In Spite of Everything, I Still Like My MacBook

My current computer setup is a MacBook Air and a Thelio desktop. I arrived at this point while trying to create a setup that would be both useable for writing (which is what I mainly use my home computers for) and some dev work and tinkering, which laptops still tend to be a little bit too wimpy for.

The best computer I’ve ever owned, was a 2011 MacBook Pro:

I bought this computer in 2011 and it served me well into 2018 when it began to struggle to cool itself. I probably could have kept it running for another year or two, but Apple kept pushing out OS updates that appeared to tax the little computer beyond its ability to keep up.

Note that I was able to do two upgrades on the 2011 MacBook Pro during the course of its life which made a significant difference in extending the life of the machine. The first was switching out the HDD for and SSD. This was by far the most impactful change. The second was upgrading the RAM to its maximum capacity of 8 GB.

I liked the MacBook Pro, but it was a little heavy and a little hot toward the end of its life. I’d always wanted to try an Air, after using one at work for a couple of months. The Air struck me as the best possible portable laptop, and indeed, people seem to be very loyal to this little notebook.

In 2018, the Air also had the notable benefit of no touchbar. The touchbar epitomizes what is wrong with Apple’s decision making these days. It is a flashy tool that looks like a convenience to casual computer users, but to anyone who is a power user, who knows the value of a responsive and accurate keyboard, the touchbar is a nightmare. I was determined not to have the touchbar, so I got a 2018 MacBook Air.

I think there are two categories of computer users: those who type for a living, and those who don’t. I’m very much in the former camp. I need my computer(s) to be, primarily, a conduit for my thoughts – and the keyboard is the transmission medium for those thoughts, either in the form of English sentences, or lines of code.

I didn’t mind the butterfly keyboard initially, but then I started to have the familiar problems of missed keypresses and double-presses that are so commonly reported. I’ve even had keys get stuck which I’ve never seen on an Apple keyboard before this. The occasional spray of canned air seemed to clear out any debris that may have been causing stuck keys, and I installed a program called Unshaky which works pretty well to debounce key presses, but it’s ridiculous that we need to use software to fix Apple’s hardware mistakes. Now, several years later, I’ve gotten to a point where I barely notice the keyboard issues anymore… and though it pains me to admit it… I actually somewhat like the butterfly keyboard!

I will say that the way I type on my 2018 Air is different from how I type on other keyboards. I have two mechanical keyboards, plus a work-issued MacBook Pro 16″ which has the traditional keyboard. I find that on the mechanical keyboards, I tend to slam the keys pretty hard. This is referred to as “bottoming out” in keyboard nerd lingo. I think the appeal of mechanicals is supposed to be that you don’t need to do that when you’re typing, but I seem to do this reflexively, either out of habit or… I don’t know… maybe I’m just an aggressive typer. When I get into a flow of writing I find that I slam a bit less, and start doing more touch typing, as my fingers go where they know they need to be. By contrast, on the traditional keyboard on the 16″ MacBook Pro, the keys do feel a bit more “mushy” and I don’t find myself slamming them quite as much.

My typing style on the butterfly keyboard is like a mix of mechanical and traditional laptop keys. I find myself really slapping the keyboard on my Air. I think I may have trained myself to do this in the early days of my use of this laptop when I was frequently running into problems with the keys sticking or double-pressing.

The MacBook Air itself is a total wimp from a hardware standpoint. It has only a two core Intel CPU. Comparing the Air to my desktop which has a Ryzen 9 5900X is like comparing a Yugo to an eighteen wheeler. MacOS has also gotten progressively worse over the last 5-6 years, adding tons of bloatwear. Linux is certainly better as an OS, and definitely more secure.

Even so, the little Air manages to multitask pretty well for most of my usage. I use the Air mainly for writing and a bit of web browsing. That’s really about it. As an investment, I can’t really say that the Air is the best use of your money in terms of raw computing power, but if you’re mainly looking to use your computer to write, it works quite well.