Tag Archive for ‘Computers’

The Mac Pro Is Overpriced

I’ve seen a bit of chatter in the Apple scene claiming that the Mac Pro isn’t overpriced. I won’t point out anyone specifically, though, as it’s likely these articles are designed as clickbait and I’d prefer not to give them what they’re aiming for. But, those people’s opinions are misguided. The Mac Pro is overpriced. Maybe it isn’t overpriced when compared to similar PC workstations, but Mac users don’t typically decide between Apple’s offerings and those from PC manufacturers. Mac users like running macOS and Apple is the only game in town if that’s one of your requirements in a new computer.

But the Mac Pro is overpriced from a historical perspective — the starting price point is just so much higher than previous iterations of the machine. The most recent version, the trash can Mac Pro started at $3,000 — half the price of the new model. Even adjusted for inflation, that would be about $3,300 today.

Going back a little bit further, to the cheese grater Mac Pro, that machine’s standard model was $2,500. But you could even configure it with a lesser CPU option and purchase it for only $2,300. That’s just under $2,600 when adjusted for inflation.

I don’t care about the Mac Pro’s pricing on the high-end either. It’s a good thing that buyers can configure a Mac with premium components. I don’t know who needs a 28-core computer with 1.5 TB of RAM, but if Apple didn’t offer it, those people would have to go elsewhere.

The issue with pricing is on the low end — the starting price point is too high for an entire swath of users that used to use older iterations of the Mac Pro as their primary machine and many of those people would use one today if a lower-cost option was available.

When I bought my first Mac in 2006, many of the “influencers” in the Apple scene owned Mac Pros. And as a young adult who just graduated high school, I was always envious of them. The Mac Pro had so much to offer — the ability to upgrade and expand its capabilities with aftermarket components, it was more powerful than any other computers in Apple’s lineup, and all inside of a nifty looking, cool and quiet chassis.

I believe there is still a market for such a machine. There are plenty of hobbyists and independent pros that would love to use a computer that offered these attributes, but their budget might not allow for the current Mac Pro.

Could they use another computer in Apple’s lineup? Yes, they could. But the iMac, Mac Mini, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air all offer something a bit different in terms of form factor and compromises — there isn’t anything that fills the role of the Mac Pro quite like the Mac Pro.

Speaking personally, I’m in the market to replace the Mac Mini that we’ve been using as our home server. It’s a 2011 model and doesn’t support the last two versions of macOS, so it’s about time to upgrade. It won’t be long before some of the software I rely on won’t receive updates for the Mac Mini’s OS. Currently, the machine runs Plex, regularly rips and converts DVDs/Blu-rays, acts as our Time Machine server, and stores a backup of our photo library.

Since I purchased the Mac Mini, the rest of our computing setup has changed substantially. My wife and I use iPads and iPhones as our primary devices and I have a work-issued laptop. Neither one of us have a good reason to justify owning personal Macs anymore. We would be much better served with a machine that can perform the duties of our home server while also acting as a family computer for those rare times when we need to use a specific piece of software or perform a task that’s difficult or impossible on iOS — albeit a rare occurrence these days.

If it was 2012, the Mac Pro would be the perfect computer for the job. There would be no question about it. I could buy the base model at a relatively affordable price with the idea of upgrading it in a year or two to increase its lifespan and overall performance. I could load it up with a bunch of internal hard drives to store our photos, media, and the Time Machine backups from my work laptop — no messy external drives necessary. And it could handle just about any task we threw at it while performing all of its other duties. I wouldn’t even need an additional display because I could simply connect the one I already use for work whenever I needed to use the Mac Pro directly.

But because of the current Mac Pro’s pricing, I’m left having to make compromises. I either buy a Mac Mini and deal with the fan noise coming from the corner of my office and the messy rats nest of cables from the external drives or I get an iMac. And that would come with its own set of compromises — the iMac comes with a built-in display that I don’t need, restricting where I can place the computer, I’d still have to deal with external drives, and I wouldn’t have the option of a 2TB internal SSD because Apple doesn’t offer it in the iMac.

Neither of those options are particularly cost effective, mind you. The Mac Mini configured in the way I’d want it — with an upgraded CPU and 2TB SSD — would set me back about $2,100. And a similarly configured iMac would cost about $2,200. A theoretical $2,500–3,000 Mac Pro would give me even more power than the Mini or iMac, with plenty of room to grow through upgrades in the future.

There’s a huge hole in Apple’s desktop offerings between the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro. And I think it would be in their best interest to fill that void with a computer that featured iMac-like performance in a Mac Pro-like package. The iMac might be a good option for some, but it isn’t right for everyone. And I’m sure there are plenty of podcasters, developers, video producers, enthusiasts, hobbyists, and more that would love the option of a lower-cost Mac Pro like this.

In the end, I’ll probably end up with a Mac Mini, but I’m not happy about it. It might be the best machine for me when considering the alternatives, but it’s not the best machine for me.

Uninformed Purchases

Matt Birchler, comparing how most of us shop for trivial items like a hammer to how people make purchasing decisions for computers, smartphones, and tablets:

Odds are you will probably drive down to your local hardware store and buy the first hammer you see that is a good price. You might even go to a big box store like Target and get whatever hammer they are selling in their 3 aisles of home improvement supplies.

You’re certainly not going to shop around from store to store for the best hammer deal. You’re not going to watch YouTube videos demoing an array of hammers, and you’re not going to read reviews for the top 5 hammers this season. You’re certainly not going to check to see if Craftsman is going to release a new hammer in the next few months that will be better than what’s on the shelves now.

I could barely keep myself from laughing while reading this piece. Not because his point isn’t valid, but because I’m totally the kind of person that would spend a bunch of time researching hammers before buying one. I’d check Wirecutter, search YouTube for recommendations, and read user reviews on Amazon.

My father was a lot like that, too. That’s probably where I get it from. He prided himself on being an informed consumer — specifically looking for products that were reliable and had a long lifespan. He would rather buy something at twice the cost if it would last him three times as long as its competitors.

That isn’t to say that I never buy things on a lark, without doing my research first. It happens. Just this past week, my wife and I found ourselves at Lowe’s looking for a box to house our garden hose. I spent exactly zero time researching beforehand and ended up buying the best looking one out of the half-a-dozen options in the store.

I try to avoid making purchases like this, though. I know that my life will be more pleasant if the items I’m surrounded with represent the best in their category. The less friction that these objects introduce into my life, the more time I can spend on what matters most.

That doesn’t mean I have to buy the most expensive products available. But with most items, there’s a tipping point at which the increased cost no longer brings substantial improvements. That’s the sweet spot that I try to aim for. Not the cheapest or most expensive models, but the one somewhere in the middle that strikes the right balance.

But I know that I’m not the norm. Most people aren’t willing to go through the hassle of researching products before they buy them. They’re just going to take a trip to a local retail store and buy whatever looks best to them out of the handful of options available.

And as Matt points out, this is how most people buy tech products:

This is not how any of us would shop for a computer, tablet, or smartphone, but it is how a lot of the world does it. So the next time you think someone is crazy for not recognizing how much better “X is than Y” remember that you probably couldn’t tell a home improvement expert a damn thing about why you bought your hammer, it was just the first one you saw at a decent price. And you know what? Even though it’s not the best hammer, it totally works for what you need, and that’s all you need.

People who don’t buy the best computer/phone, or even the best device for the price, are not unusual and they’re certainly not acting irrationally. They just have different priorities than we do, and sometimes that’s easy to forget. So by all means, help the non-techies in your life make the best decisions possible, but don’t be offended if they choose something different than you’d expect.

I know that people shop this way, but I have a hard time remembering that when I see someone with a product that I would never even consider purchasing. It just runs counter to the way my brain thinks about shopping. But it would be wise for myself and anyone else that thinks similarly to take Matt’s advice. No one should be thought of as foolish for buying an inferior product and those of us that take the time, should share the knowledge we gain to gently nudge those around us toward the best purchasing decisions possible.

My Next Mac

I’ll be in the market for a new Mac sometime in the next couple of months. While I still spend the vast majority of my time working from my iPhone and iPad, my usage of macOS has increased as I’ve shifted focus toward web design. I still write most of my code on my trusty iPad Air 2, but it’s difficult to test changes without a resizable browser window.

I have James Finley’s Web Tools installed, which let’s you test responsive sites at different device widths. It’s a great app and it can get the job done in a pinch. But screen real estate is at a premium and I often feel like I’m beyond the upper limits of what’s comfortable on a 9.7-inch display. A Mac would really make writing and testing HTML and CSS a lot easier.

I still have my 11-inch MacBook Air, which has done an admirable job at filling in the gaps for me lately, but the machine is getting a bit long in the tooth. It was purchased almost seven years ago, has an intermittently functioning trackpad, and lacks a Retina display. I could put in the time and effort to replace the trackpad, but it probably isn’t worth the trouble. I doubt it will be supported by Apple’s latest version of macOS for much longer and I think a Retina display is a must-have for any design work at this point.

The big question is, what Mac am I going to buy? Well if you follow the recommendations on the MacRumors Buyer’s Guide, the only Mac worth buying right now is the iMac Pro — its the only machine in the lineup that doesn’t feature a “Caution” or “Don’t Buy” badge. But the iMac Pro is a bit too expensive for my budget.

That means my best option is to wait for Apple to release new hardware, which will hopefully happen at WWDC next month. As for the specifics, I’m currently leaning toward a 27-inch iMac with the cheapest solid state drive available. If the state of Mac notebooks was a little different, I might consider a MacBook or MacBook Pro. But I suspect their next iteration will feature the same keyboard they have today, which is prone to hardware failures and isn’t that comfortable to actually type on.

And the iMac is a better fit for me anyway. I can use my iPad when I have to work on the go and the iMac’s large display will be put to good use with numerous text documents, browser windows, and an FTP client. I’ll be able to retire my MacBook Air and the aging Mac Mini that we’ve been using as our home server and replace it with one, single Mac that serves all of our traditional desktop computing needs.

I don’t think I’ll be gaining too much by waiting for the iMac’s next hardware revision — most likely just some minor upgrades to the internals. I hope Apple reduces the price of SSD upgrades. Or better yet, relegates all spinning disks to built-to-order options. With the rise of streaming music services and cloud storage for photos, the average customer doesn’t need giant hard drives like they used to.

One major concern I have with waiting, though, is that Apple could remove the RAM door that current 27-inch iMacs feature. They did so with the iMac Pro and I would hate to see that trickle down to the consumer-level iMacs so quickly. What I’d like to do is purchase a nearly stock 27-inch iMac — only upgrading to a solid state drive if it isn’t the default configuration — and plan on upgrading the RAM down the road.

Apple’s RAM is typically quite expensive compared to aftermarket options and having to make that decision at the time of purchase will put a considerable strain on my budget. I could easily get by with 8GB of RAM now and upgrade to 16 or 32 in a year or two when I have a little more spending money available. But if Apple removes the RAM door, I might have to buy a lesser machine than what I would eventually end up with if I was able to upgrade it later.

But I think it’s still worth waiting. I’m taking a bit of a gamble on Apple continuing to give customers an easy way to upgrade their RAM, but I’d like this iMac to last as long as possible. The extra few percentage points of performance won’t mean much, but if waiting another month or two gives me an additional year of macOS updates, it’s definitely worth it.

A Big Phone ➝

Matt Gemmell:

Like most people, my main computer is a phone.

That’s a big realisation. The device that’s always at hand, and is the first port of call for communication and entertainment and convenience, is your main computer. With the apps available now, there’s no meaningful distinction in utility between a phone and any other kind of device. Some tasks are easier and some are harder due to the form factor, but most tasks are possible — and having it permanently within reach is the mother of all advantages.

The best computer is the one you have with you.

Main Versus Only

On a bonus edition of the BirchTree Podcast, Matt Birchler had an interesting point regarding the debate about tablets being a viable alternative to the Mac. The thought was sparked by an episode of Versus with Lauren Goode, in which she says “people are wondering, can you use a tablet as your main computer?”

As Matt notes, the distinction of main computer instead of only computer is often lost in the conversation. This isn’t a zero-sum game — using an iPad doesn’t mean you have to remove Macs from your life entirely. Even the most adamant iPad-only nerds continue to use Macs on regular basis — myself included. The frequency might be decreasing as the platform’s capabilities grow, but the Mac still has a place in our lives. Albeit, on a much smaller scale.

When I want to write, read the news, edit photos, manage Initial Charge, communicate with friends and family, or perform most other daily tasks, I reach for my iPad. But I still use a Mac for hosting media with Plex, performing some web development, and working with a large number of files at once. The iPad is my main computer, but certainly isn’t my only computer.

An additional wrinkle within this conversation is the smartphone. Matt would consider his smartphone to be his main computer. He reads the news, plays games, listens to podcasts, checks email, and does most of his communication on his smartphone. And I don’t think Matt’s alone. I bet a lot of people would be shocked at how much more they do on their smartphones than they realize — even all the die-hard Mac users.

I expect I’m probably in that same camp, too. I certainly do a lot on my iPhone and because I’ve built all of my workflows around iOS, just about everything I do on my iPad, I can also do on my iPhone. Some of it is easier on the iPad, because of its larger screen, but all of it is possible.

Even taking that into consideration, though, I still think of my iPad as my main computer. Because of the nature of my job, I don’t have many opportunities to use my iPhone throughout the work day. I’ll pick it up here and there to check Tweetbot for a few minutes or do some quick math in Calzy, but it mostly lives in my pocket.

Of course, I use my iPhone to listen to podcasts in the car or do some miscellaneous computing while I’m out of the house — mapping, comparison shopping, fixing typos on the site, etc. — but the amount of work I do on my iPad while I’m at home vastly outweighs anything I do on my iPhone. On my days off, my iPad is with me from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. And on many of those days, my iPhone doesn’t even leave my nightstand.

But when we’re having the debate of Mac versus iPad, it’s important to remember that this isn’t a binary argument. Most iPad users still find utility in owning a Mac and vice versa. The discussion should be molded around that idea to prevent it from devolving into a holy war. iPads are better at some tasks and Macs are better at others. Let’s collectively determine what each platform’s strength is rather than cling to petty infighting.

‘The iPhone 7 Plus Is My Only Computer’ ➝

Justin Blanton:

I’ve long wanted to get to this point, and being (mostly) here now feels pretty damn good.

Much of what makes this possible is that I can delegate in one way or another most of what I think of, and can get away with being extremely terse in my emails. At this stage of my career my day-to-day job requires minimal work-product; if I was coding all day, designing websites, or researching, I probably wouldn’t be able to leverage my pocket computer the way I do, but I wouldn’t want to either.

There are a lot of people who just don’t need traditional computers anymore. Delegating tasks, checking on projects, discussing ideas — communicating — is the kind of work that smartphones excel at. There’s no reason to add the unnecessary cruft that comes along with desktop operating systems when you have everything you need on your pocket computer.

(Via Eric Schwarz.)

All Thirteen Colors of iMac ➝

Stephen Hackett:

About a month ago, I set out to find every color of iMac G3. At the time, I only owned one model — a Sage. Today, the family is complete.

This is a gorgeous collection.

‘Battery Tech Isn’t Keeping Up’ ➝

From what I understand, physics and chemistry are the biggest limiting factors to battery capacity. There’s only so much power you can fit into a given volume. If we’re going to see a major improvement in battery life, it’s likely going to come at the expense of performance or size and weight.

My guess is that at some point we’ll reach a tipping point where devices are about as fast as most users could ever want. That’s when manufacturers will start focusing on making chips that are comparible in power level to their predecessors but are far more energy efficient.