Time for a new Mac!


It’s over 4 years since I bought my first Mac: A lovely white iMac Core Duo 20″ (the first Intel iMac IIRC). It’s served me well over the years, but in the last few months it’s really started to slow down. I’ve finally snapped and am in the market for a newer, faster Mac.

But what new Mac to buy? I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts/questions, partly to help me think things through, but also to ask you, the reader, for your opinions. Also I hope this post might be useful for others looking to buy a new Mac.

My current old banger

My trusty iMac 2GHz Core Duo 20″ (2GB RAM) that I bought back in May 2006 is finally getting long in the tooth, I fear. The poor dear now grinds to a halt in daily use. Here’s what I tend to have running, on average:

  • Mail
  • Firefox with 10-20 tabs
  • Safari with a couple of tabs
  • Photoshop CS3
  • OfficeTime
  • Things
  • iTunes

It just about copes with that (although it can take a second or 2 to switch between apps). But then if I need to open a couple more apps, like

  • OpenOffice
  • Chrome
  • Preview

…then it really starts to slow down, with plenty of beachballs.

Then if I fire up WinXP in VMware Fusion 3 to test a website in IE… forget it! Might as well go and make a cup of coffee while it boots the VM.

Painful.

I suspect the main culprit with this old iMac is the 2GB RAM limit. Even before firing up VMware, I’m at about 70% RAM usage according to iStat Menus. Fire up VMware, and stuff starts paging like crazy.

(At the back of my mind, though, is this thought: My iMac was nice and fast when I bought it, so why is it so slow now? I’m still running pretty much the same stuff now as I was back then. I suspect a lot of it is down to VMware Fusion 3 being more power-hungry than my original Parallels Desktop 2, combined with software generally becoming more bloated over time, but I’m not sure.)

For the record, I’m a web designer/developer and use my Mac all day, every day for browsing websites, blogging, coding, browser testing and Photoshop work, plus the usual office type apps.

Out of space in more ways than one


On top of the slow Mac issue, I’m shortly getting booted out of the office to make room for offspring #2, so I’ll be ensconced in front of a little sewing machine desk in the bedroom. The missus doesn’t want me to take up much space in there, plus a big iMac screen would be quite imposing in the bedroom. Also it’d be good to be able to work elsewhere in the house sometimes (such as late at night when she’s trying to get to sleep).

Laptop here I come?


So this all points to *gulp* a MacBook Pro. I say *gulp* because those things are expensive! And I suspect I’ll need the 17-inch model too, since it will be my main machine and I tend to hammer my main computer fairly intensively (lots of apps & windows open). And I think I’d really miss the iMac’s 20″ screen if I went down to a MBP 15″.

I need something that will last 3-4 years

Although my iMac is pretty damn slow now, it’s lasted me over 4 years, which is pretty good going. I’d like my new Mac to last the same amount of time. I simply can’t be bothered with the hassle of researching and buying a new computer every year or 2.

Glossy or antiglare?

Another issue I’m thinking about is whether to go for the glossy or the antiglare (matte) screen.

Is it worth spending the extra A$70 for the antiglare display? Is the glossy really hard to use in bright light (e.g. outside, or near a big window)? Is the glossy actually better than the antiglare in terms of picture quality? (On a related note, how do users of the new iMacs – which are all glossy screens – cope with glare and reflections?)

More worryingly, I’ve read reports that the glossy screen can cause headaches and eyestrain with prolonged use – not good for someone like me who uses their computer 40+ hours a week. Hmm.

4GB or 8GB?

Since I want this thing to last as long as possible, I’ll probably go for the faster Intel i7 and 7200RPM drive options. (My budget won’t stretch to SSD, sadly!)

But what about the RAM? After my woes with running out of RAM on my iMac I’m sorely tempted by the 8GB, but will I really need it? It costs a heck of a lot more – A$560 more, in fact. Will 4GB be fine?

Also, what if I wanted to upgrade to 8GB later? Presumably I’d have to buy 2 x 4GB modules (since the 4GB MBP comes with 2 x 2GB modules, and only has 2 slots), and throw the old RAM in the trash / sell it on eBay. (Sounds expensive.)

New or refurbished?

There are some tempting refurbs on the Aussie Apple Store, although it seems that you don’t get much choice. For example, right now there’s a 2.53GHz Intel Core i5 with glossy display, or a 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with antiglare. (Bizarrely they’re pretty much the same price – isn’t Intel Core 2 Duo pretty old tech these days?!) Still, I could probably save at least A$400 by getting a refurb vs the equivalent new model, so it’s tempting.

AppleCare, or live dangerously?

I got AppleCare for my iMac and did actually use it a couple of times (when the iMac’s hard drive and GPU failed). It definitely saved me money and hassle in the long run.

AppleCare for laptops is a lot more expensive though (A$579). What’s more it looks like, ironically, the MBP is a lot *easier* to open than my iMac was (just take the bottom plate off), which means it’d be easier to replace components myself if they fail.

I expect I won’t bother for now, but maybe buy it separately once the year’s warranty is nearly up.

Forget the laptop – buy a new iMac instead?


Ideally I really would like an iMac again. Lovely big screen (although glossy might not be ideal), nice and powerful, and much more bang for the (Aussie) buck! However it would mean that I’m basically stuck in one place (i.e. the bedroom). And if there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s this: If you have kids, and not much space, it helps if you can move your office around easily!

I’m also a bit concerned about using a laptop constantly for 4 years. Will the keyboard drive me crazy? Will I be a hunchback at the end of it, or are laptops not as terrible ergonomically as they used to be?

So, what do you Mac users out there think? Desktop or laptop? Do you prefer glossy or matte? Is 8GB overkill, most of the time? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please sound off in the comments below! Thanks :)

(Photo credits: Bogdan Suditu, p_a_h)

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15 Responses to “Time for a new Mac!”

  1. Charles Says:

    While the heart says ‘Mac Pro with at least two of the largest screens you can afford’ the amount of space you’re dealing with makes that impossible.

    I’ve been using a Macbook Pro since ’08, and a Powerbook for most of the six years prior to that. I’m used to the portable lifestyle, but there are tradeoffs, some of which you can fix with external bits and pieces, but then you run into the whole space thing again.

    I think that the ideal solution for you is the 27″ iMac. Too large you say? Yes, if it has to go on that teensy desk, but it doesn’t have to – it is compatible with VESA wall mounts. Take the stand off, hang it on a wall, connect it to a BT mouse and keyboard and you’re sorted, with hardly any desk space used. Remember that OS X comes with FrontRow, so you can always use it as a media centre as well, which might help sell it to SWMBO :)

    Antiglare versus glossy? I’ve a matte screen on my MBP, but then I mostly use it with a large window behind me. If you’re in a similar situation you’ll want anti glare. Other than that it is probably more important for portables.

    As for the RAM – Apple RAM is rarely a good deal, although sometimes it is close enough to market rates that it is worth it for convenience. I usually end up with Kensington ram, but it’s all much of a muchness. I usually buy it before I get the machine.

    I’ve never bought Applecare. Never needed it either. Famous last words…

  2. Niels Menke Says:

    I’ve been on a Macbook Pro (old one) for years now, and there’s not much to complain about. When i’m at my desk, it’s hooked up to a 24″ screen and an Apple Keyboard and makes for a solid workstation. If i want to work from the couch or garden, just disconnect and it’s all ready to go. I’d suggest going for the 15,4″ MBP and keeping a bigger screen handy for long sessions of work.
    Oh, and skip the Apple Care. It’s just not worth it, imho.

  3. Simon Says:

    Interesting. I’m experimenting with a new ownership model, based on the idea that it’s a good plan to swap out Macs every 18 months or so when their resale value is still pretty decent, and before they start to slow down and parts start to fail.

    Although this is a minor pain, Time Machine makes it very simple to essentially clone the previous mac and copy it to a new one.

    I’m basically in a deal here in the UK where I rent the mac over three years. After 18 months the rental co gives me a new one, leaving me to sell the old one. No AppleCare, because if it breaks, they fix it and lend me a replacement while they do. At the end of three years, I get to keep the second machine for £40. No upfront cash layout either. In the UK, this is with Hardsoft, don’t know if you have an Aussie equivalent.

    I use a 15″MBP with 4Gb RAM, 500Gb HD and a 2.8 Intel Core 2 Duo. If you’re running say PS and Aperture together, then I would say that 4Gb isn’t enough and you should get 8. Basically, two big apps together plus OS X seem to require more than 4Gb.

    I use the lappy in conjunction with a keyboard and external 23″ Apple monitor. The big screen has been the best investment of my work life except Photoshop I’d say, and has made the most difference to my daily work. Basically, it’s a desktop when I need it to be and a laptop when I’m moving around or out. It’s the way to go. I find the 15″ a bit cramped for long-term use.

    I have a glossy screen, and yes, it reflects stuff, but personally, when I’m working just on the lappy, I can tune it out. YMMV on that. It’s nice though, and sexy for watching films/looking at photos etc.

    Si xx

  4. Phil Says:

    Since your major uses are email, websurf, music, Todos, photo and office work… did you consider to upgrade for a new iMac with an iPad?

    I mean, you will get everything you need with a powerful iMac (which will be cheaper than a MBP with a larger screen); AND you can get an iPad (iPad 2 soon?) to get mobile.

    You’ll just include few apps, such iWork for iPad Apps, Things App or eventually some “Photo” Apps (Photogene, Photo FX, iRetouch, etc…) and you should be ready to do anything.

    With the soon-to-be-released iPad OS update, you will get multi-tasking, then the iPad will good enough to cover your majors needs.

    Just a .02 cents thought ;)

    Phil

  5. Matt Says:

    Thanks so much to everyone who has commented so far! Some very interesting points here.

    I shall endeavour to answer each in turn…

    @Charles: Intriguing idea about the wall-mounted iMac! We’d thought of doing this for the living room actually, but as a TV replacement.

    The only snag with getting a desktop (or walltop!) computer is that there will be times when the missus wants to sleep/chill in the bedroom and won’t want me working in there. Plus I suspect that with 2 noisy kids running around the house, it will be good to have the flexibility of a laptop if I just want to get away for a bit (e.g. go & work down the other end of the garden for the day).

    @Niels Menke: Good to hear your thoughts on using a MBP for years. It’s nice to know that it’s doable! :)

    @Simon: Thanks for posting your experiences. Yes there are similar companies here (https://www.rentsmart.com.au/ and http://flexirent.com.au/) – I guess they can be a good option if you always want to have the latest and greatest, however I believe it works out very expensive in the long run and there are various nasty clauses making it hard to pull out of the agreement early (e.g. http://wpool.com/RnArA). What’s more I think with my currently small, inconsistent cash-flow I’d probably be turned down anyway!

    Thanks for the input on the glossy screen too. :)

    @Phil: Another interesting take – the iPad option! However there’s still the problem where I need to work outside the bedroom sometimes. I don’t think the iPad would really help here, since most of my work involves writing articles, web development, and testing on multiple Mac and Windows browsers simultaneously. I also generally have about 20 browser tabs open when I’m writing.

    Here’s what I’m currently thinking:

    - Buy the 17″ MBP with all the bells & whistles, but with only 4GB (much, much cheaper). Buy new from the online Apple Store, or possibly somewhere like mactofront.com.au ($150 cheaper), or wait for a suitable refurb to come up on the Apple Store.

    - Get an aftermarket 8GB kit later (if I need it). I’ve seen them for as low as A$450, so much cheaper than going with Apple. (And it’ll no doubt get even cheaper over time.)

    - Skip the AppleCare for now and save another A$570. I can then buy it towards the end of the first year if I want. (You can also buy AppleCare cheaper from other retailers, which I didn’t realise.)

    - If, after a while, I find the 17″ display is too small, or the MBP keyboard is a pain, then I can maybe look at an external display at that point. However this still raises the issue of not having enough space in the bedroom (though Charles’ wallmount idea could work).

    I think the main question is, will a 17″ display be big enough for my needs? And I guess it’s a hard one for you guys to answer, since (a) you don’t have 17″ MBPs and (b) it’s quite subjective I’d imagine! On the plus side, the resolution is actually higher than my 20″ iMac, and I have good closeup vision. I expect I’ll know after a month or two of use…

    Anyway, thanks again folks! If you have any other thoughts or ideas on the above I’d love to hear them. :)

    Cheers,
    Matt

  6. luca3d Says:

    hi Matt,
    i’m a graphic freelance guy, and i’ve just bought a refurbished 15” i5 macbook pro for 2d and 3d works, …i’ts great!!! and i’ve payed it 1489 euro (here in Italy).
    When i’m in my office i use an external 24” 1920×1200 Dell professional display, with an external keyboard and mouse. So, best of both worlds :)
    before this mbp i’ve had a couple of 17” laptops and, now, i think that 17” is not the ideal solution…too expensive, too big as laptop and too small as main display.
    just my 2 cents
    luca

  7. Stuart Says:

    Well….

    Every mac has it’s ups and downs, whether it’s too heavy to carry around or the screen is too small for graphics or it hasn’t got this or that connector as i occasionally hook it up to my TV. The point here is, what do you actually *need* it to do?
    I have a number of machines and they do very different things. I have an intel 8 core 3.0Ghz, 8Gb RAM which i run Pro Tools on with Reason, Arturia soft synths, Melodyne and Max MSP. It also runs my picture library via Nikon NX2 with Photoshop and Camera control. All is backed up via time machine onto a 2 TB Raid. It’s huge ! Factor in my external Pro Tools gear and a number of valve Pre amps it takes up a massive space. I also have a 2.4Ghz i5 MBP, Glossy screen with 8Gb RAM, this does a very scaled down version of what the big mac does. I love both machines but when i really need all my tools in one area i use the Mac Pro. There’s only so far that you can take mobile recording as you need so much other external stuff. I also use Photoshop on my MBP as well as the Nikon software, it has the same music software as the MP but also has email, office and is also used for connection to remote machines, surfing the web and generally mucking around. I would never use email on my Audio MP nor install anything that would potentially screw my Audio workstation up. I then have an entertainment box which is a Mac Mini dual core 2.66 with 4Gb RAM. This has Boxee installed as well as EyeTV, MAc Ripper and handbrake. This is connected to my TV and my audio amp for watching Movies, listening to music etc. It’s a luxury to have these machines just doing one, two maybe three jobs but it really helps them stay as clean and as rubbish free as possible.

    It’s a joy to use my MP for audio and photographs, it has a nice big screen where you can see everything. My MBP is great, I love the glossy screen, it’s makes my pictures look amazing and it’s small enough to carry around, it mostly does what the big one does but is also good for walking around with and having as a remote movie viewer. My Mac mini isn’t needed at all but it’s nice to record TV onto the mac and watch it later, also you can swap media across machine as opposed to recording it on a PVR and finding you can’t move your content to another box. I do use my MBP more than any of the other machines, it’s got a great screen, does all that the other ones do and is light enough to carry around. The only thing is with it, is that because the screen is soooo lovely you’ll find yourself becoming a grime fascist, cleaning the screen at any sign of dirt… I know i do

    In short… Get a top end MBP, glossy screen, max the RAM out and you’ll be as happy as Shaun Ryder in a crack house

  8. Simon Says:

    @Luca, I suspect you’re right there. 17″ is big to lug around, and a bit squinty for production work. That said, I’ve spent a fair bit of time doing proper design work on a 15″ screen. It’s not ideal, but it’s doable.

    Except for the space issue, the 15″ and the external monitor is the best bet I think. @Matt, did you really move to a house with no office space/snug? ; )

    @Matt. Rentals. Yes, expensive, but not if you buy a new one every 18 months and flog the old one. It replaces that model. For me, it’s worth it not so much to have the latest kit, but to have kit that works well before the point where anything goes wrong.

    Plus no AppleCare, which for a lappy I’d say is pretty much essential if you use it professionally.

    Si

  9. Stuart Says:

    @Matt.

    Ah yes, leasing is an option, although as Si says, expensive. Although you do have the added option of getting a new machine every couple of years. You’d get Applecare with a lease, in fact i think it’s mandatory.

    I’d never buy a mac without Apple care let alone just a lappy

  10. Stuart Says:

    buying a 15″ MBP and adding a 2nd large screen for home use is the best midway option you’re going to get.

  11. Matt Says:

    @luca3d, @Stuart, @Simon: Thanks for your additional comments and suggestions! Much appreciated. :)

    I suspect I will buy the MBP as detailed above ( http://mac.elated.com/2010/08/21/time-for-a-new-mac/#comment-18347 ), simply because there’s no space in the bedroom for a 27″ iMac, and my wife wouldn’t be too keen on having it in there, even if there was space. That, plus I expect it would be good to be able to move from room to room.

    A 15″ MBP with external display still has the same problem: a fixed, large screen in the bedroom.

    If it wasn’t for these issues then I would get the iMac. I’d much prefer the bigger screen, and I suspect I’d find the iMac keyboard more ergonomic too. Such is life.

    That said, it sounds like most of you are designers/media types, whereas I’m more of a web developer type. So perhaps I won’t be so bothered by the 17″ screen. It actually has a higher res than my current 20″ iMac, and I have very good close-up vision.

    Another possibility is that we put both kids in the same bedroom so I get to keep my office room. We’re thinking about this as an option. :) Or move to a 4-bed house. :)

    Thanks again!
    Matt

  12. Raghu Says:

    I too had similar dilemma, Here is what worked for me.

    21.5 inch entry level iMac & 13inch Macbook.
    Very flexible & have backup of all critical work files in two machines.

    I did stretch my budget, but then macs last a long long time, hope I am right with my extra spend.

    The store here in India sell their demo models after a while for a discount, When the new ones arrive. Hope similar sale must be happening in your part of the world. I find these a excellent bargain (35% disc).

    Apple releasing up to three updates in a year I could find demo machines three to six month old on discount sale.

    Usually most of us do not need the latest processors. A year old models will serve the purpose for many years. If you are managing with 17inch Mac, may be this holds good for you too.

    8GB ? may be at later date, the apple RAMs are quite expensive, way cheaper to get them outside.

    I do use the vmware & that is kinda slow with 4Gb. but then, I installed this probably as a hangover of the earlier years, fearing I may get stuck without windows.

    Apple Care ? a BIG yes. As you said; get that as the one year warranty is about to expire. That should ease the cash flow. I could manage without the phone support that you would loose after the initial 3 months. I really didn’t see a need when I have two machines & wealth of solutions on the web.

    Happy mac hunting.

  13. Matt Says:

    @Raghu: Thanks for sharing your experiences – that’s really useful!

    I’ve just ordered myself a refurbished 17″ i7 MacBook Pro with antiglare display (saving myself AUD $510). Should be arriving tomorrow. :)

    Expect a flurry of blog posts soon…!

  14. nomad Says:

    macs just don’t out of the blue come to a crawl, throw out some of the junk in the trunk and optimize to get it back up to speed. I bought a new imac and 4 years from now it will still be just as fast as long as I don’t pack it full of junk. There’s really no reason after buying a newer Mac that you would ever have to replace it anytime soon. New Macs should be good for at least 6-10 years or more.

  15. Tilly Says:

    As a stay at home mom (11 years now), my Mac is my window to the world.

    With one income, it’s tough to justify expensive things like iMacs, iPads, and more. (Somehow I find a way)
    When I bought my first Mac, I didn’t care what it was, as long as it kept me from turning up at my computer guy’s house every three months. I wanted a machine I couldn’t screw up.

    Although I do not work, I love to take pictures, film my kids, really all things media.

    I have no training in design, photography, or computer technology. In addition, I was a PC user.

    So I guess what I’m saying is…. I am completely unqualified to answer your question,but I’ll give it a go…

    As mentioned in another post(s), and as you may have experienced, refurbished is the way to go. Now, I have several Mac items and all have been refurbished. I have saved money or purchased a more stacked machine- whichever way you look at it.

    I am a fan of Applecare. As I mentioned above, being a new user, and not being a part of a community or workforce to collaborate, brainstorm, compare/contrast user experiences… etc. ~ I am limited with options with regard to problem solving issues with my computer. Also, I wanted to learn as much as I could on my own. By this, I mean, Applecare phone support has walked me through a number of issues (networks, peripherals, beach ball)…as I was involved in the problem solving I’ve learned a ton, plus I ask as many questions as possible while on the phone, often learning a few tricks.

    I know that for three years I can do my best to screw this computer up and I can take it in- and in a few days walk out with a repaired computer and a warning to quit adding so many Firefox add-ons…..

    In addition, it just feels good. It feels good to know I’m covered. Is it worth that much for a good feeling? For me, and my unique situation, it is.
    Lastly, my three year Applecare agreement was up last December…while my new MacBookPro began in January. The way I see it, for six years I have access to support.

    ***With three days left on my Applecare, my hard drive was replaced with a brand new, larger one.

    I vote for a big refurb iMac followed by a refurb MBP, with the units having low RAM and then maxing it out after purchase (on your own) as finances allow. And Applecare on the MBP.

    Or, you could go buy a HP or a Dell.