One Mac or many?

I’m curious what people here think about that old question: to have separate Macs for laptop and desktop or to have the one (laptop) Mac to use with an external display?

Personally, I’ve been going back and forth on this one since at least 2006, but the question is always timely. The introduction of the Studio Display and the untimely death of the 27" iMac, have reshuffled the cards in a way that even just a few months ago was hard to predict…

If you’re a double-Mac type, what’s your rationale? What frustrations (if any) do you encounter routinely?
Viceversa, if you’re a single-Mac+display type of person, do you see any trade offs? What tricks do you implement to make the transition seamless?

Personally, although as I’ve noted recently I have been iPad only for a large portion of the last seven years, right now I happen to have two Macs – an iMac 24" and a 14" MBP. But with a Studio Display on the way, it’s highly likely that the former is going to end up on eBay.

My rationale for having two Macs is/was rather thin. Primarily it revolves around the fact that it’s conceptually neater and that the always-on iMac can perform certain automations at any time, even if I’m triggering them from abroad using an iPad and my MacBook is not with me.

My main frustration with the double Mac life has to do with incomplete iCloud Drive syncs (those phantom pesky little arrows that never go away), and a few apps that are much happier if you only use one Mac at a time. Also, with too many devices, sometimes iCloud just struggles to keep everything in sync: tab groups, for example. I never ever have the same tabs show up on all my iPads and Macs.

At the same time, from past experience, I disliked having to transition from a “everything in full screen!” mode when using my laptop to “everything windowed!” mode when plugging in. I also find that things like Time Capsule can only really be relied upon with a desktop Mac – on the laptop the backups seem to happen most of the time. On the hardware side, I disliked having a less neat desk thanks to the laptop, which, whether docked vertically or horizontally, or open as a second screen, is just visual clutter to me. (From that angle, the iMac’s neatness is hard to beat).


it comes down to personal preference and needs. For me I have a Mac Mini that connects to a 34" monitor, then I have a M1 MacBook pro for use when I am not in front of the Mac Mini. I still like to operate on a Mac, except when I consume media content or play games on my iPad

LOL, the death of the 27" iMac and appearance of the Studio Display have solidified my thinking on sticking with just one laptop with that screen (currently M1 MacBook Pro). I did have a Mac mini for a time, in parallel with this and a previous laptop, but it was basically wasted resource for how I ended up using it.

The 27" iMac was the only desktop that kept wooing me. Now that’s out of the picture, it’s a simple life for me. :slight_smile:

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That’s me! 13" M1 MBP, with about a 50/50 split between using it on its own or plugging it into my 27" Samsung (not a particularly fine specimen but it was dirt cheap and screen quality isn’t too bad).


  • super portable — I work a lot outside of the house and being able to throw a lightweight laptop into my bag and essentially have my entire identical setup is priceless. Lots of people talk about the iPad being a magical, lightweight slab of glass; well, my MBP is a magical, (fairly) lightweight slab of metal, I guess.
  • don’t need to bother syncing devices — honestly seems like a pain to keep all my configs and git branches and stuff synchronized across two setups. Doable but not really worth it to me.
  • I don’t need a staggering amount of power — student + Python/TS dev, the 16GB RAM and the base M1 are more than enough to handle my day-to-day and fairly heavy multitasking, as well as the occasional video export
  • too broke to buy more than one Mac — self-explanatory :upside_down_face:

Don’t really see any downsides for myself personally:

  • I don’t switch between “modes” of window management from big screen to little screen. Most of the time all of my windows stay in the same spot. One or two of them get resized a little bit bigger (e.g. Vivaldi because websites are best used with at least 2/3 of my screen to show the full thing) but that is easily done using some keybinds and Raycast
  • Time Machine backups to a Samsung T7 have not failed me (knock on wood) and basically everything important is either in my 100GB OneDrive or backed up with git & GitHub.
  • Battery life is astounding with the M1 so that’s not too much of a concern personally. Cable management is easily dealt with using a USB-C hub. Neatness-wise it doesn’t really bug me as I find the second screen valuable.

Mac Pro supports more internal SSD strorage and graphics capability to run multiple monitors than feasible in a laptop.

MacBook does the job when away from home.

Was laptop+monitor(s) for many years. Then my MBP suffered GPU failure. Switched to my wife’s old iMac as we had just upgraded it and hadn’t decided what to do with the old one. Worked ok but needed something for travel so got a used Air. Did fine but I kinda missed the all in one approach. About the same time I started syncing everything with iCloud and it was working well. Decided to go with the 24” M1 iMac and keep the MBA for travel. The 24” display is the perfect size for me. My 27” TB Display was too big.

The iMac gives me a cleaner desk and has more than enough power for my needs. The MBA runs Monterey fine. Both have 1tb drives so I keep everything local as well as in iCloud.

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First, it obviously a personal preference but I’d have to be on the side of the multiple Mac team.

I have the following:

  • 2020 M1 MacBook Air - Most recently
  • 2009 iMac 21.5" - Still runs but very old
  • 2010 Mac Mini for Plex

I’m trying to move complexly to the MBA but find myself still going to the iMac simply because of the large keyboard, screen and separate mouse. I do want to retire the iMac because a lot of stuff doesn’t work with it now days. The MBA is good for traveling but when at your home base I prefer the larger size.

By the way, for the iMac stays on all day including the screen for work. I don’t feel comfortable doing that with a laptop.

Also, I can’t yet justify the new Mac screen, keyboard, mouse and CalDigit TS4. Would all cost over $2,300.00

I definitely need multiple. My Intel is my file server, Plex server, backup and always on automation. It’s also hooked up to an egpu with a desktop GPU in it that has similar power to a M1 Max GPU and I use this for rendering video.

My M1 14” Pro is always out with me every day (I never work from home) and this means I couldn’t use it to serve Plex or files for my family. I also like to use my laptop at weekend, when the Plex server is used by my kids and wife a lot. If my laptop were my server I’d never be able to use it when I need it.

I also develop software and need to test it on a real Intel to make sure it works well. I cannot do with ARM Windows especially, as I cannot test binaries on it reliably for x86.

I previously had a 27" iMac with 5K LG second monitor on my desk and a MacBookPro that I would use around the house. The desk space was a little awkward, and the M1Max MBP was powerful enough that I decided to switch to the M1Max MBP with the 6K XDR/5K LG (portrait) as my desktop and the MBP can move around the house with me.

I am finding that there’s times when I’m downstairs (office is upstairs) that I want to browse something so it’s either head upstairs or use my phone. I don’t see this as a bad thing as I’m appreciating not having the screen so readily accessible.

Also, I’m still a little leary of travelling with the laptop - given it has everything on it.

I suspect when the new iPadPros come out this fall, I’ll be giving the a serious look.

So, going to a single MBP is actually pretty nice and I don’t have to worry about keeping things in sync or moving a project back and forth as there is only one place for it to be.

One computer or many? Here’s my $0.02. First, a desktop will outlast a laptop/portable computer by many years. Of the first 60 iMacs I purchased for my company 58, if memory serves, were still in use 9 years later. One suffered a motherboard failure in its old age, another was destroyed by a careless employee.

Laptops, if used as portable devices, die from normal use. The screen cables break from being flexed by thousands of openings. The batteries fail and occasionally damage the computer. They are drowned by spilled drinks, etc… And occasionally they are left on the floor next to the bed and are stepped on the next morning. And that doesn’t count the ones that are dropped, driven over by a car, and stolen. I’ve seen it all.

Prior to 1990 I worked in sales for a couple of companies, and administration for two more. After '90 I worked in I.T. In general, most of my users only used their office desktops. They didn’t work outside of the office. I.T. staff had their choice of a MacBook or iMac. Most preferred a MacBook.

In the early days when we had outside sales personnel, they used Windows desktops. Today I would have given them an iPhone and an iPad. Our president preferred an iMac on his desk and his iPhone. Our founder who was “retired” used an MacBook Air and an iPhone (and might have been in Colorado on Monday, Tennessee on Wednesday, and who knows where a week later).

From this and your previous post a desktop Mac and an iPad would be my suggestion.

Then don’t use iCloud . . . for anything that it doesn’t do well. I’ve found iCloud is OK when it comes to syncing photos and Drafts, etc. but not for Notes and files, etc. Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive are rock solid when it comes to syncing files. Shop around and find what works best for you.

I’m retired and my iPad Pro is really all I need. I have a MacBook Air at home that is mainly used to backup my files. But if I didn’t plan to start traveling again when/if the world is done with C-19 I would prefer a Mac mini.


Clearly in the 2 Mac camp.

The laptop is a backup of sorts for my main machine. I can’t be without a Mac for long so I need a way to be up and running again quickly if one or the other dies.

I do not use iCloud so things I do to keep them as backups for each other is that I treat them as totally different systems with different roles. I do have them both running the same rev of the operating system and all the same apps installed. I also keep nightly bootable backups of each machine, the main mac every night, the laptop any day I open and use it. I segregate what I do where so for example, I never worry about email or my calendar on the laptop. I only do those on my main machine. If it died I’d use the bootable backup to boot the laptop and use that. I don’t do LambTracker Development for the mobile app on my main mac, that is a Laptop function. I do AnimalTrakker development for both mobile and desktop apps on my main mac. That keeps me from getting mixed up as to which package I am working in.

I have an external screen for both machines so I have 4 displays and 2 computers running occasionally. An example is working in the AnimalTrakker database. I can have my reference material up on the laptop external monitor, browser on the laptop main screen for when I need to look up things on the web, spreadsheets for inputs on the iMac and the existing database on the external screen. The different physical locations for the different types of data keep me from mixing them up as I’m working.

I usually also have my iPad with notes and also to take notes as I am working that then get integrated into the project documentation.


For me, single Mac, single screen, single focus. My Mac sits on my desk in my office, and that’s where I go to work.


I have flip-flopped on this multiple times. 12 years ago, when I was in university, I had an iMac and a MacBook Pro. After I graduated, I got a Thunderbolt Display and sold the iMac and went to a single machine.

During the butterfly keyboard era — the dark days for laptop folks — I got an iMac Pro as my workstation.

Last week, I ordered a MacBook Pro and a Studio Display, and listed my iMac Pro as a trade-in on Apple’s website.

The nature of my work is such that it’s annoying for me to have to manage everything on two machines. The nature of my life is such that I don’t want to deal with maintaining two machines. That’s a lot of time running Alfred syncs, managing software, etc. Even just syncing my theme in VS Code used to be a massive pain (although they’ve streamlined that recently, thankfully).

So I’m looking forward to having one machine.

I think if your files are relatively portable — you can put them in the cloud or easily get them on a hard drive and move them around — then two machines can be great, for many of the reasons stated above. You just need the time and patience to maintain both. (I do not have the patience and I would rather spend my time on other things.)

Interesting question. I flipped and flopped on this for years. I have a maxed out macbook pro now,16 inch, with Intel chips and I don’t need anything else really I decided. Screen is way big enough for me and I use the desktops to switch back and fore if I need between say DEVONthink 3 and safari. If I needed I suppose I could get a bigger display for my desk. I have never felt it necessary.

I have another Pro, still works fine but I hardly ever use it and when I do it is really just to keep it going.
I am I have to say going ‘minimalist’ on tech on other things.

I’ve had both a desktop and laptop computers for about 18 years now. I only use the laptop (currently a 16" Intel MBP) when away from home, which means that it has had little use in the two years I’ve had it. I work better at a desk and like large displays and my own mechanical keyboard and wired mouse.

Their usage doesn’t overlap much so synchronization isn’t really much of a concern. I use Resilio Sync for that, syncing among the desktop, laptop, and always-on server (a 2012 Mac mini).

I have a 2010 iMac 21.5" with a 2tb hard drive and I can find no good reason to get rid of it. It works fast enough for web browsing/backing up my files and iPhone, the resale value on it is nonexistent (I think Apple just offered to recycle it), and a 2tb external hard drive would cost more than just keeping it.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to remote into it so I can hide it in a closet somewhere instead of on my desk but for some reason I can’t get the remote access script to work

FAIL! JUNK IT! :rofl: :joy:

I don’t think I could ever have one computer just out of anxiety. When I was away at my first year of college in 2010, I decided not to take the time to transfer everything to my new school computer because it was taking forever (kids these days don’t appreciate the speed of USB 3.x and Thunderbolt).

While I was away at school, my parents’ house got struck by lightning and it fried our family computer hard drive. All my photos, writing, music, everything was gone. Sure, online backups help, but having two computers with the most important pictures of photo library also makes me feel a teensy bit better.

This is aside from the stress I’ve seen people go through with computer failure - a stolen laptop from a car trunk, a soda spilled on a desk the day before a paper is due. One is none, Apple stores are not 24/7, it’s not worth the risk :sweat_smile:

It was my first Mac :pleading_face: I’m not ready to get rid of him yet :sweat_smile:

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I’ve done both. I was laptop + external displays until I got a 5K iMac in 2017. At the time, the primary impetus for the switch was because the iMac was the only way to get a high-quality retina resolution desktop display. These days the Studio Display provides a great option on that front. I was also a bit frustrated with issues getting the MacBook Pro to wake from sleep in clamshell and in getting it to consistently reconnect to external displays after waking.

I’ve found syncing most stuff between computers has just gotten better and better. It used to be a big pain point, but these days things that don’t sync seamlessly are the exception rather than the rule.

My iMac died last week, so I’m back on my M1 Pro MacBook Pro until the Mac Studio gets here. I have to say that it’s better at waking on command than my old one was. However, I have had several instances where it arbitrarily rearranges windows back to the laptop screen and once where it decided to reorder my external displays. So a better experience but not a perfect one.

I’m not regretting buying the Mac Studio though. I think desktop + laptop is the top-of-the-line experience for me. The flip side is it’s definitely more expensive. However, depending on your use case having a desktop for the heavy lifting may also mean you can go with a lighter, lower specced laptop and go longer before replacing it. I used my 2012 MacBook Pro for more than nine years (five years as my main machine, four years as a supplement to my iMac).

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