Really struggling on next computer purchase (Mac)

Discussion in 'Hardware' started by WT21, Jun 26, 2016.

  1. WT21

    WT21 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 19, 2010
    If you read this whole thing, then 1,000 points for you! And thanks for any thoughts/input you can provide.

    I have an aging 2009 MacBook Pro 13" I find the CPU is the bottleneck in my computer processing for photos (mainly). I was thinking of just toughing it out for another year, but...

    My dad needs a new computer for e-mail and web surfing. He prefers a Mac, but is on limited budget. I could buy him a used Mac, or use this as an opportunity to upgrade my machine and give him my old one.

    But which one should I get? I'd like to stay around $1000 or a bit more. I do most of my work in one location, but like the ability to, for instance, sit in front of the TV while processing photos or working with Quicken.

    I could get one of the 2012 13" MacBook Pros, on the Apple (US) refurb site. I could then easily move my existing hard drives to the new machine, and upgrade to 16GB (I currently only have 8GB) RAM and be under $1,000. This would unleash my CPU and RAM bottleneck, and based on the benchmarks I reviewed, should be 2-3X faster than my 2009 MBP. The only downside is the pretty old GPU (Intel HD4000) and non-retina display. I think it would be fine for now, but would I find it limited a few years from now?

    I could buy one of the newer machines, but I can't easily afford the newer Macs built out to 16GB and a big hard-drive. I'd have to go with 8GB RAM and a smaller hard drive, and then use external drives, which is a pain. (I have about 750GB in files now on my laptop, backed up to a firewire drive - 1TB drives in an Apple machine are SUPER expensive). Additionally, moving to one of the newer Macs means I can't just drop in my existing hard drives, and there is no future upgrade path.

    I did look into used Macs -- 2011 or 2012 15" MacBook Pros looked nice -- a little more than $1000 and with 16GB RAM and upgradeable harddrive, and some (mid-2012 rMBP) have the retina screen, but I found out they have quality issues (2011 suffer from GPU failure, and 2012 can have screen burn in), which makes me a little leery of them.

    I did think about switching back to PCs, but I don't think I have the time to re-learn windows, peripherals, etc. Maybe I'll just stick with a Mac.

    Any help/thoughts/personal Mac upgrade experience from a 2008/9/10 MacBook Pro is greatly appreciated.
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2016
  2. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    I currently have a 2011 mac mini (2.7 GHz i7 with 16GB ram and 256MB of video ram) and have been looking at upgrading also. What programs are you using for photo editing? If you are using LR and PS I honestly don't see much of an improvement. Honestly think you need to look at 2014 or later models, especially if you want to get more then a years use of it.
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  3. WT21

    WT21 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 19, 2010
    LR, not PS. Creative Cloud to be specific. I could get by using it still on my 2009, but with my dad needing a new computer, it just seems like an opportunistic time to upgrade, but I would want to get several more years out of the new computer. It's slow in rendering (both going to 1:1 view and outputting photos). That's all CPU bound, so ANY new CPU would be an improvement.

    The one thing about a 15" MBP is it's a true i7 -- quad core and all. That would double the throughput in exporting photos.

    I looked up the specs of your 2011 mini vs. a 2012 MBP 13". For whatever reason, the 2012 13" MBP clocks about 20% faster on the standard tests, and has 756GB VRAM. So, it might be a bit better than the 2011, but yeah, is it better ENOUGH to last more than a year or two....
  4. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    I actually think the 1:1 view more video ram as is the develop module. I know the outputting of photos is more CPU based and they made some great improvements in that with the latest update.

    It really does suck right now. I want to upgrade and I really am thinking about a laptop but the only one I would consider (I like to get 3-4 years out of my stuff, pushing now with my current mini) is the top of line mac book pro which is pretty damn expensive. So I will probably end up with another mini because it is just under $1000. I wiped my hard drive and reloaded everything from scratch and my machine is running decent, enough that I can live with it for a bit longer. Think I will just end up getting new monitors over the next few months then revisit the mini or mac book this fall.
    • Like Like x 1
  5. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    oh, I can not and will not go back to a windows based machine. Having a iPhone and iPad Pro everything just works way to smoothly and well between all my devices to even consider making the switch.

    I will probably end up building a Hackintosh. I can build one for around $1000 that is better then the current Mac Pro that I can then water cool and overclock the shit out of.
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  6. Holoholo55

    Holoholo55 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2014
    Honolulu, HI
    Real Name:
    I have one suggestion. Do not put old hard drives into a new MacBook. I guess that your hard drives are the same age as your old computer, so they're 7 years old? To me, incipient failure is real when drives are that old. I would recommend migrating your data to your new computer using Apple's Migration tool rather than swapping drives. Back up the original data to an external drive, of course, before you do the migration. Reinstall the software to get a clean installation. Also, an SSD drive is a lot faster than a hard drive in system operations. One can speed up an old computer a lot by switching to SSDs. However, as you know, big SSDs are still costly, so you won't be able to match the capacity of your old MBP without high expense. So, you would have to offload some of your data to an external drive. Still, using an SSD for system and applications will make for higher performance.
    • Agree Agree x 2
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  7. Amin Sabet

    Amin Sabet Administrator

    Apr 10, 2009
    Boston, MA (USA)
    That sounds like the best option to me. I wouldn't buy a used Mac laptop other than from the Apple refurb site. Too many possible quality issues to be without a warranty. Buying a 2012 machine in 2016, I think finding it limited a few years later is more likely than not. But still probably the best option given the priorities you mentioned.

    I was facing a similar decision several years ago and ended up going back to PC for my photo editing. Haven't regretted it for an instant, but I still a MacBook Air for travel, web browsing around the home, etc.
    • Like Like x 1
  8. m43happy

    m43happy Mu-43 Veteran

    Feb 18, 2012
    I was in the same situation as you are last year. I had an early 2009 15" MBP and felt the bottleneck from it all around. I was running 2 SSD hard drives in it as well (removed the superdrive). I decided that I didn't necessarily need to buy new, so last year I bought a refurb 2012 15" MBP from the for $1200. I offset this cost by being able resell my 2009 MBP for $450 still since I kept it looking like brand new. Upgraded the ram on my 2012 MBP from 8 to 16gb and installed my two SSD drives (putting the superdrive in an external usb enclosure in case I needed to use it). Looking at the Geekbench 3 scores it was a significant jump from my 2009 MBP.


    I mainly went w/ the 15" as opposed to the 13" b/c of the 2.6ghz quadcore processor and the dedicated nvidia graphics card. The speed increase is night and day for me and PS/LR run more than fast for my needs. I now have USB 3, Thunderbolt, and FW800 still (since I still have older drives that use this). Even though online spec sheets say the max resolution you can run on an external display w/ the Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics card is only 2560x1600, I have no problems running a thunderbolt 34" superwide display at 3440x1440 while still using my laptop monitor as a secondary display. I feel like this setup will last me another 5-6 years before I need to upgrade. :) Good luck with your purchase!
    • Like Like x 1
  9. WT21

    WT21 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 19, 2010
    Thanks, and agree. I have 2 drives -- SSD OS boot and a 750GB HDD for data. The spinning platter is probably less than 3 years old. I could of course upgrade to an SSD, but I wouldn't have to right away.
  10. MJL

    MJL Mu-43 Regular

    Feb 24, 2016
    New Zealand
    Real Name:
    Having owned in exess of 20 laptops, starting from way back with a DX75 CPu with 20 Mb memory, a 400 Mb HDD and a 11" monochrome LCD screen I have given up on laptops for simple reason that the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) is higher than for a desktop.

    For work I used to fly and inconsiderate fellow travellers on more than one occasion shoved with force their luggage in the overhead cabin and damaged the laptop.

    I do not like aluminum casing and the non-repairability of Apple. Besides that every year Apple wants you to do an upgrade of OS X and after three upgrades it no longer can be upgraded which means that after 4 years you have problems sticking with OS X.

    I eventually travelled with a Mac mini with two SSD's, a wireless mouse and a wired keyboard.
    On destination I either used a firm's monitor or the hotel's TV (HDMI connection). It served me well and overall expenses are lower than owning a laptop. These days I have a Dell U2515H monitor with the 2014 2.8 Ghz and PCIe SSD Mac mini. I also have the base 2012 Mac mini with two SSD's.

    Both are running windows 8.1 in bootcamp which should keep me going with the OS till 2012. I'm using OS X for backup/retsore of the windows partition using winclone and emergency internet communication.

    If you do not need to travel daily with a computer I would suggest to investigate the Mac mini and give your old laptop to your dad. When OS X no longer can be upgraded then switch to windows, there are many old mac mini's still humming along, certainly they'll outlive any battery of a laptop.
  11. Holoholo55

    Holoholo55 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2014
    Honolulu, HI
    Real Name:
    Hehehe... you didn't say that in your OP. But, that's a good mix. SSD for OS, apps, and memory swapping, HDD for data.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  12. fin azvandi

    fin azvandi Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 12, 2011
    South Bend, IN
    I too have a 2009 13" MBP, although a few years back I upped the RAM to 8GB and added an SSD, which is the reason I'm still holding on for the (long awaited) Skylake MBP with the latest integrated graphics. But if I had to purchase a new machine today, I'd go with one of the more recent MBP models, such as the 2014 or 2015 versions, from the Apple Refurbished store (or similar sale from a retailer). I agree it's a pain to rely on external drives, but to get the total cost within a certain budget I'd rather have a more recent machine with a smaller internal SSD and use the savings to get an external drive for the lesser used files. For example, most of my iTunes media files reside on an external drive since I rarely listen to music or watch videos from my computer while away from home (a lot of the music is already on my phone).

    Question - are you checking your memory usage in Activity Monitor to see if RAM is an actual bottleneck on your current machine? I hardly ever get into the "yellow" with 8GB. Sure 16GB is more future proof but 8GB may be enough to get you by for another 3-5 years, and would help keep things within budget.
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  13. Repp

    Repp Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 27, 2011
    Oak Harbor, WA
    Lol, my synology NAS has grown a little bit out of hand... but it's very handy, and even has auto photo backup to amazon cloud.

    To the OP, I'd really hesitate in buying a 4yo model laptop. If you look at the rate apple and other manufactures, via OS upgrades, are obsoleting hardware, you would be lucky to get 2 years out of it (OS Sierra will be unable to run on several 09-10 macs). This is actually understandable, as the expected shelf life of hardware to run modern software is roughly 3-5 years. And photo/video editing software is very hardware intensive. If money is one of the biggest factors, I'd look at other manufactures. Apple is great for many things, I've been a user for 8 years now, but they are on the higher end of the price spectrum. And sadly, lately, they are falling behind what others are creating.

    Look at Razor's new Blade line for instance... cheeper, amazing 99% color gamut 4k display, and can be upgrade w/ an external GPU? It's the first time in almost a decade that I've thought about going back to windows.
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  14. WT21

    WT21 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 19, 2010
    Good point -- I have a lot of home movies of the kids when they were young, and music that is on my phone so that could easily be moved to external. I also have event shoots for my kids school that I likely can archive. It was so easy just buying a bigger drive, and then managing the back-up of that drive, but perhaps I don't have a real choice now.

    I use iStats menus, and the only bottleneck that registers in iStats is the CPU. But as I understand it, OSX starting in Mavericks uses some pretty nifty in-RAM memory compression so that 8GB works for more basic/older machines and doesn't have to disk swap. See, e.g. Compressed Memory in OS X 10.9 Mavericks aims to free RAM, extend battery life

    But if you have 16GB, then it doesn't need to compress. I have a newer MBP for work with 16GB, and I ran memory monitors on both while running the same OS and apps and while my 2009 showed less than 8GB used, the work MBP with 16GB was running around 12GB RAM. I surmise this impacts the CPU cycles, especially on a dual-core machine trying to do photo processing.

    From Memory Compression in OS X can Improve Performance
    "Memory compression is making a comeback, primarily because of the advent of inexpensive multiple core processors. When the routines used for memory compression can be offloaded to one of many processor cores, you're not likely to notice any performance hit when memory needs to be compressed or decompressed. It simply becomes a background task." - except if you are trying to run a process that wants all the cores!
    • Informative Informative x 1
  15. WT21

    WT21 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 19, 2010
    That's something that has given me pause. The 2012 specs are not substantially different from a modern MBP outside of the video card, but that wouldn't necessarily stop Apple from dropping support in 2 years ALTHOUGH that would be pretty nasty, as they still sell new 2012 models, even today. I'm very interested in the new Siri that is coming up, and don't want that to be compromised because of an older machine.
  16. kevinparis

    kevinparis Cantankerous Scotsman

    Feb 12, 2010
    Gent, Belgium
    What nonsense...

    1) Apple don't force you to upgrade, thats your choice

    2) And where are you getting the after three upgrades it can't be upgraded?... Yes older models no longer support latest systems... but the current and next versions of the mac OS are supported on machines back to 2009

  17. Speedliner

    Speedliner Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 2, 2015
    Southern NJ, USA
    Real Name:
    If you're going to upgrade - upgrade. Don't be in position to need to do so again in a year or two. I wouldn't re-use old hard drives either. They do have limited lifetime.

    If I were in your position is look at leveraging a no interest financing option at Best Buy. They have a nice Apple section and you may be able to pay it out over 18 months at 0%. It's a good way to buy expensive items.

    Fwiw, major speed improvement with LR utilizing a SSD. Importing and converting to DNG are much faster now.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2016
    • Agree Agree x 1
  18. ex machina

    ex machina Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Jan 3, 2014
    Northern Virgnia
    Forgive me if this has already been mentioned, but you can save quite a bit of money buying refurbished Macs from the Apple Store -- I've bought my last 3 or 4 that way and have never had an issue.
  19. DanS

    DanS Mu-43 Veteran

    Mar 8, 2016
    Central IL
    I agree with this, anytime you have a serious computational workload, a desktop always wins in regards to all out performance and cost/performance ratio.

    @WT21@WT21 Get what you think you need, even if that means you need to save for a few months. Trust me, nothing will annoy you more than a machine that under performs. Specially when you are going to be using it regularly for several years.
  20. SpecFoto

    SpecFoto Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 28, 2012
    So Cal
    Real Name:
    So you know where I am coming from I have 4 Macs made in 2012, a 13" and 15" MBP, a quad core i7 Mac Mini and my Hex core Mac Pro. I bought these to future proof my computers for hopefully 10 years, as they are all upgradable and easy to access internally if needed.

    First thing is don't trade a 2009 Mac for 2011 Mac of any type. Think of your 2009 Mac as a 8GB M43 camera, and if you get a 2011 Mac, you are simply trading for another 8GB camera with slightly different features. In 2012 big upgrades came to the Macs (think 16GB cameras) in USB3, Gigabit ethernet, Thunderbolt, faster wi-fi, faster bluetooth, better integrated processors and in the case of my 15" MBP, dual graphics processors. BTW, the better graphics processor is very helpful when using PS or LR, it does make a difference.

    As far as recommending a specific model, I am going to suggest something different. As mentioned by others, buying refurbished from the Apple store is a non-issue (or Apple authorized refurbished resellers like B&W Photo). All 4 of my 2012 models plus my wives 2011 IMac were bought refurbished. But instead of a marginal 2012 MBP that you are already worried about upgrading in a couple of years, consider a 2015 27" iMac with 5K Reitna display. This Mac is really state of the art in all its features, a great buy and will simply blow away any of the marginal 2012 Macs you will find near $1,000. If I didn't have my Hex core Mac Pro, this is what I would buy. Here is a Apple store link.

    Refurbished 27-inch iMac 3.2GHz Quad-core Intel Core i5 with Retina 5K display - Apple

    Though it comes with only 8GB of memory, it has 2 free memory slots, so adding memory down the line is very easy and very cheap ($48 for an additional 8GB). OK and yes it is $1,529, or 50% more than you wanted to spend, but you should apply for the Apple Barclaycard which gives you 12 months interest free to pay for it. (Apple didn't become the worlds largest retailer by having tight credit.) Put your $1,000 into the first payment and for approx. $50 per month more for 12 months you end up with a Mac that will last you quite a long time, is state of the art, has a terriffic display, 2 GB graphics processor, and will just blow through your photos.

    You can get an external USB3 case for your existing hard drive for about $10, so it becomes your backup. Or even better look at current < than $90 2 TB USB3 drives by Seagate and WD. They can copy about twice as fast as original USB 3 or FW 800 drives.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2016