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Thursday, 30 September 2010


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It's a common problem that's been well researched. The more details thrown at the brain to make a decision, the more you tend to ask for more details, even ones that aren't really relevant to the original buying question, and thus postpone the decision due to inability to process it all. Your brain is doing what most people's brains do, and marketers know and take advantage of this. In the computer industry the worst form of this was a tactic called FUD (fear uncertainty and doubt).

You're spending too much time and analysis on what is, in essence, a simple decision. Look at it a different way. Let's say you spend the, what, US$1500 or so, to pop the cork here. What's the worst possible outcome of that decision? That you discover that it isn't sufficient and that you need to get something else instead of one of the components you've selected? Are you really out US$1500? No. If you had to sell the Mini and buy something else, you're probably out a couple hundred bucks at most. How much is your time worth? You can agonize over this for weeks and suddenly that couple hundred bucks is several thousand dollars worth of your time. Unless, of course, you think your time isn't worth anything ;~)

If glare is the problem with the Apple screen, you might try this solution.
Attach a wide roll-down window shade on the ceiling directly behind your chair. If you position it carefully I'm confident that you'll soon be glare-free. It works very well in most environments.


skimming(?) over these comments, I missed one crucial question: are you prepared to depart from using the Apple UI ("user interface" - you probably don't really mind the underlying OS) and learn something new?
If not (and from what little I've read from you so far, I wouldn't expect you to be), then you're stuck with Apple, like it or not (since they don't allow you to install OS-X on non-Apple HW, more's the pity).


Buying the latest and greatest is always at a premium. A friend bought a 4 core Mac pro for just under a grand that was loaded with assessors, mostly tons of memory.

Flies through Photoshop so i would assume aperture also.

Use whatever screen works, he bought a Dell 27 inch fairly cheap.

Damn fine setup and cheaper that a new iMac.


Mike - I understand your concerns about the glossy screen, but before you make the final decision I hope you get a chance to work in front of one for a bit. They are mirror-like when the screen is blank, but once the screen is full of your work, this is much less of an issue. I have a glossy and matte screen, side by side, and in the day-to-day work environment they are, for me (anyway), equally capable pieces of hardware.

For your information, I discovered that CDW still has some of the 24" and 30" discontinued matte surface Apple monitors in stock. You might find one of these monitors would fit your requirements perfectly.

Good luck in your quest!

The problem here is Aperture 3. It's a dog unless you have a Mac Pro. I suggest Photomechanic, handoff to RAW Developer, then final touchup in PSCS3.

I have been using this exact workflow for about 7 years, and every pro who comes to my studio copies it, no matter what programs or platforms they are coming from.

I would comfortably say I go from RAW to perfectly processed (dodged and burned) Pro-photo TIFF in less than 60 seconds, and print to my 7880 in less than two minutes.

The quality is there.

Until the last of your post it sounded as if you were preparing to "cross the Rubicon", i.e. leave the Mac platform in search of hardware more suited to your needs, but then you specified running "Aperture 3 effortlessly with large files".

Thom's point is very well taken. Go ahead an make a decision and use the equipment to do productive work with your time instead of fretting over the decision. Some people actually analyze the revenue gains from increased productivity of new hardware purchases. It is not a bad idea, but overlooks the nonmonetary costs of struggling with equipment that causes you grief because it is no longer up to the task.

Wanting to run large files effortlessly in Aperture 3, but not liking the iMac screens pretty much locks you into buying a Mac Pro (tower). For that you do not need a top-of-the line Mac Pro with all the latest CPU combinations. An entry level Mac Pro, properly optioned will do quite well as shown in tests at Barefeats and diglloyd/Mac Performance guide and other tests which show CPU speed is more important than the number of available cores with the overwhelming majority of applications at the present time. You need not go the full route of the Mac Performance Guide for a Mac Pro, but if you put in plenty of RAM, a SSD for a boot drive, large rotating drive for home folder and data and a smaller SSD as a scratch disk for Photoshop and Aperture you will have a machine which can do what you want. (I would note in passing that the size of the files you will be working with will only grow in size before the end of the useful life of a well thought out purchase so it is appropriate to consider the demands on the hardware today and in the next two years or so.)

Don't forget a well thought out backup plan.


Thom Hogan is a wise man. The same advice applies to cameras. There comes a point at which time spent researching the perfect kit would be better spent taking pictures with whatever is at hand or whatever you can afford at the moment.

Oh for heaven's sake, these things have become like toasters. Stop your frothing and buy a Mac Pro along with a very good flat panel that takes and holds a calibration. Too big? Not at all. Stuff it behind your desk or on the floor and forget about it. You will not just replace your computer but expand your capability. The iMacs are lovely but why mess around? Maybe you should talk to the guy that sold you the Mercedes. I'll bet he could convince you to "just go for it".

Its a huge gap in apples product line that I think is there to force professionals into an expensive Mac pro when it isn't needed. The answer is of course a 21.5 imac and then buy a second monitor (works well with imac). You will love the second monitor option when working with aperture as well. The only other expense might be another desk to house it all. If you got a mac pro or a mac mini you would have to get a monitor any way. remember an LCD will last about 3 years as a color accurate tool so you may need a new one anyway. I don't know the longevity of the LED screens but I do know they are not good enough for accurate color. Also when contemplating my advice you should remember it is always easier to spend someone elses money


I tried to post earlier when you first raised the discussion on your computer needs, but got some kind of error message where my text wouldn't upload to your site. Anyway, I'm trying again. As others have noted, Apple can still meet your requirements. Either the Mac mini or a Mkbkpro. I went with the Mkbkpro because it allows me to take my entire office with me on the road (no file synching between home and mobile necessary), and when at home, I just plug into a cinema display, close the lid on the Mkbkpro, and I've got a perfectly competent and color-calbrated desktop system. If you want an inexpensive non glare screen, then many relatively inexpensive IPS panels exist and will work great with a Mac.

The only gotcha I see is perhaps with Aperture 3. Obviously a PC won't run it as it's not cross-platform like Lightroom. But here's a heads-up on Aperture 3 you might want to check out at an Apple store before confirming Mac mini or Mkbkpro. I have an Intel Mkbkpro about 3 years old. It has a 2.2.ghz chip with 6 gig ram and now running Snow Leopard just fine. Also competent with Photoshop 5, Lightroom, Indesign, etc. But my trial version of Aperture 3 brought it to its knees. I concluded it was by far the worst software I've ever run on a Mac in terms of performance. Maybe, I've got some corruption or something that's causing the problem, but all my other software runs fine. So, Aperture 3 is a non-starter for me. I hope you don't have the same problem (it could be the older video card in my machine), but definitely check out Aperture compatibility before purchase of a new system.

good luck,

Just buy what you had originally intended to. You now have way too many opinions, and way too much information. It's not like there is a wrong answer and choosing it ends you homeless, begging on the street.

Next thing you know, you will be asking people to redesign your kitchen! ;-)

I kind of agree with Thom Hogan. I actually just struggled with this for the last couple of months when shopping for a new minivan. In the end, I bought what I "wanted" all along. Sometimes it is good to make a "gut" decision, in this era of information overload. Give yourself a deadline. It worked for me: I did not renew my old minivan registration, so that I would not be able to drive it past Sep 30th (today). Yes, after "backing off to digest the information" for weeks at a time, I got the minivan with exactly 6 days to spare...

I am a professional photog and was scared of the glossy screen...but after using both...the refurb from the Apple store is great! .... easy to move around too....the glare wasn't the issue I thought it would be....
Refurbished iMac 27-inch 2.93GHz Intel Quad-Core i7 processor
27-inch LED-backlit glossy widescreen display
4GB memory
1TB hard drive
8x SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
ATI Radeon HD 5750 graphics with 1GB memory
Built-in iSight camera
...if you don't like it it would no be hard to sell....just my 2cents

As I've been telling people for more than 20 years, the best time to buy a new computer is six months from now! So if you don't know what to do, by all means think about it.

Of course, your research will go slowly out of date as you do.

A glossy screen has not been an issue for me so long as I can control the lighting environment.
Control of the lighting environment will be essential in any case if you are doing colour critical work.
Buying a better tool is rarely regretted unless one can flat out not afford it.
Screen technology appears to be improving at a huge rate and will probably do so for the next few years. Don't necessarily regard the screen as such a long term investment.
The more powerful a computer the longer it will keep up with other changes and demands , except where the hardware is no longer current such as the mac change from motorola to intel.

you can consider an Eizo monitor. do they sell that in america? it's not glossy and it will be nice for you since you spend a lot of time looking at pictures.

to Thom Hogan above--- yes, that is true about time vs "relatively not such a great amount of money". but it's great fun to online shop and canvas for discounts, it's not agonizing! i'm the type of girl who thinks it's fun to research different types of gadgets, even dull products like motherboards. hehe.

i agree with marketers and FUD though. i hate it that they put a lot of useless crap on boxes to scare people. a month ago i was helping a friend buy a router, and there's so many lies on the box, like there's a chart on how wireless G can't do these things, etc, Wireless N is the only one that can. but some things, wireless G can do it, why did they have to lie?

of course i recommended the N router to my friend, and she bought that, but I'm still annoyed that marketers will lie about all sorts of things. they can just list the specs honestly and people will buy the product if it's truly superior.

How about a used mac pro? Cheaper than new, but still plenty powerful. Preferably something with AppleCare.

Hi Mike, you have just recovered from a car purchase, I think deferment may be a good idea :)

I had a similar decision to make exactly 1 year ago which took nearly 4 months of analysis paralysis to resolve. I wanted a powerful desktop, already owned a screen (Viewsonic), graphics tablet and external storage, but also wanted a portable solution for work and travel.

I ended up staying reluctantly with Windows, bought a custom spec i7 powerhouse desktop AND a nice ultraportable laptop which weighs the same as a MB Air, can network and share drives, has ESATA connectivity AND fits in the outside pocket of my Mini Trekker.

Comparable prices? Mac Pro + Macbook £5300, PC + laptop £1300.

Apple are so busy preaching to the choir they are forgetting to give us long suffering Windoze users an easy way to switch. A more powerful Mac Mini and a cheaper Macbook and I would be a convert already.

Mike, although I gave my own two'pennuth to your search for a satisfactory system and so take some small blame for your now state of quandry over it, I was surprised you asked in the first place, because you were on a hiding to nothing. Collective internet thinking is a muddle for such a clear response as essentially internetese is a language of opinion and often plain showing away of what the other guy has, regardless of a considered answer to your neeeds - in short someone will always tell you there's a better option and, of course, there is, for them.
My advice is simply to talk to a couple of your buddies and commit your money. I'm terrible at choosing equipment and get into a real brain haze over these things because the internet holds more permutations than are good for you. For the amount of money you are spending I doubt you will end up with a pile of skip fodder, so do it and apply your fine brain to other matters, like what enlarger are you going to use ? (Because this is where my brain haze is forming at the moment). Why can't I listen to my own advice ?

Just it the Mac mini. Best and fastest computer I've ever owned. Had mine for about six months. The new is even better. You won't be sorry. They don't cost that much and you can sell them for almost what you paid for it if you upgrade later. But you won't upgrade. I run everything off of my Lacie external FW800 drives


I have not had the time to read all the posts about your Goldie Locks Box,so if this is redundant apologies, but how about used.


Save some dollars and get the big gun at the same time. I went this way because of the current state of the economy and have found it to be a win win.


Mike I understand your confusion and I'm happy I'm not in your shoes.
Month ago I switched from 2008 i'Mac (20", 4 GB RAM, 320 GB HDD, 256 MB graphic card) and second standalone 23" Apple Cinema Display to second hand, early 2009 Mac Pro (2x 2,26 Xeon, 6GB RAM - expandable to 32 GB, 640 GB HDD and 512 MB GT120 graphics). I use it with my old 23 Cinema Display and Eizo CG223(for critical colour, connected by display port/mini display port cable), both calibrated with ColorMunki Photo. It's pricey but in my opinion future proof combination, and Colourmunki works great with 23" Cinema Display (ask Ctein) and with Eizo's Color Navigator Software (you calibrate a monitor using 3D LUT table, not signal from graphic card). Both Eizo and Cinema Display are smaller than ViewSonic of your choice, but when you use two monitors it's plenty of space. For backup I use Time Capsule and some external drives. It's up to you, but in my opinion it's better to wait and buy more future proof combination than Mac Mini.
P.S Please forgive my poor english :-)

"Why can't I listen to my own advice?"

...And therein lies a subtle and extensive tale. My brother Scott, who knows me well, used to say that I am much better at giving other people advice than in figuring out what to do for myself. He made the comment with regard to stereo equipment, but I think it holds true for other things as well.


Once you move beyond "Appleholism"--"My name is Mike and I'm an Appleholic."--and it seems that you've already made great strides in that direction, you will be able to select the setup you need instead of the computer brand you really want.

Hi Mike,

I really, really feel your pain with this decision! I, too, faced the same issue about a year ago when I finally, after many a sleepless night, made the decision to relegate my beloved G5 Mac to e-mail and surfing da 'net, and bought a fairly robust new PC (Windows 7). I would rather have stayed on the Mac platform, but like you I could not determine a viable solution. I do have some consolation though in that I'm still using my 23" Cinema display.

Mike, While I don't have a serious publishing commitment as you do, I too was 'forced' to buy, in my case, a Apple laptop to do the work(photo developing/printing w/Lightroom) that probably should be done at a desktop(tower)-type workstation...all due to fact that I could not afford the sole remaining Apple tower-type product.
On the bright side, you are aware, of course, that the well-known outfit called Techrestore.com can replace the glossy display on an iMac or MacBookPro with a matte one for nominal cost, right?

I've been paralised myself with a similar purchase.

For your purposes, you might find that a 15" or 13" MBP with your chosen external screen would work better for your needs than a mini, and give you the added benefit of portability when you need it.

I'm waffling between a new MacBook Pro 15" and an iMac. I'm currently using an older (2Ghz Core2Duo) MBP. For Lightroom and Programming work, I need the fastest drive & CPU and as much memory as is affordable.

I'm leaning towards the top of the line iMac, with memory and drives purchased at a third party, keeping my current MBP for mobile work.

I'd echo Thom: buy as soon as you find something that you estimate to be workable and reasonable for your budget.

Best of luck!

What Thom said. Pull the trigger.

You have the kind of personality (the audio-tech interests, cameras) that I suspect should have been in PC territory all the while. I've been all-Mac for several years precisely because I'm not interested in that stuff. I want a computer (audio system) that works essentially like a toaster -- plug it in, turn it on, forget it. One operating system, four pieces of software, and that's it.

I have to add that Apple quality (in my experience) has been declining. The machines look good, but with the exception of a Mac Air, I've had problems with all of my recent Macs (I have five); the worst problems have come with a Mac Pro Tower. It really isn't even soldered together very well. The USB ports are so shaky that sometimes they don't work at all. By the way, do you know that you can buy a $3,000 Mac Pro...and it doesn't have wireless capability? It's an "option." You find that out when you get home - it had never occurred to me that it wouldn't -- and then you have to haul it back to the store to have it installed.

I think a lot of people got into Apple in the early days because it was the upstart, the machine that threw the hammer at IBM and all the big guys....etc. Well, that's just not true any more. It's one of the most humongous companies in the US, and one of the most arrogant, IMHO. Look at the whole iPad/Flash controversy -- Jobs doesn't like Flash, so we don't have access to half the video sites on the net. Not that they couldn't easily have accomodated it...but Jobs doesn't like Flash. Period. So we don't get it.

People who get sucked into Apple's orbit rarely escape, so I suspect you'll wind up with a Mac system. Changing is just too annoying. I know that state-of-being exactly, and if I wasn't so tired all the time, I'd probably change simply to protest Apple's arrogance.


Cannot stop myself when I suddenly reading the poster's name:

@Thom - Love both your site and of course mike's but seriously, many of us are waiting for your blog entry on your site for the last 1 month when you are in Africa! "You're spending too much time and analysis ..." in here as well! I am assure you that Mike is fine. Now as regards to Nikon's ... not the coffee mug but the Nikon's ...

Reading this book might help you.

Another good one is this.

I get what your saying about the reflective iMac screen. I recently up/downgraded from a 2008 Mac Pro to a new 27" iMac i7. It runs Aperture 3 really well but when I am illuminated by the window behind the screen it can be a problem. My solution is to close the blinds but it's far from ideal. The upside is that the screen is otherwise excellent and calibrates well.

There is the option of a anti-glare cover but having experience of trying to apply one to an iPad, the idea of trying it with that many inches is daunting to say the least. The other option is a second monitor which I don't have the room for.

If Apple had offered an anti-glare option I would have obviously taken it but I think that the combination of an unbeatable operating system, great software and mostly excellent hardware overrides the negatives.

As a pro I appreciate the general lack of issues with the iMac/Aperture workflow and if I were in your position I would prefer to change my environment (if possible) rather than my choice of platform.

Cliche: Everything old is new again.

Had an idea this was going to happen. Just like in the age of digital recording and CDs, we have the rise of the vinyl LP movement among audiophiles.

As usual, Thom Hogan adds some insightful commentary here. The only thing I would add is that perhaps you should try Lightroom 3 on a PC, which would eliminate the Aperture on a fast but small Mac constraint.

LR3 really is a fantastic program, IMHO, and really makes the DAM and post-processing experience enjoyable for me. There were some bugs when LR2 was launched, but it has been rock solid ever since. The vastly improved RAW conversion engine in LR3 along with the lens correction module really cinched the deal for me.

I always dreaded the whole process of ingesting, cataloging, ranking, and processing my images such that I was 6-8 months behind whatever I was shooting. In fact, I didn't even want to take pictures anymore because it would just add to the backlog and unpleasantness. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that LR saved photography as a hobby for me. It's not every day that a program comes along and changes one's life, but LR has done exactly that for me.

Oh,for God's sake,buy a Mac Pro and a
30" Apple monitor and move on.

I'm with John Haugaard. I fretted about the glossy screen on a 27" i7 iMac for a while, but in practice it hasn't been a big issue for me. And, this is my first Mac since a 90's era PowerMac 7200. I love the Apple UI.

OTOH, Thom Hogan's advice is good too. It's what you wanted in the first place and I think subconsciously your decision is already made. I've learned to "follow my gut."

It's just like buying camera gear. Don't worry about the online charts, benchmark tests, clock speeds etc. They are the computer equivalent of shooting brick walls. Get down to the store and test drive that stuff!

I am in the same position requiring an upgrade of my years-old MacBook Pro. The Apple Store salesperson's answer to the screen glare issue was to buy anti-glare film. A little Googling for reviews indicates that would be a very bad idea.

I've solved part of my problem. I recently migrated from Aperture to Lightroom. I'm a life-long Apple addict who has discovered how much better the speed, interface and work product is with LR. A pleasant side effect is that I am now free to consider both Apple and other computers.

By the way, you are right to avoid the glossy screen. Recently I received a free HP 23" widescreen HD monitor and hooked it up as a second monitor. It's gorgeous for multimedia but could otherwise be used as a makeup mirror by my wife. Terrible for photo editing. It's going to the in-laws for their new computer.

I don't pretend to have any final answer for you.

Dean Silliman

Try this place for the easy way to build a hackintosh:


He lays out several systems using P55 chipsets. Mine is similar to those. It booted OS X on the first try with everything working.

Mike -- you may want to look at the used/refurbished route. Try http://www.powermax.com/, they're extremely reputable on this front.

Other places I've had good success with refurbished apple gear is apple's own site (search store.apple.com for refurbished; they hide this section) or http://www.smalldog.com/

Re: Aperture 3 performance issues.

My experience with the latest Ap3 is that it is a pig when generating previews, however, once that task is completed it is not bad at all on my 17" 2.6Ghz MBP. I have seen some lag when using a tablet, but that may just be the cheesy (non-Wacom ;-( ) tablet itself.

Anyway, my two cents on topic, is that software should always drive hardware decisions. And if you can put your Aperture Library on a drive, you could take it into your nearest Apple Store and try it out on the various machines, as they all have Aperture on them.

To quote Bob Roll, a former bicycle racer and Tour de France commentator, "Opinions are like elbows. Everybody has one and they are all bent."

I'm sure you could find a way to mix and match MacMini and MacBook systems to get what you need.

Why move to an unfamiliar software platform if you don't nned to?

(And for the record, my systems are all PCs with XP Professional running on them.)

I love the dot point summary! It highlights the problem behind your original point that if you choose Apple, you forgo your choice in hardware. I'm not sure if they are ever going to change this approach given that it is what allows them to command their current margins as a hardware company.

With Apple, I miss the fact that I can incrementally tinker with my PC, and progressively select the parts that I need best through experimentation (rather than select parts that someone thinks are best). On saying that, I've taken a similar approach to yourself and replaced the RAM, got an external screen, new hard drives (internal and external), and done so incrementally over a year or so.

I think that the best choice which Apple offers in this regard is the mini. The initial outlay is minimal compared to the others, and the components that you have suggested to buy are reusable, if you should so decide to move to any other of Apple's base offerings.

My final opinion is that instead of being scared of buying the wrong option, I think what you have originally suggested is actually the RIGHT one.

Go ahead! Get that new mac!


I don't have the time to read all the comments, so forgive me if this has been mentioned:

If your only problem with the iMac is the gloss screen, get the iMac. Give it a try for a while (I have at least half a dozen of them, in addition to quite a few mac pros). The lack of a diffusion panel in the display gives you a more accurate view. I find there is less eye strain as long as the environment allows for controlling ambient the light. But if there is glare and you need to get rid of it, you can buy sheets of self adhering diffusion that turn it into a more traditional display. Several people here are using that.

Both here and at home I have an NEC 3090 on my Mac Pros, and I keep thinking that one of these days I'm going to take this otherwise excellent display apart and replace the diffuser with a piece of conservation glass.

One thing to avoid is the smaller display iMac. It is not good for critical color (or tonal) work because values shift significantly as you move your head even small amounts up or down.

The way the "ask the audience" lifeline works is you have to give them voting choices. There is no "suggestion box" lifeline.

Here's an approximate executive summary of all the advice I've received thus far:

(conflicting advice from all sides)

But you knew that was what you were going to get when you asked the question, right? :)

What you really need is a one-handed computer expert.

Mac Pro, no SSD get a 600GB WD velociraptor for your os, regular drive for your data. An NEC 26-30" monitor. Job done.

Robust system, starts up in less than 5 secs, tonnes of storage, upgradeable, mat screen of highest quality (so good for photo editing).

It worked for me 10 months ago (with the 300GB HD)

I've learned a lesson from your experiment. Don't ask thousands of people what you should do. Ask a trusted source, like a friend or a brilliant Mac blogger, or just buy what you outlined after researching it. You're very smart, I think you were right on for what you needed. Seeking the opinions of hundreds of thousands of random people because they read your blog and also have keyboards in front of them assures paralysis. I believe that's particularly true of computers, religion, and politics. It's not that a small group of people can't agree on something, but you're not asking them to comment on the subject that brings them together in this forum: Photography.

Oh, and my advice: buy an iMac and a bead blaster to kill the reflection on the glass. Or else paint the wall behind you black and use torchiere lamps to minimize reflections. That's what I do with my iMac, and I can't see myself at all when the computer's on (thank goodness). I also do my more critical work on an NEC MultiSync LCD with a matte screen.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Working from function to hardware selection:

Q: What are most important functions?
A: Smooth image processing/management even with large files. And what else?

Q: What software is used/required for main function(s)?
A: Aperture. And what else?

Q: What hardware specs most affect performance of most important software?
A: CPU speed, GPU speed, Drive speed, (throughput, in other words) And?

Q: What box gets me the mostest of what I need?
A: The biggy, it would seem, with quad cores, ssd(s), the works.

Q: And how do I afford it?
A: Carefully reevaluate monitor need versus monitor lust.

Q: But where do I put it?
A: Insufficient data. Publish picture of office for suggestions from all and sundry.

I think you are lost to consumer capitalism.

My advice is this: Figure out what your basic requirements are w/r/t power, monitor size, etc., and then buy the least expensive thing that fits those criteria. Don't worry about buying the *perfect* set-up and don't second guess your decision.

"ADDENDUM: Here's an approximate executive summary of all the advice I've received thus far:"

Best laugh I've had in a long time! Similar "advice" can be seen in any forum where gear is discussed. Ask at DPReview for the best walk-around lens!


A very long time ago, I picked up a bit of advice: when shopping for guitar amps,* only ever choose between two. Is it guitar A or guitar B? Okay, if it is A, then A or C? and so on, until you have made the last paired choice. A person can attend to all kinds of possibilities simultaneously, but we can only judge the quality between two things at a time.

The second piece of advice that I picked up was to buy hardware strictly on the basis of what software you want to run. I've actually used this advice to choose what camera to buy! E.g.: picking a camera based on how big I want to print, or how fast I want the shutter to respond.

The third piece of advice that I picked up, is to pick something you want, then flip a coin: heads you get it, tails you don't. Then check how you feel afterward. Are you relieved that you didn't get it? Are you excited if you do?

So, what advice would you give yourself if this was a camera purchase?

Good luck!

*I think this advice might have shown up in an audiophile magazine about choosing speakers around the same time.
**This didn't work as well as I had hoped, since cameras vary a lot more than I had realized, even ones with identical bullet points in the reviews.

The maxim ‘Nothing avails but perfection’ may be spelt shorter: ‘Paralysis.’

(Minute from Winston Churchill to General Ismay, December 6, 1942.)

Thom Hogan is right. As usual.

Why Aperture 3? I suggest Lightroom3 (co-licensed for OS X and Win).

Mike, it's just the same thing as choosing photographic equipment. Either you know exactly what you want or you are doomed ... You have only two choices - find someone experienced and ask for advice or just try choosing yourself. The first option is NOT about asking on the net, because you never know how competent your advisor is. Let alone personal preferences and needs.
On the other hand, just like with photographic equipment, good enough is just enough.

Hi Mike,

I just wanted to tell you my point of view.... Oh, well it's been said at least a dozen times ;-)

Just a few keywords to stop your brain from functioning:
glossy, iMac, Dell, small, too big, noise, IT, .... nude women (pay attention, just wanted to make sure you're reading... where was I?) Aperture, Lightroom, 27", 5",...

My dad always told me: "Financially, I can not afford to buy cheap stuff."

At the risk of being chastised for offering more advice ...

Irrespective of whether you go glossy or not, you need to sort out the lighting in your working environment. You'll still be fighting flare on a matte screen. Turn the desk around, install blinds/curtains, awnings, whatever. While it doesn't need quite the attention to detail you applied to the darkroom downstairs, it's just as important.

You might find a woman with whom your friends, one who has no interest in computers, to help you decide.

Some years ago, the used tractor we'd bought to mow our lawn died. I researched lawn tractors for a few weeks while we hired someone to mow. Armed with my knowledge and a few lingering questions, we went to a local dealer. A zero turn mower caught my wife's eye. "What about one of these ?" she asks me. "They're too expensive". "How much is this ?" she asks the guy helping us. Same price as the tractor I'm looking at. "It can't tow a trailer" I say. "Can it tow a trailer ?" she asks the guy helping us. We can put a tow hitch on it and it will tow as much as that tractor he says.

We bought the zero turn mower. And my wife mowed more than I did ! Until our daughter was a couple years old and we got too busy to mow and hired someone to mow for us.

There has to be a lesson in there somewhere.

I hate glossy screens as well. I use a MacBook Pro plugged into a 30 inch Cinema Display. There is no piece of photographic equipment I have purchased in the last five years as consistently valuable as my 30 inch screen. Before digital, it was uncommon for me to see my photos larger than 8x10. Now I can see every photo at a relatively massive size, without the need to zoom in to specific areas. It has also greatly improved scrolling through my library. It was the single most important purchase of of my photographic life. You can get a used Cinema Display or get a new Dell 30 inch, which is supposed to be wonderful. Plug it into a MacBook Pro and then you have a laptop too.


As a software developer for Macs, PCs and Linux who is employed by a PC maker, I would advise you to stick with the Mac unless you like managing hardware and system software as a hobby. The learning curve for switching and the cost of moving data are not worth any performance or cost advantages. Win7 is the best Windows system yet, but I personally find OSX better anyway.

I do recommend that you buy the performance that you need today within the Mac line. If a computer irritates you because it is too slow or too noisy, you won't be productive. For most of what I do, the macMini has plenty of performance, and I love how quiet it is even with the hard drive.

I suspect that IPS technology will continue to decline in price rapidly, so I would not spend $1K on an IPS monitor today. I'd look at using two monitors to get screen size. The 23" IPS monitors are enticing. I run my mac Mini with dual 19" TFT monitors at 1280x1024 each and the configuration works well.

I am with Thom, but you have to be in the ballpark and your choices seem to be. I have been using dig cameras for years along with Macs and I have never heard of an OWC drive. They look awesome. Is there some website/review that pointed you at that drive? Are there other drive manufacturers/resellers in that reliability and quality class? Awesome choices.

If the main reason you don't want to get an iMac is glare from the glass screen, you might be interested to know that there are anti-glare adhesive films available. Here is just one example: http://www.radtech.us/Products/ClearCal-Displays.aspx. I doubt it would have any significant effect on color balance and you'd be using a calibrator over the film anyway. Just a thought...

Mike, are you trying to become the Mike Arrington of photography, linkbaiting?

I'm sure you know exactly what to buy and what not to, more than that you would have to be still living in the 1940' not expecting results as stated in your "executive summary"

Go not to the elves for advice, for they will say both No and Yes.

Hey, look on the bright side. At least you're not shopping for a new big screen TV or a new set of speakers for your stereo.

@Michael: no, you aren't stuck -- Apple does allow you to install Windows on Mac hardware via BootCamp, supplied with the computer; or you can use Parallels, VMWare (my choice) or Virtual Box to run any several OS's (i run win2000, XP and 7 plus Ubunto and CentOS on mine)

@Mark (MHMG): i run Aperture on a low-end 2009 MacBook Pro; it runs adequately; the GPU chip is the key, and the chip on my model is much better than on your 3-year old machine; the Mini and new MacBook Pros have an even better GPU than mine, even more so on the higher-tier 15 & 17" models; but the best GPUs are on the higher-end iMacs and on the Mac Pro; other reasons Aperture 3 can be slow are too little RAM and the optional face detection (look in the Activity window); if you use Aperture then 8GB RAM is a must

@glossy screen advocates: the problem is bright light on any bright surface within the reflected area; a roll-down shade won't work if its light in color, and even your shirt color matters; graphics users have a harder time because images are often dark, making any reflections relatively brighter; larger displays (e.g. the 27") are also harder to control because the reflections can come from a much wider angle

@Mike: your Aperture requirement means you basically need to decide how much power you need, then choose based on that:

the Mini or low-end MacBooks Pro are adequate, but it sounds like you want more; the next step would be a top-end MacBook Pro (15 or 17-inch); with 8GB RAM i'd expect these to be "pretty good"; to get some real oomph, i'd choose an iMac (unfortunately only the 27-inch gets the best GPU and CPU options) or a Mac Pro

I think, as we become older we "think" we know what we require.

Not so.

As I had mentioned in a personal note to you, sold the D90, bought a lower priced "bridge" camera.
From a very non-mainstream small manuacturer.

The 27 inch iMac I bought is nice,
However all I really needed was my 15 inch MacBook Pro.

My photography is all JPEG. RAW if wanted is available from colour slide film done on the F100. Which is just fine.

Fiddle-pharting with an image to
be printed as a 4" x 6" print is not
worth the time, nor is doing same
to something for the internet.

So in your case Mike, wait/ No hurried decisions. And as for your new wheels, was it a good purchase?

"But you knew that was what you were going to get when you asked the question, right?"

If I knew I'd get so many comments, yes, I could guess that some of them would conflict.

But they've actually been very helpful and I feel like I've learned a lot.


"'ADDENDUM: Here's an approximate executive summary of all the advice I've received thus far:' Best laugh I've had in a long time!'

Good. That's why I wrote it.

The suggestions really were very helpful. But sometimes it's funny anyway [g].


Mike, the Mac Mini is more than powerful enough to run Aperture 3 with big files. The bottlenecks for Aperture will be RAM and HD speed, both of which are addressed in your "Computer Purchase Comments" post.

Saying the Mini is not enough for Aperture is FUD, plain and simple.

Reading this on my Apple 30" monitor and greatly enjoying the lack of glare, plus the real estate. Debated getting the 27" iMac but the glossy screen was just too annoying. Apple stopped making the 30" but you can still find them online. I'm running Aperture 3 with the base model MacPro and it works fine. System was a bit more than the iMac but much more satisfying.

Hmm. Sounds like buying a camera. Good luck with that as I haven't ever figured out how to get around that even with buying a used film camera. I still haven't pulled the trigger on the recommendation you made to me. Almost positive I will but first I need to save up some money and find a job that doesn't have me on the road 12 straight weeks.

...Or maybe it just seems that way to me!

Sounds about right with just about every request for advice ever posted on the Internet. Get a large enough sample and there is a conflicting (and valid for that person) opinion for every piece of criteria.

To combat the glossy screen on my iMac, I bought anti-glare film from http://www.photodon.com/c/LCD-Protective-Films.html. It was a bit of a pain to apply, but once on, it's great.


One thing I did notice (but did not comment on) was that the monitor you had picked seemed to only have a VGA port. I would strongly suggest you make sure your monitor has a DVI-D port and if at all possible a Displayport. This has to do with the fact that DVI is restricted to 8 bit color depth and Displayport can support higher. I am not aware of how many bits VGA can support (infinite in theory, but probably limited to 6, 8, or 10 in practice.) After that it helps to know how many bits the display can support. Even displays that can support 10 bits are rare and expensive.

If you go to Lightroom, you can use it on either platform.

More importantly - Get a Mozy or Carbonite account if you do not have one. A second harddrive for backup is better than nothing, but it does not deal with the need to have an up to date offsite back up so a fire or flood does not wipe everything out. (A lesson from Katrina what way too many photographers down here learned the hard way.)

I think you should get a Mini, maxed out RAM. Here's why.

You get the Mini, Aperture hangs or is sluggish, you think, "yes, well, it's a Mini so at least I saved some dough."

OTOH you get a MacPro, Aperture hangs or is sluggish, you'll think "This is supposed to be the top-of-the-line machine and it still putters along .... AAARGH!"

I'm not going to read through every response to this again but I will make this comment -

Aspects of a computer purchase (screen, CPU, memory etc) are so important to the final user experience that a try-before-you-buy scheme must have some merit. It would enable people to perfect their final purchase according to need and want.

You're right, Mike: too much advice can be counterproductive.

So I will only say this: go to an Apple Center and to a large Windows shop. Ask to actually use for a while the computers you think might fulfill those needs, with a monitor which is good enough for them.

And then make your choice; nobody better than you knows what you actually need.

Ruling out the iMacs because of the screens, and ruling out Windows boxes because of the OS, we're left with three options:

Mac Mini
Mac Pro
MacBook (Pro).

The Mac Pro is certainly a very nice machine, but it's also big an heavy. If that's not a problem for you, why not get it? But you said it would be. It also uses a lot more power than the smaller machines.

If it is, we've eliminated one option and are left with two: The Mini or a 'Book.

Now here's the thing: The computer inside these is very similar. The Mac Mini is more or less just a laptop without screen and input devices. That's why it is so small and uses so little power.

That's not to say it isn't powerful. There are two areas where it severely lags behind physically bigger machines, and one where it doesn't really matter. Starting with the latter:

CPU speed. Yeah, it can't have two quadrillion cores running at sixteen Terahertz each, like a Mac Pro for 10000 USD. But would you get such a machine? Probably not. Also, CPUs are very, very fast today. Even the moderately-fast ones like in the Mac Mini. CPU speed is generally overrated by people who assume that since CPUs are the "heart and brain" of a computer, they're responsible for all the speed (or lack thereof).

The two areas where there is really a discernable difference for everyday tasks follow:

3D Graphics power. You probably don't need this. Aperture uses the 3D chip for some of its user interface effects, but not to such a heavy degree that it would matter. You only need 3D power if you're playing 3D games, or if you use CAD tools a lot. If both of these don't apply, you can ignore 3D graphics speed.

Harddisk speed. This one matters for pretty much every task. The Mac Mini, as all portable computers, uses 2.5" harddrives, while bigger computers use 3.5" ones. The 3.5" drives are bigger, faster, and cheaper (per GB). This is why you should get an SSD. An SSD is a lot faster than even the fastest 3.5" spinning-disc-harddrive. But SSDs are very expensive, which means you probably won't get enough storage space on an SSD for all your images. The SSD should house your OS, home directory, and Aperture library database (assuming Aperture works like Lightroom, keeping the database containing image metadata and alterations in a database separate from the image files themselves). Get a big, fast external harddrive for the rest, and connect it via FireWire. USB on macs is still slower than it could be. Use USB for the time machine drive, that one doesn't need the speed.

I agree that apple should offer a medium-sized computer. But they don't. We have ruled out the iMac and Mac Pro, and the Mini is just a MacBook (Pro) without screen and keyboard and Trackpad, which you don't plan to use. This leaves the Mini as the only option.

You already planned to address the one big shortcoming of the Mini with an SSD, and you plan to give it enough RAM. So go and get one already, and don't waste your much time fretting over miniscule details. If you're really worried about speed, get the speedier Mac Mini. Both are plenty fast with an SSD. As is my MacBook Pro - though I use Lightroom, not Aperture.

And (just seeing that comment now) if the planned monitor really only has VGA in, do not get it. You want digital inputs at this high a reaolution.

I've not read all the comments so perhaps this has already been suggested. If you like Macs, but not Apple monitors, why not just buy a different monitor? If the Mac DVI port is the problem, you can get an adaptor so that a monitor with a VGA plug will work for you. Then you'd have the ideal situation that you identified a couple of posts back: you could upgrade your computer in the future and still keep your monitor.

In 5 years time anything you will have bought will be outdated, and you won't care any more what you did eventually decide to buy.

Now just pretend it's already 2015.

Here is my long winded rumination on technical shopping paralysis...


It reminds me when a stranger in a shop asked me advices on which camera to buy. He didn't trust the clerk and I looked like knowledgeable. He was hesitating between that Nikon D3000 and that Canon XS. I started to talk about the lack of AF motor in the Nikon, of all the alternatives in the same range that could be better, of paying attention to this or that feature, etc. He came for a simple answer and I totally confused him and now he was in a "Paralysis Analysis" situation. I tried to be sincerely helpful with genuine knowledge but it didn't work at all. A complete failure. Now I understand why the cameras are advertised with a very few set of key features. And why clerks tend to drive you to only one or two models.


I am still laughing at the 'executive summary'. That's good stuff!

Now have a cup of coffee and think about something else.


Hey Mike
Don't know how much of a rush you are in to get this setup but since you are thinking of getting a system that you want to last, you may want to wait until after Christmas, for a couple reasons. Obviously the march of technology goes on and you'll get more tech for your money then but it also is the time that intel will be coming out with their new (significantly better than the current Core i-series and would be a leap beyond the core2duo in the mini) Sandy Bridge chips. As it is right now you would essentially be buying into the last generation of chips which would not have as much future-proofness. This actually something I've been watching closely as I'm somewhat in the same boat. The chips would give benefits for all the lines of computer that everyone has mentioned.

Think of it not as paralysis but potential.

"Here is my long winded rumination on technical shopping paralysis..."

Nice. I like it.


psu, I also liked your long winded rumination. It's apt, as I've been obsessing over a gear tweak for some time now. What I can't figure out is why I can make most other major purchases more easily. Cars, appliances, computers, I can generally do some research, mull it over, then pick something and be satisfied knowing it was a fine choice, full of compromise. But not the camera gear. And what has me going in circles is a few considerations that fall into the 20%. (Lightroom's metadata is great for telling you just how much you shoot with your xx-yyy, how much at yyy, how much wide open, and then you can look at the pictures and see if they're important).

Tomorrow's computers/screens/SSDs or whatever will get cheaper, imensely more powerful and they will be able to cook some mean French fries, of course non-fattening. But until then... I've written for a hardware magazine, going thru excruciating details for the most hardcore geeks. But when it came to buy/renew my computers (which I religiously did every three years tops) I knew that I should spring for the most expensive available at the moment, no matter the details. It's a recipe for a computer that lasts at least three years, and maybe even 5.
Right now I'd get any SSD that plays nice, some large HDD(s), a lot of RAM (8GB would be only the start), the best Intel i7 (save for the Extreme version) and, important for the future, a good videocard; Photoshop is already using it nicely, and it's obvious that everything (including browsers) will become be videocard-accelerated by default.
And yes, MacPro sounds like a good idea if you take care to get a proper space for it, like the shelves for your books. Last bit: do take care to have a proper soundcard, maybe an external (USB) one.

I love my SSD. I stuck one in my laptop.
Currently I work for a software company and often do live demos of our software to large banks. Since changing to SSD I often get into a bit of trouble when our software on my laptop outperforms the customers 50'000 USD unix server. It's all down to throughput and SSD rocks.
Haven't got one at home yet though because they're too expensive. Which in other words means I like to talk but like most can not really offer definitive advice

Get a used iMac dual core intel...bootcamp for dual OS....I run photoshop out of Windows because I got used to it for 10 years and Mac for other image programs. I hedged for years but I love my Mac even running Windows on it.

I want to suggest the option of using the 'Display Port' which (iirc) is a part of all current Macintoshes. You could then use the monitor of your choice and have the shiny imac display as a crappy 'second' monitor (should you go the imac route). The mac pro would, of course, allow it to be your only monitor. There is also a service available for giving an iMac the matte finish you desire.
Richard in Michigan

Very interesting and useful reading these comments as I'm in the same boat.
I initially decided to go for the 21.5 iMac i3. Fine if you get a good one - I've sent three back (Amazon); one with dead pixels and the other two with the dreaded yellow tint (just google it), totally unusable screen.
So, I think (though not certain) I'll go with a mac mini and a good screen, possibly an NEC. This will bring it up to roughly the price of the iMac, buying a Macbook kicks it over my budget and I do like to have a keyboard that I can easily move around. The deciding argument I think is when you realise how many people swear by their macbook’s - basically a flat mac mini.
Another thought about going for the mac mini is future upgradeability as you will have split the two elements, computer and monitor.
I'm using using Lightroom.


I've had the freedom of not reading the thread earlier to this that brought about this post, nor the comments here. But I know a thing or two about consulting folks on which Apple products to buy.

"I need both a computer powerful enough to run Aperture 3 effortlessly with large files, and also a non-reflective monitor screen."

Forgive me if that quote doesn't include more pertinent info, but I'd be surprised if a new mini wouldn't work just fine, although you should likely consider some of the "creativeness" others have suggested by utilizing multiple Aperture libraries or other ideas to keep Aperture "teh snappy," to quote the old Internet joke.

In other words, Aperture seems to get faster with each version, and even if it doesn't, really points to a software need, not a hardware need here. And I say that as an Aperture user myself (Late 2008 MBP and 1.83GHz mini, albeit both with 4GB RAM …)

At any rate the mini will take enough extra RAM and HD storage inside, just don't buy that stuff from Apple. It's easy and fun to install yourself.

Get a top o' the line Dell or other monitor with an IPS panel and you're set; keyboard/mouse can't be hard to decide upon.

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