January 11, 2014

The perfect laptop for a .NET developer: The MacBook Pro 13 Retina

My trusty Lenovo W500 which I truly loved (well, in the end I hated it) finally gave up the ghost, so it was time to look into a new laptop. Researching gadgets - or anything for that matter - is one of my favorite things to do, so I did about a month of research on this.

After reading Scott Hanselman's post about the Lenovo X1 Carbon, I decided that an Ultrabook would be enough. No need to lug a 6 pound monster to work every day. The only thing I knew would bother me about the X1 is the relatively low resolution (1600x900 in 2013?), so in the end I had the following requirements:

I quickly gave up on that last one. There really aren't any Ultrabooks with a docking station, unless you use a docking station that's based on USB 3.0 and I didn't want to rely on those for driving 2 - 3 high resolution external displays. I quickly narrowed it down to 3 choices:

The Sony gets mixed reviews, but it's very attractive. Most reviewers mentioned that the carbon fiber while durable also makes the laptop bend and almost feel flimsy and that's what scared me away. The Samsung was out simply because of the stupid name (kidding). To get what I wanted, the Samsung would have come to about $2100 and I wasn't crazy about the design with that huge Samsung logo on the lid. Finally, the Lenovo seemed like a great laptop if it weren't for the screen...

Up until this point, I hadn't even considered a Mac, but I kept coming across great reviews for the MacBook Pro Retina that was released late 2013. Since I wasn't truly happy with any of the PC choices, I took a closer look at the MacBook Pro and how hard it would be to dual-boot Windows (as it turns out, not very). I was also getting more and more excited about getting to know a completely different OS and doing some Node.js or Meteor development on it.

And wouldn't you know, the only laptop that had everything I wanted and was cheaper than all the Windows laptops was a MacBook Pro 13. In fact, the Windows laptops that I was looking at didn't even have the option of 16 GB RAM and they were much more expensive than the MacBook Pro. There's no "Apple Tax" here; the MacBook Pro 13 is simply an exceptional value compared to Windows laptops like the Lenovo X1 Carbon, Sony Vaio Pro 13 and Samsung Ativ 9 Plus. While it's not technically an Ultrabook, this new version is as thin as the Air, it's just not tapered towards the front and the weight is in Ultrabook range.

I ordered mine with the base processor, but upgraded memory to 16 GB. I figured the extra memory would come in handy when running Windows in Parallels. I also put in a 256 GB hard drive. It all came to $1600. Of course, one day after I ordered, Lenovo came out with a new version of the X1 with Haswell and a high resolution screen. I thought about canceling my order for a second there, but the X1 that could compete with the MacBook was $2100. I was also already excited about diving into OS X and doing some Meteor development there, so I stuck with the MacBook and I don't regret that decision at all.

I've only had the laptop for two days, but so far I absolutely love it. It's extremely powerful, yet silent, has a wonderful screen, and the touchpad is great. As is custom for Apple, the build quality is great and the design timeless. Installing Windows wasn't that hard and I have my .NET development environment up and running on a Windows partition created with Apple's bootcamp.

Contrary to some posts I read, Windows 8 handles the high Retina resolution just fine. I think Microsoft made some improvement in 8.1, which I'm running and I haven't seen any issues yet. I didn't have to play with DPI settings or change resolutions. The one tiny exception is launchy, which is so tiny that it's unreadable. But it's easy enough to adjust font size in the skin files, so that one's easy to solve.

I'm looking forward to doing some Meteor development in OS X. While Windows 8 is an awesome OS, OS X is growing on me.

In short, if you're a .NET developer looking for a new laptop, I highly recommend the MacBook Pro.

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