Desktop or Docked Laptop

This feels like the perennial question around the time of big hardware releases. With rumors of MacBook Pro updates and a high-end Mac Mini update coming in October, I am trying to make a decision:

  1. Get a spec’d up MacBook Pro. Use it on the go and dock it at my desk when I’m home for online teaching.

  2. Get a base model MacBook Pro (or air) for travel and a M1 or M1X Mac Mini for my desk at home.

Financially, I can wait and save up for whatever the best long-term solution is. But in terms of usability, what do you think about the laptop docked vs. desktop question? Get one computer that’s my home base for everything, or have two separate systems?

If you travel, use the Mac at home and in an office or coffee shop, or like to work/play in different parts of your castle and don’t want to be tied to a desk, then definitely stick to the high-spec MBP. I always buy the top of the line MBP and never regret it. I prefer portability.

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Along the lines of what @quorm says, if you frequently move around, then go docked laptop. But if your machine remains mostly docked and you don’t usually move around, a desktop tends to make for a more reliable setup. I made a switch from docked laptop to dedicated mac mini back in early 2019 and more my use case it was awesome. If I need a laptop, I’ll use my wife’s ancient but functional Macbook Air. We plan on doing a similar setup when we move to the Apple Silicon based macs in the next couple of year (really looking forward to a beefed up mini!).

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Welcome!

It might be best to tell us what your main uses will be. Otherwise, our opinions will be very biased by our own uses.

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Having tried both options, whilst the docked laptop is very handy with a dock on the desktop, my preference (if you have the funds) is to have a desktop and a laptop. Having the desktop opens up extra options, like using it as a server or just always on if needed, whereas the laptop may need to travel with you.

Though having a single docked laptop makes it easier in terms of software licenses and not having to sync documents between devices.

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My 2018 MBP (Intel) needed a new keyboard and a battery replacement due to swelling (always docked) just before my three-year AppleCare was to run out. So I sent it back for the repairs and bought an in-stock 16GB/1TB M1 MacBook Air. It has been a fabulous machine. (Would have bought the M1 Mac Mini but there were none in stock with 16GB/1TB.)

Just recently my Dad (93 years old) replaced his 2009 iMac with an M1 iMac and I got to set it up for him. The M1 Macs are such a step forward, I don’t see how you could go wrong with any of them.

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Portability comes at quite a price.
Just a quick comparison of the remaining “entry-level” Intel MBP and 27” iMac - the laptop is $600 more, and in addition, you lose a lot of screen real estate. If used docked, you would probably spend another $350 on a monitor. Maybe a mouse and keyboard too (potentially another $260)
This is probably not directly relevant to OP’s situation, just thinking out loud.

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Having tried the high spec MBP as a single computer (docked at home and mobile on the road) I now cherish the M1 Mini at home. Silent, powerful and a great performer. If your current high spec intel MBP suits your needs power wise, the current M1 MacBook Air will not dissapoint you. It is that good.

My 2 cents: M1X Mini at home and M1 MBA on the road. I would probably start with M1 MBA first to see if and when you run into capacity issues and then add the M1X Mini

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Thanks John! Long time reader, first time poster.

I really appreciate everyone’s input so far, it’s been illuminating! To John’s question, my main uses:

  • Teaching online via Zoom, music lessons with an audio interface and DSLR (with monitor/keyboard/mouse already)
  • Creating sheet music/handouts in Sibelius + Neck Diagrams, composing in Logic Pro X, music related things
  • Admin tasks (OmniFocus, Email, Calendar, etc…)

I do travel, but right now I only have significant traveling 2-3 times a year. After reading everyone’s responses thus far, I thought about how I have been traveling with an iPad only for a number of years and I think I am ready for a laptop in my life again. With the Laptop choice made, the next question was “Do I want to have an always-on Mac Mini at my desk and a less expensive laptop, or just dock a high end laptop”

Right now, I am leaning towards a 16in MacBook Pro M1X as my new primary computer, docked at my desk when I am teaching or working at home, and coming with me on travel. But Simon’s comment above feels like the other option pulling at me, which is M1 or M1X Mac Mini at home, then a MacBook Air for traveling.

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Currently using a 13” MacBook Pro docked to a 32” 4K monitor which seemed the best of both worlds but…

Somehow it just does not feel as robust as having an always on MacMini. Here in Cyprus getting Apple stuff is a bit problematic for example there does not seem to be an Apple USB charger to buy here so if the charger goes my whole system collapses

Planning to get the new MacMini rumoured soon as it just feels a safer option.

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I decided to go the both route. My travel computing needs are relatively light so I use a 2015 MacBook Air. Just upgraded to the M1 iMac and it beats any laptop I have ever had. I keep everything synced via iCloud so all my files and pictures are always on the device I’m using.

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