Dear Apple,

Please can we use third party Bluetooth mice with pre-boot MacBook/MacBook Pros encrypted with FileVault. I’m not happy that only Magic Mouse mice work during this part of the boot process.

Last year I posted a blog which expressed my frustrations with the system recovery process and non-Apple Bluetooth mice. Even with the Logitech Master 2S hooked up via USB, System Recovery would have none of it. That’s when I had to fork out £55 for the Apple Magic Mouse.

Performing system recovery circa 2019 (pre-macOS Catalina)

Speaking of pre-boot problems, the 2019 MacBook Pro 16″ appears to have issues with Apple’s own (external Bluetooth) Magic Keyboard during pre-boot. When I go to enter my account password to unlock FileVault, more often than not, some key presses aren’t registered in the input form. I have to press them multiple times to get them to register. Sometimes it’s so bad, I have to open the laptop lid to fully expose the built in keyboard and enter it there. That’s works okay – but I’d rather use the external keyboard wherever possible if I’m hooking the machine up to my external monitor. I’m pretty sure my 2018 15″ MacBook Pro didn’t suffer from this problem. Maybe macOS 10.15.4 will resolve the problem?

Now that the new 2020 iPad Pro has launched alongside a new folio case sporting a full size keyboard and trackpad (an additional £300 on top of the iPad Pro itself, BTW) – what exactly is Apple going to be doing with the MacBook and MacBook Pro lines?

Here’s Apple’s TV ad for the new 2020 iPad Pro:

This also brings up whether the MacBook/MacBook Pro range will be moving over to Apple’s ARM-based A-series chips. Would there be any point now if the iPad Pro is just getting more and more powerful and supports trackpad and Bluetooth pointing devices?

I’d still say that if Apple moves to custom-processors for the MacBook/MacBook Pro and iMac ranges – they’re likely to be AMD-based Zen 2 architecture combining the CPU and GPU on the same silicon. This would retain the x86 compatibility that a lot of us sysadmins require, along with better performance and power usage over Intel’s processors.

That’s not the time. That’s how much money you’ve spent on the Apple ecosystem so far.

Meanwhile, Apple has also launched a new MacBook Air with 10th generation Intel processors – available with a quad core Core i7 – which is exceptional for a device that slim.

So again – what’s happening with the various brands? I realise there are some pretty fundamental differences with macOS and iPadOS – but ultimately will the iPad Pro ever run macOS and combine iPadOS features? For the price of the cover which contains the keyboard and trackpad (I still cannot get over the cost – £300!), you can buy a reasonable PC laptop for not much more money.

This is perhaps the most appropriate headline regarding that £300 keyboard and trackpad (click the image to go to the article):

As my readers are aware, I recently sold my 2018 15″ MacBook Pro (2.6Ghz, 6-core i7, 16Gb RAM, 1Tb SSD) to make away for the 2019 16″ MacBook Pro (2.3Ghz, 8-core, 32Gb RAM, 4Tb SSD). I sold it to a work colleague for what I think is a decent buyer’s price – especially when you consider it also came with over a year of AppleCare remaining.

What is interesting is that my colleague lives in another country, and there was some initial confusion with the AppleCare team in Ireland as to whether it would be valid there. At first I was told yes, then no. But that was okay – the machine was in good working order – had lasted me a full year without any problems whatsoever, and we agreed that if it did go wrong, I’d sort it out here in the UK.

Three weeks later, I hear from the colleague to say that he spotted a dead pixel. Fair enough – I usually use the MacBook Pro with the lid closed, external keyboard and mouse, an external monitor, and the machine always plugged into the mains.

So he took it to an Authorised Apple Reseller in his country and they both noticed that the machine wasn’t sitting flush on its rubber legs. It turns out the battery had swollen too, and was pushing the aluminium case out of shape.

And the very nice people at the Authorised Apple Reseller replaced the whole screen, the touch-bar, the keyboard and trackpad, battery and bottom of the machine. For free. The AppleCare warranty WAS valid there. So effectively my colleague has got a 70% new 2018 MacBook Pro (only the main logic-board, SSD and RAM hasn’t been replaced) which should hopefully last him 3-4 years beyond that of the AppleCare warranty (assuming the battery doesn’t swell again – design fault, maybe)?

This kind of makes me a bit worried about my recent purchase – but at the moment there are no known reports of 2019 16″ MacBook Pro batteries swelling up. Given that the keyboard and system internals have been given a complete redesign, maybe that won’t impact the Lithium Ion battery as much? At least I have AppleCare+ on this new Mac in case things do wrong. In fact, I have AppleCare on my iPhone 11 Pro Max and the AirPods Pro because in all the years/decades I’ve been using Apple kit, it’s been well worth it.

But I do wish Apple would do a better job with selling AppleCare+ outside of the US and Canada. For example, paying monthly like the US would be good – the cost of AppleCare+ for this thing is fairly eye watering. And it wasn’t until fair recently that AppleCare+ for Macs was introduced. It didn’t exist back in 2018. And the issue of trying to figure out whether a warranty bought in the UK is valid in another country is a bit of a bugbear too. The parts are all the same – it all ships from China, so I can’t see why the warranty shouldn’t be valid elsewhere where there are valid Apple Stores or Authorised Apple Resellers.

Finally, AppleCare+ would benefit from onsite support as well as having the ability to take it to an Apple Store/AAR. You won’t get any kind of onsite support from Apple unless you have bought hundreds/thousands of machines from them – in which case, you get onsite repairs from IBM. But if you’ve only bought one or two £50k Mac Pros and loaded them to the hilt – you’ve still got to drag them to your nearest Apple Store/AAR for repair. And this is partially why I have never bought another iMac because I don’t want to drag a bloody great machine half away across Surrey to a London Apple Store for repairs. Dell absolutely lead the way here with their next day on-site repairs. And Dell offers 4 year warranties whereas Apple only go to a maximum of three.

But do I still recommend AppleCare/AppleCare+? Yes, absolutely – this is another case where Apple and/or their authorised partners go out their way to fix things. But it’s still a long way from the likes of Dell and other PC manufacturers.

Since Apple started producing its own silicon for the iPhone, the A-series of ARM-based chips has gone from strength to strength. No better device to demonstrate the muscle of the Apple designed SoCs is the iPad Pro. It’s a very capable multitasker – great with media consumption and even pretty decent when it comes to media creation too. But is iOS and iPadOS limiting the series’ potential?

If Apple intends to put their own silicon at the heart of the Mac, it needs to be able to run all current software at the same or better performance than that which is offered on the current Intel platform. Apple has only just released the Mac Pro, a full on Intel-based Mac with up to 28 cores (56 threads) and is a beast (and possibly one of the best design PCs in existence according to several reviews I’ve seen – it’s so clean and manageable inside!). It seems they intend to release a 14″ 10th generation Intel based MacBook Pro at some point this year too.

Yet in the PC world, AMD has the Ryzen 3990X processor with a stupidly insane number of cores: 64 (128 threads) and is an overkill for all but the most intensive applications. For those that need the performance, I don’t think the ARM64 architecture has got to the point where it can compete in that space for a good number of years. Certainly, if Apple were to release a Mac in 2021 with an Apple designed SoC – even if it’s the standard MacBook (not the Pro) model – this means introducing tools to convert existing x86 code to ARM64 and vice versa. Nobody is ever going to run Logic Pro or Final Cut Pro on a simple MacBook, but how powerful does the Apple processor got to be in order to perform the code translation. Or how much work will the developer have to put in to create a universal binary that runs on both platforms? It’s Rosetta all over again.

Then there is the question of Windows. Intel Macs can run Windows natively via Boot Camp. Or via virtualisation within macOS. But if Apple starts moving to ARM processors, this obviously will break that feature – which is very useful for those that develop for both the macOS and Windows platforms.

Microsoft has done some legwork porting Windows to ARM. They’ve even released a Surface Pro laptop (the Surface Pro X) which runs Windows under ARM. But there are so many limitations with the platform which make adoption pretty terrible (and expensive) right now. Apple could potentially update Boot Camp for use with ARM Windows, but until the Windows on ARM platform is sufficiently mature – I don’t think it’s worth it. Even through x86 emulation, it’s not going to be good enough.

Then there are the Thunderbolt 3 ports on current Macs. Dongle city. Thunderbolt is very much an Intel thing, so Apple would still have to continue licensing it from them as well as perform extensive testing to ensure existing peripherals continue to work.

The important thing for me is that Apple doesn’t try to force an iPad-like experience on macOS. If macOS is going to go ARM, I want the macOS experience and to see the performance from applications around the same mark as the Core i9 and AMD Radeon Pro 5500M in my MacBook Pro (which has got to last me 4 -5 years before I can afford another major Apple purchase).

So at what point do you release an ARM-based Mac (if at all)? Difficult to say, but I’d say it’s 2021 would still be far too early. It’s not as though we’ve reached a plateau of power/performance which was certainly the case with the G4 and G5 processors. IBM pretty much forced Apple’s hand, because it just wasn’t possible to put a G5 processor into a laptop.

So maybe Apple should keep ARM to the mobile devices, and switch to AMD for its processors instead. They’ve leapfrogged Intel at an important milestone when it comes to die shrinkage – and, after all, they devised the whole x64 architecture anyway. And AMD must be pretty decent given that both Microsoft and Sony will be using their CPU and GPU technology in the PS5 and Xbox Series X. So any all-AMD Mac/MacBook Pro would be a decent all rounder.

It’s been argued that he x86 architecture is old and out of date – and it has been around for a very long time, this is true. But ultimately it’s allowed those of us with feet both in the Windows/PC world and Mac world the ability to co-operate with each other like never before and do stuff that just wasn’t possible back in the days when Macs where running 68000 or G4/G5 processors.

They say (and rightly so), that you don’t buy a Mac to play games. And yet, how do you explain Apple Arcade – the £4.99/month subscription service from Apple which provides a selection of high quality games (albeit no AAA titles) across iOS, iPadOS, tvOS and macOS devices?

On my old 2018 15″ MacBook Pro, I could play the same games I had on my iPhone on my Mac – and the performance wasn’t too bad. It’s even better on the 2019 16″ MacBook Pro, of course. But Macs weren’t really intended for heavy gaming – this has long been the dominance of games consoles such as the Playstation, Xbox, or the Nintendo Switch. And gaming PCs, of course – Nvidia graphics, quad/hexa/octa-core CPUs with 16Gb+ RAM and superfast SSD drives.

Yet modern Macs have quad/hexa/oca-core CPUs, 16Gb+ RAM and superfast SSD drives. Yet they can’t play AAA titles even if they were ported to macOS. In part this is due to the Nvidia vs AMD graphics. Nvidia has had a long established foothold in the graphics market on PCs – yet AMD’s graphics power the likes of the Xbox and Playstation (and will do with the next generation consoles coming this year).

Nvidia vs AMD

Macs did once have Nvidia GPUs, but due to a long running spat between Apple, Intel and Nvidia, things were never the same. This is not to say AMD produce inferior graphics chipsets – as we’ve seen, they’re used in today’s modern consoles alongside AMD CPUs too. And AMD has just released a 64-core CPU capable of 128 threads. This is a monster of a CPU (with a monster price – $4k for the CPU alone).

But Macs graphics have never been particularly powerful for gaming – primarily because Apple has been concentrating on more professional creative workflows than 3D gaming. And MacBook Pros have been very slender machines which makes designing thermals to keep the machine cooled a bit of a challenge.

Another problem with Macs is that now macOS Catalina has gone fully 64-bit, many 32-bit titles will not work. Goodbye Team Fortress 2 – many a wasted hour spent laughing long and hard playing that game.

But with the 16″ MacBook Pro with an Intel Core i9 processor and an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with 8Gb of video RAM, I can finally play Fortnite at reasonable framerates. The only downside is that with the release of macOS Catalina 10.15.3, the native Fortnite client takes around 4-5 minutes to load every time. With 10.15.2, it was near instantaneous. Also, with the newer thermal design, the CPU fans will ramp up and it does become quite noisy – so I revert to using headphones.

Nvidia’s GeForce Now – a potential solution to all Mac gamer problems?

Nvidia has a possible solution to the Mac/older PC problem. They have a subscription service which lets you play owned games (including Fortnite) by effectively providing a hosted virtual machine with one of their high end graphics cards. You’re effectively playing the game on their server and streaming the video back to your machine. This relies on:

  • Having a fast connection (50Mbs+ recommended)
  • Using ethernet rather than Wi-Fi
  • Low latency

You also need to own PC games. Fortnite is free to play, so as long as you have your Epic Games credentials, you’re all good. GeForce Now requires that you have logins for the games you’re playing. Nearly all games these days require some form of connection to the internet anyway, so this isn’t so much of a problem. Many of them are available from Steam anyway.

The downside to this is:

  • You’re giving credentials to a third-party service (Nvidia) which stores those credentials on their platform. The logins are usually connected to accounts where credit/debit card details are stored.
  • On a Mac, some symbols are only accessible via the option key – if you have a particularly complex password, good luck trying to enter them via the GeForce Now Mac client. Oh yes, copy and paste between the Mac and the client isn’t supported.
  • Nvidia does not support any form of two-factor authentication on their accounts. This is very bad.

So you’ve got to be very trusting that Nvidia will keep your credentials safe. And you’ll need to ensure that your GeForce Now account’s password is a strong one. Nvidia really need to get their arse into gear and deploy 2FA as soon as they bloody well can. They also need to fix their SPF and DMARC record, because all Nvidia store email goes to spam as a result. This is basic, basic stuff.

Nvidia needs to go back to email school and learn all about SPF and DMARC

Fortnite under GeForce now is very good. Initially it felt as if there was a little bit of lag (latency) when running under the Balanced setting, though it seems to have passed and gaming feels as good as running it locally. As I run my 16″ MBP via an external monitor – it’s limited to 1920×1080 which is a decent setting to run most games on high mode. GeForce Now Fortnite runs well with the high settings enabled and connected to Zen Internet via ethernet at 300Mbs download/50Mbs upload.

Fortnite using Nvidia’s GeForce Now on a Mac. High framerates! (Match sped up x 2)

In terms of loading speeds, GeForce Now and Fortnite are considerably faster than the native macOS Fortnite client. And the Mac’s fans never ramp up at all during gameplay. But I’d ideally still like to play Fortnite natively – if only the loading time issues can be resolved.

Can’t run Team Fortress 2 on macOS Catalina because of 32-bitness? GeForce NOW *can*.

The biggest bugbear is that GeForce Now doesn’t support one of the biggest titles in the past 7 years – Grand Theft Auto V.

GeForce now has two subscription tiers: free, with one hour sessions, and a limited edition Founder’s level which gives longer sessions and priority access (whatever that means). That said, it is £4.99/month with a 90 day trial before your card is charged, which is the cheapest and most generous I’ve seen.

Beware of the Shadows

There are alternatives to Nvidia’s video game streaming. One of them is Shadow. I’ve tried them before. They essentially provide you with a fully virtual Windows PC with Nvidia Geforce graphics card. You’d install games as you would under Windows. Unlike Nvidia’s GeForce Now, you have disk space and, as such, a quota to work with.

The biggest stumbling block I found with Shadow was the latency and overall streaming performance. Despite ethernet or Wi-Fi connection, the lag was very noticeable. And it was extremely expensive for what it is. You’d be better off saving the money towards a console or middle-end gaming PC. Even now, you have pre-order – with some specifications unavailable until 2021.

There’s also Google’s Stadia. Another streaming platform, designed to work across TVs, laptops and tablets. From what I understand you’ll need to buy hardware (at the very least a controller) and a subscription. From what I understand from the web site, you need to buy the games directly from Google to play with Stadia rather than bringing your existing library into it. That kind of limits things somewhat, and makes everything more expensive if you already own titles held on a different platform.

My recommendation

The current range of consoles – especially with Microsoft’s Xbox – are shaping up nicely as a good all round gaming system. Xbox has introduced mouse and keyboard support which when developers take advantage of, give PC-like gaming at a fraction of a cost. The next generation of consoles will also introduce SSDs for storage, which means much faster loading times. It’s also possible to stream from the console to a Mac or PC over local LAN, should you so wish.

But for the Mac user, regardless of whatever model you may be using, a combination of Apple Arcade and GeForce Now may be good option. Providing Nvidia continue to add titles, fix bugs, add essential features (as I mentioned earlier – copying and pasting between environments, and 2FA protection of Nvidia accounts).

The 16″ mega beast of a MacBook Pro arrived yesterday and it was glorious. It had already run up 5,700-odd miles making its way from Shanghai to Reading (hang on, it’s not a car..) before eventually reaching me.

Despite having a 16″ screen, the unit is not that much better than the 15″ machine it replaces. It fits fine into my existing sleeve and backpack, so there’s no need to go out replacing existing carrying cases/sleeves if you already have them.

The slightly higher resolution is quite noticeable, as is the thinner screen bezels. But what really stands out is how good the reworked keyboard is. It’s very much on par with the external Magic Keyboard that I use when the machine is docked to my Dell 23.5″ monitor.

After the usual macOS set-up, it was time to start shifting data over from the old MacBook Pro. I keep a few external hard drives about for such purposes, so had been copying my data to them throughout the day. The first software to be installed was Chrome and 1Password, my password manager. Then iStats Menu, which gives me an overview of system resources along the Mac’s menubar.

Then it was a case of copying over the 133Gb of photos to the system. Alas, Apple switches on iCloud Photos by default which creates an existing Apple Photos library catalogue “file” which caused a problem with the external hard drive copy. So I had to stop the copy, delete the catalogue file which was there, restart Apple Photos and then – just to see how fast it would take to download all 10,443 photos and 463 videos over a 300Mbs connection – enabled iCloud Photos. Turns out its about 3 hours. Though you need to be VERY patient with the macOS Apple Photos app because it’ll need to do a bit of housekeeping first before it starts downloading anything.

Apple Music was a little better. I copied over 103Gb of music, fired up Apple Music, signed in and.. it told me I hadn’t signed in. So I had to log out and log back in again, forcing another resync. I could now play my music. The downloaded files were playable – they didn’t have to be re-downloaded again, thank goodness. But all the album artwork had vanished in listing mode. Even now, despite manually attempting to force through updates, it’s very slow or has completely stopped (I’m not currently sure which).

During all these tasks, I was watching a YouTube video in Chrome with a number of open tabs. Now, Chrome is notorious for memory usage. Which is why I specced out 32Gb RAM for this machine. Yet, the entire system froze. The video continued to play for a while, but even that stopped. Completely unresponsive – couldn’t even force quit anything. So I had to hold down the power button down and restart the machine. Now, I hadn’t logged out or rebooted since I first went through setting up the machine – so it could be a leftover/hung process or something that caused it to go haywire. It’s been fine since, and I’ve pushed the CPU and the fans to their limits on a number of occasisons.

Speaking of the CPU and the fans, the 9th generation 8-core Intel Core i9 processor is a definitely a bit of a step-up from my 8th generation 6-core Intel Core i7, even though the minimum speed is 300Mhz lower on the newer machine. But with each generation comes improvements in efficiency and you could really see it here. The 4Tb SSD speed is not much different than that of the older MacBook Pro, but bloody hell, it’s nice to have the space!

The AMD Radeon Pro 5500M with its 8Gb RAM feels like a significant improvement over the 560X with 4Gb RAM. I tested performance in the game Fortnite and got between 50-80 frames a second in my first test – settings at high, and a resolution of 1920×1080. With the older Mac, the frame rate varied greatly and barely got between 28-40 fps.

Overall I’m very happy with the new 16″ MacBook Pro. It’ll keep me going for a lot longer – and maybe even in the ARM-based era of the MacBook/MacBook Pro. I’m still a bit concerned about the total system freeze, but as I’ve said, I hadn’t rebooted since the initial switch on, and it may just be a small glitch. macOS Catalina hasn’t exactly been the most stable of operating systems since the release – but Apple is rolling out updates regularly and they nothing if not committed to making it one of the best Macs (and OSes) yet.

Look for another review coming soon – the AirPods Pro. Perhaps Apple’s greatest contribution to audio yet (aside from the 16″ MacBook Pro speakers which are apparently awesome – though I’ve yet to test them).

Thanks to overpaying for insurance which I didn’t need (thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger for the push), I am – for the first time in ages (and without the need for credit) – able to make a generational upgrade to my Mac hardware. This is likely to be the last upgrade for 4 years (or so) and the very last Intel CPU-based Mac that I’ll own.

While it’s been predicted that Apple will start to shift Mac CPUs to their own silicon ARM-based processors, with the delivery of the 16″ MacBook Pro and the crazy-expensive, but crazy-powerful Mac Pro that utilise Intel’s 9th generation processors (though that’s now been superseded by the 10th generation processors which are just hitting the market) – I very much doubt we’ll see Macs using AXX chips for another 2-3 years. 5 at a push.

So I’m replacing my 2018 15″ MacBook Pro (2.6Ghz 8th generation Intel Core i7 processor with 6 cores, 16Gb RAM, 1Tb SSD, AMD Radeon 560X graphics with 4Gb RAM) with the new late 2019 16″ MacBook Pro (2.3Ghz 9th generation Intel Core i9 with 8 cores, 32Gb RAM, 4Tb SSD, AMD Radeon Pro 5500M graphics with 8Gb RAM). Bigger screen, smaller bezels, higher resolution, 2x faster graphics and more RAM and storage to play with (which will come in handy when helping to digitise and arrange Dad’s many, many photos, as well as learning to set-up a new Active Directory system from scratch using virtual machines). It’ll be used for work quite a bit too. This is effectively a geek’s car upgrade.

If anybody is interested in taking the old machine off my hands, please do get in touch. I’m looking for around £2,000 (or nearest offer) – but that does include AppleCare up until 19th July 2021, and will remain part of Apple’s free keyboard replacement program until 2022 (though I haven’t used the keyboard much – I tend to use my MacBook Pro with an external monitor, keyboard and mouse). Includes original packaging and power supply brick, etc.

I’ll let you know what I think of the new 16″ MacBook Pro when it arrives, but with a redesigned keyboard (including the return of a physical Escape key which, as a systems administrator, is essential) – the reviews of this new Mac have been extremely encouraging. I just wish it didn’t cost so much!