Best Apple Laptop for a Computer Science Student?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by jafico1, Jul 7, 2018.

  1. jafico1 macrumors member

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    #1
    Hi all,

    Essentially, I am looking for a MacBook to replace my Dell Precision 5520 (the business version of the XPS 15), as it has been a poor ownership experience all around, and I'm attracted to Apple because of their customer support and perhaps macOS as well. This will be the first Mac I'll own personally but we have plenty of Macs at college so I'm pretty used to them. I'm currently studying Computer Science at University so I'd probably get away with most of the Apple lineup (although would the 12" MB be a little slow?) The 15" MacBook Pro would be the "drop-in" replacement as the specs are really similar to my current machine (Core i7 quad-core, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD), but it's a little pricey (I would still get it if it's worth it over the other models though). Right now, I'm entirely unsure what to get, although I'm leaning towards the 13" MacBook Pro with the touch bar (maybe with 16GB RAM upgrade, although that's expensive too).

    Most of the applications I'll be using (mainly programming stuff coupled with some basic graphical editing) won't require too much processing power I believe, with perhaps the heaviest graphical program being SketchUp and a few older games (although I use my Nintendo Switch for that mostly now) . If I got a 13" with 8GB of RAM I'm not sure if I would use it all - when I use Windows on my laptop I usually go over 50% usage so maybe 8GB is not enough for me? I'm also probably going to use Boot Camp to run Windows so I'll probably need a large enough SSD for that.

    Right now, I think it's between all of the MacBook Pro models currently on sale (including maybe the 2015 15", though it's dated). I would probably need one sooner rather than later as it would be nice not to rely on loaner laptops for my current summer job, and classes start at the end of August. What would you recommend for me?

    Many thanks in advance for your help :)
     
  2. MRrainer macrumors 6502a

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    #2
    Wait till the last moment.
    Maybe Apple updates the lineup in a month or so. In any case, even if they don't, you'll almost certainly get a better deal on the current models.

    The Precision line is quite powerful. So going with the 15" would probably be the easiest transition - but not the cheapest, unless you opt for the 2015 model.

    Do you need or want to carry the thing around during the day? If not, I think a case can be made for going with the 2015 15" (which is also spared the keyboard-problems of its later incarnations) and buying an iPad Pro+Pencil+Keyboard that you can carry around more easily.
     
  3. TMRJIJ macrumors 68030

    TMRJIJ

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    #3
    I would try to wait as long as possible. We don’t know when Apple would update the lineup but it’s better to get the best bang for buck with the latest MBP on the education discount (or when the other model decrease in price).
     
  4. jafico1 thread starter macrumors member

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    #4
    The MBP15 + iPad (probably the one with Pencil support) would be a good combo but it's pricey. The 2015 Pro 15" I think is a similar weight to my 5520 and I manage to carry it relatively well all day, but I do have a Dell Ultrasharp monitor so if I need a larger screen if I have a 13" I can just plug it in.

    For the 15", should I get the 2015 or the 2017/18 (in September) model? (2015 has better keyboard that won't break on me potentially but 2017/18 has better performancce and display)
    --- Post Merged, Jul 7, 2018 ---
    I've heard about some new models coming in September so I don't mind waiting till then if it means I get a longer lasting/better laptop.
     
  5. artfossil macrumors 6502a

    artfossil

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    #5
    I work with lots of computer science people at my university--professors, grads and undergrads. The most popular machine among them is the 15" MacBook Pro. Keep in mind that Apple usually has a back to school promotion starting in August or so with some kind of gift with purchase and of course you'll be eligible for the educational discount. I'd also look for Apple refurbished models. Personally, I'd never buy a MacBook Pro with less than 16 GB RAM.
     
  6. jafico1 thread starter macrumors member

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    #6
    I think you're right, 8GB isn't going be enough, and it's a shame you can't upgrade down the line to test that properly. The 15 looks promising but I just can't get over the price tag (the XPS is a lot cheaper for similar specs it seems, but I've already been through three already with Dell's warranty so there might be a reason). It's difficult because I think I'd be happier with the 15, but the 13 is more portable and cheaper.
     
  7. artfossil macrumors 6502a

    artfossil

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    #7
    I really think you will appreciate the 15 more for lots of reasons. The 13 is just "small" for what you'll be doing. That said, if you do go with the 13, get the 16 GB RAM. Whatever you decide, remember that you're making an investment in yourself, your work and your future and you're worth it.
     
  8. TMRJIJ macrumors 68030

    TMRJIJ

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    #8
    I agree. Make sure you are future proofing your purchase.

    Don’t cheap out on anything spec wise especially RAM. I made that mistake when I got my Mid 2010 MBP 13’ before my freshman year. Had to deal with only 4 GB for a whole semester with VMs before I got more.

    Now I’m having to buy a Late 2013 MBP (16 GB RAM obviously since it’s soldered) for my last year.

    You want this machine to last at least 4 years without having to fork over anymore money later on.
     
  9. MRrainer macrumors 6502a

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    #9
    If weight and dimensions aren't an issue and the price is OK, the 15" is much better.
    The 13" i7 is only dual core. The 15" i7 is true quad-core.

    The base 15" 2015 has a Geekbench Score of 12197, the base 15" 2017's score is 14492.
    That's around 18% more. The SSD is very much faster, granted. But for the course of your study, it should not make too much of a difference.
     
  10. jafico1 thread starter macrumors member

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    #10
    I see! It's a trade-off really, as the 2015's advantages are that it's cheaper and has a better keyboard, but it has a processor that's 5 years old at this point (it's Haswell which came out in 2013 I believe) and the touchpad, screen and performance will still be better on the 2017, not to mention the fact it will be supported for longer.

    Right now, I think my choices are as follows:
    • Wait until Aug/Sep for the updated 2018 model MBP, which would be absolutely perfect but potentially pricey
    • Maybe get a 2017 model now I see good discounts
    • Get a refurb 2016 or 2015 model
    • Or downgrade to the 13" (now I think the non touch bar is better because the touch bar models have been the worst for keyboard problems, plus it has better battery life)
    At the moment I'd probably pick up the 2017 or 2018, but id probably want the 512GB config which will be almost 2800 dollars without a discount, plus I'd really want AppleCare because it covers me for issues such as the keyboard. For me that's still very expensive - is it really worth spending that much?
     
  11. ipponrg macrumors 6502a

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    Oct 15, 2008
    #11
    As a computer science student, another reason to look at the 2015 MBPs is because the touchbar is utterly useless for programming. Most devs dislike this vs physical function keys due to accidental taps when they are hitting numbers.

    Do not get a 13" laptop for programming unless you plan to connect it a lot to a display. You will want the screen real estate.

    For AppleCare, I'd try and shop on Ebay. You can probably save some money there. Yes, you definitely want AppleCare. Why spend $2500+ on a laptop with no assurance and peace of mind? Apple's default warranty only lasts for the first year, and usually problems sprout up after that. I've always bought my AppleCare on Ebay, and they have all worked so far.

    I think worth is subjective. You can definitely get by in school with the Dells.

    The perks of owning an Apple laptop as a development station is:
    - When you work professionally, it's a high likelihood that your peers will also be on Macs. This makes the learning curve a lot less as you get used to your various dev workflows
    - You get to complain and cheer with the rest of us developers that are bipolar in the Apple ecosystem
    - Native unix support. This will be helpful as you get used to unix commands
    - HomeBrew is fantastic
    - Value will hold well over time should you want to resell

    The cons of owning an Apple laptop:
    - Various issues will pop up due to Apple's focus on aesthetics over utility. AppleCare is a MUST imo.
    - Price $$$$
    - If you don't have much experience with Windows, you might become blind in your future options. Windows now has Linux subsystem support.
     
  12. jafico1 thread starter macrumors member

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    #12
    The touch bar might not be too much of a problem - if it gets too much I can carry around my Logitech K380 which will be more ergonomic than using a laptop keyboard anyway. My college is definitely Mac-heavy: all of the professors have Macs and 9/10 students have Macs as well. I've been a windows (and Linux) user all of my life, so my problem might actually be lack of Mac experience! And I am in no way getting another Dell ever again - ever since I bought my 5510 in Oct 2016 I've had three replacements and over 6 repairs, and my laptop is still not working, so I don't mind paying extra for Apples support (even if the quality is only a touch better). If I was going Windows it would probably be a ThinkPad of some sort but the P52 is way too heavy and the T480 series have 15W processors, plus I've heard horror stories of Lenovo support .
     
  13. ipponrg macrumors 6502a

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    #13
    Sounds good. In that case, I'd wait to see what happens in Sept/Oct if you can.

    Funny how times have changed. When I went to school for CS, most students either didn't have laptops or had Dells/IBM(aka Lenovo). There were like 1 or 2 people that had Powerbooks.
     
  14. NoBoMac macrumors 68000

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    #14
    Luxury.

    When I was in school, we had to walk up hill, both ways, in the snow to sign-up for computer time at the computing labs. One lucky classmate had the original IBM PC running MSDOS. And Mac was still a couple of years out.

    Back to OP's question, 15" is OK, but even then, not great for code development. I do do it, but even then, so much nicer to also spring for at least one large LCD monitor, then do the extended display. So, save a few bucks with an older model, refurb, or student discount, and put the savings to a monitor.
     
  15. jafico1 thread starter macrumors member

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    #15
    I do have a monitor actually - it's a Dell Ultrasharp U2518D I believe. So, screen size is maybe not as much of an issue?
     
  16. NoBoMac macrumors 68000

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    #16
    Imo, not that important then. Personally, I've been eyeing a 13" for next machine, as I don't think you get that much more screen real estate on the 15". Everytime I've seen the 13" next to the 15", not that much difference. And with processor power these days, unless doing really intensive computing, not really going to miss out with dual core vs the quads.

    Though only get two USB-C ports on the 13" non-touch-bar. Then again, the way people complain about only 4 USB-C ports on the others, still going to probably be dongling, so, not that big a deal?
     
  17. TimmeyCook Suspended

    TimmeyCook

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    #17
    You can bet with almost 100% certainty that Apple will upgrade their laptops in the following months.
     
  18. jafico1 thread starter macrumors member

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    #18
    I definitely think it will be worth waiting, but my only worry is that I'll need one sooner than perhaps September or October
     
  19. bearda macrumors 6502

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    #19
    It's been about a decade since I was in college, but I'll add a couple things based on my experience. Take these all with a grain of salt.

    - I'm use to having a couple large monitors for my workstation, and the actual size of my laptop screen when I'm at my desk just isn't a consideration. I don't bother having the laptop open at all, I'd rather throw it in a stand and keep the desk space.
    - I tend to prefer 13 inch machines most of the time anyway based on size and weight. It may not sound like a big difference, but when you're carrying a system around a lot the weight is noticeable. I tend to be a lot more comfortable using a 13 inch machine on a airplane tray table as well.
    - The two things I care about the most for a development system are RAM and the keyboard. 90% of the time any modern processor is fast enough for context sensitive editing, and although I may have a couple VMs or docker containers running (which such some amount of memory) most of the time they're idle enough that a dual core doesn't hamper things too much. I/O is a little more important for the data processing I do, but with everyone offering nvme SSDs life is pretty good. The keyboard is more of a personal preference thing, but I have been pretty unhappy with the new MacBook Pro keyboards when I travel (the rest of the time I use the mechanical keyboard on my desk).
    - I tend to prefer OSX for the unix underpinnings (terminal, vim, ssh, etc) but Windows 10 has come a LONG way from a developer's perspective. The Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) work pretty well for basic terminal work, and aside from Xcode most of the development tools I work in are cross platform anyway (PyCharm, Atom, Tower, Docker, etc).

    I have a 2017 13 inch touchbar MacBook Pro, but I ended up buying a Lenovo X1 Carbon recently I've been REALLY happy with. Actual ports (USB-C, USB-A, HDMI, etc) are a life saver when I'm at conferences. At this point the Macbook sits on my desk and I use the Lenovo when I'm away, but if I had to choose the X1 Carbon wouldn't be the one getting a new home.
     
  20. jafico1 thread starter macrumors member

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    #20
    Apparently Apple have actually just announced the new MacBook Pros! Now, as the 13" base model hasn't been updated, I think it's now between the 13" touch bar and the 15" for me. Now that the 13" touch bar has a quad-core processor, looking at benchmarks, it doesn't seem much slower than my Dell currently, although the only thing is that I'll be missing out on dedicated graphics and the screen size.

    Right now, I'm using a MBP13 (2014) loaner laptop in my office connected to a Cinema Display, and it's been a good experience so far as I've mostly kept to using the external monitor, and I have a Dell UltraSharp already so I'm already set in that regard. From the Windows side of things, at least Macs can dual boot (or I use Parallels/VMWare). The alternative for me would perhaps be the Lenovo ThinkPad T480s, which has more ports, a better keyboard, and perhaps better build quality (?), but after dealing with Dell for the past couple of years, I'm attracted to Apple because of their reputation for good support, plus I've started preferring macOS to Windows (after using Macs when my PC has been broken). Though, my only reservations are the lack of repairability/upgradeability, the butterfly keyboard (though apparently its the 3rd generation now, so it may be much better), and the fact I'll have to use a lot of dongles.

    I could still spring for the 15 if it was truly necessary, but the 13 is perhaps more practical as a college student.
     
  21. iShater macrumors 604

    iShater

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    #21
    What is your budget like? and do you expect to need to boot into windows or just use VMs? and how often and far will you be carrying the laptop every day?
     
  22. jafico1 thread starter macrumors member

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    #22
    My budget is around $2500-2600ish, although it is relatively flexible. I'm not sure how often I would boot into Windows - this would be my first Mac, and I was thinking of getting Parallels so I could boot into a Boot Camp partition. I'd be carrying the laptop everyday to class most likely, walking around with it around campus: I managed fine with the Precision 5520 which is heavier than the 15" MBP.
     
  23. NoBoMac macrumors 68000

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    #23
  24. jafico1 thread starter macrumors member

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    #24
    It sounds good, as I can make some money back by selling the beats (I currently have wireless headphones that I'm pretty happy with). Right now, I've narrowed it down to two options: the 13 Touch Bar with an i7, 512GB SSD and 16GB RAM ($2309) and the 15 with i7, 512GB SSD and 16GB RAM ($2599) . The 13 is cheaper and more portable, but the 15 is definitely going to be faster and be a true desktop replacement, and I'm a little unsure which to get. We do have iMacs on campus (I think we're getting iMac Pros as well) so I could use those if I need more power, plus there's also a server grid for heavy computing - the 15 means I'll be less reliant on those, but my experience has been that 15s can be a little unwieldy (before the Dell I had a HP 2570p that I absolutely loved because of it being a "pocket powerhouse" of a laptop with its 12" form factor)
     
  25. psingh01 macrumors 65816

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    #25
    Any apple laptop will do for a CS student. It just comes down to budget, but the cheapest option will be more than enough for 4 years of studies. If you have the money I'd go for a 15" MBP just for the screen.
     

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