One Mac or Two?

Apple’s new Retina iMac and my own aging work hardware have me thinking a lot about multi-computer setups lately. Right now I have two machines:

  • A mid-2011 Mac Mini that I use mostly for work. 8GB of RAM and an aftermarket Fusion drive courtesy of iFixIt’s handy dual drive kit. It’s hooked up to a 23″ monitor on my desk.
  • A late-2012 13″ Retina MacBook Pro, also with 8GB of RAM, which is mostly for personal stuff. I’ll occasionally use it for work when traveling.

The Mac Mini in particular is really starting to show it’s age, and the Retina iMac is VERY tempting, due both to the amazing screen and much improved performance. But the thing that keeps nagging at me is whether I want to keep maintaining two machines at all. To try and sort it out, I’ve put together a few pros and cons of a two-Mac setup:

PRO: Keep work and personal stuff separate

As an independent developer, it’s important for me to maintain some separation between work and non-work. That means closing down work projects at the end of the day so that I can focus on the rest of my life without getting sucked back into work. With two computers, that’s pretty easy: Put the work Mac to sleep and walk away. With just one machine, that’s harder. (I think the best way to deal with this is probably to use two user accounts on the same Mac, one for work and one for everything else.)

CON: Maintaining separate development environments

Two machines means twice as many things to keep up to date. Software updates, Xcode betas, and especially provisioning profiles are a pain to deal with across two Macs. Unfortunately, Dropbox or iCloud drive don’t help much with this kind of thing, and we don’t have the kind of tools for replicating dev environments that are so useful when doing web development.

PRO: No docking/undocking

With two Macs, there’s none of the docking/undocking setup involved with hooking a laptop up to an external monitor. I don’t want to just leave my laptop on my desk all the time – that defeats the purpose. That means every time I want to move it, I have to unplug a few cables before I can take the laptop with me. When I come back, I have to reconnect everything. Even with something like a HengeDock (which I’ve used before and liked a lot), there’s the inevitable window rearranging and other snafus that come along with changing screen resolutions.

CON: Cost

Having two Macs means keeping the hardware for both up to date. I could probably let my personal laptop slip a bit, since it usually doesn’t have to do anything too intensive. Combine that with the old adage that you should buy the best Mac you can, and it’s possible to stretch the lifetimes out a bit. Nevertheless, maintaining two computers is always going to be more expensive than maintaining just one. (Then again, that iMac is pretty pricey…)

PRO: Desktop Retina

Right now, the only real way to get a Retina display on the desktop is with the Retina iMac. That doesn’t seem likely to change in the near future. Maybe Apple will release a standalone Retina display and update the Mac Pro to support it, but I think it’ll be a while before a laptop can drive that many pixels. Marco Arment’s guess of 2016 for a standalone Retina display sounds about right to me. Granted, Retina isn’t a must-have feature, but it sure would be nice, especially when developing for iOS devices that all have Retina screens. Those simulators take up a lot of screen real estate!

WILD CARD: Desktop + iPad?

I’ve always had a Mac for personal use. But I wonder: Do I really need one? Could I replace most of my personal laptop usage with the iPad? (Somewhere in Italy, Federico Viticci is cheering.) If so, that mostly negates a lot of the con arguments. Maybe I’ll give that a try for a while and see how it works out.

Have thoughts or experience about resolving this dilemma? Let me know on Twitter!