Buying a MacBook Pro

Hi all.

I’m in a quandary. Just hoping others that might be in similar situations might be able to offer an additional perspective.

For the last decade, a MacBook Pro has been my go-to portable machine for everything. I’ve used it as my primary dev machine, because it can compile for everything, and I can test everything in virtual machines via Parallels.

But development is just a fraction of what I do. I also edit video, do graphic design, host radio shows, and DJ/VJ some pretty large nightclubs. Up until now I’ve been able to do ALL OF THAT with the same MacBook Pro. The 2016 is the one I’m currently on.

Unfortunately, now that I’m getting back into DJing nightclubs (with music videos, mind you) following the pandemic, everyone seems to have taken the opportunity to upgrade, and I’m being encouraged to use 4K video where in the past I’ve only done 720p. Live manipulation of even 1080p video is a bit too much for my poor 2016 Macbook Pro to handle, and it’s time to get something new.

So my choices are M1 or 2019 Intel (13" is too small for me which excludes 2020 Intels).

M1 seems like the obvious choice, but there’s the issue of software development. I still maintain quite a bit of software targeting WinXP and Win7. Virtualizing x86 Windows is not a thing the M1 can do. Even running Win10, it can only run the ARM version which then emulates x86, and you never know if something doesn’t work due to a bug in your code or due to the emulation layer. Testing for WinXP and Win7 is also a non-starter. It’s a nightmare.

So, maybe a Windows laptop? Well, then I lose the ability to compile and test for MacOS and iOS.

So… An Intel MBP then. But do I really want to drop $5K on a 2019 MacBook that Apple is clearly phasing out and that’s running two year old silicon? Already there are features in Monterey that will not be available on Intel Macs.

There are a couple other strikes against the current M1 MBP, such as the lack of ports for DJing. Running through hubs and splitters is a big no-no when you’re dealing with critical A/V signals. I’ve had USB-C cables quite literally vibrate out of my current Macbook (due to the loud volumes) to the point where I now tape all my cables in place.

I’m holding my breath to see what Apple releases this fall in the MBP line, but I really don’t think there will be any new Intel Macs. It just doesn’t seem like there’s one laptop that can do it all anymore, hence my quandary.

What would you do? Thanks for reading this novel of text and for any insights you may have. Cheers and stay safe.

It clearly seems that you will need two different machines to perform all the work you need to do.

I don’t know what kind of software you build for Desktop but do you really need a recent and high end machine to test your apps on Win7 / Win10?
If you don’t, in my opinion the best is to keep your current MBP2016 for Win emulation and wait for the upgraded 16" MBP with Apple silicon.
The power of the next gen Apple silicon will be a perfect fit for 4K VJing.

By the way which dj/vj software do you use?
I have used Djay and VIRTUALDJ both on an M1 Macbook air (with a usb-c adapter) and it works great. Although I didn’t use 4K videos.

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get an M1 and a second hand windows laptop.
(I have a couple gathering dust… they are really cheap…maybe go for ex-business Dells.
I actually bought a 15 inch fancy new Dell and don’t like it compared to a 5 years old one.
)

Its not a bad idea to have a low spec Windows machine so that you can see the real-world performance for others, and compiling code you created on the M1 isnt much of a bind, even if you have to swap it out on USB sticks…

An M1 iPad Pro could do all your non-development work, and is even nicer than a MacBook for portability.

Most DJ software aren’t available on iPad.

Djay works good on my iPad air, but rekordbox and serato are a no go.

Jeremy L and Mr. Tullin are quite correct. You need two machines. Even if you didn’t, if you spend that much time in Windows, especially for development, save yourself some time and trouble and just get a refurb I7 or I5, 9 or 10 gen WIndows box with plenty of usbs (and at least 1 usb3) and call it a day.

As you said, Intel is a dead end on the Mac, and Macbooks have this nasty habit of not dropping precipitously in price even when their day is done. A 2019 Macbook is no bargain at half the original cost, when you consider how quickly they obsolesce software-wise.

You can get a very performant Windows laptop for $700.00. Decent 14 inch laptops can be had for $450.00 or so. I buy them regularly for customers. As was mentioned, watching your software run on the kind of machine it will be installed on in the field is useful data to have.

I don’t know anything about DJ software but I have done a lot of AV work and recording so anything but the real vertical market stuff (DJ software presumably) is available for either platform, which you undoubtedly know.

I have never seen “live manipulation of 4K video” so I can’t give you advice on that, but if I was buying a Mac right now (for any purpose that required horsepower) I would go with the new generation processors. I don’t have one, but even the PC press is raving about them. The only downside is the amount of RAM. Obviously, you have more, and more economical, options on the PC side. That being said, Macs (at least the Macs I’ve owned) handle memory (and disk access) differently than a PC. I don’t run out of memory on a Mac, and the Mac Mini I’m writing this on is 16 gb. I don’t do 4K on it and wouldn’t dream of trying, but I don’t close down a video app to run an audio app either.

If you need high end graphics on a PC and don’t care for the little ones, take a look at the Dell Inspiron 7000 series. They come in 15 and 17 inch and the OLED screens are immaculate. The video cards are very capable even by desktop standards. Yeah, it’s just an Inspiron, but it’s up there with the XPS in terms of build quality. Pricey, battery life is predictably poor, carries like a boat anchor, but a fine looking beast.

M2 Macs should be out by the end of next summer. If you can wait, it should be quite an upgrade.

Good luck,
fritz

This is not entirely true - it may be possible to emulate x86 and x64 apps under Windows ARM on a M1 mac. See Xojo apps on Windows on ARM on Parallels on M1

More recent topic:

Thanks for the thoughts everyone. Just had an idea pop into my head that’s so simple I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier.

Why not get a high-end Windows laptop (perhaps running Ryzen) and run MacOS in a VM? Other than compiling and testing, everything else I do can be easily done on Windows. It’s not an “officially supported” configuration on the Apple side, but the folks who maintain MacOS VM’s seem to do a pretty good job of keeping them current.

With this approach, I could indeed still do it all on one laptop. It seems I’ll need to make compromises in one way or another, but Apple will probably still support Intel on MacOS for at least the next 4 or 5 years, allowing me to keep up with at least major versions for what will be the effective life of this new machine.

Ignoring the efficiency/battery improvements, which are mostly unimportant to me, the only other thing a M1 can do that a Windows laptop can’t (from a functional perspective) is edit the 10-bit 4:2:2 h.265 8K video from my Canon R5 directly without proxies. But I can live with that compromise as well.

@Jeremie_L I use VirtualDJ but with several somewhat demanding plugins that I wrote myself.

I think you may encounter problems with things such as Messages and AppleID validation when emulating macOS in a VM (or when running a hackintosh). These might cause trouble if you are trying to use XCode and your AppleID account to sign your software. I would recommend you do some tests before committing to this path.

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Mike D, you hit the nail on the head. I haven’t seen an M1 emulator on the PC yet, but I’ve seen enough Hackintosh varieties to suspect that this is something you play with if you’re a hardware geek looking to find out how long a motherboard will run without exploding. If you are a working software developer who’s on somebody’s clock–even your own–this path is fraught with peril. The point about the ever-finicky XCode and the gestapo gatekeepers on the Apple cert side is germane.

There are, as you pointed out, ways to emulate Windows on a Mac M1. I didn’t mention the Parallels hack I saw on YouTube using WIndows on ARM emulation, because I don’t know how experienced Mr Wheel is with this kind of thing, I haven’t tried it, and I didn’t want to make his life any more eventful than it already is. But, no matter how you cut it, trying to emulate WIndows on a Mac is going to be easier–or at least more stable and useful–than vice-versa. Granted this is mostly based on experience more than two years old, but considering Apple’s demonstrated antipathy to this sort of hacking (review the history of “jailbreaking” on the Iphone), I would say that your chances of a working HackMac long-term (especially with Xcode and presumably the Iphone simulator and certificates and such) are statistically minute.

I wouldn’t go that route. Did you ever read Hackintosh Instructions, Hackintosh How To Guides: Hackintosh.com ?

Running MacOS in a VM on Windows only works with specific hardware. You need to hack MacOS installation media according to the instruction. All that means a lot of work each time you want to install a new version of MacOS. Nothing guarantee that you would succeed. Should you, will you be able to notarise and sign your Mac apps on such an installation ?

I would definitely stick with a Mac to use VirtualDJ. The software is optimised to run seamlessly on Mac, especially if you use the Stems feature which is almost instant with the M1 silicon.

This is one of the major dis-advanatages of Apple reverting to using their own chips again.

When Apple switched to Intel 15 years ago, they gained the attention of many new customers, because customers could try the Mac OS, and if they didn’t like it or needed compatibility, they could also install and run natively Windows.

10 years ago, Apple were making the best laptops in the industry and putting many Wintel vendors to shame. Even PC Magazines were recommending Apple hardware over alternatives. Many Apple resellers were even offering packages where you could buy a Mac with the Mac OS and Windows pre-installed.

But in recent years, Apple’s reputation for building the best laptops in the industry has waned, thermal issues, keyboard issues, screen issues, battery life issues, lack of connectivity, persistent software issues, external display issues and now with ARM based Macs, reduced compatibility.

Don’t get me wrong, I see the benefit in the performance gain (especially at the lower end), I also see the benefit in profit this will bring as more devices use the same hardware and software, heck the new iMac already has the nickname iPad 24".

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the long run. As for the OP, I don’t envy you for having to make this decision, it is not an easy one to make, unless you’ve got the cash, then buy both.

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I think @Sam_Rowlands hit the nail on the head. I had my logic board replaced 3x on my 2016 MBP due to keyboard issues before I finally got one that’s worked for a while, and the CPU thermal throttles constantly, I have seen it with my own two eyes! I’m thankful that Apple has learned from these mistakes and there’s no question that Apple Silicon is great stuff and will push the industry forwards, but Apple has never been big on backwards compatibility, especially now that the biggest break in compatibility is with competing OS’s. It’s just disappointing that where I could have used one machine in the past now I need multiple.

@Jeremie_L That stems feature is killer. I use it constantly, but it’s also quite the CPU hog. It’s using the Spleeter AI library by Deezer. I created my own training models for it in separate projects, if you’re into both python and music it’s worth a look because it’s a blast to play with.

I think a few folks might be conflating Hackintoshes with virtualization. A hackintosh does indeed tend to require very specific hardware and is picky and finicky about drivers. But there are enthusiasts who make VMWare images ready-to-run of even the latest patches of Big Sur that work with iMessage and XCode on most Intel hardware (sadly AMD compatibility is still spotty). I won’t paste any links here but things work “for now.” Knowing Apple though, I could totally see a day when they increase the minimum XCode version to one that no longer works using these methods.

As for emulating Windows x86, yes there are definitely ways to emulate running x86 apps, but I need to run the OS’s themselves. Some of the old software I developed years ago and still maintain is for things like industrial barcode scanners that works on the driver-level on embedded WinXP. I still need to be able to plug in a hardware barcode scanner and pass that hardware through to the VM and OS.

Thankfully I don’t do this work often, but when traveling if I get a call I’ve always been able to just spin up that VM in Parallels on my MBP and find the problem even while on the road. That apparently will no longer be an option if I go with Apple Silicon.

Thanks again to each and every one of you who replied. This has been a wonderful multitude of viewpoints on this subject and while I’m still not sure what I’m going to do I’m more informed than before. Cheers.

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On my M1 MacBook air the tracks load in 1-2 seconds. The stems take an additional second to calculate. Definitely not a CPU hog using Apple Silicon.

I was flabbergasted by the difference in performance between the M1 MBA and my (not so old) MBP 13" 2018.

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