The MacBook Pro Pro

It just occurred to me that the MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro chip can be called The MacBook Pro Pro. I kind of like it, it sounds cute. It also underscores how Apple is bad at names.

Meanwhile, I am still mulling over my Mac situation. After getting DisplayLink (mostly) working with my M1 MacBook Air, I’m seeing my options as:

  • Do nothing
    • Pro: Zero cost
    • Con: All the fiddly bits with using the M1 Air remain
  • Trade the Air for an M1 Mac Mini
    • Pro: Minimal increase in cost, supports two external displays without hacks like DisplayLink, takes up less space
    • Con: Can’t pick up and go for when I want a portable machine. To be fair, the last time I used a laptop outside of home was over two years ago and the Air has never left my desk.
  • Trade the Air for a MacBook Pro Pro/Max 14″ model
    • Pro: Supports multiple displays without hackery, can still be used on the go if needed, more powerful system for video editing, modeling and drawing, all of which I am doing a lot more of now
    • Con: Expensive, unlikely to utilize the actual laptop part, so the snazzy mini-LED display would be largely wasted, may encounter first gen issues
  • Trade the Air for a higher-end Mac mini
    • Pro: All the advantages of the M1 Mac Mini, but with more power
    • Con: Doesn’t actually exist yet, will be more expensive

Options I’m not considering:

  • Any iMac. Despite the simplicity, I already have two QHD monitors and don’t want or need an all-in one computer
  • Mac Pro. Way too expensive, obsolete as it runs on Intel chips and any replacement will be, if anything, even more expensive still
  • Entry-level MacBook Pro. Right now it offers little over the M1 Air and a newer version sounds similarly non-compelling, an awkward compromise between the Air and the high-end Pro laptops.

There’s a rumored Apple event for March 8th, which is supposed to reveal the newest iPhone SE (mega-boring–sorry, SE lovers!) and an updated iPad Air (also boring as it’ll just be a spec bump). Vague rumors suggest some kind of Mac will be revealed. I’m hoping it will be the higher end Mac mini, so I can see what the premium would be over the current M1 and decide if it’s worth it. If not, I may go with the Pro Pro. Because it’s Pro.

DisplayLink dilemma done and dealt with

Well, mostly.

I decided to take another run at getting both monitors working with the DisplayLink USB adapter on my MacBook Air (previous attempts here) because I am a silly person.

I started by downloading the latest DisplayLink drivers and…that was the solution, actually. With the new drivers in place, both monitors began working. Hooray!

But…when I put the MacBook Air into clamshell mode, the “main” monitor suddenly stops displaying. It might be a refresh rate issue, but it could also be one of a million billion other things, and it’s working well enough now that I’m considering this issue sufficiently resolved.

Now that I have dual monitors working on the Mac, I can better evaluate using the configuration and I can’t help but feel that macOS still trails behind Windows in terms of things like multiple monitor support, as well as window and file management. A lot of the systems feel like they were designed 20-30 years ago and haven’t really changed much since then. Sure, even in Windows 11 you can still find legacy bits dating back 20 years or more, too, but it’s usually just some semi-obscure outdated icons, or an old-style dialog box. The actual systems in place are modern.

On the Mac, you have weird decisions like making the dock only appear on one screen in extended mode and having to click near the bottom of the active screen to move it over.

But man, the fonts render so nicely!

(I’ll have my comprehensive Mac vs. PC post up soon. It’ll be like living through the 90s again!)

The battle for multiple displays on an M1 MacBook Air, Chapter 1

Right now, I am caught between two worlds. Specifically, Mars and Jupiter. I’m stuck in the asteroid belt, send help!

Just kidding.

I use both a Windows 11 PC and an M1 MacBook Air. Both are very nice machines and perform well. I think Windows 11 has caught up in many ways to macOS in terms of appearance and UI, and even surpasses it in some ways (window management remains much better, as I’ve noted before).

I would be Windows-only save for one thing: my fiction writing is done in Ulysses, which is a Mac-only app. Now, it’s true that my fiction writing has been moribund (very, very moribund) for the last year or so and if I had no intent on changing this, I could just put aside the MacBook Air for the fabled time when I’d actually need to go back out into the world with a laptop again.

But I am intent on actually trying to revive my fiction writing and I’m too lazy to look for or switch to another writing app, so I’m keeping my Mac–for now, at least.

My previous setup was a single 27″ monitor and it worked well for both PC and Mac. Switching between the two was not instant, but it was pretty easy and only took a second or two. I added a second monitor, which has been glorious for my Windows 11 setup. However, for ?reasons? Apple deigned to make its initial Apple silicon offering, the System on Chip (Soc) known as the M1, only work with a single external display.

This means I can only use one of my two 27″ monitors with my MacBook Air and I am sad.

But wait!

You can use a DisplayLink adapter or dock to sneakily connect more displays via USB. It’s confirmed to work with all M1 Macs (it’s not needed for the newer M1 Pro and M! Max SoCs, since they support multiple external displays). I procured one of these devices, specifically a StarTech USB-A to HDMI DisplayLink adapter. I downloaded the latest DisplayLink drivers (also required), connected the adapter to a free USB-A port on my CalDigit 3 dock and…it didn’t work.

With both monitors connected, only one or the other would work, neither would work at the same time (the “permanent” monitor is working via USB-C to HDMI).

Thus I began troubleshooting.

It’s worth mentioning here that the reason I went with a DisplayLink adapter as a solution is because it would be the cheapest way to get a multi-monitor Mac setup going (about $100). The next cheapest option would be to trade-in or sell my Air and get an M1 Mac mini, which supports two external monitors because it really only supports the same number as the Air, but since it doesn’t come with a display, it can actually display to two external monitors. This option, no matter how I might finagle it, other than winning the lottery, would cost more than $100.

Troubleshooting involved a lot of the usual stuff. I won’t go into details. It was bad enough that I suffered through it. No one else should suffer through it by proxy.

In the end it’s still not working. I have one thing left to try–switch the “permanent” connection from HDMI to DisplayPort, but this would upset my PC configuration, which is working just dandy, so I am loathe to do it. I might, if I manage to reach the right balance of bored and desperate.

For now, my Mac work continues to be single monitor, with the second display dimly showing my forlorn reflection and nothing else.

I have considered getting one of those new MacBook Pros by selling my Air and using other monies I have from previous trade-ins, but there’s no getting around it costing a lot more than $100, and it would be serious overkill for writing. I rationalize it by saying I’m getting into game development now and video editing and it would be useful for those things. But my PC already works well for those. But it is now and shiny and solves a problem, and so I ponder, occasionally glancing up to that forlorn figure looking back at me.

tl;dr: DisplayLink is definitely a hack when it comes to M1 Macs. This isn’t the technology’s fault, really, it’s Apple’s strange and arbitrary regression on monitor support for their first batch of Apple SoCs. Still, it’s important to remember what you may be getting into before making the leap, as I did.

Also note: All PCs happily support multiple displays without any trickery!

I end with a repeat of this:

MacBook Air M1, Test #2: Hooking up things

In this test I take my Apple dongle (heh heh) and hook up the following things to the Air:

  • Asus 24″ monitor via HDMI
  • Logitech M720 Marathon mouse (using USB Type-A wireless receiver)
  • CTRL mechanical keyboard via USB-C

I’ve done similar with the MacBook Po in the past and the good news is everything simply works as expected. The default mouse tracking speed is set in a way that I am convinced it is meant to test your patience as it very slowly and carefully tracks across the screen. But that is easily adjusted.

The monitor works fine and looks good once True Tone is turned off. Every time I connect an Apple laptop to this thing it makes me want a 4K monitor. Someday.

The keyboard just works, as expected.

So until my dock arrives, I can use this jury-rigged system to use the Air for writing and such activities. And I will.

Starting tomorrow. Or maybe the next day. Definitely by the weekend.

I’m not kidding. Just watch.

Also, I have added a few more apps:

  • Discord. Intel-only but runs fine. It’s mainly a chat program, so it doesn’t have to do a lot (I don’t plan on streaming games from the MacBook Air, though that could prove modestly amusing)
  • Day One. Maybe I’ll finally commit to this journaling thing and record my darkest thoughts for all the world to never see but wonder about. Until I re-post everything to this blog.