I needed to purchase my own computer since I’ve been using my employer’s computer and I’ve quit my job. This is normally an easy decision for me. I’ve bought Apple laptops for the past 10 years. If I need a new machine, then I buy what Apple has on offer. It is not an easy decision any more.
I, like many others, eagerly awaited a revised MacBook Pro. I used the 13" Retina for about 4 years, so I figured the next iteration would be the ticket. I hoped for 32GB of RAM (and a matte display even more wistfully). I planned to buy that computer and use for the next couple of years.
Then the 2016 MacBook Pro flopped. Poor specs, horrid keyboard, increased prices, and that damn touch-bar. So disappointing. There it was. Apple no longer offered any laptops for that I wanted to buy. That pushed me into the wide world of non-Apple laptops. I considered switching back to Linux (I was using Linux before OSX) because I wanted a change. It seemed like a good time to make the jump.
There are, perhaps, 3 laptops (let alone available in India) that are a decent replacement for the previous 13" retina. I considered a Thinkpad X270, t70s, and t470p. The Dell XPS 13 is nice — but too pricey in India and that webcam is all sorts of wrong for any real world use. Damn shame really there. I pondered and pondered what machine to buy for months. It came down to the x270 or the t470s. The cost to purchase the machine and import to India did not provide enough value to me.
I figured I’d checkout the local second hand market here in Bangalore. I found a used x260 on Quikr for 35,000 INR (~550 USD). I asked the seller if it has the 1080p IPS screen, they replied in the affirmative. This seemed like an alright deal. The RAM and HDD where user upgradeable and it supported removable batteries. Throw in a ~$100 worth of upgrades and I had a capable short term. Really it was more a punt (on finding an excellent computer) than anything else. It was cheap enough that to give Linux a go and capable enough in the short term. It was not enough money to make it feel like a huge commitment. I could sell it if it didn’t work out, or sell if it if I found the laptop I really wanted to buy.
The computer arrived a few days later. Surprise! The screen is the horrible 720p LCD display. The seller either lied or simply didn’t understand the question. Blast. Well, fuck it I say. That’s disappointing, but it is fine enough for vim and other writing tasks given there are no better options available.
I set about installing Arch Linux. That went off fine enough until I needed to write my own
PKGBUILD. It became more of a chore than anything else. I tried the arch-ppa and it seemed to work well enough. GPG got involved and the “fun” disappeared.
My friend convinced me to try FreeBSD because packages are built from source. That makes it easier to add your own packages. FreeBSD installed quickly and easily. The installer is honestly fucking great. It setup full disk encryption out of the box. You don’t get that on Arch Linux. Eventually I hit a wall with FreeBSD because not all hardware was supported and suspend/resume didn’t work (pretty damn important on a laptop).
That’s 2 out of three strikes. I figured I’d give NixOS a go because I dabbled with it before and I liked the concept. The installation was straight forward. I was able to get the system functional in a day or two, but then started to hit issues. Everything worked besides the TouchPad palm detection which made the TrackPoint start jumping around all the time. I was working on the machine in my kitchen with my current MacBook Pro and ThinkPad side by side. The Thinkpad’s screen was reflecting more light than the damn glossy retina screen. I’d had it.
I wanted a different computer because it would be fun to try different hardware and operating systems. Turns out that I was not having fun at all. Instead I was beating my head on configuring software for subpar hardware. This endeavor was a poor use of my time and money with no real upside. I could spend a week configuring the software only end up with god awful display and poor touchpad experience. That’s not much upside.
I bought an updated MacBook Air today to close this thread. I excluded it from my initial set because it was too expensive and technically lacking. However months of comparative market research and experience in the trenches made me reconsider. Also Amazon.in had it for 24% off which did tip the scales a bit. It is more than I wanted to spend originally, but I have a life to live.
My computer should improve my life — not aggravate it. The MacBook Air is the best compromise at this point in time. It’s the same OS I’ve used for years so no need to learn or experiment. The specs are good enough for what I’ll be doing in the short term, and not too expensive where I feel like I’ve made a long term investment. I can sit on the computer for a year or until the situation changes.
I thought I was ready to move away from Apple, but the timing is wrong. The situation my change in the future, but for now I’ll happily use the MacBook Air until I can’t. Life is too short to break your head on this shit.
Here’s some unsolicited advice for anyone in a similar situation.
- You want a fucking good trackpad. The trackpad on the x260 is small and that may annoy some people. Really consider Linux driver support here (palm detection, scrolling smoothness, and other factors). This is your primary pointing device. It should work well.
- Get an IPS display. I didn’t know that you could get machines with screen this poor. Don’t buy a laptop unless you can see the screen in person or you really trust online reviews. What is passable for them, may be crap for you.
- Avoid Laptops with speakers facing downward. I never even thought of this before. The x260 has a small speaker on the bottom. It’s horrible. I use the built in speakers to watch videos and play ambient music. I give the x260 a D there. Research this, it may surprise you.