Since I have gassed on in the past about my computer shopping, I thought I would post an update.
After several months of running the 13" MacBook Air as my desktop computer, it became obvious that it was having a bit of trouble in that role. The trouble? The MacBook Air can get no air. Its tiny little stylishly miniaturized fan would kick on and dutifully make noise, but, without anywhere for air to flow amidst all the slender slimness and styleyness, the waferlike little wedge would just get hot and make noise.
So I've bought an Apple desktop computer.
This would have been easy, except for the fact that Apple does not really make desktop computers any more. Well, it sort of does, but not for people who want to use separate, third-party monitors like my lovely calibrate-able NEC. They make a Mac Pro which is not pro (more about that in a minute) and a Mac Mini, which was deliberately handicapped in 2014 to be worse than the one it replaced. The Mini in general is intended by Apple for ratty second-class citizens who had previously wandered lost in the purgatory of PC use, so it doesn't have to be any good, right? The desktops Apple wants proper Apple customers to use are the ones that come built into the back of displays...the iMacs. Otherwise, your Hobson's Choice is too little computer, or too much computer.
Since too much computer, from Apple, costs a lot, I ended up buying a late-2012 Mac Mini, my first-ever "used" Macintosh. (I have been using Macintoshes since the very first one in 1984.)
This was not easy. The competition for 2012 Mac Minis is fierce, because so many Apple customers actually need, you know, computers. (They seldom show up as Apple refurbs, for example.) The one I bought (from eBay, ye gads) is thoughtfully maxed out. It is a 2.6 GHz Quad-Core i7 with 16 GB of Crucial RAM and two hard drives, a 1 TB SSD and a 1 TB HDD, and a clean install of Sierra. The solid-state drive is a Samsung SSD 850 EVO, which seems to get good reviews. The other one is the spinning drive that came with the unit when it was new. I paid $1,009.
I also bought this:
...It's a 3D-printed replacement base for 2012 Mac Minis that has ventilation holes around the rim. The company that makes it is called Shapeways. The Internet says it lets the Mini run cooler so the fan kicks on less often. After abusing my poor weak-ass tiny-fan-having MacBook Air for several months it seemed like a good idea.
So I've bought an older computer to replace a newer computer. Then again, the Cubs won the World Series, Voldemort is president, and it was 71°F in February in Upstate New York the other day, so clearly we are in the Apocalypse and everything is backwards and upside down. So why not?
Why I'm grumpy about Apple
I'm a longtime Apple fan and I love Apple, but it makes me grumpy now.
There are three apocalyse-type signs that Apple has lost the narrative when it comes to stand-alone desktop computers. One was that the 2014 (current) Mini was deliberately crippled compared to its predecessor. Another is that Apple hasn't bothered to update the Mini and the Pro in years...not high (enough) profit areas; they're not that interested.
The third was the "trashcan" Mac Pro. You've seen it—a styley, miniaturized black cylinder, the price of which includes Veblen-Good inflation. I've heard it was good video workstation when it came out, but as a "pro" computer it's just wrong. Not a bad product, just one that does not take the preferences of its target market into account.
...And gives them something they do not need. "Pro" is a marketing word that has been applied to everything and anything (I think the most ridiculous application of it I've seen was to toilet paper, but there are more examples almost as bad), but the reason it has resonance is that the real meaning of "pro" is that it signifies that the people who use the thing, whatever the thing is, have a job to do, and have chosen the most versatile, capable, and effective tool available to do it with. The previous Mac Pro was oversized and came in a utilitarian aluminum box with big honking handles on it for moving it around. It was highly configurable and customizable; it had lots of room inside for whatever you wanted to put in it as well as for a big fan and liberal amounts of airflow. You could do anything you wanted to it, and hence with it. It was designed to be easy to repair.
In other words, a versatile, capable, effective, user-centered tool for making a living with.
By the time the 2013 Mac Pro came around, however, Apple had become a design- and lifestyle-oriented company, and it made the Mac Pro fashionable and petite. Apple also priced it out the wazoo to help the "Pro" appeal to wealthier customers, as also befits Hermès scarves and Louis Vuitton handbags.
Which, you'll note, are not called pro scarves or pro handbags. Maybe they should have ditched the "Pro" moniker and renamed it the Apple LaApple, after the Ferrari LaFerrari. It lost the workin'-for-a-livin' gestalt if you ask me.
So what about people like me who just need a computer? Well, I am supposed to use an iMac. There's no basic Apple computer in the middle that doesn't come attached to a display.
So how will this go?
Call me pessimistic, but I don't see this latest move of mine going well. I'm bad with computers, which is one reason why I've always used Macs in the first place. Buying an old computer as a new computer is something I've done only once before, when I bought a Mac Classic in 1991 or so. At least that "old" computer (basically an SE "Mark II") was a computer I could buy new. It was just old in that it was retro. That one turned out not to be a good buying decision. It lasted me only two years, when I switched to a Quadra 605. Buying a "new" computer without AppleCare is probably a fool's errand for me. I suppose in a few years I'll be back to an iMac again, with my tail between my legs, having bought myself a lot of hassle and lost a passel of cash in the meantime. Maybe I should have bought an iMac; after all, they're what I've used since the first one came out, and I fit the demographic. I just always wanted to own "separates," is all.
My bad, I guess, for wanting to think different.
(Thanks to Dave Reichert)
Original contents copyright 2017 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Stephen Scharf: "Honestly, I think the 27" IMac is the way to go. Back in 2014, when I needed to replace by 10-year-old Mac Pro G5, I debated dropping six large for the new Pro, so in late 2014 I rather reluctantly bought the maxed out 27" 5K Retina iMac with 16B RAM and 3 TB Fusion Drive. I've been very happy with my decision; the iMac is fast and fully supports as a second display the same 27" NEC PA-series we both use. I still use my NEC for color-critical work, soft proofing, and printing, but the 5K display has completely ruined me for wanting to look at anything else. The display profiles up beautifully, is very close in color accuracy to the NEC, and the screen is to die for. Furthermore, a profiled display is stable with little drift. Looking at my images close at full size on this display is like looking at a 27" chrome. Lloyd Chambers has done testing of all the various Macs and says the Late 2015 5K Retina iMac is the best computer presently on the market for photography: the display gamut is even larger (P3 vs. sRGB), and the SSD drive enables the computer to be blazing fast when loaded up with 64 GB of RAM."
Edd Fuller: "It is quite amusing that you take a shot at 'ratty second-class citizens who had previously wandered lost in the purgatory of PC use,' while describing your experience with Apple, which sounds very unsatisfactory, not to say purgatorial."
Mike replies: Well, actually I was characterizing (or lampooning) Apple's own attitude toward its target market for the Mini, which is PC users who are switching.
Hugh Conacher: "This conversation is being had in all sorts of forums at the moment. Many of the video pros that I am associated with are moving to PC, as Mac no longer meets their needs."
shelley Stallings: "I have owned over 20 different Apple computers in the last 30 years. I did not need that many, just loved their products and often could not resist when they dropped a new one on the market. Most (90%) have been excellent machines matched with great OS. My favorites were the G5 Mac Pro aluminum tower, the first titanium MacBook, and my current MacBook Air combined with 27" iMac for desktop work. I have never been interested in the current black cylinder, but would buy one used at a great price just to add to my collection of 30th Anniversary, Cube, original Tangerine iBook, first titanium MacBook, first bondi blue iMac and Power Computing Mac clone, along with 14 others, some Apple II models including GS. Can't see why a 27" iMac wouldn't work fine for you Mike. You can use your favorite monitor with it along with the iMac monitor. Bang for buck is good and it is the system platform you are familiar with."
Rick Baumhauer: "I understand your frustration on some level, given your preference for your expensive monitor, but I'm not sure that buying used now was a better bet than waiting a bit longer to see what shakes out. We should be seeing (at minimum) new iMacs soon—possibly March, June at the latest. There may also be Mac mini and/or Mac Pro updates, as well—the latter can't be allowed to languish much longer (rumors suggest that the Trash Can had reliability issues that are forcing an accelerated rethink).
"I don't think it's quite fair to say that the 2014 mini was 'deliberately handicapped.' The issue was really a combination of Intel's complicated chip lineup at the time and Apple's desire to the keep the (low-margin for them) mini's production simple. In short, Intel didn't offer both dual-core and quad-core chips that shared the same socket design and also both offered the best integrated GPUs that Intel offered at the time. They would have had to: use two different logic board designs (not going to happen for production reasons); gone all quad-core (no good for lower-end pricing); saddled the lower-end dual-core models with slower GPUs; or drop the quad-core models in favor of dual-core across-the-board that all used Intel's better GPU. For the target market, they made the best choice they could. Unfortunately, Intel's following generation of processors didn't address this issue—the chips that used the same socket as the 2014 mini were still all dual-core, and didn't give enough of a boost to justify an update for a (comparatively) low-volume, low margin product.
"The 2014 mini did offer several meaningful updates: 802.11ac Wifi, Thunderbolt 2, lower power consumption, faster SSDs, elimination of the FW800 port, support for 4k over HDMI or Thunderbolt/Mini-displayport. For multi-threaded workloads, though, the lack of a quad-core option does sting. Unfortunately, that's a finite market that you happen to fall into.
"The Mac Pro situation has dragged on so long that there is clearly an issue beyond the usual economics of that line. The most plausible explanation is that the Trash Can was intended to be amortized over several years, but a reliability issue has forced them to go back to the drawing board much, much earlier than intended. The upshot of that is that we may get something closer to what its target market really wants—something more flexible and utilitarian. Time will tell."
Mike replies: Great comment. That explains a lot. Thanks Rick.