New Apple Silicon laptop as a desktop

I keep mulling this over, and wanted some opinions.

I am thinking of purchasing a new Studio or MacBook Pro. I am currently using an M1 mini with 16GB RAM.

Before the mini, I used a 2017 Intel 13 inch MacBook, connected to a CalDigit 3 dock. I still have the mini connected for extra ports.

I do have need for a laptop for getting out of the office.

Here are my options:

Mac Studio Max - probably speced well, 64GB and 1-2 TB Hard drive. Will either use an Air, or MacBook Pro 13, or a 14 inch MacBook pro (just the pro processor base in this case)

MacBook Pro 14 or 16 - max - speced similar to the studio. Run through a dock to maintain 1 cable connection. May consider using that wonderful Liquid Retina display as another display, like I did with my other 13inch MacBook Pro.

I like the clean desktop look. I doubt that I need the power, but am looking for future proofing and use. There are big advantages to having just 1 computer to maintain (fewer software licenses, updates, etc) and no syncing. And advantages to the always on Mac, with no laptop hanging out on or over the desk.

Wondering also how well the new MacBook Pros work when disconnecting and reconnecting. Any monitor issues, etc?

I used my wife’s MacBook Air for remote work a couple of times this week, and loved it! But I may love a 14 inch or 16 inch more!

When I had the 13 inch Pro, I loved going mobile, but it always seemed that there was a “resistance” - eject drives, disconnect, and monitor strangeness. I wonder if the Apple silicon is better at this?

I do have a new studio display on order right now.

Would love your thoughts and discussion. Am I missing anything?

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I’m curious, what about the M1 Mini is not fulfilling your needs? Is it too slow or are you getting the dreaded “Your system has run out of application memory” warning?

In-line with what @jacobio is saying, moving from mini to studio is not going to help with your use case and need, you still need a laptop, so I am seeing a lot transactions with the Studio move:

  1. Buy Studio
  2. Retire Mini
  3. Buy laptop

I think the best use case is just buy a MBP Max and keep the mini. One transaction for now, then if it working well as desktop, if not your Mini is still there.

I do get some memory pressure, but nothing excessive.

Probably should have got the mini at 1 TB, but again, not a big thing.

Truth is, the Mini has been excellent! Maybe just that draw of something new? New Studio display may do it.

There is a good argument for buying the MacBook Pro Max first and seeing. Or I could probably save some money and go to the MacBook Pro 14 inch with the pro processor. Funny thing though. If you do that model with 32GB of RAM, for $200 more you can get a Max.

It is a great time for Apple hardware! And a tough time for decisions.

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@CraigW, we just thought through a similar process. With some of the sales on the MacBook Pros, it made the decision a little more challenging. The sales though were for the 16GB versions on the laptop side. We have an M1 Mini, but with 8GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard drive. It does well, but I mostly use it as a server and the lower RAM wasn’t helping with other work.

When I stopped traveling for work, I thought it would be a good time to re-evaluate the need for a powerful laptop. When we looked at prices for both the Mac Studio and the MacBook Pro, we could get a Mac Studio for quite a bit less than a similarly built MacBook Pro. The price was over $1000 more for the MacBook Pro. We already have decent monitors and many peripherals, so they didn’t impact the decision. The desktops we have had lasted much longer than the laptops, so we also hoped it would be a better financial decision.

So, we set a tech budget for the next few years. I’ve been meaning to do this for quite some time, but most of the tech was based on work flexibility and travel, so this was a good opportunity to shift. We went with a slightly bumped up Mac Studio with a larger hard drive. We have an older MacBook that I can use to take out of the house. It will get me through when needed. If in a year, the travel picks up again, we will go with a base MacBook Pro or MacBook Air with an larger hard drive. We’ll end up saving money at the three to four-year mark and still have a pretty powerful computer at home.

I wish you well on the decision. It took over a month for us to work through usage, specs, cost. The Mac Studio arrives on Monday, so I’ll know soon if the decision was a good one.

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The thing about this kind of question is that there are so many variables, making it hard to adapt anyone else’s opinions to your situation.

If money is no object, then a Mac Studio and a 14” MBPro would be a fine solution, giving you the best of all worlds.

Assuming, however, that cost does play a role in the decision, then I think a big question is: what are your needs when you are on the road vs when you are at home? If an MBAir would suffice while on the road, you might want to consider going that route. If your current M1 Mini is falling short in some area (you mentioned memory pressure) then upgrade that to a Studio.

On the other hand, if you plan to do a substantial amount of data processing or video rendering on the road, or have memory pressure issues at the 16GB that the Air maxes out at, then you might want to go with an MBPro for the road and at home, and keep the Mini as an always-on background processing machine at home.

It also depends on your storage needs. If you need to have a few TB of data on the road, then you will either have to bump up the SSD on a portable or work with external drives on the road. Working with external drives on a desktop at home is an easier barrier to climb.

You might also want to wait a bit to see if an “M2” Air is forthcoming, which might also be an option, if your need is not immediate.

In terms of how well things work as you asked in your OP, I have gone to a single machine, an MBPro 14” Max with 32GB Ram and 4TB SSD, which I used docked to a CalDigit TS4 dock and an Apple Studio Display most of the time. Aside from the issues of remembering to dismount external drives when disconnecting, I have not had issues thus far. I have noted that external monitor support for non-Apple displays is a bit flakey. I have an LG 27” 4K as my second monitor, and before getting the ASD I had the LG 34” 5K as my primary (which is now likely to wind up on eBay…but that’s another story). I find that the ASD wakes up immediately when I hit a key on the keyboard or jiggle the mouse (with the MBP in clamshell mode), but the LG takes a bit of time to wake up. The LG 5K often took several minutes to wake up, which was very frustrating. Since you mentioned you have an ASD, I suspect you will not see any issues.

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Do it!

I have an M1 Macbook Pro as my only machine. I start every morning with it docked/connected to a USB-C monitor. While I’m going my morning routines of email, forums, etc., it charges to 100%

For the rest of the day, and evening hours, I’m in ‘laptop’ mode. The battery lasts all day, so I can get by carrying just the laptop in a slipcase.

The next morning, the process repeats.

As an added bonus, I NEVER have that issue of minor configuration differences between multiple machines. I never have an “oops, that file is on my other machine.”

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Great discussion. In my case I bought a MacBook Pro 16 inch with Max chip. Basically a wonderful machine and the only issue is I was surprised that after hearing about endlessly long battery life on Apple Products that this configuration maximum battery life what is between seven and eight hours (basic usage), quite a bit shorter than what I was expecting. Possibly it is the Max chip, as I have heard the Pro chip does better.

Prior to all the lockdowns, I was quite happy to have a single MacBook Pro to handle all my needs, at home and while traveling. It was a good feeling to know that I had everything I needed wherever I was.

Recently, my needs have become minimized while traveling.

So if I was to rethink the perfect set up, I might consider a Mac Studio or mac mini (with new M2 when it comes out), and a less powerful MacBook Air (M2 next gen) as a fairly ideal combo.

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Personally, I think that for the vast majority of people who are doing the standard sort of general purpose computing, an M1 Mac is fine for the next 5 years or more. I say this as someone that until recently was using a 2012 Mac Mini with 16GB of RAM. While my main computer has been an iPad for 5+ years I did still use the Mac for running Affinity Publisher for designing many multi page documents where Affinity Designer/Photo were not suitable. No problems at all. Aside from that the Mac was mostly my internet/file server. I updated recently only because there are good deals on Mac Mini M1 refurbs on the Apple website and with inflation and what I perceive to be a shaky future (global events, etc) I figured I’d go ahead and get it done.

I’ve been using the M1 Mac (only 8GB RAM) for five weeks, daily use around 4-6 hours. I’ve been trying to use it for more than normal just to enjoy the updates to macOS Monterey. So, the usual Affinity Publisher documents as well as light photo editing, website maintenance, watching a bit of AppleTV, music, podcasts, spreadsheets, etc. I decided to turn off the dock indicators for open apps and just open and use apps with no thought to memory management in a way similar to how I use the iPad. It seems faster than quitting apps and waiting for them to reopen.

After 5 weeks I’m very satisfied with this set-up. The Affinity apps all work very well. Performance is far faster than the 2012 Mac Mini which never felt all that slow to be honest. All the day-to-day interactions on the M1 Mac are instantaneous. I currently have 8 Desktops and 19 apps open. A sampling: Apple Music, Podcasts, Affinity Publisher, Safari, Mail, Reminders, Messages, Obsidian, Taio, Textastic, FileExplorer, Shortcuts, AppleTV, Calendar, Maps, Overcast, and Slack. This is pretty typical usage (with the exception of Maps which I usually don’t open). I might go a day or two without touching some of the apps depending on what I’m working on. But when I do go back to them they’re ready to use with no apparent delay. This morning I’ve finished an Affinity Publisher document while bouncing between that and Music, Safari, Mail, Notes and Messages. No delays at all. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen the spinning beach ball more than a couple times in the 5 weeks I’ve had this Mac.

I say all of that to simply reinforce my initial statement that most people would be fine with the M1. If you’ve got the money to burn, then by all means, go for it. But unless you’re doing lots of heavy lifting with Final Cut, editing huge photo files, or other work that specifically takes advantage of the strengths of the M1 Pro, Max or Ultra I suspect you really are burning your money. Your choice of course! But I do think there are lots of folks that purchase over powered machines with processing capacity that they may never use simply because they want the best for the sake of having the best.

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Thank you everyone for the replies!

I have decided to stick with my M1 mini. The Studio Display that is coming should be more than enough of an upgrade to make this much better. For now, I will use my wife’s air when I need to go out on the road. In time, I will probably buy an air, possibly the one with the M to that is rumored, but we shall see.

Truth is, everything I have right now is working perfectly. There is really no need to burn money for this. If I decide I want more hard drive storage, I may go with a plug-in hard drive, or maybe even upgrade the M1 mini to one with a bigger hard drive.

Thanks again!

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I use a MacBook Pro 14 inches, which I bought, having used an MBA for four years. I had an iMac Pro, which was bomb-proof. It was my main machine for four years, plus I had the laptop for working out and about. I got fed up with keeping the two in sync. It was not a hardship with cloud services, but I still had to check each time, and this was pre-covid, so it was often. Now it would not be so much. I sold my iMac on eBay and used the money towards a Studio Display. I just use my laptop, which is as solid and reliable as my old iMac, plus the display. That is it. If anything goes wrong, I can resurrect my MBA. Now, I can work at my desk or any place in the house. I can go out of the house. I no longer have to ensure everything is in sync. It’s excellent, and I recommend it. There are negative reviews about the studio display, but it is fantastic, and I love it.

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