A few weeks ago, Apple released the 2021 MacBook Pro laptops, featuring the brand new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. The laptops received stellar reviews for the massive performance gains the new M1 SoCs bring to the table. All the while, Intel kept pushing its desperate anti-M1 ad campaign, attempting to steal attention from Apple. But the fact remains that people looking for a professional device were paying attention to the new MacBook Pros. Reddit is one place where people care about the hardware meant to make their job easier despite the expensive price point. That’s why a MacBook Pro tweet of a company employee went viral in early November.
Reddit staff engineer Jameson Williams said at the time that buying the expensive MacBook Pros would actually help save the company money in the long run, with the break-even point happening after three months for a team of nine people.
The new M1 Max MacBook Pro is expensive
Following the reactions he got, Williams explained the back-of-the-envelope math in a detailed post on Reddit. In November, he concluded that spending $32,000 on nine M1 Max MacBook Pro laptops priced at $3,299 each before tax would save $100,000 in productivity costs over the course of 2022.
We recently found that the new 2021 M1 MacBooks cut our Android build times in half.
So for a team of 9, $32k of laptops will actually save $100k in productivity over 2022. The break-even point happens at 3 months.
TL;DR Engineering hours are much more expensive than laptops!
— Jameson (@softwarejameson) November 3, 2021
The M1 Max is the most powerful SoC available for the 2021 MacBook Pro. Apple advises the upgrade to professionals who need more computing power for their regular workloads.
He explained that the example in the tweet did not represent a financial transaction. It was just an exercise to make a point. The expensive MacBook Pros will put a dent in a company’s budget in the short run. But the new notebooks might help to save money in the long run.
The Reddit engineer also explained the productivity costs. While it’s easy to measure the M1 Max MacBook Pro’s performance, productivity doesn’t have benchmarks. But even so, the M1 Max laptop might be a worthy investment for a company like Reddit.
How Reddit would save money
Williams explained that the new MacBook Pros might actually help Reddit reduce waiting times for developing its Android app. That’s because the M1 Max MacBook Pro is significantly faster than the 2019 Intel i9 MacBook:
To start, I estimated that an average Android engineer spends 45 minutes waiting on builds each day. (More about this later.) My colleagues and I then benchmarked our builds on some different hardware. We observed that the new 2021 M1 Max MacBook finished a clean build of our Android repo in half the time of a 2019 Intel i9 MacBook. That means an Android developer could save about 22 minutes of build time every day.
This adds up, which can increase the productivity of every developer, despite how expensive the new MacBook Pro might be up front. In turn, this could lead to savings for the company.
He acknowledged that there are other ways to streamline software development that could save money. But the investment in faster hardware would also pay off regardless:
There’s an old saying about being ‘penny-wise but dollar-dumb.’ Engineering departments sometimes fall victim to the adage, thinking they’re ‘saving’ $1k/laptop while dozens of Engineers are sitting idle, staring at progress bars.
Developer time is almost always more expensive than hardware, as I’ve hopefully demonstrated here. If you extrapolate the results of this article to your entire department, you might find that a targeted hardware refresh saves you $500k–$1M in productivity per year.
Reddit isn’t the only company that likes the MacBook Pro
The Reddit engineer also pointed out similar tweets from his peers at Uber and Twitter.
Uber’s Mahyar McDonald said at the time that “all active iOS Engineers at Uber are getting upgraded to 16″ M1 Max MacBook Pros with 64GB of RAM, which includes new hires! Looking forward to a faster machine.” The 64GB 16-inch version is the most expensive MacBook Pro you can get. That’s the model the Redditor used in his example.
Separately, Twitter’s John Szumski said: “I’m excited to be rolling out fully loaded M1 Max MBPs to all of Twitter’s iOS & Android engineers! We’re seeing improvements in both top-line performance and thermal throttling that currently plague our Intel builds.”
Neither executive calculated cost savings like Williams did, however.