The Switch to Mac
July 26, 2020
7 minute read
I’ve made the leap (or sideways shuffle?) to macOS this last week with a 2018 Mac mini and a 4k IPS display.
Windows has started to get in my way, and while the web is supposed to be open to developers of all platforms, it’s just easier to develop on a Mac. WSL 2 is a huge leap on Windows to fixing this, but it’s really nice to have a Unix terminal available natively, without the hours of fun Linux brings in terms of customization and fixing issues (constant breakages from package updates, bad GPU drivers, etc. in my experience).
I am keeping my gaming PC strictly for gaming or other GPU-intensive tasks, and then use the Mac for development and everyday browsing/email.
Windows gets in the way
Windows 10 was miles better than Windows 8, and it was on the same level in my mind as Windows 7 in terms of stability and productivity, but lately Microsoft’s platform-as-a-service model is not working for me. I’m tired of being nagged about updates (which you can only temporarily turn off) and having to go through a whole welcome screen for every tiny little minor update:
I have to click through about 3-4 pages of this garbage before I can get back to work after an update - terrible experience.
And Windows sees fit to restart for its many updates without telling you or giving you a way to stop it - so if I have a bunch of stuff open I’m working on, and I put the computer to sleep because I want to resume the next morning, I lose my entire workspace - and if I forgot to save, tough luck. Unacceptable.
Linux was a headache
More on Linux: In 2019 I started using Linux full-time to see how far I could push it. My big two choices were Pop!_OS and Manjaro, and ultimately I went with Manjaro because Ubuntu has really started to go downhill according to the community, and also I really like the Arch package system. There’s a lot more commonly-used packages on there than Ubuntu’s Snap and Fedora’s Flatpak, and Ubuntu Snaps are terrible from what I’ve used. There’s a lot of hate in the community for them too, Linux Mint (built on Ubuntu) recently dumped the system altogether.
Anyway, I did enjoy using Linux (KDE was my desktop environment of choice) but ultimately I switched back to using Windows later in 2019 because I needed Affinity’s Designer and Photo for my work, and also gaming. I had great success with the Proton project in Steam with running games, however my graphics drivers were not up to the task. I sold my Nvidia GeForce 1080ti and replaced it with an AMD Vega 56 card since AMD works better with Linux, and it did work a lot better than the Nvidia card, though I encountered a showstopper with the driver crashing in the middle of games like Dota 2 and showing nice red/green squares until I held down the power button to hard-restart the PC.
I couldn’t figure out how to fix that short of wiping the whole system (a regular task for the Linux user) so I went back to Windows full time.
macOS was easier to switch to than I thought
macOS has been a great change - it’s a cliche saying but everything “just works”. I love the iOS integration and placing/receiving calls/texts is great, the Mail app is much smoother than Outlook, a lot of popular apps look and behave nicer, Homebrew is great, workspaces actually persist between restarts so all your applications stay on the spaces you assigned them to, and more.
You’d think it would be a minor thing, but scrolling is fantastic. Every app I’ve used scrolls the exact same way as everything else, which is a stark contrast to Windows, where every browser has a different smooth scrolling implementation, UWP apps have their own scrolling implementation, and every other app is some choppy line-by-line garbage that is not smooth or satisfying.
Dark mode is a seamless transition compared to Windows’ implementation, and a lot better executed, and I have it set in my preferred method of light mode during the day, dark mode at night.
And this thing is QUIET - my gaming PC is outfitted with a liquid cooling system and all Noctua fans for maximum noise reduction - but I have 4 case fans, 2 GPU fans and pump all making noise which is noticeable. I can’t even hear the Mac mini though I can feel the air coming out the back - and I turned up the fan to max with an app and I can just barely hear it.
Performance is great, I’m not an Intel fan and I’m really glad to see them falling years behind of AMD, though this i5 8th gen performs well for what I’ll be using it for. I bought the 8gb mini and then bought 16GB of RAM off of Amazon to save $130, it’s really easy to replace the RAM in this thing if you have the right bits:
I do recommend getting at least 16GB of RAM in any machine you use, however I will say this thing was quite usable on 8GB of RAM and I didn’t notice much of a slowdown, even using Microsoft Edge instead of Safari with 20 tabs open, Affinity Designer and Photo open and actively working on a project, and Spotify/OneNote/Telegram/Mail all running in the background. macOS is really good with the paltry amount of RAM Apple starts you off with.
4k is my new minimum resolution
I bought the LG 27UL500-W. 4k monitors have really dropped in price in the last couple years, and $350 for a 4k IPS display with FreeSync for when I game on the PC is a great deal. Yes, the refresh rate is only 60hz, however you get used to the downgrade on refresh rate. I don’t even notice it when I play games on my PC due to FreeSync, and the other benefits of 4k is well worth it. Also, pretty sure the Intel integrated graphics on the Mac mini would struggle reaching 120 FPS at 4k anyway, so I probably would not see the benefit here.
This is my first time using a HiDPI display and it’s a huge difference. I have it scaled to give 1440p of desktop real estate, and everything is very sharp and readable. No more fuzziness on tiny text, less eyestrain, and it’s super enjoyable to use.
The dream setup is a 5k monitor scaled to 1440p to provide 2X pixel rendering for maximum sharpness (2X at 4k is 1080p of real estate), but 4k at 1440p is still a big upgrade from 1440p at 1440p. My Pixio 275H at 27" has an effective pixel density of roughly 100 PPI, while the 4k display at 27" is effectively 160-170 PPI. Retina displays on the iPhone shoot for minimum 300 PPI, but those screens are used much closer to the eyes than desktop screens are.
Apple is growing ARMs
Why did I buy an Intel Mac now instead of waiting for ARM with the recent announcement? The software is going to take years to catch up. Apple plans to have the transition done within 2 years, and add a translation layer to make it easier for x86/64 apps to work, but I know there’s definitely going to be a performance cost and incompatibilities. Apple supports their hardware for at least 5-7 years as well, and by that time I will be due for another upgrade anyway probably. It’s exciting to watch the switch though I don’t want to be in the trenches for it.