Retiring my 2012 Retina MacBook Pro

Over eight years ago Apple released the 15” MacBook Pro with Retina display and it was pretty different compared to the previous model. It sported a new slender body thanks to the optical drive removal, and it lacked an Ethernet port to the disgust of many. But its standout feature was the 2800 x 1800 screen which gave the 2012 MacBook Pro it’s name - and it still looks good even in 2020.

I purchased my 2012 MBP a month or so after launch, and it has been my daily-driver for more than 8 years now. Most of the time it’s docked and runs a couple of monitors at my desk. However, its portablility has been essential throughout its life. It has travelled across the world, it’s been beaten, and it’s been put through its paces. I never thought I would like a machine as much as I have this one - maybe that’s why I’m writing this in the first place.

In the real world, eight years is a long time. In the tech world, eight years is a looong time. For context - this computer has seen 2 olympiads. It’s witnessed the release and death of the Nintendo Wii U and the release of the Nintendo Switch. It’s seen the release and death of Windows 8, and the release of Windows 10 - as well as other - probably more historically significant - events.

It was safe to say this thing was getting long in the tooth a few years ago. Now even more so. Apple seems to agree. Back in June they declared the machine obsolete - meaning that it’s no longer eligible for service or repairs from Apple itself. It won’t receive any more MacOS updates either - so no Big Sur.

This particular MBP was built-to-order. I chose to upgrade to 16GB of RAM and I got a higher speed CPU. All-in it cost about £1800 with the student discount. Not a cheap machine. But I needed a computer that was high-performance and portable.

A short time after release there were reports of thermal issues with the 2012 MBP. Admittedly, it is one of the issues I experienced. With long periods of high load on the machine, it just can’t keep up with cooling. The body of the computer gets HOT. Not just hot to the touch ‘huh that’s hot’ kind of hot, but ‘WOW that’s hot!’ kind of hot. It makes the touchpad and keyboard uncomfortable to use. And whilst the fans don’t whine, they make a lot of noise when they’re at higher RPM.

One other issue that this particular computer had was the GPU. This MBP just died one day, and no amount of troubleshooting would help. So off to the Apple store I went. The issue was diagnosed, and it needed a replacement logic board. I handed it over for a week to get it repaired. The experience overall with Apple’s service was good because the replacement was covered by the repair program specifically for the GPU issues of the computer.

After 4 years of use I contemplated upgrading, and waited to see what Apple would release next. They announced a new MBP, with the touch bar and the plagued keyboard. I decided to skip. Each subsequent announcement left much to be desired (and it seems like this was the case with other people like me). So I just never upgraded.

Then the 16” MBP was announced, and it looked good! The dodgy keyboard of the last few years was replaced, and it just seems like a good successor to this 2012 MBP. BUT, and it’s a big BUT - the price. Apple aren’t known for low prices, but after looking at the price of the 16” MBP, I winced. The base price is £2399. £600 more than what I paid 8 years ago - for a machine that was BTO with upgrades. Although I just looked up the inflation-adjusted price for the 2012 model - £2212. So maybe it’s not as big a price-hike as it seems.

If I wanted similar upgrades for a 16” MBP to last as long as this one - double the base RAM (16GB -> 32GB), and the middle option CPU, it would cost £3199! And now that Apple’s M1 chips are out-performing basically everything relevant, I don’t think I’ll be buying the 16” either.

So what will I be getting next? Right now I’m planning a desktop build (although stock of components is basically 0 for nearly everything right now), and I’m going to hop over to Linux. Windows 10 + the Windows subsystem for Linux is getting better, but the Linux experience on desktop is looking more appealing all the time. A desktop will also let me work on some ML workloads instead of using clouds - so that will be fun.

When Apple redesign their laptops with a new generation of Apple silicon, I’ll likely buy one of the more portable models. Until then, this 2012 MBP is going to retire from daily-driver duties and I’ll be reinstalling MacOS and keeping it around for some normal laptop work.

Overall, this machine has been a workhorse. It’s ploughed through almost everything I’ve thrown at it, and when it inevitably dies, I’m going to miss it.