When the laptop is the only computer

On a recent MPU, @MacSparky discussed what would be, for him, a big step – selling the iMac and using the MacBook Pro as his only computer.

I was surprised by the discussion, because I’ve been working that way for most of the past 27 years. I say it was surprising because I almost never feel like I know more about anything Apple-related than David does.

They key to make it work is that when I’m home, I keep the MBP attached to an external 27" display, and USB keyboard and trackpad. Even pre-COVID, I went weeks at a time with the MBP staying put and connected in my home office, and I use an iPad when I want to compute around the house, outside of the office.

Pre-COVID, I unhooked the MBP every few weeks when I needed to take it out of the office. That operation requires only seconds to complete – three connectors – one for the power supply, one for a USB-C hub that connects the keyboard, trackball, and a backup disk; the third for my external monitor, which is an ancient 2010 Apple Cinema Display that requires a dongle to connect to USB-C.

I expect somebody with more modern peripheral hardware could reduce the number of connections to two or even one.

Connecting and disconnecting also requires a few seconds to fiddle with window placement and size, but I expect that could be automated with Keyboard Maestro.

Often, when returning home from a business trip, I’d work on the plane and end up having to upload articles when I arrived home. I’d walking the door, sometimes after 11 pm, give the wife a kiss, pat the dog, and announce, “I’M NOT HOME YET!” I’d go immediately to my office, hook up the Mac, wait for it to wake up and realize where it was, and then finish work. The whole operation took 10 minutes and could be completed even after I was exhausted from an international flight – that’s how simple it is.


I have it down to one connection with my M1 MacBook Pro. That connection leads to an OWC USB-C dock that hosts various connections including my 4K monitor.

As for the “only computer” lifestyle, my Mac history has been — iMac, MacBook Pro, iMac, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, MacBook Pro. I still currently have the mini but I expect I will sell it before long. It seems I simply cannot decide on portable versus fixed base. The grass is always greener I guess.


I’ve been a laptop only user since at least when the first quality Toshiba and Dell laptops were released—I even sported the Compaq “luggable” prior to that. It was like carrying a Singer sowing machine through the airport! I distinctly remember dragging it through the Dallas airport feeling cool AND exhausted. :slight_smile:

I used Toshiba, IBM ThinkPad and Dell laptops until I switched to the MacBook Pro, I believe in 2011 or so. I added the iPad to my arsenal in 2012.

My last desktop was a Gateway WinTel machine. :slight_smile: I’ve never missed having a desktop computer.

I have a large monitor at work but I only use it on the rare occasion when I need to review a large spreadsheet. Otherwise, I’m on my MBP or iPad Pro.


Like you, one of my earliest so-called “laptops” was actually a “luggable” – a Compaq Portable III.


I had forgotten that the display swung up, in addition to the built-in keyboard slot, for taking the machine on the road.

The previous user of the machine had put lumps of colored Play Doh on the keys to remember which function key did what; for months afterwards, whenever I scratched my nose when typing, I smelled Play Doh.

My first laptop was a Toshiba T-1000. It was a good machine.


I lived in a wee tiny apartment at the time, and the T-1000 lived in the living room, and functioned as a very nice nightlight if I had to get up in the night.


'[quote=“MitchWagner, post:4, topic:21289”]
for months afterwards, whenever I scratched my nose when typing, I smelled Play Doh

Your post has me laughing! My wife is asking “what’s so funny?” :laughing:


I have often thought about doing the laptop only thing, but never end up doing it. A big reason is because laptops, until now at least, tend to be loud, with the fans coming on all too often. Another reason is because the iMac’s display is amazing, and when ever I look at external displays to hook up, they never seem as good as what the iMac already has. And finally the dock situation. Docks are expensive and none of them seem to work that well anymore. That isn’t just a Mac thing, docks in the Windows world are just as bad.

I love iMacs (which I have used for the last 20 years), but it always seems so wasteful to buy a whole new computer with a new monitor when I shouldn’t need a new monitor. If Apple made a stand alone iMac quality monitor again, I would more likely get a Mac Mini, just because I really don’t need a laptop anymore. (I bought a M1 MBA to play with, not because I needed it.)


I am currently having this debate with myself. I have an 27" iMac, and 13" MacBook Pro and a 12.9 iPad Pro. When no in pandemic, I am traveling 250 days per year. Boredom is making me consider removing the iMac, getting an M1 MacBook Pro (closed and docked) using the keyboard and trackpad from the iMac, and attaching to a 27" 5K LG Monitor. While I can “almost” survive on the road with just the iPad, there is still an anxiety with that, so I usually take the MBP and the iPad. This was everything would get reduced to the MBP and iPad.

I can function just fine as it is, so it is just boredom forcing me to waste money.

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That’s what got me back to an iMac 5K (2nd generation of that) and I absolutely LOVED that screen. As has been said MANY times on Apple-sphere podcasts, when Apple relent and release that panel as a stand alone monitor there will be a loud collective “FINALLY!” and they will sell heaps. I get that the XDR was built for the Mac Pro, but short of winning a lottery I will never own one — and I don’t need one, just that awesome 5K panel.


I have to admit, I’ve been considering the future of my “machines” as well.

Currently I have an iMac Pro (base model) on the desk with an external LG 27" 4K monitor; my “old” MBP 13", and my new 13" M1 MBAir. Of course I have an iPad Pro 12" as well.

I was going to sell the MBP 13" when I got the M1 MBAir, but now it looks like that is going to my wife to replace her 13" MBAir retina with crappy keyboard (already replaced); her MBAir goes to our daughter to replace her years-old pre-retina MBAir, and that one will get sold.

My question now is what to do with the iMacPro. It has generally been my practice to sell my computers around the time that AppleCare expires, as the repair costs are so high (especially for an all-in-one like the iMac / iMac Pro or a laptop) once out of AppleCare, so the iMac Pro is slated for sale in the next year anyway.

I have been considering selling it in to replace it with an M1 Mini, loaded with a 2TB drive as I really could use the extra internal storage (right now my photo library, about 1TB, lives on an external SSD), or of course going with a cheaper Mini with less internal storage and just keeping the photo library on the external drive. I would hook it up to the 4K monitor and use a Dell 24" 4K that I have which can be repurposed for the desktop.

The question is whether I really need a desktop vs just docking the MBAir when needed. That would become easier if I set up an external monitor/keyboard/mouse for my wife for her “new” MBPro as she generally prefers a “desktop” environment and uses the iMac Pro for that.

Aside from its desktop use, the iMac Pro also runs all of my background Hazel rules, but the vast majority of them process files that are shared to the laptop(s) via SynologyDrive (they run only on the iMac Pro because having duplicate rules on multiple machines that sync files leads to loops and other disasters!) and has BackBlaze, but I could certainly move my BackBlaze account to the MBAir as well (I would be moving it to the Mini if I do buy one).

The other thing that the iMac Pro has, however, is an attached Drobo 8D with a huge amount of storage, and that is where I not only archive things, but there is also a folder synced with SynologyDrive to my media folder on the Synology so that those files exist in both places (and are backed up into BackBlaze since they are on the desktop machine). There are also several external drives hooked up which do daily clones of the photo library and the boot drive. I don’t do clones or backups of the laptop because everyone in it that matters syncs via SynologyDrive and so is also on the desktop and is cloned and backed up from there.

The only way going laptop only works for me is if I regularly connect it to a dock (which I already have, both a TB3 and the new OWC TB4 hub) so that the various backups can happen properly (short of the BackBlaze which of course would be on the laptop at this point). Since the media folder on the Synology changes infrequently this is not a terrible thing. (I could also just use Synology HyperBackup into B2; the cost isn’t prohibitive).

So there’s the dilemma…Mac mini M1 or not…?


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ditching my iMac and living off my M1 MBP … I am hearing so many different reports and views about monitors. Can people share what’s working and what isn’t and hopefully include links to monitors they like and that work reliably with the M1 MacBook Pro ? I find the different specs and model naming confusing :slight_smile:


I’ve been using laptops since the mid 90s. Windows/Lenovo at work until I retired in 2012. Switched to a MBP then. Been rethinking whether I need a laptop anymore since 90+% of my portable computing is handled by my iPad. Currently just use my MBA in exactly two places, on my desk at home hooked to a Thunderbolt Display, or when traveling in our motorhome. A mini could do well in both those places. I would want a smaller display for the RV and would need to find a way to mount it for driving. I think the Mini would have more flexibility with more ports and less stuff to break. Still difficult to think about going no laptop since it’s been my workflow for 25 years.

Not eager to jump into the M1 camp right now. Will let the early adopters sort out the issues and maybe buy the next generation Mini.

Unless your workflow involves a lot of unique software or is Windows based, there doesn’t really seem to be any problems. The majority of Mac only software is already updated in my experience. They are pretty great. Big Sur on the other hand…:stuck_out_tongue:

I am a frequent business traveler – or was until 2019. In the last couple months of 2019, I started using my iPad as my primary computer when on the road. I would leave the MacBook Pro in the hotel room, and use that when catching up on work in the evening.

(People who don’t travel for business often think that it is glamorous. While I do enjoy it, and it has given me opportunities to see places I would probably not have seen otherwise, mostly the places I see are the insides of conference centers and hotels. Meetings all day, and then laptop work in the evening.)

This worked out well, and I expect I will return to that pattern when business travel resumes. Or maybe I’ll find that I don’t need the MacBook at all when traveling

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Understand on the travel. I worked for a railroad and often visited the gritty underbellies of towns. Some laces the Holiday Inn was the fancy hotel.


For the frequent travelers with multiple computers/devices, what is your backup strategy? I’ve been fortunate that I can work remotely and had a solid backup process for working primarily from home and office. Now, I’ve been visiting family and my backup system isn’t working quite as well because I was reliant on NAS and external drives.

I have Backblaze running and also a portable disk that I use time machine on and plug in overnight when in a hotel room.
When back home I plug into the CalDigit dock which has other backup drives plugged into it and they update and also a local NAS.

I travel with two external drives and use those. All my travel is in our RV so I keep the backups in a fireproof safe. I’m also synced to iCloud and an iMac at home is synced or it too and then gets backed up there, including to BackBlaze.

If you are using multiple computers including desktops and laptops, I can suggest several approaches for backups:

  1. Carry an external drive with your portable machines and plug that in at least daily for TM backups. When you return home, as suggested by @aardy, plug in to a dock or drives at home, OR do a TM backup over your network to a TM server. At least one home machine can do a cloud backup to a service like BackBlaze, and have all portable machines use that computer as their TM server.

  2. Use a backup system like Arq running on each computer, desktop and portable.

  3. If you own a Synology, you could use SynologyDrive on each computer, and store all of your files in a SynologyDrive synced folder. One stationary machine on your home network can use BackBlaze to send all of the data to the cloud.

  4. SynologyDrive also supports a backup utility mode, so have all other computers (desktop and portable) make backups to the Synology, and use a tool like HyperBackup to save backups to a cloud provider.

There are many other scenarios, depending on your specific setup and needs. My current approach is to use SynologyDrive on my desktop and two laptops, and BackBlaze on my desktop to send all of the data to the cloud. However, I am contemplating getting rid of the desktop, and then I will move the BackBlaze account to my laptop. I have a lot of files on the Synology that are not needed on the laptop, but are synced to the desktop, and will likely move a backup of those files into B2 via HyperBackup.

What’s the difference between a MacBook and an iMac in practice?

I have a monitor the size of an iMac plugged into my MacBook Pro, so it’s basically the same thing in practice.

Unless you’re doing very intensive stuff, I think the world is moving on from PC-type computers - if you’re doing REALLY intensive stuff, then you should be running on a server and not locally anyway (e.g. machine learning type work).

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I’ve been laptop only for as long as I can remember.
I can’t imagine working with a desktop.
One piece of advise that I can share is to get an external webcam to put on your external monitor. Using my laptop camera is difficult because the video takes over the whole screen and you look weird looking off screen at your monitor.