Help Picking My Next Computer

I’ve been waiting to hear about the new MB pros, as I know I’m going to have to get a new computer before too long. Now that the announcements are out, I need some guidance to determine what I should be getting. I prefer a laptop, and am considering the Air and Pro lines. At the moment, I’m looking at making a purchase sometime in January.

I am presently operating on a MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Late 2013), running Catalina. Hardware wise, the only problem with it is a trackpad that has become harder to press.

The software I use most includes BBEdit, GraphicConverter, Pages, FileMaker Pro 16, Transmit, PDFPenPro, and of course various web browsers. As you can see, I am not a gamer and don’t do high-end graphics.

Currently, for back-ups, I use an OWC Mercury Elite Pro for Time Machine, and another one plus a LaCie mobile drive along with SuperDuper for my rotating full backups.

I’m 77, with fairly decent eyesight, and I mostly use my computer as a research tool for my writing efforts (mostly history and genealogy), and to maintain a variety of websites.

Concerns I have include wondering if the smaller screens might become an issue, given my age and eyesight, and my back-up options.

I’m not especially concerned about cost, although I obviously don’t want to spend more than I need to.

Given all that, what are your suggestions?


Hi Charlie, I’d say from your use case, literally any if the current M1 offerings would meet your needs. The issues might lie in storage and screen size. An 8Gb M1 Air would be smaller than you might want in both capacities.

I see you say you prefer a laptop, I take it you value the ability to move it so don’t want to be tethered to an external monitor.

If money was not a primary concern, I’d look at the base new 16” MBPro making sure the storage was sufficient.

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As @tommy wrote, any of the M1 systems will be much faster than your existing computer. Here’s the logic I’d use to select one.

  • Screen size. You’re currently using a 15" display. So you get to pick something a little larger vs a little smaller. Don’t worry about text size. As Retina displays, you can select a scaling factor that will make the text comfortable. If you aren’t sure, you might want to see if you can try one out in a retail store. Only you will know what is comfortable for your eyes and your usage pattern.

  • I wouldn’t worry about CPU/GPU cores. The smaller ones will be just fine for the apps you run.

  • I would think about maxing out the RAM. Although 8 GB is probably fine for today, if you plan on keeping the computer for a long time (I typically keep computers for 8-10 years), you may find that you want more in a few years, and there will be no way to upgrade it when that happens. i personally would get 16 GB (on an Air) or 32 GB (on one of the M1 Pro/Max models), just to be safe.

  • Secondary to RAM would be storage. If you want to keep all your stuff on-device, then you will want to get a lot, but Apple charges quite a lot for their SSDs. It may be more than you want to spend. Like RAM, internal storage is not upgradable, but you have the option to use external storage (via USB or Thunderbolt), which you may (or may not) consider acceptable.

    If you’re OK using external storage, I would suggest getting a computer with 512 GB of storage (enough for apps, documents and probably anything other than a music/photo/movie collection) and then get a good quality external SSD (with a USB 10Gbit/s interface) for additional storage. It won’t be as fast as the internal storage, but it may still be fast enough. Especially if you primarily use it as a place to put documents you’re done working with.


Any of the M1s will be just fine. Even a M1 MacBook Air.

As for memory, here’s a comparison of a M1 MacBook Pro with 8Gb vs. 16Gb. As you can see, the one with 8Gb had no problems keeping up with the 16Gb of memory except for that last task which is about as intensive as you can get. They threw in a quick comparison of a 16” MacBook Pro with an Intel i9 processor and a Radon graphics card. It didn’t do as well as the 16Gb M1.

I think that one reason we’ve use to get more memory is that Intel based computers had slow retrieval off the drive for virtual memory and the system wasn’t that good at memory optimization.

The M1 Macs are very different. They use what Apple has learned with iPhones. The speed of disk retrieval is phenomenal. MacOS on the M1 can swap out sections of a program and is much better knowing what to store in virtual memory. We shouldn’t be fearing swapping like we use to. That’s why the two Macs in the videos could run neck and neck except for that last task where the entire file being exported has to be kept entirely in memory.

I had to make an emergency purchase of an M1 iMac when my wife’s old one went kaput. I wanted the 16Gb, but they didn’t have that in stock, so I went with the 8Gb. It runs circles around any other computer. If you decide on a
MacBook Pro and have only an extra $200 to spend, you should increase disk storage and not memory.

Basically, the only reason you might want something other than a 13” MBA or MBP is that you need a bigger screen.


2 More Reasons:

1080p camera vs 720p camera
Ports–more of them and task-specific ones


Regarding your current Macbook Pro‘s track pad, in my experience, as batteries age, they can swell and cause track pad problems.

Re: new computer
I wonder if these most recent MacBook Pros will have longer lives (ie more macOS upgrades).
I need a new computer also and I am encouraged by the previous posts about M1 computer speed.

To throw back in the ring, I just think if the latest is within your reach, then take the latest. Alan is right, the extra ports, the full function keys, the better FaceTime camera. There’ll be tweaks and fixes in the mix as well, you’ll have a longer computer life with the power boost too. I’d push you to the newer Pros rather than the Airs, even though those would certainly meet your needs right now.

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Thanks folks for all your input. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Since I won’t be doing this before January, I have time to make up my mind. Of course, things might change if Apple decides to upgrade the Air between now and then. [grin]

I bought an M1 iMac a few months ago, and had read various articles and reviews making the same claim about the great ability of the MacOS on M1 systems to manage memory better. So I bought mine with 8GB of RAM.

Big mistake. With my old iMac (24 GB of RAM) I could keep Lightroom, multiple tabs in both Safari and Chrome, Spark, Messages, Music, and Excel open all the time, and still was able to run other programs without any issues.

With the new iMac (and its 8GB of RAM) I have had to switch from Chrome to Firefox (which seems to manage memory better), and can’t keep Lightroom open all the time like I could before. When I do any extended or heavy work in Lightroom or Photoshop, its not unusual for the computer to slow to a crawl (red Memory Pressure in Activity Monitor). I then need to figure out what to close (usually a browser, since many web pages seem to require a lot of memory after a while) to keep the machine usable.

Good new is that Lightroom opens much faster than it did with my Intel iMac, so its not quite as important to keep it open.

In hindsight, I wish I’d bought the 16GB of memory when I bought my iMac.


Yes, if you do lots of graphical rendering, the plain M1 Macs might not have the oomph you need. These tasks heavily depends upon the GPU. You need either the M1 Pro or Max.

Like most users, I don’t use Photoshop or Lightroom. I use to do lots of programming, and the regular M1 is probably fine for me.

There are basically two activities that use lots of memory:

  • Lots of open apps/browser tabs

  • Demanding programs like Photoshop, video editing, 3D, etc.

If you do both of these, it’s even worse!

Generally you can get by with less memory if you’re only doing extreme stuff occasionally. The app will be a little slower, but it’s not a big deal. An 8GB M1 is fine for average person tasks and is similar to a 16GB Intel Mac. But that’s still bare bones.

Like you discovered, the M1 launches apps so quickly you really don’t have to leave so much stuff running. I quit Messages and Mail, for instance, and I can still use them just as fast as on my Intel Mac, since they launch instantly.

A few bigger apps like Photoshop take a few seconds to open, but generally I only keep those running while I’m working on a project for a day or two.

My biggest problem is Safari tabs. I have a variety of writing projects going all the time and I do research for each one in various Safari windows. Each window might have 10-30 tabs open while I’m writing that article or researching that topic, and I might keep that window open for a few weeks until the project is finished. With 5-10 projects going at once, that’s a lot of tabs! (I’ll see 5-20GB of memory used just for all those tabs.)

Note I have slow satellite internet, so closing the tabs and reopening them from bookmarks isn’t viable as it wastes bandwidth and time. It also defeats the purpose of quick reference while I’m working.

I really hate that with today’s browsers even the simplest web pages (plain text) use up 200-300MB of RAM, and some horrible sites use 1GB or more with all the javascripts and ad-crap they load behind the scenes.

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A couple of weeks ago I opened the page for a mac utility that was referred to in some article I was reading (I’ve already forgotten what it was). The dreaded ‘not enough application memory’ popped up a minute or so later. I was able to load Activity Monitor, and the home page for that utility was using 17GB on my 24 GB 2017 imac. Ouch. I can only make wild guesses about what could have happened, since to download 17GB of content would have takes a minimum of 40 hours. I wasn’t interested enough to download the source outside of a browser and take a look. Possibly a bug in the js for allocation of memory for fancy graphics? At least it deleted cleanly and things went back to normal for probably 150 other tabs at the time.

I’ve run LR on my wife’s 8GB M1 Air and it launches so fast that keeping it running is not necessary. Are you up to date so you’re running the Apple silicon version or running an older version under Rosetta 2? She’s got no issues running multiple apps at once although she doesn’t run LR or PS.

When I ordered my new MBP…I did upgrade to 2 TB to future proof it as my old 2015 model has about 600 GB used of its 1TB drive and upgraded to 32 GB for the same reasons…I expect this laptop to last another 6-7 years as well and the extra cost while not small isn’t so much over the base price.

I used to be out and about a lot before retirement, but I still like using a portable in case I need to take it anywhere. I’ve always used the smaller MacBook Pro because it’s more portable and I connect it to a big 4K monitor, with wireless keyboard and Mouse at home. It turns it into a 2 screen workstation. So you may want to consider the 14" model and with the savings, help get a monitor, increase the CPU, Memory, Disk or all of the above.

Though it’s been said for fashionable ladies last century that you cannot be too thin or too rich, in our tech world, I adhere to the equivalent that you cannot have too much speed or too much memory. So to make this system last (current MacBook Pro is 6 years old), I’m getting an M1Max, 32GB RAM, 2TB disk. You may do OK with the M1Pro, but get the 10 core version, 16GB RAM and enough disk so that half of it is still empty after you’ve filled it up with all your stuff (excepting anything on offline long-term archive).