iMac vs Macbook with External Displays
Rediculous minor technology annoyance post. Move along if such things annoy you.
TL;DR: Apple still hasn't solved the issue of a laptop with multiple external displays not remembering window organization, and it makes using a laptop with external displays as your desktop computer very irritating.
I keep vacillating between is "desktop + laptop" or "laptop + dock + monitors." The choice boils down to between "always available desktop with everything just as I left it" vs "only one machine to manage, always have files on the go". I've been doing the dual setup since I got an iMac back in 2017. I switched back to the dual setup primarily because of the annoyance of losing application windows state when using a laptop: I tend to have a lot of windows, spread over multiple monitors (mail, cal, terminals, editors, browser windows, etc), and having to rearrange them when moving from desktop to mobile and back is irritating. (Yes, I know, this is minor in the grand scheme of things, but it's a continual irritation that was easily dealt with).
The 2017 27" iMac has a lovely display and was "pretty fast" at the time I got it. I recently upgraded my laptop to a new 14" MBP with an M1 Max, and especially in comparison, the iMac has been feeling slower and slower. Both machines have decent specs.
But a recent "sharing display into Teams while demonstrating WebGL dev" experience pushed me to try the laptop approach again; the mouse and browser were almost unresponsive most of the session. Sure, a lot of this has to do with Teams (sorry, Microsoft, but Teams is a resource nightmare when doing screen sharing on a video conference), but the same task with an equally large 5k2k display is smooth on the 14" laptop (even if the fans do come on).
I've been using the Macbook at my desk this week, with 3 external displays (why not, I had them sitting around!), and from a performance perspective, it's been wonderful. Everything is faster, the laptop fans come on much less often than the iMac fans, and when I brought my laptop to work, it was great to have all my files with me.
But it's still a frustrating experience. The "rearranging application windows" issue seems even worse now than it used to be: even if I leave the laptop plugged into the dock at night, applications windows don't stay where I put them when I wake the machine from sleep. This is likely due to the laptop "seeing" the monitors gradually when it wakes, instead of all at once, so it moves content around as each monitor is discovered.
I really wish Apple could fix this somehow (I would be happy to have a short "checking for monitors" pause when the laptop wakes with its lid closed, for example). I'll keep using it like this for now, but I suspect when I can get a Mac Mini or Mac Pro that's faster than my 14" MBP, I'll be switching back again.
(Not getting an iMac again – if I had known they'd gotten rid of target display mode on the iMac, I wouldn't have gotten the 27" iMac back in 2017, since I now have a beautiful but worthless display sitting there).