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The Northern Spy: Predictions and predilections

The Spy went out on a limb in October concerning the MacBook Pro 16″ model that had been the subject of so many rumours. How did his predictions and preferences do?

– He implied it. would be out by the end of October. Missed it by a few weeks. Chinese trade war and Trump tariffs?

– Comes with Catalina installed (pretty much certain). Done.

no bezel for the screen (likely) There is very little bezel, and the size of the box is only sightly larger than on the 15″.

– make the silly and nearly useless touch bar an option (not a chance against an apparent fixation) Got that right, although at least ESC has been moved off the touch bar to a real key. Mind, one could have gotten an ESC key by remapping, say, a function key. ESC is after all producing a character (0xB), and isn’t a button like CNTRL, OPT, SHIFT, or COMMAND.

– make it easily upgradable with third party memory and SSD (seems improbable for both given Apple’s love affair with solder) Yup again. There’s zero upgradability here, and zero+ repairability. The entire keyboard assembly or motherboard could be replaced, but what memory and SSS it comes with is all it will ever have (unless you replace the motherboard with one that has more.) The Spy will likely get a membrane cover just to be on the safe side. 

incorporate a quality keyboard (better finally happen or it’s a dead dud). Apple has essentially included the “magic” keyboard. That can only be an improvement. The unit is all riveted together, so individual keys cannot be changed if they fail, only the whole thing as a unit.

In the Spy’s HO, “Pro” ought to incorporate “reparability”. OK, a Pro user isn’t necessarily a pro techie geek. But there is something iSteve about units that cannot be fixed, and the idea of an SSD that is impossible to remove and memory that cannot be upgraded that sends shivers down an old computing crock’s spine. Make sure you have a robust backup scheme.

– get the battery right (long standing multiple issues across the product spectrum) Only time will tell. The battery is larger (100Wh), and the package comes with a 100W charger, Apple’s most powerful yet. Meanwhile the air holes and fan are bigger as well, but whether the heat has finally been controlled will have to await extended use. Will a new battery translate into a reliable one? Don’t know. Ask the Spy again after five years.

– include in the box a thunderbird three to thunderbird two dongle (you’re on your own buddy) Bang on again. Apple does make such a converter, and the Spy has ordered one for work, one for home, and one for the travel bag. On the desktop he will cable to a TB3 dock, thence via a converter to the old TB2 dock. On the road he’ll bring along a travel dock with a few ports.

– sell a thunderbird three dock (we’ve got a third party opportunity for you) Try MacSales or Amazon. Apple is only just still in small computers, and apart from cables and the aforementioned converter, not a peripheral maker.

– include a mag safe charger (not going to happen) It didn’t. Apple has abandoned its patented mag safe technology for good. There are solutions out there with quick release magnets, but one doesn’t want to use them on a chain leading to a drive, as a disconnect could grunge the data ( and that may be the reasoning here, inconvenient as it is). The Spy will test one or two of these and let our reader know.

start the line off with the latest generation of Intel chips (more likely subtract one) Well, it is a “2.6 GHz 6‑core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.5 GHz), or a 2.3 GHz 8‑core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 5.0 GHz) paired with an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M or 5500M” Hmmm. That base speed doesn’t seem great, but the boost, depending on how and when it kicks in, could be skookum. That chip is ninth generation (i7-9750H 6-cores). Are eight cores better than six and are six cores better than four and are four better than one? Only if the OS and software are written to take advantage of same. In basic applications like word processors (surely you use a real one like Nisus or Scrivener, and not the one done by a company named after a debilitating nerve disease) there is little to gain by splitting the work among multiple cores. In processing video there is much to gain. And, graphics is as the graphics does. Time and testing will tell. For most word the slightly faster 6-core might be best.

– build in a very significant performance upgrade (delete one or both adjectives) On the face of it, this machine could be more nimble in some situations. The graphics memory should be faster. The Spy is not ready to opine. Give him a month or two.

– offer a 4K screen (subtract one again) The maximum resolution is 3072 by 1920 with a refresh rate of 60Hz. Not bad, and the screen appears brighter and crisper. The TB3 can connect a 5K screen externally. 

– and beat the over-under of $2995 (nope). Well, sorta right and wrong on this one. One sample base model is US $2399 with 2.6Hz 6-core processor and 512G SSD. Another suggested base model starts with the 2.3.G 8 core processor and 1T of storage at $2799. Howumso’er, the Spy does not recommend either model for the kind of power user who will buy such an expensive machine. See below for what comes as standard, what he recommends instead, and a recalibrated price.

P class = “lb”>The base units comes with…the Spy recommends

The case is available in silver or space grey. The Spy likes the grey look, but as the posties say, to each his zone.</P

For the sake of proper comparison. we begin with the 2.6 G 6-core model. The base installed memory is 16G. Go at least for the 32G option and add $400. OTOH, 64G of memory will set you back $800 (too much for most people. If your workflow really needs that much memory you probably should be buying a desktop MacPro and spending much more.) 

The base installed SSD is 512G. For a professional with a lot of large files, this is way too small. Go for the 2T drive and hope it lasts a long time, ‘cause there’s no replacing it. Cost is $600 more (exorbitant). Other configurations include 4T and 8T, but the Spy is wary of trusting that much data to a non removable and non repairable SSD. Besides, the 8T option adds a whopping ridiculous $2400.

The base installed graphics subsection is the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4G of memory. Go for the 5500M with 8G of memory for an extra $200.

The base installed CPU is the 2.6 G one mentioned above. If you start instead with the 8-core, you begin at 2.3 G speeds. Going to the 8-core 2.4 G processor costs $300 in the former case and $200 in the latter (a smaller step).

Now you’re at either $3599 or $3699 (or with the 2.4G processor $3899) for the kind of machine the Spy would use, which doesn’t beat the over under at all. Taxes will vary. In $CDN you are looking at $5500+ once the government share of the purchase is added. Software is of course extra.

Buying a MacBook Pro for your portable was once a no-brainer. You paid somewhat of a premium but you got a rock solid machine that never went into the shop and whose operating system was about as bug free as it is possible and reasonable to hope. As Apple has shifted its focus, first to other devices, and now to offering services, its computer hardware division has languished and prices have shot up big time. Real upgrades are fewer and farther between; there have been serious hardware problems (especially with keyboards and batteries), more recalls, and quality and reputation relative to competitors has suffered.

The Spy’s 2015 model has been the worst performer in these respects of any laptop he’s owned, and only the Mac’s far superior OS has kept him using it. To him, W*nd*ws is still a cheap, clumsy, bug-infested, and unreliable poor imitation, and most MS software a slow and weak cousin to many third party alternatives. Even workhorse Excel has picked up bugs in the Mac code that MS is unwilling or unable to fix, and that are not present in the other OS. Someone(s) at Apple needs a good incentivizing kick to get back on the insanely great path that brought the company to this point. After all, MS has recovered a lot of ground since the day a few years back when the Spy announced a death watch. Consider it more or less cancelled.

TTFN and a Blessed Christmas to all.

–The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author’s own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a. k. a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics, Interim Dean of Science, and Chair of the University Senate at Canada’s Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member of or consultant with the boards of several organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and ten alternate history SF novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he’s a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce just celebrated their fiftieth anniversary and have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of B.C. since 1972. 

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Arjay Enterprises: 

The Northern Spy Home Page:

opundo :

Sheaves Christian Resources :

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General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe’s Books: 

Author Site:

Publisher’s Site:

The Fourth Civilization–Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ):

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