Apple Mac purchasing decisions

Whilst I’ve been busy shooting over 3000 frames with my Canon 400D, I’ve been severely hampered in the post-processing of them due to the lack of a suitable computer. Not any more… Gulp.

Whilst I work in computer software, I’ve never really been much of a hardware geek. The thought of building my own PC doesn’t interest me at all, also I don’t get the whole constant upgrade thing, so prefer to have a machine which will last a long time. As such I made an old 486 DX2 50Mhz last me all through university and well beyond. Thankfully of course IBM gave me a succession of Thinkpad laptops over the years, so my need for a desktop machine of my own was minimal.

About four years ago I got the urge to get a Mac, and bought a used PowerMac G4 from eBay. I fell in love with it and have been a Mac fan ever since. However we sold it on 18 months ago to fund a 12″ iBook G4 for Lana to use on her night shifts. All this was fine as I could happily surf the web on my Thinkpad and use the iBook for iTunes and iPhoto occasionally.

All this changed when the DSLR came along and I suddenly found myself wanting to spend more and more time in front of the iBook using Adobe Lightroom and more recently Photoshop Elements. Using the Thinkpad would be possible (IBM are good like that generally) but not an ideal option given the limited disk space I have spare. Thus I started to hanker after a new machine. The only question is what it would be? The certainties were that it would be a Mac, and also that it would be new and would have to last. That combination provided a number of options:

  • Mac Mini and a display
  • iMac
  • Macbook
  • Macbook Pro

All of these would be within my budget. Unfortunately the Mac Pros are too expensive once you factor in the need for a display. Technically my priorities were a large crisp display, as much RAM as possible and large but more importantly fast disk.

The Mac Mini, although small and silent suffers from only having a Core Duo processor and 2.5″5,400 rpm disk of up to 80GB. It can take 2GB of RAM but has onboard graphics which share system memory. Twinned with a 20″ or 23″ Apple Cinema Display I feel it would run out of steam quite quickly and the disk would instantly be filled with my current iTunes library and photo archive.

The iMac is a much more interesting proposition. The sleek all-in-one form factor certainly has aesthetic appeal and the displays are excellent. The Intel Core 2 Duo processor provides enough power and RAM is up to 3GB. Disk-wise they use 3.5″ SATA drives that spin at 7,400 rpm up to 750GB in size.

The two laptops are of course a compromise between portability and performance. With one iBook already in the house I wasn’t keen on the 13.3″ widescreen display of the MacBook as it wouldn’t offer any significant difference to the 12″ iBook, which is pretty cramped when editing photos. That left the MacBook Pros of which the 15″ provided an adequate 1440 x 900 resolution. However, common to both the laptops was the relatively slow 5,400 rpm drives (or even 4,200 rpm if you want 200GB in a MacBook Pro) The portability of a laptop is compromised if you need to start adding external storage via firewire, and in any case I didn’t see portability as a key requirement. After all there are already two laptops in the household.

So, the iMac it was. The only decision was which one? It came down to the 20″ or the amazing 24″ model (you can see where this is going…) Both were within budget, so the decision was really about do we have space for the beautiful, but really rather big 24″ model? There are some technical advantages to the larger version as well. It has upgraded graphics, Firewire 800 (though of debatable use unless you are planning to implement RAID 1 or 5) and the screen itself is different in that it has two backlights leading to increased brightness (some say too bright.) After playing around with both in John Lewis (including uploading my own photo onto them using the Bluetooth on my Nokia N80) I couldn’t get past the beauty of the 24″ screen. With a massive 1920 x 1200 resolution it can handle 1080p video which whilst not so important now, may well be in a couple of years. The only thing holding me back was the thought that the 20″ one plus an extra 20″ Apple Cinema Display would work out about the same (well, a bit more.) Now of course, dual monitors are very useful for photo work, but we don’t really have the space for such a luxury.

So, tonight I placed an order with Apple for the following:

  • iMac 24″ with 2.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
  • 2 GB 667 DDR2 SDRAM (2 x 1GB)
  • NVIDEA GeForce 7600GT with 256MB SDRAM
  • 500GB SATA 7,400rpm Hard Disk
  • 8x double layer SuperDrive (DVD+R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)

As I said at the top, Gulp! The only things I didn’t max out on the options were the RAM and the Hard Disk. The RAM can go up to 3GB, but the option was too expensive and I’ll wait for the price of the 2GB sticks to drop. I could have ordered a 750GB Hard Disk, but again the cost was quite high and extra external storage can always be added. Some of the options, namely the processor upgrade (from the standard 2.16 GHz) and the graphics card (from 7300GT with 128MB) are probably not going to be necessary for the use I have in mind (I’m not a PC gamer at all) but the iMac is not a user-upgradable machine (memory aside) so I might as well max them out whilst I can. After all, this machine is going to have to last a long, long time!

So now all that is left is to anticipate the delivery sometime around the end of the month. That, and to remove ThinkSecret and MacRumors from my feed reader so I don’t hear about the inevitable iMac upgrade that will now happen! I could have waited a couple of months to get OSX Leopard as standard, but I’m impatient and anyway, that will provide more fun later on!

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