What's a good setup to replace one laptop with two machines?

Hi everyone!

I currently own a 15" MacBook Pro (2018) and I liked the idea of “one main machine” which I always have with me.

There is a problem with the battery though: When I am at home, I use a stand, external display and eGPU, and this means whatever I do, the battery is always being charged or full, which already lead to battery problems (the first one had to be replaced after 2 years and 350 cycles…)

With the arrival of the new M1 machines and constant battery woes, I am thinking about replacing my setup with one stationary computer and one lightweight laptop. What irks me about it though, is the problem of syncing/accessing data.

So… how do YOU use two Macs (one at home and one on the go) and solve your file sync problems? Is it worth the trouble?

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I use iCloud Drive to sync all of my files. At the risk of tempting fate I have not yet had a single problem with files syncing or being last.

The root of iCloud Drive does get full of folders created by other applications.

To help get around this I have created a folder called ‘Files’ in the root of iCloud Drive (the name does not matter; that was just the first name I could think of) and then all of the folders I use to store my documents are kept in that location.

To make access easier I have placed these folders on the side panel. The screenshots are on my iPad but I have done the same on my Mac at home. Another thing I have done on the Mac is change the settings for Finder so that when I open a window it goes straight to the ‘Files’ folder. That means I have access straight away to my inbox, documents, band files, etc.


The challenge with sync is always “being current”, especially when you have a ton of data you’re shoveling back and forth.

iCloud, Dropbox, Onedrive, etc. sync requires a round trip to the Internet, and that can be very “expensive” in terms of time spent uploading / downloading, so it might not be suitable if you’re shoveling video projects around all the time.

I have things broken down into a “work” computer and a “server” computer, and it seems to work well. I use iCloud to sync data between my computers, and I have a bunch of data that just lives on my “server” computer.

I would suggest you sit down and do some thinking about whether there’s some data that just doesn’t need to sync, and can live solely on your “at home” computer. Or alternatively, whether there’s some data that you can sync manually over a home LAN if necessary. And if you don’t have good, fast wi-fi, either upgrade your wi-fi or get ethernet that can connect your laptop to your desktop computer. You want local file transfer as fast as possible.

On the “just keep things the way they are with one machine” front, if you haven’t done something like this yet, there’s an app called FruitJuice that helps you maintain battery health by not keeping your laptop constantly plugged in. FruitJuice reminds you when to unplug / plug so you don’t have to maintain a constant 100% charge. It might help your battery longevity.

Both @darranwest and @webwalrus offer good solid suggestions. I use an iPad Pro as my main computer and a Mac mini as a home server. I have a lot of data but the bulk of it is movies, photos, and archives of decades old information. Data I don’t need to carry with me. So I sync only current data (i.e. past twelve months) via a Cloud service.

. . . is the first step I would suggest also. If you want access to your media there are solutions like Plex. And you can turn your home computer into a file server if necessary, but that would not be my first choice.

Thanks to all of you for your input!

I really need to determine which files and apps I need on the go and what can stay at home…

I’ve been doing this since 2006 or so using chronosync and external drives. One advantage of this approach is you always have an extra backup. Since 2013 or so, though, I’ve transitioned to using cloud services for current work, and just do the physical backup once a month or so.

See also my posts here:

I use iCloud and it has worked fine. I bought machines with enough SSD to sync all my iCloud content, which is almost all my files, no need to think about what I need on the go. Since most big files don’t change often, it’s not an issue for me.

I have a couple of exemptions though, almost exclusively relating to big files.

On both my machines I created a folder called LocalDocuments in my Users folder that does not sync (hence the clear, obvious name).
This is for big files mainly that I don’t need on the road, so mostly I use it for Logic, Final Cut Pro, or Xcode projects I’m currently working on. These are things that I wouldn’t use when out and about anyway.
I have changed that a bit in the last couple of days though, having received an Air that out performs my desktop machine. Currently, I have the Final Cut Pro files I’m working on on an external SSD so that I can unplug it and switch machine if I want to.

These days lots of things take care of themselves, like calendars, contacts, reminders, notes, (IMAP) email. For project data I use Resilio Sync, which is basically a private cloud. It only syncs between running systems, so I actually have a third Mac, acting as a server, that insures everything is in sync. Prior to Resilio Sync I used Chronosync for this, however that requires discipline to do a sync manually before leaving home and immediately after returning.

I sync my Documents, Desktop, and Photos to iCloud. Has worked great. Easily accessible on my iPad when I’m out and about. I have an old iMac in my workshop for reference and it’s handy to have all my files on it. All my files in those folders are less than 250gb. I only keep big media files when I’m using them.

I have Documents and Desktop synced* by iCloud which takes care of most “current” stuff. Otherwise, I just use file sharing. With only 512GB in my Mac mini, I was used to storing any “large collections” (typically media) on external drives. Since adding my MacBook Pro I’ve moved some drives to the dock it connects to and left others on the mini and I just have the mini with file sharing turned on. I can connect to any drive on the mini quite simply when I need to.

*iCloud syncing is great if it actually works, which it does for most people. I have a ticket open with Apple currently that’s been running for over a year.

Downside to my system: I just had to dash back into the house to detach and pick up the ssd so I can do some FCP work at the coffee shop.

I have an iMac 5k and a MacBook Air. The iMac is the main machine for everything, and I only have a small subset of what I need in the MacBook. Only the iMac gets backed up, and everything is sync’d over iCloud Drive or git for source code.

I’m actually looking to go the other way and replace my setup with an Apple Silicone 16” MBP this year. I find having one machine for everything far simpler.

I’m not judging; error, typo, auto-correct, whatever. But a laptop made from (or at least substantially from) silicone would be a fantastic idea. Rumours are Titanium is making a comeback but I’d go for a bright red silicone one over that. Probably cheaper, too.

I’m wondering if this is still something you need to worry about, given Apple’s recent changes to automate battery health.

This seems like a good summary:

9to5Mac - How to turn on/off optimized battery charging on Mac