I’ve had a Mac mini now for almost four years. I bought it for two reasons: I needed a new Linuxy server, and my wife needed a machine for internet and email use. Since OS X, under the hood at least, is close enough to Linux to allow me to set up the SSH server, Leafnode, Apache and PHP things I used my old (P233) Linux box for, and it was easy to use “at the desktop”, it seemed perfect. It was. And still is!
Then, a couple of years ago, I was in the market for a new laptop. The MacBook appeared, and I decided to get one. I thought I’d need Windows on it, so also bought Parallels. It was two laptops in one! Perfect. Again.
Thing is, I haven’t really used Windows on it all that much. Last time was to set up a Vodafone ADSL connection for someone, as they had a Mac and Vodafone only provided Windows software to configure the connection (although once set up, you don’t need Windows). That’s pretty much it, though.
Since getting the MacBook, I’ve used my Windows XP “main” PC less and less. Partly because it’s upstairs, and partly because it’s just nicer using OS X. There are a few things I still use it for exclusively (my calendar, to do list, most of my website dev stuff), but that’s all.
This last week, I’ve been having a few issues with this PC. I updated Outlook 2003 (to SP3, I think), and since then it’s crashed a few times. My machine has also started running a bit slow, and the fans are getting a little old and tired and make more noise than they used to. Of course, all these are easily fixed problems, but I’ve been thinking… why bother? Couldn’t I just get a Mac? Could I survive without my PC?
The answer, naturally, is yes. The dilemma is in the changes I’d have to adjust to, the things I’d lose, and the compromises I’d have to make. Parallels will mean that I will still have access to Windows and all that goes with it, but then I’d be in danger of just using my Mac as a PC. A nice PC, of course, but that’s not really the point. If I’m going to switch, I’m going to do it properly. I will still need to have XP for some things I do at home for work, but I don’t want to run it all the time – having it available if necessary would be sufficient.
So I’m looking for a suitable Mac. I don’t want a laptop, as I already have one. I don’t want a Mac Pro, as they’re too big, expensive, and are waaay overkill. That leaves the Mac mini and the iMac.
They’re both nice, but I have problems with both. The mini isn’t expandable enough: I need at least 500GB hard drive space and 2GB RAM, and minis just don’t have that sort of spec. Without an external drive, 160GB is the biggest drive you can get as standard, and since it’s a laptop drive, anything bigger in replacement would still be undersized and overpriced. An advantage would be that I’d be able to use my current 24″ monitor, however, and initial outlay would be lower.
As for the iMac, it’s still not ideally suited for expansion, but at least you can put a much bigger drive in (although still only one). It does come with a built-in monitor, which means I’d have to forego my 24″ one (I don’t have desk space for both an iMac and a second monitor!). Then there’s the cost of a 24″ iMac, which I’d want over the 20″, ideally, due to the screen size.
In a perfect world, Apple would make something that fits between the mini and the Pro. Something with expansion potential (a couple of extra drive bays, a few more memory slots, a PCI-E slot or two), but without the over-the-top dual quad-core CPUs and a case the size and weight of a family saloon, and no built-in monitor. Sadly, such a midrange machine doesn’t exist.
And then there’s the issues with my existing hardware. I have an all-in-one colour printer/scanner made by Dell – which won’t work on a Mac. I also have a Samsung laser printer, which is parallel and won’t work on a Mac. My phone, a T-Mobile Vario II, won’t work on a Mac (without buying extra software).¬¨‚Ä† I also have various other Game Boy and Game Boy Advance homebrew coding devices, which will only work on a PC (and need a parallel port too). All of these would have to be replaced, or lost.
In terms of software, I’m very reliant on Outlook (mainly because of my phone), Agent (I’ve been using it for Usenet since 1998), and RapidPHP (for website coding). On my MacBook I use Thunderbird for news, so could manage with that instead of Agent, and if I got my phone working then Mail/iCal would replace Outlook, but I’m yet to find a¬¨‚Ä† replacement for RapidPHP that I’m happy with. I also use a bit of software called SitePublisher for syncing my offline website with my online sit, but I recently found Easy iWeb Publisher, which looks like it might do that job.
I want a Mac, I really do, but I’m scared as it’s a big jump. Do I do it? Will I miss XP? Can I justify the cost and time? And, if I do switch, what do I switch to? An iMac? A mini? And when? Should I hang on for the next hardware “refresh”? Hold out for a new mid-range model that currently doesn’t exist? So many questions!