A Modern, Classic Powerhouse

You might say I’m notorious for switching up my daily driver laptop on a more-than-frequent basis. This year alone, I’ve gone through about three MacBook Pros, the current models with retina displays. For some reason, they’ve never felt the same to me as the (now) classic models with the matte display, optical drive and full set of ports.

Instead of going along with these newer machines that keep letting me down, I decided it was time to go in a different direction. I had the urge to seek out a 2011, 17” MacBook Pro and customize it into a true mobile workstation. So far, it’s turning into quite a production, so allow me to break it down, starting with the reasons I’m doing this in the first place.

Before you all start blasting my inbox, I’m very much aware of RADEONGATE . In my opinion, it didn’t affect as many models as one would think from message boards. And now that Apple has a quality program in place for it, I’m covered as I would be if I were looking at a brand new machine.

Display

The retina display is an extremely clear, high resolution screen, but no matter how you look at it it’s still glossy. The office where I look at my computer for over 40 hours a week features bright, fluorescent lighting and glare reduction can’t compete with true, anti-glare. The matte display on the 17” Mac would make sure I never have to worry about facing the window again!

A 17” display isn’t just about size, but real estate. As I’ve talked a lot about before, I’m a fan of high resolutions that allow me to fit a lot of content on screen. With a native display of 1920x1200, this notebook gives me the room I’m looking for without having to take any extra steps.

Yes, it’s true that the rMBP can be scaled to a similar resolution. However, content becomes much smaller due to the lack of physical space. Plus, the Mac has to work a bit harder to scale content at that view. It’s not a major strain on the machine, but I have seen performance issues now and again.

Accessible Internals

Before we talk about this next part, know that I’m not an extreme “do-it-yourselfer” or a skilled hardware engineer who builds computers in his spare time. However, I’m still irked by the fact that I have no control over what’s going on inside these modern, ultra-portable notebooks. Using a classic MacBook allows me to have access to several important components such as the hard drive, RAM, and battery (not to mention the optical drive, but we’ll get to that later).

Portability

The 17” MacBook Pro is not thin and light. It was never supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a powerhouse! When I tell people that I’m toying with this idea, the first sound that usually comes out of their faces is “Wow, that’s a heavy machine!” But again, it’s about use-case. I’ll be taking this Mac to work with me where it will sit on a desk for most of the day. And then, it comes home. I don’t cart it around the city all day nor would I sit in a coffee shop with it to write this blog. I have an 11” MacBook Air that is perfect for all of those lighter tasks.

What am I gaining

In deciding to make the move back in time to a slightly older and much larger workstation, I’ve given a lot of thought to the benefits I’ll gain. These are things I simply can’t get in a modern machine (in the Mac world, anyway).

  • Two internal drives; an SSD to boot from and a HDD for storage.
  • Removable/upgradeable RAM.
  • Ability to replace battery.
  • Large, matte display at a great resolution.

Alternatives

Yes, there are alternative options for a mobile workstation. The most obvious would be the Dell M6800. It’s an incredible machine with specs that would blow away even the 17” MacBook Pro. Everything is modular and meant to be user replaced. The options here go all the way up to 32GB of RAM, four drive bays for storage, LTE connectivity and a lot more. Of course, this puts me back in the PC world. And while it can still ship with Windows 7, it’s Windows none-the-less. I’m not sure if I’m ready to make that jump yet.

What happens next?

I’m going to spend the next couple of days installing components, tweaking software, and generally just getting things up and running with the MacBook. I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going and follow up with details about what’s going into this modern classic powerhouse.