Back to Square One โ€“ from Surface Book back to MacBook Pro

After having dabbled with Windows notebooks now for a bit, I am now actually back on a MacBook Pro (back to the golden cage ๐Ÿ˜‚) โ€“ also my second attempt in sticking with Windows, using a 13" Surface Book as replacement for the original Dell XPS 2-in-1 machine has failed.

So, what happened with the Surface Book?

I have to say, the 13" Surface Book was quite a nice machine. The hinge was a niche idea that was executed well, the possibility to use only the screen portion as tablet was useful for presentations and conferences, and having the keyboard bottom with an additional battery, and a powerful GPU was also quite enticing for using the machine as a daily driver for (mostly) programming tasks.

But โ€“ and this is now directed towards Microsoft โ€“ did you ever test this? I mean, really test this? With actual workloads, and not just browsing the web with one tab open? What actually happened with this setup โ€“ and what finally killed the machine for me โ€“ is that under already moderate load the machine throttled the CPU to 400 MHz (!), making it absolutely unusable until it had thermally recovered. The underlying issue here is the 13" Surface Book does not have any fan in the tablet portion. A serious design flaw in my opinion. I was able to work around this by attaching a USB-powered Noctua fan. I got the feeling the throttling behaviour got worse over time, to the point where just attaching the Surface Dock led to massive throttling.

And that's only the thermal issues. To my (actual) surprise, driver issues are also still there. And who, if not Microsoft, could actually have consistently working drivers for their hardware? Admittedly, at least with the graphics drivers, I was constantly on the bleeding edge, for professional reasons. Anyway, I really don't get why โ€“ even on Microsoft hardware โ€“ there are issues with, for example, the device not sleeping correctly. Oh, and, the battery life was not too great either.

I'm glad that in the end, I could return the machine, and exchange it for a MacBook Pro. Kudos to Cyberport for great service. So yes, since April 2022, I am back on a 13" MacBook Pro with an Apple Silicon M1.

But you actually trashed Apple quite a bit in the last post! What happened?

A few things, actually:

  • The Apple Silicon performance is amazing! Even in low power mode on battery, compiling software is a breeze, while the Surface Book would just grind to a halt there. Also, all-workday battery life, wooo!
  • MoltenVK has become an open-source project, maintained by the Khronos Group now, so there's actually Vulkan support on macOS now
  • Apple has (thankfully! ๐Ÿ˜ฎโ€๐Ÿ’จ) moved away from the horrible, horrible butterfly keyboards, and the M1 MacBook Pros have a really enjoyable one again. On the desktop I still use a Ergodox EZ, though.
  • We got ports back! The M1 MacBook Pros brought back HDMI and MagSafe, in addition to an SDXC reader and four USB-C ports. Great!
  • scenery has therefore gained support for Vulkan on macOS โ€“ okay, admittedly, I've added that after getting the M1 MacBook Pro. Eat your own dogfood, yip.
  • macOS and iPadOS have a new feature called Universal Control. It basically enables using the mouse and keyboard from your Mac on your iPad, by bringing the mouse to the screen edge, much like Synergy can do on a PC. The cool thing is, you can also do drag and drop. This is pretty much my ideal setup for taking notes (on the iPad) while watching a talk on the Mac. The same was unfortunately not possible with the Surface Book (and an external screen), as it would just permanently overheat when being folded and attached to an external screen. Note-taking then works very well with Concepts on the iPad, which I had already used on the Surface Book actually. Sidenote here: Concepts is the only app that actually gives you an infinite canvas. Literally all note-taking apps constrain you to a virtual replica of a sheet of paper. Why are you doing this? Use the freedom given by the multitouch device!
  • Notarization so far did not turn out as badly as I had feared. I did not experience any issues with Apple trying to prevent me from doing my actual work, developing software and doing research.
  • I also could not find any todo/project app that could remotely replace OmniFocus. While being mainly on Windows, I still used the OmniFocus web interface, which is a bit mediocre, compared to the macOS/iOS version. OmniFocus rocks!
  • There's also unfortunately no good equivalents on Windows for key remapping (Karabiner) or general automation (Hammerspoon). I could not warm up with AutoHotkey.

So, this has been a year now, and I don't regret coming back to the Mac ๐Ÿ‘