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      1 Title: Laptops Suck (Why I Might Get a New MacBook Air)
      2 Author: Jake Bauer
      3 Date: 2021-08-18
      4 Summary: PC Laptops are trash and I'm considering getting a MacBook. Here's why.
      6 # [%title]
      8 **Author:** [%author] | **Published:** [%date]
     10 <div class="note"> <p>TL;DR: Watch this <a
     11 href="">video by Wolfgang's
     12 Channel</a>. It covers just about everything I talk about in this post,
     13 including the negative aspects of the M1 MacBook Air, minus the personal
     14 context and rant about modern laptops.</p></div>
     16 If you've been a part of the computing industry in almost any aspect for a
     17 while, you'll no doubt know about the trend of laptops becoming worse as time
     18 goes on. What used to be upgradable components became soldered, removable
     19 batteries became internalized and eventually glued in, and build quality
     20 decreased year over year. Nowadays, one seems to have two choices in the PC
     21 laptop market: buy a cheap, creaky mess of plastic with low-performance
     22 internals, or buy a possibly well-built yet overpriced laptop that may perform
     23 well, but does so at the cost of noise and usually battery life.
     25 Frankly, the only ones offering a viable alternative to this mess is Apple.
     27 Yep, you heard me right.
     29 Apple used to be just as bad as the rest: you used to get an overheating,
     30 _horrendously_ overpriced (a fully-specced 16" MacBook Pro would run you $4,000
     31 USD!) laptop with a terrible keyboard, but with their M1 chip this has changed
     32 completely. You can now get a laptop that not only has outstanding build
     33 quality, all-day battery life, an excellent screen, a great keyboard, and
     34 **desktop-level** performance, but at **half the price** of comparable PC
     35 laptops while also being **fanless**.
     37 If that hasn't yet convinced you, keep reading.
     39 ## Price to Performance
     41 I think we can all agree that Macs had pretty terrible price to performance
     42 when they used Intel processors. Given that a 2020 base model MacBook Air was
     43 $999 USD yet had a CPU that fared not much better than my current Lenovo
     44 Thinkpad T420s in benchmarks and overheated so fast you couldn't even get
     45 remotely close to its full performance... yeah, that was pretty bad. However,
     46 this has completely changed with the M1. Now we have a $999 laptop with
     47 performance comparable to many Ryzen desktop systems that sips power and, yes
     48 will heat up if you're doing heavy tasks, but won't take massive hits to
     49 performance just because it can't handle the heat.
     51 <figure>
     52     <a href="/img/m1-cpubenchmark.png"><img src="/img/m1-cpubenchmark.png"
     53     alt="Benchmark comparison of the M1 chip next to several Ryzen desktop
     54     chips on"/></a>
     55     <caption><a href="">Source of this comparison.</a></caption>
     56 </figure>
     58 In the image above, the M1 is compared to the Ryzen 5 1600 (the same CPU I have
     59 in my desktop computer from 2017), and the Ryzen 5 3600X, Ryzen 5 5600X, and
     60 Ryzen 9 5950X. This benchmark clocks the M1 chip at being overall faster than
     61 the Ryzen 5 1600, and even still beating the Ryzen 9 5950X in single-core
     62 computations (though, of course, the 32 threads in the 5950X means it's much
     63 better at multi-threaded stuff than the M1 with its 8). That means this mobile
     64 CPU which can fit in a fanless system and draws a meagre 15.1 Watts is more
     65 powerful than a 65 Watt TDP desktop CPU from 2017 and 2018 as well as
     66 competitive in single-core tasks with even recent Ryzen CPUs.
     68 Further videos on the internet comparing performance such as [this video from
     69 LTT]( and [this video from
     70 Wolfgang's Channel]( shows that,
     71 while the M1 trades blows with its AMD and Intel counterparts in some cases, it
     72 drastically outperforms almost all of the competition. For most of what I will
     73 be doing with the PC, the M1 Air absolutely blows my existing computers out of
     74 the water in terms of performance for less than the amount of money I spent on
     75 my desktop system in 2017 and in a—I can't stress this enough—**fanless
     76 laptop**.
     78 ## Build Quality and Keyboard
     80 Macs tend to have excellent physical build quality. There is little to no flex
     81 of the chassis when typing on the keyboard, the screen doesn't wobble when you
     82 adjust it or while you're typing, and you can hold the laptop by a corner
     83 without creaking plastic noises. Since they switched to their Magic Keyboard™®©
     84 from their utter disaster the Butterfly Keyboard™®©, their keyboards also feel
     85 very nice to type on again and won't spontaneously break from normal usage.
     87 According to a friend of mine who switched from a Thinkpad X1 Carbon Gen. 6 to
     88 an M1 MacBook Air, the keyboard is miles better than not only that, but also
     89 Cherry MX switches. According to the aforementioned video from Wolfgang's
     90 Channel, the keyboard is not as good as his Thinkpad X1 Carbon's. So, while it
     91 does seem to be a matter of personal preference, if this keyboard is anything
     92 like their early 2010s MacBook keyboards (a keyboard I have actually used) then
     93 it will feel, to me, even better than my T420s keyboard.
     95 ## Fanless Operation
     97 I know I keep going on about how the Air is fanless, but that's actually
     98 something I would really like to have in a laptop. My current T420s is hot and
     99 loud and it really shows it. Just sitting on the desktop, at idle, the CPU is
    100 at about 45°C with the fan audible. When I'm browsing the web, it easily spikes
    101 to 60% or 80% utilization, and it's not uncommon for the CPU to hit 85°C and
    102 the fan to be going full-speed if I'm flipping back and forth between tabs or
    103 on any particularly heavy tabs (yes, I've cleaned out and re-pasted this
    104 computer... twice). This is such a problem that my laptop will overheat if I
    105 have it on my lap without wearing long pants (i.e. the bottom of the laptop is
    106 touching my legs) for an extended period of time and the amount of heat put
    107 out by this machine has even bothered people who sit next to me as I use my
    108 computer. Modern laptops might be better, but they're still annoyingly noisy
    109 when doing anything intensive.
    111 Having a fanless laptop will certainly be a luxury. When using my laptop on the
    112 couch or in bed, I won't have to worry about whether or not the fans can
    113 breathe, I won't have to worry about the fan noise of my laptop or the blast of
    114 heat shooting out the side annoying anybody near me, and I won't have to worry
    115 about cleaning out the computer every two to three years just to keep it
    116 running well.
    118 ## The Screen
    120 Since Apple released their Retina™®© displays, they have been known for making
    121 stunningly good displays. They continue this trend with the M1 MacBooks by
    122 putting a 2560x1600 (that's a 16:10 display ratio, much nicer than 16:9 for
    123 productivity), in a 13.3" screen for a wonderfully crisp 227 PPI. Not only will
    124 this be way better than my current 1600x900 display in a 14" screen, it will
    125 also be far better than the 1920x1080 displays one could normally get on
    126 competing laptops (without spending out a lot more money).
    128 A good screen with sharp text is something I've wanted for a long time since
    129 using 4K 27" displays at work and since I read [this blog post by Nikita on
    130 about better monitors]( It makes a
    131 huge difference, especially for those who work primarily with text (me) in
    132 terms of comfort and clarity.
    134 ## Battery Life
    136 One thing that Apple has pretty much always been good at is jamming massive
    137 batteries into their laptops. If I had to guess based on pictures of internals,
    138 more than 50% of the internal space of a MacBook is taken up by batteries. This
    139 gives them battery lifetimes often much greater than competing laptops with
    140 similar performance. In the case of the M1, this is dialed up to the maximum
    141 because they combined their regular massive battery capacity with a chip that
    142 sips power. One can easily go a full day using their M1 MacBook without needing
    143 to charge their laptop. This is a huge upgrade from my Thinkpad which gets
    144 about 1 hour of battery life on a replacement battery purchased just one year
    145 ago (turns out that having a CPU that gets hit with regular near-100%
    146 utilization is not great for battery life).
    148 ## MacOS
    150 I know a lot of Linux and Windows users look at MacOS and think: "How could
    151 anybody use _that_!?" I know, I used to be one of them. At work when I got a
    152 Mac (a 2013 Mac Pro, to be precise) I was just endlessly frustrated at how
    153 MacOS felt. But, frankly, I just had a closed mind and wanted to hate it, so I
    154 did. Of course, a completely different operating system and desktop environment
    155 requires some effort to learn and get used to; exactly what we tell people
    156 switching over from Windows to Linux.
    158 In reality, MacOS is a competent *nix system. It's based on Darwin BSD, has zsh
    159 as a default shell with others also installed, has its own package manager
    160 [homebrew](, and has a perfectly competent terminal emulator.
    161 In reality, I can do everything I would want to do on my computer on MacOS
    162 without having to go through the hoops required on Windows.
    164 Not to mention, my printer+scanner will actually work without endless fiddling
    165 or needing to reboot into Windows.
    167 ## But It's Apple!!!
    169 Yeah, I know. Apple is not a good company. They are consistently against [right
    170 to repair](,
    171 lock down the upgradablilty and repairability of their products, and the
    172 majority of the operating system is proprietary (though, it's worth noting that
    173 they're still far better than Microsoft when it comes to [their open source
    174 efforts](, having made and released WebKit, CUPS,
    175 Bonjour, and more).
    177 But this isn't much different than most of the PC manufacturers. With many
    178 modern laptops you are quite limited in terms of what you can upgrade. For
    179 most, you can upgrade the SSD and the RAM and that's about it. Many parts for
    180 discontinued laptops are also hard to come by or expensive, unless they were
    181 insanely popular.
    183 It's also worth noting that, in the case of the M1, you can't upgrade the RAM
    184 because it is a system-on-chip (SoC) design similar to how the Pinebook and
    185 most ARM-based computers are built. However, that's not really an issue since
    186 MacOS handles low memory conditions very well and I personally have no need for
    187 more than 16GB of RAM. I haven't needed more than 16GB of RAM for half a decade
    188 and I don't see that changing anytime soon given that I routinely use less than
    189 4GB on my workstations.
    191 ## Alternative Options
    193 So, if I'm looking for a high quality, performant laptop for a good price then
    194 what are my other options in today's market?
    196 If I really want a fanless design I could either get a Chromebook or a
    197 Microsoft Surface. The Chromebooks universally suffer from terrible build
    198 quality or awful performance and the Surface laptops might be quite good
    199 (relatively speaking), but then I'm stuck with a product locked down by
    200 Microsoft and I much prefer MacOS to Windows. Surface computers also suffer
    201 from exactly the same repairability issues as Apple computers.
    203 If I want something that does perform well and is well-built then I suppose I
    204 could go with a Dell XPS. They are "the MacBooks of the PCs" in terms of their
    205 build quality after all. But they're also over twice the price as the M1 Air
    206 with worse performance and they can get very loud when doing intensive tasks
    207 like compiling software. If you're thinking: "Why not get a Thinkpad," it's
    208 because modern Thinkpads have terrible build quality and are also monumentally
    209 more expensive than these new MacBooks for the performance you get. They suffer
    210 from the same problems as the XPS but aren't even well-built.
    212 Finally, in terms of a decent laptop that is repairable and upgradable, there
    213 is the new Framework laptop. While this does seem quite promising, it's hot (it
    214 has an Intel processor) and doesn't offer anywhere near the price to
    215 performance of these new MacBooks (once again, it has an Intel processor),
    216 though they are at least a strong competitor. The build quality, while decent,
    217 is also [still lacking compared to
    218 Apple](
    220 ## Summary
    222 All in all, the pros of an M1 MacBook Air far outweigh the cons. Let's go over them:
    224 * **Fanless** - It's silent and no need to worry about airflow or cleaning
    225 * **Excellent** build quality - Not a plastic piece of e-waste (looking at you, Clevo chassis-resellers)
    226 * **Great battery life** - Easily all-day battery life, even when using it intensively
    227 * **Good keyboard** - Something that I'll actually enjoy typing on when I'm away from home
    228 * **Outstanding Performance** - Competitive with Ryzen 7 2700s in multi-core, and the latest Ryzen processors in single-core performance
    229 * **No T2 Chip** - The M1 computers no longer have the annoying T2 chip, so other OSes could conceivably be installed in the future
    230 * **Unbeatable Price** - Competing laptops are twice the price or more, for worse performance, build quality, noise, or a combination of those
    231 * **No Touchbar** - I don't like the touchbar, so I'm glad the Air doesn't have it
    232 * **Thin as heck** - It's a laptop as powerful as a desktop, thinner than the screen on my T420s
    234 And what about the cons:
    236 * **Apple** - They're a bad company, and it doesn't make me feel good to buy something from them
    237 * **Non-replaceable SSD** - The SSD could wear out and you can't easily replace them which would render the computer useless, but this probably won't matter in the lifetime of the device, since one would have to write terabytes of data to their SSD each day to even come close to wearing it out in a couple of years.
    239 I've never owned a Mac (or any Apple product, for that matter). I currently own
    240 a T420s because I like the aesthetics and keyboards of old Thinkpads but,
    241 honestly, it's just not cutting it anymore. A decade old computer is finally
    242 starting to show its age and it's time for an upgrade. When nearly every other
    243 option on the market (including recent second-hand laptops) aside from the M1
    244 Macs kinda suck, well, I'm going to choose the best option for the money I have
    245 and right now that looks like it's the M1 MacBook Air.
    247 <div class="note">
    248 <p>I ended up getting a used <a
    249 href="/blog/openbsd-on-the-dell-xps-13-9380">Dell XPS</a> in the end for
    250 cost, OS-compatability, and ethical reasons. I just wasn't comfortable
    251 directly supporting Apple by buying one of their products, and I wanted
    252 to be able to run OpenBSD.</p>
    253 </div>