someone mentioned photoshop. OK. You got us there. Go draw on pictures and use SONAR. Somehow the people using iOS and OSX are make insanely good music while you are talking about drawing on photoshop (on a music blog).
      2) There is a reason Microsoft just laid off 18,000 people and google and apple continue to hire people.

      PS checkout Richard Devine’s studio interview, and the part where he says he’s moving away from the $1000s of dollars of cool gear he has because he likes using his iPad. The guy is pretty ring deep. Somehow he is using what you a call an “Extreemly limited ios. Hmmmmmm. Show us one prolific artist saying that he is loving his Surface 3. Then come back.

    • http://www.3rev.net William Herrera

      Why is the Surface 3 behind the 8 ball? It has an great display (though inch smaller I’ll grant you, but at Home I have it plugged into a 23″ touchscreen), Good CPU and memory options and Memory, is super fast and responsive, Supports “legacy software” uses standard ports is thinner, lighter, great battery life and has a touch screen (once you start using it to control Reason, Ableton, dra curves and such you will wonder why you ever stuck with a Non touch screen device. Admittedly it’s more of a comparison with the MB Air as opposed to the Pro but the Surface Pro 3 is no slouch and certainly up for the Job.
      BTW this is NOT a OS Holy wars Post! When people ask me Mac or PC for music- unless they want to run Reaper or Fruity Loops I generally tell them to buy a Mac if they can afford it and music is the primary use. Why? Core audio can’t be beat, Windows PC’s are great general purpose machines but needs too much tweaking for non-techies. (stick with Windows because I have Way more software and VST’s that done even exist for macs and theres more Open source for PC’s , something that is overlooked but figures heavily in my persona ROI. (I know about Bootcamp, just don’t like dual booting)

  • Aaron

    These refreshes are still way short on HDD space. The 512 GB version will set you back 1799.00. FFS. But, that is still a limitation on the technology really.

    One of the closest competitors on the ultrabook market is the ASUS Zenbook (which is touch and is 200 px in height less than the 13″ retina (gimmic bs word that it is) macbook. Which runs more or less the same price options ..though slightly pricier depending on model.

    I make decent income, but would have a EXTREMELY hard time justifying almost 2k for either of these products.

    In the end laptop/notebooks still can’t compete with a PC when it comes to price/performance/storage/etc. It’s not even close really. A mid-range PC with better specs all around, a real GPU/CPU, a big ass monitor, and a SSD drive for the OS and a TB’s of normal HDD storage – would cost you about 1k -1.5k – all the while being incredibly easy to upgrade for a few years at least. Oh, and very little to zero proprietary garbage to worry about.

    And lets be practical. If you already have a workstation for your studio – do you REALLY need all that performance on the road? Just get yourself a slick ass PC/Mac for your studio and an affordable laptop for your mobile needs. Hell, throw in yourself a nice tablet since you just saved yourself so much cash.

    On the flipside of that – If you don’t really have a studio and don’t have to disconnect everything and constantly inconvience yourself by taking your laptop out all the time… then hell, go for it.. why bother having both a PC and a laptop if you don’t need both. Those that live in this world would be pleased with a purchase of something like the new macbooks or zenbooks.
    So yeah. Still an over-priced niche when talking about music production.

    • Bill

      I’m sure you’ve factored in:
      1) The reliability of these devices. The ease of getting them fixed should anything go wrong (super unusual for a Mac…but if it happens I have an Apple store 10 mins from me. Have fun going to BestBuy or back to Amazon with your issue.
      2) The cost to upgrade windows (compared to OSX which is now free)
      3) The value of Logic which is hands down the best value for any DAW. Yes there are other good ones as well, but if you are talking about “over-priced” have fun paying $500+ for a comparable Daw.

      Sometimes things are over priced and other times you get what you pay for.
      Although problematic, I also still have a place in my heart for an American company that everyone else is copying (the Ultrabook?? Total ripoff of Mac, including the chicklet keys, wedged design,concept in general (look at laptops before the Macbook Air). There is something to be said for a company that drives forward pushing things like USB, App Stores, Firewire, Thunderbold, etc. etc. etc. Of course you can pay a bit less for something that does not have the same customer support, resale value (there’s the value again), durability, solid OS, music supported comity etc. Yes you can save a few $$. Enjoy.

    • http://andrenascimento.net/ ElectroBlob

      1) mostly true, although i’ve had major motherboard failures and faulty display issues with my Apple machines (see my other comment)
      2) Not with you this one – OSX is not free – the cost is “hidden” in tha Macbooks’ overpricing, methinks
      3) whether Logic is the best DAW is debatable, although it’s certainly good value for money. That is, until Apple decides to turn Logic X into a legacy product next year – and forces you to upgrade and spend another few hundred dollars. Still, if you can keep yourself from updating to the next OSX for a few years, you’ll have your money’s worth.

      As far as mobile music making and performing is concerned, your only safe bet is an Apple laptop or a high-end Toshiba or Asus machine (which are cheaper and almost as stable). If you’re a live musician, you need a good machine and you need to spend money. Period. For the time being, Apple is still the best bet, but increasingly less so as the Windows platform has become more stable over the years.

    • Billy

      Ummm the part about OSX ElectroBlob….

      I don’t think you quote understood that one. Think about it for a minute.

    • C

      To be fair, Apple is actually an Irish company, managed in America. Its easy to invest in R&D when you don’t pay taxes.

  • Robin Parmar

    Wow, this post really has the hype turned up to 11. Let me address the “Thunderbolt is a revelation” point. No audio card has zero latency, whether it is made by Universal Audio or anyone else. Sound has to get in and out of it, and that takes clock ticks. If the card in question has low latency then so does any RME interface on either FireWire or USB. Thunderbolt simply isn’t needed; it’s a solution looking for a problem. Or, rather, it’s a problem in itself because it instantly obsoleted perfectly good gear. Not that Apple has ever done *that* before. ;-)

    As for the “retina” display, Dell, ASUS, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, and Toshiba offer equal or better panels in their models. I am not sure if any of these computers are comparable overall to the Macbook, but I imagine they offer more ports, greater flexibility, less restrictive upgrade options, etc… not because I’ve researched them, but because you can *always* find a Windows machine that trumps Apple on these important issues.

    I am glad you found the (near) perfect laptop for your needs. I too recommend people check out the Apple options… if they happen to be wedded to Apple software.

    • http://flexyvoid.com/ Yanakyl

      I think you should read better my friend:”DSP with zero latency and stream audio from the computer with low latency”
      The ability to daisy chain devices is quite neat also, one port for sound card, external drive and external monitor is pretty cool.
      Fair enough for the rest of what you say, although I have a feeling that other manufacturing don’t give you much more laptop for much less money anymore. I’m happy to be proven wrong on that.

    • Robin Parmar

      No, I read that exactly as written, and find it misleading. This fact only relates to a Macbook because Universal Audio have decided to restrict their product to a Thunderbolt connector. There is absolutely no technical reason why this should be so. For example, RME give us 128 channels of audio over USB, proving that there are no real-world bandwidth (or latency) limitations.

      If I was to review a Windows laptop and state that one of its advantages is the ability to run the superior Samplitude DAW, I’d be well within my rights. If I was to imply that this was the case because of some innate technical superiority of Windows, I’d be wrong. The developers could just as easily code for Mac OSX.

      Sorry I didn’t belabour this point in my original comment. I can see how it might have been unclear.

    • http://flexyvoid.com/ Yanakyl

      I understand, but Universal Audio make dsp cards it does make a difference for them to allow users to daisy chain different audio/dsp cards using just one connector on the computer.
      Usb3 doesn’t allow this for what I know, also thinderbolt is developped by intel aswell as apple so it probably integrates better with intel CPU.
      There are win laptops with thunderbolt I don’t know if companies support thunderbolt device on it yet, maybe in the future but we know it works on mac.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I added a note there – I didn’t mean to entirely gloss over the differences between buses. Thunderbolt’s added *bandwidth* remains something useful primarily to video.

      I do know that the developers I’ve talked to have found Thunderbolt easier to build for, and it seems you may be able to more easily maintain smaller buffer sizes over Thunderbolt without issue than USB – which means real-world latency, whatever the paper specs, could be lower.

      Of course, the zero-latency DSP I’m talking about is really nothing to do with Thunderbolt – that’s the internal processing – and I realize tossing that out there without clarifying was misleading.

      I do think the general trend is that you can do a whole lot of I/O with external hardware, which means the laptop *in general* (from any vendor) has really eliminated the main argument for the desktop machine.

    • ElectroBlob

      Peter, I know you’re a busy man, but if you have some more interesting links about Thunderbolt’s potential uses it’d be great if you could share them! Unless i’ve missed a previous post on that subject. Thanks in advance.

      We’ve been dreaming about zero latency for too long and the natives are getting restless, I guess.

  • Senz

    How much do you get from apple? All your words is subjective. There is no single link for objective comparison. While A’s machines is slick and fast, there is downside: they will rip you off every year with new slicker, faster model. Not just by marketing word, by dropping support of your “legacy” machine. And the not-so-widely adopted thunderbolt peripheral wil pump out your money for simple things: usb hub, ethernet port, with sky-high price tags (I remember one similar technology from long-time dead company call Rambus).

    Apple makes technologically superior (some times) assembly, but their support politics, and marketing trends will leave you without your socks in no time. Think twice. I, myself struggling now to choose between recent Zenbook and MBP, but the fact that you can’t even upgrade you internal storage in mb’s, cuz they are using proprietary connectings and some earlier points, skewing things from a’s products a little bit.

    • http://andrenascimento.net/ ElectroBlob

      I mostly agree.

      Mind you, Thunderbolt protocol is a step forward – I just think they dropped Firewire a tad too soon.

      But the worst thing is the constant OS and software updates that come every time they change their laptop specs.
      I’m still burned with them artificially turning Logic 8 into a unsupported “legacy” product merely 5 years after its release. Planned obsolescence at its best.

      I’m perfectly happy right now with my apple laptop, but for these reasons (and several others) I’m pretty sure my next laptop will be Windows-based.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I will say, looking at the system requirements for 10.8, they definitely did drop a lot of support. Now, I believe a large part of this is to do with GPU architecture, however, which means the current generation may last longer.

    • choking sun

      Actually the dropping of support due to the GPU was the last straw for me way back when using PowerPC chips and cubase (transition from os9-osx). That drop of support rendered 3 mac towers obsolete for me. So i doubt the change will enable the current gen to last any longer.

    • ElectroBlob

      “which means the current generation may last longer.” Hopefully it will, otherwise, I’m afraid I’ll be looking for an alternative set up! ;-)

    • fierywater

      “Merely” five years? Seriously? And we’re talking about a piece of software that now retails for $200.

      And to the original poster, Yosemite will run on a 2007 iMac and the iPad 2 can run iOS 8. Apple isn’t nearly as guilty of obsoleting products early as their reputation suggests.

      Generally speaking, they drop support for hardware when introducing OS changes that require something the old hardware doesn’t have. In the case of Mountain Lion, the move to exclusively using 64-bit drivers caused them to drop support for some machines that only had 32-bit graphics drivers available.

      God forbid Apple release new hardware on a yearly basis. I’m sick of people giving Apple a hard time for things they do better or, at the very least, no worse than any PC OEM.

    • ElectroBlob

      Yes, MERELY five years, considering that the software I mentioned retailed at roughly 500$ at the time. Also, the current 200$ price is offset by the OS + hardware price, although I’ll grant that it’s still good deal, considering the whole package (samples, etc)

      OSX 10.7 was released 3 years after Logic 8 was unveiled. Logic 8 would not install, but if you manage to use a third party application that allows you to mount the installer image, you can get it to run.

      Meaning, there seemed to be no major incompatibility issue with the new OS – this was simply a matter of artificially obsoleting a product. I do not find this acceptable, so I’ve all but stopped using Logic and declined to upgrade.

      I can understand you’re tired of people giving Apple a hard time. Bashing Apple is on its way to become a new sort of hipster hobby now that Apple products are dominating the mainstream, but bear in mind that:

      1) valid reasons have been expressed for the criticism that was expressed here, and

      2) I am also bothered by the constant acritical adulation of Apple’s products and policies.

      Feel free to disagree.

    • ProgressiveSoul

      be glad you didn’t pay almost 1500 for logic to watch apple sell it for 200 with no options for free or cheaper upgrades for legacy users.

    • Michael

      “Support politics??” I’ve had consistently great support from Apple (up to and including free repair for problems that I likely caused myself), and consistently awful internationally-outsourced support for the PCs I’ve owned.

    • ElectroBlob

      PS – Senz, just one thing I need to add, while I mostly agree with your post, I don’t think it’s fair to say Peter’s words are “all subjective” and that “there is no single link for objective comparison”, you should be aware that there is a link for PC benchmarks in this blog post, and the rest is clearly his opinion, which he is as entitled to as you are. This is an opinion piece, and not a strictly technical article.

      As for the rest, like I wrote before, I agree, Apple’s pricing and policies are not very commendable these days, despite the fact that their laptops are great.

    • Senz

      Yes, about subjectivity, I’m sorry. We are all subjective. But this is influential resource, so you must be careful about your opinion, I think. I’m not in USA so support is only good there. Progress is good, and vast hardware certainly limits it. But at least software patching is crucial.
      Altho, support dropping now is a “norm”. Look at Google Nexus, i.e. 2 years and its not updated anymore. Hello, hackers.

  • Smudge

    These are pretty sweet if you need to add space to an Air or Retina Mac.

    http://eu.minidrive.bynifty.com

    They plug into the SD card slot. Very neat.

  • syntheticjuice

    I heard from two musicians when their mac died, they were able to just pick up a roughly equiv mac from the store and do a time machine restore, & continue where they left off. All the drm software still worked. If this is true, this is enough for me to switch over on my next cycle.

    • Michael

      I upgraded my previous Macbook’s HD, then suffered from the quick death of two consecutive faulty Toshiba drives. Time Machine was the only thing that kept me sane during that period.

    • http://andrenascimento.net/ ElectroBlob

      This. My first macbook (2007) had a major motherboard and graphics card meltdown after 3 years of use, a design fault acknowledged by Apple itself. Overnight, I was unable to work on my computer, but fortunately I had backups so I didn’t lose any data. My second macbook, with retina display, had dead pixels after 5 months.

      To their credit, tech support worked fairly well, although they do take their time.

      I have always used Windows and Apple machines and never had internal hard drive failures with either, although I’ve had an external hard drive destroyed while transferring data from my macbook.

      This is just to say that Apple is not a perfect solution and never was. So far I have used macbooks because of their stability – essential when you’re playing live music – but these days, a well configured high-end PC from Toshiba, Asus or Dell will get you to the same place, with the only issue being faulty Windows drivers for some audio interfaces.

  • Aj Galecki

    I’ve never understood the argument that people make against Apple, that Apple rips them off because they buy a product and then Apple puts out something a year later that’s better. So here’s the thing:
    A) That’s your own fault for feeling ripped off. Technology gets better, and guess what? THERES NOTHING WRONG WITH YOUR CURRENT MODEL. It’s your own insecurity saying you “don’t have the best / fastest”. Which leads to …
    B) Your current model is probably fast enough anyways, and probably over powered for anything you do on a daily basis anyways. Unless you’re a power user, the 2010 MacBook Pro is still powerful enough for most people. So chill if they update the processors or up the RAM.
    Ok, end rant.

  • doclvly

    i just wanted to say one thing everyone forgets or seems to gleam over about Thunderbolt/Thunderbolt 2. It is possible for it to be backwards compatible with pretty much every popular bus format. It is expressed that all this can be achieved through a hub, but this is overshadowed by a half lie people keep saying, Apple dropped firewire. The did in a fashion, but that is only because with the use of a hub or dongle, thunderbolt supports firewire. The Big Audio Interface guys have said it before (MOTU, UA) and have also already adopted it as a future format. The real question is, will this format become cheaper. Hopefully, Intel and Apple already made their intentions clear, stating that when the manufacturing of the cables gets cheaper the premium Thunderbolt cable will be optical There will still be the standard cables, and since this is an intel tech you won’t have to wait forever for cheaper 3rd party solutions. This should play out like the price drop of HDMI cables. They have been wonderfully halved in price since their inception. This could happen for Thunderbolt to if manufacturers include the ports from the get go.

    • Michael

      This. I run an old Firewire interface from my Mac Mini using a Thunderbolt-to-FW cable that cost me something like $10. It even supplies the power so I don’t have to resort to the wall wart.

  • joel Sampson

    I don’t see how anyone can do real work on a 13″ screen (even a great looking one), let alone music production.

    • jsd

      I spent many years making music on a 1280×960 monitor with cubase on windows. The 13″ retina resolution is 1280×800, or you can go to a scaled mode and get up to 2560×1600.

  • Matt Leaf

    I can’t speak for the 13rmbp, but my favourite is absolutely the 11″ MacBook Air. I love it and take it with me everywhere. It’s more than capable to run Live with a bunch of tracks and plugins, and if there are bottlenecks, there are plenty of ways to be conservative in Live, and I actually kinda like those limitations. The Air becomes a sketchpad, a digital notebook for ideas anywhere out and about (not just audio). I also much prefer it over an iPad, I find OSX much more useable than iOS. The reason I go for the Air is because to me a Pro is about graphics card, and unless the 13″ had dedicated graphics, I cant justify the price and the extra weight for such a small increase in features. So I still have an old 15″ MBP that stays at home on the desk, which has been going strong for 3 years. But I would never take such a huge machine out and about with me again unless it was for a live video show or for an activity that demanded intensive graphics. Having said that the machine is getting quite slow now, so upgrading to 16gb of ram and a an SSD will b amazing. And ironically i often use Windows in Bootcamp now for certain software, but u still can’t beat mac for form factor. But yeah, if the 13″ had dedicated graphics i’d buy it to replace my setup, but for now I run with two machines for different situations.

  • mellonhead

    in 2008 i made the jump from making music on a rackmount pc server to a 15″ mbp after years of asio crashes and other early computer music hardware nightmares. you haven’t had a bad gig until your computer blue screens and then forgets it’s audio settings on startup, blasting the windows startup sound over the rest of the band who tried to play on regardless of all the electronics failing. 6 years later i’m still using that laptop every day for long dj sets, band stuff, and in my home studio. not a fan of apple’s quirks or the price but i think i got my money’s worth! maybe i’ll upgrade in another couple years.

  • somewhereiam

    I just purchased a $2600 rMBP (late 2013) like two weeks ago right before the refresh came out. I updated the processor as much as I could, got the upgraded 16gb of ram (which is upsetting because it comes standard in the 15-inch now) but skimped out on hard drive space. Do you think I could have just gotten by with a 13-inch model with the dual-core processors for producing? If we were to create a default as to what producing entails, should I return this bad boy?

  • ElectroBlob

    “Battery life and mobility matters, too. Carrying a MacBook Pro around is now as easy as bringing an iPad”. All vendors tend to exaggerate on the batteries’ capabilities, but I have to admit Apple laptops usually wins on this spec, compared with other PC’s.

    This may be a deal braker for many mobile musicians – in the near future, it’d be nice to see data from tests done by people on the field.

  • pat

    can anyone answer why the PCB designers decided to remove the analog audio-input?

    is this a plot to get the consumer to buy some thunderbolt audio interface?

    what was wrong with the built-in ADC??

  • Shaggy McRuff

    Apple makes superb, state of the art hardware that lasts forever. Nothing in PC world even comes close. Yes Apple machines have some quirks, but I searched high and low and everything paled sickly in comparison to the 15″ retina i7 beast I bought with insane gpu and 16gb RAM. I record complex multi track pieces with loads of effects and vstis off the internal SSD and nothing else. The machine is SILENT even under heavy load. I forget it’s even in my studio. Hooks up and talks to gorgeous 36″ Thunderbolt Display with one cable. There are no competitors.

  • Phenix Nunlee

    You can not make a rational argument why you should use a Mac over a PC when you running cross platform software and not using mac only audio cards (which are rare now). You can get a PC of similar specs for less money and you can use the difference to get plugins. I have used Ableton on a Mac and PC and their is no difference. I also have been using the same hardware for five years no problems.