Laptop vs. Desktop

For most of my computing life, I was a desktop and laptop person. A desktop machine at home for heavy duty tasks and gaming, and a laptop for presentations and getting work done on the go. This pattern survived my transition from Windows PCs to Mac, where I ultimately ended up with a Mac Mini and a first generation MacBook Air.

Then about 5 years ago I got a job where I needed a beefy machine at work to do video editing and photo manipulation. Rather than spending the cash to keep both a desktop and a laptop up to date, I decided to go with one powerful laptop and move it back and forth from home to work. At the time, the Retina MacBook Pro had just came out, and I ended up going with a top of the line 15” model. I got a couple of external displays to satisfy my passion for screen real estate and was good to go.

I did not go entirely laptop-only, however. Although my Mac Mini had been eclipsed by the MacBook Pro as my primary computer, I kept around as a home server, running my iTunes library, handling online backups, and other tasks. This helped me retain the advantages of having a desktop at home without the expense of keeping up with new hardware (who cares if it’s slow when I only log in once every couple of months).

I love the 15” Retina MBP and that machine is still going strong today. However, my circumstances have changed. I no longer do a lot of heavy duty tasks on my Mac at work; rather than editing movies and photos, the most stressful thing I’m doing is some light Python scripting. On the flip side, the 5 year old MacBook Pro and Mac Mini are getting rather long in the tooth for some of my needs at home. The MBP isn’t able to run some of the games that I’d like to play1 and the Mini has started getting a bit flaky.2

All of this lead me to decide that my next Mac would be a desktop machine; I settled on one of those big, beautiful 5k iMacs. I actually made this decision late last year, but since the then-current iMac was over a year old at that point and lacked USB-C or Thunderbolt 3, I decided to wait and hope for an updated model. I was hoping for new Mac desktops at their November event, but when that brought only new MacBook Pros, I feared it would probably be Fall 2017 before we saw any new iMac models. Then WWDC 2017 brought an unexpected gift: new iMacs with USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 support! I jumped on the opportunity right away and now I’ve got a new top of the line 5K iMac on the way. I expect I’ll have plenty more to say about this machine when it arrives.

For now, my old MacBook Pro soldiers on in the laptop role. I still tote it to work every day. It’s under threat from a couple of different sides, however. Since I no longer need a ton computing horsepower in a laptop, I’m tempted by the ultralight MacBook. The touchbar has me drooling over the new MacBook Pro as well, and the 13” model would still be quite a bit smaller and lighter than my current MBP. The biggest threat may not be a new laptop at all, however. The 12.9” iPad Pro has already replaced my laptop more and more often when I travel, and with the new enhancements to iOS that were recently previewed at WWDC, I can foresee it taking on a larger and larger role in my life. Perhaps the next phase for me is a beefy desktop at home and an iPad everywhere else?


  1. Civilization VI 
  2. It got to the point where it wouldn’t boot and I had to reinstall the OS.