Can I get a Mac that does what I want?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by therealseebs, Sep 26, 2012.

  1. therealseebs, Sep 26, 2012
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2012

    therealseebs macrumors 65816


    Apr 14, 2010
    So, long story short: I am a big fan of OS X, but I have a few unusual goals or requirements, and I'm trying to get them synchronized.

    Right now, I'm using a 2010 MBP, a 2011 MBA, and a Mac Mini from quite a long time ago.

    Ideally, I would like to reduce this to one or two machines.

    • A way to simultaneously have gigabit ethernet, firewire, and dual-link DVI or equivalent.
    • A low-glare display. (Macbook Air is too glossy, Thunderbolt and the like are WAY too glossy.)
    • Non-interpolated display mode. (2x2 pixel blocks are okay, but non-integer scaling is Not Okay.)
    • SSD.
    • At least two USB ports.
    • Actually exists, does not require buying a product which "will" be released.
    • 8GB memory.
    • Fewer than three machines.

    Would be nice:
    • Specifically DVI, so I can use this on a KVM switch with other computers.
    • Matte display.
    • 1920x1080 or higher resolution.
    • Ideally, 16:10 rather than 16:9.
    • At least 4 USB ports.
    • 16GB memory.
    • Video hardware that isn't totally awful.
    • Smallish size. (I have a laptop bag which I don't think would take the 15" laptops.)
    • Single machine that meets all requirements.
    • Quad-core CPU.
    • Option of user-replaceable drive (so I can put in a larger, faster, SSD than the stuff Apple sells, and pay less for it.)

    What I've found:

    • The thunderbolt display is too shiny for me. A display that shiny gives me horrible headaches. Other than that, this would do a pretty good job of providing display, firewire, ethernet, and USB. But it's not a DVI display, so it can't be shared over the KVM.
    • Supposedly Belkin is releasing a Thunderbolt dock with firewire/ethernet/USB, but (1) I hate Belkin a lot and would rather not buy anything they make, ever, and (2) I don't know that it's actually out yet.
    • Matrox is releasing a Thunderbolt dock, but (1) also not out yet, and (2) no firewire. (also no passthrough.)
    • The 2012 MBP has the ports I want, but peaks out at 1600x1050, which is lower resolution than I want, and also has noticably worse performance and hardware in other respects. Also doesn't come in 16GB.
    • The Retina lacks ports I want. The docks don't exist, except in the form of the Thunderbolt display, which is shiny.
    • The Retina display is rather shinier than I'd like, honestly. Yes, I really have gone and looked at it in stores. It's a step up from the Air's display for my purposes, but I don't like it, and I'd feel horrible spending $3k on a machine with a display that glossy. Gorgeous color, but... Headache-inducing, for me.
    • The Retina can't display a high resolution other than its insanely-high 2880x1800 resolution without non-integer scaling, which bugs me. Basically, for my purposes it'd be 1440x900, which is too low, and 2880x1800 is too high.
    • Mini has poor graphics hardware, also not portable.
    • Mac Pro is hopelessly obsolete and will remain so for some time.

    So my ideas are:
    1. Wait until more thunderbolt docks are available, get one with ethernet+firewire+DVI, get a Retina, run it as a clamshell except when out and about. Not ideal, but probably better than nothing. Downsides: Can't upgrade drive, Apple's SSD pricing strikes me as unreasonable, not as many USB ports as I want.
    2. Get a Mini for home use, which is where I care about ethernet and firewire, use it with a thunderbolt->DVI adapter, get either a MBP or a MBPR for out-and-about. Downsides: Mini's not quad-core, still can't upgrade drive in Retina.
    3. Get a MBP. Should be able to replace hard drive/memory. Downsides: Resolution's not what I'd like, performance a little sub-optimal, cooling not as good as MBPR.
    4. Hackintosh (ewww). Probably hard to get firewire, but easy to get a machine with faster CPU, better video, adequate cooling, display I like, and two drive bays (e.g., ASUS G55). I don't think I can do it legally, though. :(
    5. Post on forums asking for help.

    I'm totally stumped here. So far as I can tell, there simply isn't any way to get what I want right now. The closest options, I think, are a hypothetical non-glossy thunderbolt display, if Apple ever released one, or a suitable Thunderbolt dock, if one is ever released. Those appear to all be future possibilties, though; nothing I could go online and order today.
  2. r0k macrumors 68040


    Mar 3, 2008
    Microcenter still has some late 2011 MBP, 1680 x 1050 matte display MBPs left and they are selling the things for almost $850 less than they used to list for. I have mine sitting next to a 1080p display and let me assure you 30 pixels along the bottom aint no big thing. Yeah, I know 1680 is less than 1920 but we are talking about saving 850 bucks here. I have thunderbolt. I have fw 800. I have usb. I have separate audio goesinta and goesouta. I have a SD card slot. And it uses magsafe 1 so I don't have to buy all new bricks (yet). One problem, though. There is no going online to order this because the last time I checked this deal was in store only at MC. I would imagine Frys has something similar if you have one of those nearby. Basically last year's MBP new in box can be had for a SWEET deal that makes it very easy to forget about 200 pixels on the side and 30 pixels along the bottom.

    I wouldn't buy a mouse trap from Belkin. And Hackintosh? I'd rather scrape together the megabucks to buy a Mac Pro than deal with a hackintosh.

    A mini is definitely worth thinking about. I'm sure you can find an external monitor that meets your requirements. But with the 850 bucks you'd save buying the late 2011 from MC you could "throw in" the mini and have money left over for 16 GB of RAM. Give it some thought.

    Skip Monoprice for the thunderbolt to DVI cable. Theirs is too fat for the port spacing on the MBP. You're better off with Apple's $30 cable than with Monoprice's chubby thing that won't let you plug in your FW drives.
  3. therealseebs, Sep 26, 2012
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2012

    therealseebs thread starter macrumors 65816


    Apr 14, 2010
    Those 30 pixels make the difference between "can display a simulated device at full resolution" and "can't". And that turns out to be a pretty big deal. 1080 vs 1110? I don't care. 1050 vs. 1080? Yeah, I care. But that's a good thought, anyway -- the late 2011 MBP is a lot better than the one I have now. (I made the mistake of believing people who assured me that the nVidia 330M was perfectly adequate. UGH.) And that's a machine I could put new drive and memory in, at least.

    The Mac Pro is a non-contender until it has Thunderbolt, and even then... Basically, I really want to have *something* I can take with me.

    I will check on the local microcenter, though. That might be worth it.

    Update: They do seem to have an antiglare late-2011 in stock. $1,599 new, or less as an open box.

    So comparing that to the lowish end of the 2012 MBPs:

    Late-2011: $1,599. 2.5GHz core i7 (2860QM). 1333MHz memory, although some people report success at 1600Mhz. Radeon 6770 with 1GB video RAM. USB 2.
    2012: $1,899 configured with antiglare display. 2.3GHz core i7 (3615QM). 1600MHz memory. nVidia geforce 650M. USB 3.

    Installed memory and drive are pretty irrelevant; either way I'd be replacing those.

    CPU benchmarks are pretty comparable between those two. Video card's newer. Both are SD card slots (no expresscard 34), so no eSATA, but I can probably live with that. I might be able to get a friend to get me friend-and-family rates on the 2012, which brings the base price down to $1,614, which is pretty comparable.

    I think the first order of business may be to investigate what is up with the two open box units, because another $200 off might be very tempting indeed. Although USB 3 might be a significant issue in a year or two. On the other hand, thunderbolt can handle that.
  4. astrorider macrumors 6502

    Sep 25, 2008
    I might be missing something, but a Retina Macbook Pro with something like the Acer PA248Q (1920x1200, 16:10, USB 3 hub built-in) seems to fit the bill. You'll need the Apple TB to ethernet and the Apple TB to firewire. You mention dual-link DVI, but that's only needed if you're driving more than 1920x1200 and you said it would be nice to be at least 1920x1080. The Acer you could run off the included HDMI port. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see anything in your requirements or would be nice list that you couldn't do with the Retina MBP

    As an aside, reviews have shown the Retina MBP display's scaling, even non-integer scaling, looks as good or better than native resolution displays at the same resolution. It's not like non-integer scaling in the past at all, if that's your concern. I can confirm 1680x1050 or 1920x1200 on the internal display look native to me.
  5. therealseebs thread starter macrumors 65816


    Apr 14, 2010
    Thing is, if I use both adapters, I have no thunderbolt ports left. And then I'm down to the HDMI port, which is lower-resolution. Stuff like the Thunderbolt display gives me more than one of the ports I care about from a single Thunderbolt port. Unfortunately, the Matrox dock appears to have no plans to include firewire, and the Thunderbolt display is WAY too glossy.

    ... If I were a lot richer, I would seriously consider using the Thunderbolt display purely as a dock, and just using the passthrough and telling the machine to mirror between that and a display that I could look at. :)

    Built-in, x1080 is fine by me and x1050 is probably survivable. I want the ability to run 2560x1600 external displays, and they have to be displays that can be driven by a dual-link DVI video card or KVM switch.

    I would really, really, prefer the machine's native display to be non-glossy. Yes, I have seen the "reduced glare" display of the Retina. It is indeed reduced, but the problem for me isn't total volume of brightness, it's the degree to which I can clearly see things in reflections, and it's still perfectly sharp. That's what gets to me, and that display is still... well, I could put up with it if it were in the price range of the mid-range Air, but on a >$2000 machine, I'm a lot less willing to accept unpleasant compromises.

    I'll double-check that. I have a very hard time believing it'd look the same to me, just because every non-integer scaling I have ever seen has been blurry to me, and that includes messing about with it on the iPhone 4 and retina iPad.

    I can't see how it can be not like other scaling at all. Imagine if you will a vertical line, with red pixels next to black pixels. Every pixel is either #ff0000 or #000000. Now scale it by a non-integer amount. You have to either have inconsistent sizing for different columns, or some columns which have pixels which are neither of those colors... So if it's doing either of those, it is like non-integer scaling in the past. Now, it may be that the smaller pixels make this less noticeable -- it might be less obvious than, say, the sub-pixel rendering we get on modern LCDs anyway, in which case it might be tolerable. But I can't see how it can be not like them at all; I can only think of two sane ways to do the scaling, and I've seen both and don't like them.

    Which is to say: Reviews do not always come from people who are as bothered by small details as I am.
  6. astrorider macrumors 6502

    Sep 25, 2008
    Ah, in that case you can use a USB3 to gigabit ethernet adapter, sparing one of your thunderbolt ports to use for a higher res monitor. Then use a USB3 hub, built-in to the Acer monitor, other monitors, or a separate hub, to regain your USB port plus some.

    Here's one of the reviews I was thinking of:

  7. therealseebs, Sep 26, 2012
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2012

    therealseebs thread starter macrumors 65816


    Apr 14, 2010
    That is starting to sound very complicated. This is one of the reasons I'm strongly leaning towards the non-retina MBP -- I just have the ports, no fuss and no hassle. (The other highly attractive thing is a thing that's just like a Thunderbolt display, but not glossy, which would let me have something nearly as convenient as a real docking station.)

    The performance hit doesn't sound very appealing to me either. :)

    I haven't been able to find good close-up pictures of any of this. That article links to screen shots that are substantially lower resolution than the screen, so they show you how much real estate you have, but not what it looks like.

    Looking at more posts with close-up shots, etcetera, I don't think I would be happy at all with the scaling. (There's also the price gap if I want 16GB of memory and a decent-sized SSD; with the MBP, I can buy memory and an SSD, and I have the option of replacing the SSD with a much larger SSD a year out. $2,900 for a non-upgradeable machine? Not given what SSD and memory prices and capacities do, I don't think.)
  8. astrorider macrumors 6502

    Sep 25, 2008
    They're both great machines. What display are you referring to that's a non-glossy Thunderbolt display?

    That review is pretty dated at this point. Under 10.8.2 the I haven't noticed any of the lag that was present before the software update.

    Definitely worth a side by side in the Apple Store if you have one close by. The retina screen is a real selling point for reading text on a 15" screen, and for me the scaling that's going on at the higher resolutions is basically imperceptible, but it's best to judge for yourself.

    True. Large capacity SSDs are expensive to begin with, and will always be more expensive for the Retina MBP because of it's proprietary connection. So far I've just seen OWC offering SSD upgrades for the Retina MBP.
  9. therealseebs thread starter macrumors 65816


    Apr 14, 2010
    A hypothetical one. But one I'd buy if they made it.

    As is, I'm likely to get a large dual-link DVI display at some point.

    Could be.

    I have looked at it a few times, and it really just does not click for me. I love the colors, but... I really can't accept that the display has to have those razor-sharp reflections in it to work.

    Yeah. And the memory upgrade just plain isn't possible, and it seems crazy to pay Apple $200 extra to replace 8GB with 16GB when I can buy 16GB for $100 for any other machine.

    The 2012 non-Retina has some appeal, but I am not sure USB3 is worth $300 to me. In fact, I suspect it isn't.

    I still wish Apple had a line that was more aimed at the historical "pro" market -- more ports, second drive bays, stuff like that. I have had a few of those big laptops, and I am much happier with a heavy laptop with all the hardware features I want than I am with a light laptop that omits a ton of stuff. Which is fine in PC land, where I can just buy a heavy laptop instead of a light one, but doesn't work out for me with OS X.

    But it looks like, for now, the best I can do is a late-2011 15" refurb/clearance, plus SSD and memory upgrades. A little slower in the CPU department, may be faster or slower in the SSD department (I'm guessing faster, given the relatively low speeds I've typically gotten from Apple's SSDs), and maybe a year or three out the Mac market will be enough bigger that they can justify making a higher-end machine with less emphasis on thin-no-matter-what.
  10. theluggage macrumors 68040

    Jul 29, 2011
    Have you looked at the scaled modes on a rMBP in the store? The higher ppi means it does a lot better at non-integer scaling. They looked pretty good to me.
    You might have a long wait.

    The standard thunderbolt peripheral controller only extracts one DisplayPort signal from the bus. If someone plugs a legacy DisplayPort device (e.g. a DisplayPort monitor, a DVI or HDMI dongle) into the passthrough port, this signal is needed to drive that. So a hub can't drive a DVI connector and supply legacy video to the passthru port. That's why you can't chain a DisplayPort display directly to an Apple TB display.

    This explains why the Belkin supports passthrough but doesn't have DVI, while the Matrox has DVI but no passthrough. So, although it's not impossible, it's less likely that you'll see a hub with both.

    I wouldn't rule out Belkin (until the reviews are in) but they do seem to be asking Apple prices for 'economy brand' kit.
  11. mikepro macrumors 6502

    Sep 3, 2010
  12. therealseebs, Sep 27, 2012
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2012

    therealseebs thread starter macrumors 65816


    Apr 14, 2010
    I could live without the passthrough; what I really want is dual-link DVI, ethernet, firewire, and USB. ... Which it doesn't seem like I'll get any time soon. But thanks for the technical explanation, this helps.


    I'd sort of concluded this. Frustratingly, there are lots of people making machines that I'd be perfectly happy with, it's just that they don't have OS X.

    I am currently leaning towards one of those clearance late-2011 MBPs from Micro Center. It's not perfect, but it's mostly an upgrade from my 2010 17" MBP. Core i7 620M => 2860QM is a noticeable upgrade, despite having a nominally lower clock speed, Thunderbolt's nice. I lose a USB port, I lose the expressCard/34 slot (which I do actually use), and I lose screen resolution; I gain portability, substantially less sucky video, larger and faster amounts of memory, faster SATA, and about another two years of applecare.

    So far as I can tell, the 2012 is $300 more for USB 3, a nominally slightly faster CPU, and going from the 6770 to the 650M for video. Which isn't sounding super attractive just yet.

    EDIT: Oh, and the low-end 2012 is only 512MB VRAM. It's still faster video hardware, but if I don't want it to be crippled by insufficient memory, I need to spend another $400.
  13. JoeRito macrumors 6502a


    Apr 12, 2012
    New England, USA
    Excellent suggestion... I too use and love the matte display MBP. Glossy gives me the worst eye strain and headaches. Apple really needs to accommodate the anti-glare crowd better in this regard. With adapters, the MBP described can adequately hook to anything display-wise for those times you need big screen images at home (or work).
  14. therealseebs thread starter macrumors 65816


    Apr 14, 2010
    Yeah. My usual setup is a KVM switch attached to what's currently a 26" NEC IPS display from a couple years back. I plan to eventually get a dual-link KVM and a 30" 2560x1600 panel, but I can't really afford both that and the laptop upgrade, and I am feeling the pain of my laptop situation rather more than the pain of the monitor.
  15. therealseebs, Sep 27, 2012
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2012

    therealseebs thread starter macrumors 65816


    Apr 14, 2010
    Just a followup: The nearby Micro Center had two of these in as "open box" items. I decided not to get the cheaper one, which had a ding severe enough that the aluminum was shiny where the matte surface had been scraped off, and no box or anything. I see no install media, but I'm told these can internet-reload themselves. (The factory restore partition is not as useful in my case, because I am putting in an SSD.) Thanks for the really helpful tip!

    Oh, and I should mention: The scaling on the Retina is... well, it's not bad, but I would be unhappy using the higher resolutions on it, even if it weren't shiny.

    Overall, my impression remains that the Retina is a MacBook, not really a MacBook Pro. It's the non-upgradeable machine that omits stuff that "most people" won't need.

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