The MacBook Pro Dilemma

A few days ago my Macbook Pro wouldn’t turn on. It had been working fine. The last time I used it a day or two before I had closed it up and set it to the side. I didn’t turn it off or anything, but now it was acting as if it had a dead battery and wouldn’t boot. It had been plugged in the whole time. I checked the power connection and noticed that the little two prong adapter had slipped off the power brick a few millimeters but not enough to see like it would have cut power.  I also noticed there was a bit of browning on the USB-C cable end connected to the brick. Maybe the cable got fried somehow? We’ve had a few storms lately but the power never went out and the brick has been plugged into a surge protector the whole time.

After re-securing everything with no success, I tried a different wall outlet. Still nothing.
Lacking a second USB-C to USB-C cable I decided to try my iPad power brick with my GoPro USB-C to USB-A short cable. Considering the 13 watt output of the iPad brick compared to the 87 watt output of the native MacBook Pro power brick, I figured I would give it a half hour or so to charge up before attempting to turn it on.  But even then, nothing. So I got an idea. I would use my USB-C to USB-A dongle that I normally use for hooking hard drives and other things to my MacBook Pro, and connect it to the GoPro cable. The result is a makeshift USB-C to USB-C cable that I could then plug into the 87 watt brick.
The second I plugged the computer in, it chirped and flashed a 100% battery charge icon center screen.

What the heck?!
If it had 100% battery power already, why wasn’t it turning on?

I have no idea but it booted right up, reopening everything that had been open before and it’s been working ever since. That was two or three days ago. That said, I immediately backed up all of my data off the machine, just in case.

After thinking about it later, I realized I hadn’t even attempted to try booting it up without any power cable plugged into it. I had just assumed the battery was dead, so I wonder if a cable being plugged in had prevented it from booting off the 100% charged battery. I wouldn’t think so consider the computer still runs if it’s on and you disconnect the mains power. It just switches to battery immediately. So I would think the same would be true for booting, but I don’t know.

The messed up thing is that I later reconnected the original USB-C to USB-C cable and it recognized it immediately and started charging the machine. So apparently nothing is wrong with that cable. And that’s the scary part. Either this was all some big fluke or I have a potential motherboard issue with the laptop. Let’s hope it was just a fluke. The machine is only four years old and it was the most expensive computer I’ve ever bought, it already had to go in for servicing once a couple years ago when the battery tarted swelling on it. Apple fixed it free of charge, they even fixed the keyboard issue I was having and I’m pretty sure I got a whole new case it, since the scratch I had on it was also gone. For all I know they could have given me a whole new machine and just transferred all my data over from the old one. I have no idea what they did to it in the three weeks I was without it. All I know is that it came back pristine and had been working great for the last couple of years until the last couple months where the keyboard issue started to rear its ugly head again. My L key is still problematic and barely wants to press down. Now this power issue, which hopefully was just a one time thing. Although after reaching out and posting about this on a mac forum, another user chimed in saying they had a similar problem and after a few days of dancing with power cable, the machine crapped out on them completely. I haven’t had to dance with power cables at all after that initial issue, but I also haven’t moved the machine since, nor powered it down or closed the lid on it. It’s been sitting open on my end table and I just dimmed the screen. I even used it the last couple of days to do some video encodes and a bit of web browsing and it was working fine. That was after backing up over 300GB of data off of it when I first got it powered back on. So… so far so good. Finger crossed and all of that.

Still it got me thinking, What happens if it does die, what are my options? The only real option is to send it in for service with Apple, but out of warranty and with no Apple care on it. That means seven or eight hundred dollars to get the mainboard replaced. After a quick ebay search, that’s about the price one of these machines goes for on the used market. And sometimes with more SSD space than mine has. So not really worth it. Plus how long would I be looking at it lasting after service, another two years? It’s already redeveloped the keyboard issue that plagues these machines. So even if that got fixed with a new servicing it would likely happen again. They just aren’t the best designed machines to begin with.

When I bought this machine in 2017 I had originally intended to switch from Mac to Windows. Although I like MacOS, I was already getting worn out on the Apple ecosystem at the time. I had switched from iPhone to Android again and was working on a Window box at my day job anyway.
Before switching to Mac exclusively for my personal machines in 2010, I had bene a PC/Windows user since somewhere circa the early 1990s when my dad brought home a 386 machine. I did my first PC build in 1998 when I wanted my own computer and the old 386 was just too outdated for what I wanted to do. While I had toyed with Macs from the early 2000s, briefly owning a few here and there, I made the switch in 2010 when I traded my newly rebuilt desktop PC to my girlfriend for her late 2008 model MacBook.
At the time she wanted to game and I wanted something portable and Mac. I had a white MacBook a year prior that I sold and I missed it. My intention had always been to buy another, but after selling it, money got tight and I hadn’t replaced it. She had originally bought the machine for going back to college but then realized they had labs with machines and her Mac at the time wasn’t very compatible. So this swap worked out well between us.

That first MacBook was a great machine for me. I used it as my only machine until 2013 when I got my Mac Mini, and even then continued to use it as my only laptop up until mid 2017. I even went back to using it for those three weeks my newer 2017 MacBook Pro was getting repaired in 2019. In fact the old MacBook still works today, although without a working battery in it, it runs off wall power only. I just turned it on about a week ago to check a DVD in it. It has a built-in superdrive (DVD Burner). A feature my new MacBook Pro sadly lacks. The new machine should have a Blu-ray burner in it, but I’m biased toward optical media.

That’s the thing though, the old MacBook has a DVD burner in it and a user replaceable battery, as well as a whole variety of ports, including an ethernet port, mag safe power adapter, full sized USB ports, a headphone jack AND a mic jack, both with digital optical capabilities as well as analog ability. It also has user replaceable ram and a hard drive. Both of which I upgraded; going to a SSD for a number of years. Although I put an HDD back in it, now that it’s just a spare backup machine. I repurposed that SSD to my Mac Mini.

The old MacBook also has a keyboard that feels great and never gave me any issues. That little MacBook even has an nVidia GPU in it, and it isn’t even a pro machine.

When I bought my Macbook Pro in 2017, the only machines coming with dedicated GPUs were the midrange and higher 15 inch models that started somewhere around $2500 or so.

Sure the 2017 MacBook Pro has a bigger, brighter higher resolution screen, a faster CPU and GPU, USB-C connectivity and longer battery life. It’s also a thinner machine. All of these things are nice on some level. But there is zero user upgradability. Power selection is compliant on your dongle supply and those aren’t cheap usually. Mag safe is gone. Optical drive is gone, which for me is a loss. So is the loss of optical audio ports. I actually used to those for transferring digital audio to my Minidisc recorders. So it’s missing a lot of features the older smaller non-pro model had back in 2008. And at over twice the price. Which is all disappointing.

So why did I buy it?
At the time I had actually bought a Lenovo laptop for half of the cost. Somewhere around $1300 brand new from Best Buy. I liked the machine. It had a fifteen inch 4K touch screen on it and could be flipped around and used as a tablet. I also believe it came with and nVidia 1050 GPU in it, but with only 2GB of VRAM. Nothing too powerful, but enough for what I do.
However I started noticing a thin black line at the top right of the screen. After looking it up I discovered these particular machines had and issue with them where the LCD panel might shift inside the casing. That was happening on mine, and it was not even two weeks only.
I realized I was a bit out of my depth. I had only owned a couple of used PC laptops in the past and not for that long. My PC experience was mostly with desktops I could work on myself. I didn’t have a way of fixing this and wasn’t sure how tech support was going to be or how long I would be without a machine. I had read horror stories online about various PC manufacturers and people being without their machines for months. I didn’t want to deal with all of that for a machine I just bought and what would happen two or three years from now after it was out of warranty. So I returned the machine to Best Buy, as I was still within my return window. I then went and spent twice as much buying the MacBook Pro, losing the 4K resolution touch screen and nVideo GPU in the process. Although I did get an equal if not better 4GB AMD GPU. And two years after having bought the MacBook Pro and I had to take it in for service, I was able to easily walk it into one of my local Apple stores. So I feel like I had made the right choice at the time, even if I spent a ton more money and didn’t end up leaving the Apple ecosystem as I had originally intended.
A year later I bought a new iPhone and was fully back in the Apple eco system, and have been there since.

So why switch now?
Well, I’m not. Not yet anyway. And who knows, maybe not for a long time if ever. But despite cooling my jets about making the switch back to PC after buying the MacBook Pro, I had still been considering replacing my aging Mac Mini with a new PC desktop machine. In 2017 when I bought my MacBook Pro, my Mac Mini was still fairly new. Only a few year old. But as of last year and now, it’s seven and now eight years old. I mention last year because that’s when I really started ramping up the idea of build a new PC again. I almost pulled the trigger on it last summer (bought a base model iPad instead) but decided to wait to see what kind of Apple silicon machines would be released. As Apple themselves were machine the switch from Intel CISC to ARM based RISC. So I sat and waited. A few months last they announced their new MacBook Air, MacBook Pro lower end 13″ model and Mac Mini. All of which underwhelmed me, despite everyone falling all over themselves saying how fast they are.
This year we got the new M1 iMac announcement. Again, eh!
And while I have since recently reconsidered the M1 Mac Mini, mostly as a result of peer pressure from fellow video professionals who think I’m crazy for wanting to build a new PC in the era of the so powerful M1 Mac Mini (especially being a Mac user already), I haven’t pulled the trigger on one since I’m still not thrilled with it and as time goes on we just keep inching closer to potential pro machine announcements, including some rumors (maybe outdated now) of a pro Mac Mini. So again, I found myself waiting. Not just for that, but the 2021 computer parts shortages (especially GPUs) have put a stop on any ability to just run out and buy a bunch of parts and throw a new machine together. So I wait. Again.

But this new MacBook Pro issue has me on a tight rope. If it fails on me soon, I’m going to be bitter and mad and not want to buy another Mac ever again. However if it was just a fluke and I get another four plus years out of it… well then the reality is that all my Macs have been long lasting and worth it. At which point maybe I should have bought a new M1 Mac Mini or whatever new pro machines they might announce in the coming months instead of a PC build.

There is also the consideration that I don’t really need a laptop anymore. I enjoyed having one that I could take with me into the office every day or on the occasional (rare) work trip I made, but for the last couple years I have been working from home. My home is my office and my work machine is mostly my Mac Mini which is on my desk in my family room. My laptop has bee living on my coffee tablet in that same room. Barely leaving it. With the introduction of the new iPad last year, I get even less screen time with the MacBook Pro. I take my iPad with me when I go sit outside or use it on the couch a lot or in the kitchen. There are times the Macbook Pro just sits there for days doing nothing. And while I made sure to get it with a good dedicated GPU and CPU so I could use it as an editing machine as well, my Mac Mini has still served that purpose, despite being older and less advanced.
So one way or the other, the need for a laptop is less (if even) and the need for a newer editing desktop is more.

So why not just switch the Mac Mini and the MacBook Pro roles?
As in, use the MacBook Pro as my new editing desktop machine. I tried it. For one I have a lot hooked up to my Mac Mini, which would meana. lot of dongles for my macBook Pro, but also there is just a psychological barrier where it feels like a waste to me to keep the MacBook Pro tied to a desk constantly. Even though it kind of is on my coffee table. But I have moved it occasionally. That wouldn’t be as easy to do with ten har drives connected to it and  and two monitors and an ethernet port. Ad i don’t wan to spend $100-$300 on one of those fancy dock port things for thunderbolt. Especially not with it acting up like this, I don’t want to switch it to being my main work machine.

All of that said, I also just want to be out of Apple’s clutches. Even if my MacBook Pro continues to work and works great without any further issues and the keyboard L key magically fixes itself, I’m still faced with the fact that all of Apple’s new machines are non-upgradable. A fact I pensively walked into when buying my 2017 MacBook Pro and still dislike about it. The new Apple is all about computer you can’t work on yourself and barely give you any ports to connect things without dongles.
Granted I’m not thrilled about the idea of jumping back into a problem laden Windows environment either. I don’t miss the days of reformatting my C drive once every year or so to clean it out and getting running smooth again. Having to reinstall everything again. But my girlfriend still runs a PC. I helped her do some upgrades last summer, with a new GPU, case, and Windows 10 upgrade (from 7). She plans to do some new upgrades in a month or so. New mainboard, CPU and ram this time. I’ll be helping her with that and it just might be enough to kick me in the pants and make me want to do my own PC build.

I guess time will tell. For now, I’m still a Mac user.  And depending on how things go with my MacBook Pro here, I could continue to be or get angry and suddenly make a sweeping switch to PC.

Leave a Reply