by adam mathes
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Revising The Workplace, 2012

I set up my current home office many years ago, and didn’t really use it much until April, 2010 when I left Google.

Through various years, my setup has generally included a PC, exclusively for gaming, a cheap Linux box for web development, and an Apple laptop for everything else.

All of these things shared a monitor (or two), external speakers with subwoofer, and I’ve used various switches and keyboards and other things over the years.

I gave up the linux box a while ago as web and unix development has gotten much easier on a Mac, and I use my Linode as my unix box now. (And if I need more, spinning up virtual machines locally or on EC2 is the more logical path, though I haven’t needed to yet.)

A few weeks ago my Alienware gaming PC died – first the hard drive (which I replaced with a slower one I had sitting around) and then the video card, at which point I gave up.

My 2010 MacBook Pro has an 128gb SSD in it, and system before that did as well, which means I’ve been living primarily in 128gb of storage for at least 5 years and I think longer. And it’s finally starting to get a little bit tight.

And I’ve never been thrilled about my frankenstein setup of multiple computers, and its mess of cords and complexity.

So, while I normally wait 3 years between laptop upgrades, I’m doing it at a little over 2 years this time and I’m replacing everything with a single MacBook Pro with Retina display.

I’ll be augmenting it with the 27” Apple Thunderbolt Display, and installing Boot Camp with Windows 7 for games.

Why Pro instead of Air

I think for almost all consumers a MacBook Air and Thunderbolt Display is a much better value than the equivalently priced MacBook Pro.

For me, as an atypical consumer, I’ve been using a 15” MacBook Pro (and PowerBooks before them) as my primary computer for so long that I’m accustomed to the size and comfortable with it, and while the latest MacBook Airs are probably close to performance (outside of graphics and games) to my current setup, I would feel constrained by the performance and screen size.

I also wanted a machine that was also capable of playing graphics-intensive 3D games without having to maintain an entirely separate machine, and without a dedicated video card (which the Air does not have) that would be tough.

For most users, this doesn’t matter, but when I think over the past decade to the best gaming experiences I’ve had, they have almost always been on the PC – either because that’s the default indie platform, or because the AAA titles I like most (complex first-person games like Deus Ex Human Revolution) I tend to think play significantly better with a mouse and keyboard rather than a controller.

Also, somewhat unexpectedly, the portability and increasing utility of the iPad makes the portability of my primary laptop less of an issue.

Basically, if I’m going on a vacation, I bring my iPad.

I only need my laptop away from my desk for “real work” – software design and development – and almost all other tasks I might need to do I can manage on an iPad. (And I expect it will get easier to do more activities that require typing once my Brydge shows up.)

If I’m planning on doing work away from my desk, I’d rather have a 15” retina display than a 13” traditional one.


Previously I have refused to purchase computers or monitors with glossy displays, as I find the glare to be incredibly annoying.

I have decided to just give up on this, as I really wanted a Thunderbolt display and there’s just nothing in the market that is the equivalent of a high end monitor and docking station in one.

After seeing the MacBook Pro Retina display in person next to the older MacBook Pro with glossy display, I decided it was significantly better, though we’ll see if over time I come to regret the decision.

I’m just going to rearrange the office so my desk isn’t parallel to the windows, and in tests with my iPad (similarly glossy) using it there hasn’t been a problem.

How Does It Work

Monday was spent setting everything up, so I’ll write about the new hardware after a few days with it.

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