MacBook upgrades are easy — my 128 Gb Air ran out of space!

I moved to a (2015) MacBook Pr0 Retina, 8 Gb memory, 256Gb SSD

I finally defected from PC & Windows to Mac back on 25 June 2015 and haven’t looked back since. I blogged about how an Ultrabook fail led me to make the switch, and then I blogged about my first experience with my 11-inch MacBook Air, and about becoming an OS X convert. I started with the smallest MacBook Air as it fit the budget, looked brilliant, but also to see if living with only a 128Gb SSD is practical in these days of cloud storage and low cost flash drives. It lasted me well for 21 months, but eventually I ran out of space. With a bit more care I could have prolonged things for a few months, maybe. But I decided to swap to a MacBook model with a 256Gb SSD — here’s where I was and how I got on.

I’ve loved working with OS X and made the transition from the PC much quicker than I expected. I thought I’d have a painful first few weeks and months getting frustrated when I accidentally did things the Windows way. Actually within a day I didn’t look back. The Mac is just more intuitive, and if you have an Apple phone and tablet too, it makes even more sense as the laptop choice. Back when I started on the Mac I realised I would have to make choices to make the small drive work. I use Office365 and the Mac version of Outlook syncs everything in your Exchange folder whether you like it or not. With my messy, almost out of control inbox that meant MS Office and Outlook took 40% of my drive right at the start! I also needed to put my 50Gb (or therabouts) iTunes music library on an excellent and tiny Sandisk Ultra Fit 128Gb USB 3.0 flash drive, which I still use in the new set up now. I’m a Dropbox user for all my storage outside Office, Google Docs and my Time Machine backup drive, so with care I’ve synced what I needed to with the Air’s drive, and left the rest to be accessed from the Cloud as you should do. I never did get round to doing the inbox housekeeping properly. Time ran out, and a few months ago my SSD started to be consistently over 90 and 95% full — over 90% you’ll notice the performance hit. At this point I started juggling space, and then things got painful for the first time.

Having been around in IT with mainframes and minicomputers for a long time, I half remember an equation of queuing time and utilisation and the effect it has on getting a request serviced. I remember the graph of the equation, and the knee of the curve when response time starts to increase dramatically being around 78%, which is why there is an old rule of thumb for keeping disc drives below 80% full. Even for my solid state drive, when I only had a few Gb to play with things got very slow and occasionally stopped altogether. Don’t tell anyone, but just like with Windows (when you are at that dodgy stage), turning off and rebooting does wonders. I’ve heard that iconic Apple start up noise much too often this year. To make space I was doing all the things you are supposed to do — purging unnecessary files and clearing cache, removing apps like Garage Band that I was unlikely to use, finding unnecessary backups of iTunes and the like — Google is your friend and there is plenty of practical and useful advice out there on support and discussion boards. However, my Outlook finally got its knickers in a twist. Continually bailing the sinking ship was counter productive, so I had to remove all the Outlook internal files (with some advice from Microsoft support) to make 17Gb of space so I could breathe, relax, keep working and make a proper considered move.

Life would be so much easier if you could upgrade the MacBook Air’s SSD in situ, but that isn’t an option available from Apple any more. There are some after market options, but I didn’t fancy the risk. I needed a new machine with 256Gb of SSD (on a tight budget as always). This is where I have to take issue with Apple’s October 2016 announcements, and the associated price hike we’ve endured here in the UK. My son moved to a 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina, 8Gb memory and 128Gb SSD in early October 2016 for £999 (as he was starting his first full time job!). We knew the new MacBook Pros were just going to be announced weeks later, and we could guess the pricing and the fact that they would be using USB-C. He plumped for the 2015 design as it had a great feature set, fantastic screen, as well as having the standard USBs and an SD card slot for his photography and video. Straight after the announcement of the new range, this same older style model MBP was still available, but moved up in price to £1,249. I now realise that I could have ordered this model MBP with a 256Gb SSD for £1,429 (I had mistakenly thought they’d dropped larger models from the price list, but actually you can order it right up to 1Tb of SSD). The new thunderbolt 3 style 2016 MacBook Pros, like the current 12-inch MacBook range, do have 256Gb SSD as a minimum, but they start at £1,449 for the 13-inch entry model. The one I’d really like is the first touch bar version, but that’s £1,749.

I considered the 12-inch MacBook — I have friends who love them. Very portable, very small, very beautiful, and certainly powerful enough for my needs. I seriously considered the new MacBook Pro, which also looks even better and doesn’t weigh that much more either. In both cases, however, they use USB-C. Only 1 port on the MacBook, 2 on the new entry MacBook Pro, and 4 on the touch bar models. Rather than adding more expense to replace existing drives and devices, I’d end up buying some sort of USB-C hub and adaptors at extra cost too. Even so, I was seriously tempted. I also think it is a great shame that Apple has moved away from MagSafe. As someone who has seriously damaged a Sony Vaio tripping over the cable and watching it spin across the floor in to a wall, and been saved of the same fate several times with my MBA, this is a big loss. The new MacBook Pros are good, but I’ll wait to see what the next iteration is like. On top of considering new, I was also watching the Apple certified refurbished options as they came on to the Apple price list and got snapped up, generally 15% off list price, and probably indistinguishable from new. However, in the end I started looking at the 2015 vintage 13-inch MacBook Pro as a 2nd-user option. A nearby CEX had a B grade 13-inch MBP with (2560 x 1600) Retina Screen, 8Gb of Memory and 256Gb SSD for £860. Swapping my MacBook Air with them meant I made the jump for less than £500, and the nearly new machine comes with 24 months of warranty — bargain! My B grade MBP has a tiny ding and a couple of minor scratches on the top surface, but I would need to point them out to you, and it’s spotless elsewhere. Side by side with my son’s MBP you’d be hard pressed to see which is which (except for the Palace sticker on his). MacBooks are solid, well made beasts that stand up to serious punishment if handled with care.

My newish MacBook Pro Retina gets put to work

My old 11-inch 2015 MacBook Air’s dimensions were — height 0.3–1.7cm, width 30cm, depth 19.2cm. weight 1.08kg. My “new” 13-inch 2015 Retina MacBook Pro’s dimensions are — height 1.8cm, width 31.4cm, depth 21.9cm, weight 1.58kg. It’s not a great deal bigger, but it does weigh a half kilo more. However, what a difference in use! It has double the memory of the MBA and a faster processor. I immediately noticed how much quicker it is. The Air worked well for me, but this will handle plenty going on, and I can now use things like Photoshop on the go without a problem. The biggest difference though, is the retina screen. It’s a significant shift from the Air — obviously bigger in area, but a big jump in clarity.

And what of the transition? Well I made sure I was properly backed up with Time Machine before I headed to CEX to do my deal — that meant I didn’t have to do anything, just check that Time Machine had done one of its automatic backups that morning. Once at CEX when I’d decided to go for their MBP I did the things you are supposed to do when you transfer ownership of a Mac — deauthorised iTunes, deselected the Find My Mac option and signed out of iCloud, signed out of iMessage. After CEX had tested my MBA I watched them erase and reinstall macOS so that all my data was gone. Great service from those guys by the way. We created a new admin user for me on my “new” MBP, and I walked away from the store getting used to the bit of extra weight in my backpack.

Back at base the transition was painless. First I had to log in and upgrade to the latest version of OS X as my backup was at that level. Then I invoked Migration Assistant. It looked for available sources — you could have the old Mac and the new Mac on the same wifi network for transfer, but I had plugged in my Time Machine drive. It found my latest timed backup (I could have chosen earlier) and then it just did its job. Within an hour it was all reloaded. I only had to change the computer name from my old Air name in system preferences (which was more cosmetic than necessary) and I was off and running on the new machine, with everything exactly the same as my old set up. Very simple. Very straightforward. Non technical. Just as laptops should be in the 21st Century. The only trivial glitch in this migration was that Tweetdeck lost its proper icon in the dock. A quick drag off the dock and restart of Tweetdeck and that minor cosmetic issue was fixed too. Interestingly, the reload has created more space for me. I was using 103Gb on the MBA (with that temporarily reclaimed 17Gb), and after the transfer I’m only using around 52Gb of the “new” MBP with about 200Gb free. Plenty of space for me to reinstall my inbox/exchange files and still have way more than half the SSD free.

The move has been painless and I’m delighted with the MacBook Pro Retina. Having gone through the process it’s possible that an erase and reinstall of macOS followed by the migration might have freed up enough space on the old MBA to extend its life. However, I’ve now got a faster Mac with the option of doing Photoshop, Lightroom and things that my Air wouldn’t quite manage. I’ve got a sensible amount of free space, and that beautiful retina screen. Hope my MBA goes to a good home, but I’m happy with this MBP.

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