Buying a new Mac in late 2014

After yesterday’s incident, I spent all of last evening and most of this morning looking over my options for a replacement to my mid-2010 Macbook Pro. It’s been a far bigger struggle than I previously thought. Apple’s late 2014 lineup makes it very difficult for someone like myself, between an every day user and a power user, to find the right fit at a reasonable price. With us doing a complete revamp of our finances, I’m also worried about taking on debt and we have lots of big plans in the next couple of years.

The Dilemma

Every Mac I have ever owned has lasted 4+ years. This is because a combination of being upgradable and rock solid reliability, for reasonable prices. I paid $1,050 for my mid-2010 Macbook Pro, plus several hundred over the years for upgrades. How can I replicate that with the late 2014 Mac lineup?

The first issue is the Apple Store doesn’t carry anything other than base models, all which have 4GB or 8GB of RAM and very small hard drive sizes (or worse, in the case of most iMac, spinning rust hard drives) at low price ranges or are well into the $2,000s for base models with higher RAM and SSD (or Fusion) drives.

The second issue is that even when you build your own MacBook on Apple’s site, throw in 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD plus AppleCare (in the case of laptops) and suddenly you’re likely well into the $2,000s again.

Then I started thinking. Is there really a need for me to have a MacBook? I do a lot of my basic computer tasks on my iPhone and iPad. My wife almost exclusively uses her iPad every day, she only uses a Mac when she has a big project she’s working on. We almost never bring the MacBook away from home. Could an iMac do the job?

Requirements

  • Must be shared by myself and my wife.
  • 16GB of RAM (built in) or the ability to upgrade ram in the future.
    • There is no way 4GB or 8GB of RAM is going to have acceptable performance in 2018.
  • Minimum of 256GB SSD, preferably 512GB SSD.
    • Fusion drive acceptable for iMac models.
    • 256GB means a much larger reliance on services like iTunes Match and the upcoming Photos service to store data in the cloud and not on the HD.
  • Goal is 4+ years of productive use.

Options have been divided between base models (available for pickup at the local Apple Store) and Built to Order (BTO) models that would need to be shipped to me.

Models Rejected

I looked at every base model (except Mac Pro) that Apple offers. They were almost all rejected for these reasons:

  • Base Mac Mini models all have spinning disk drives and only 4GB of RAM.
  • Base iMac models all have spinning disk drives. If the boot drive isn’t SSD, I’m not interested.
  • Base 13″ MacBook Pro Retina models are stuck at 8GB RAM.
  • Base 13″ MacBook Pro (non-Retina) is pathetic at this point.

Base Models that meet my requirements

  • 15″ MacBook Pro Retina (no upgrade available, max 16GB RAM)
    • 2.2 GHz Quad-Core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD model – $1,999 + $349 for AppleCare = $2,348
    • 2.5 GHz Quad-Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD model – $2,499 + $349 for AppleCare = $2,848
  • 27″ iMac Retina 5K (max of 32GB RAM)
    • Base Model – 3.5 GHz Quad-Core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB Fusion Drive – $2,499

Built to Order models that meet my requirements

  • 27″ iMac Retina 5K (max upgrade of 32GB RAM)
    • 3.5 GHz Quad-Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, AMD Radeon R9 M295X 4GB GDDR5 – $2,749
  • 27″ iMac (max upgrade of 32GB RAM)
    • 3.2 GHz Quad-Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, NVIDIA GeForce GT 755M 1GB GDDR5 – $1,999
  • 21.5″ iMac (max upgrade of 16GB RAM)
    • 2.7 GHz Quad Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Intel Iris Pro Graphics – $1,499
  • 13″ Macbook Pro Retina (non-upgradable RAM and hard drive)
    • 2.8 GHz Dual-Core i5, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD – $1,999 + $249 for AppleCare = $2,248
    • 2.6 GHz Dual-Core i5, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD – $1,699 + $249 for AppleCare = $1,948
  • Mac Mini (non-upgradable RAM and Hard Drive as of latest generation)
    • 2.6 GHz Dual-Core i5, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD – $1,099 + $799 refurb Thunderbolt Display = $1,898

Commentary

What struck me is how little differences there are in prices. If you want 16GB of RAM and bare minimum SSD or Fusion drive, you pretty much have to start at $1,898, unless you decide on the smaller screen size (21.5″ iMac) or in the case of the Mac Mini use a non-Apple monitor. If you want a larger SSD you basically start at $2,248. And if you want a Mac today no matter what, acceptable models start at the local Apple Store at $2,348, which brings you amazingly close to base model iMac Retina 5k territory.

My first take of narrowing down my options looks like this:

  • BTO: Mac Mini with 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD & refurb Thunderbolt Display ($1,898)
  • BTO: 27″ iMac, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD ($1,999)
  • BTO: 13″ Macbook Pro Retina with 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD ($2,248)
  • Base: 27″ iMac Retina 5K with 8GB RAM, 1TB Fusion Drive ($2,499)

With the desktop models (Mac Mini, 27″ iMac, 27″ iMac Retina 5K), I get the flexibility of upgrades in the future, especially with the two iMac’s. Either iMac can be upgraded to 32GB of RAM and basically unlimited storage via external hard drives, since they are limited to the desk I put them on. It’s probably not unreasonable to expect 5 or 6 years of main service out of either one, with a follow up life as a home server or spare computer for a future kid of mine. Plus having a desktop Mac probably means more focus for me when I use it, since it will be in my home office. Much fewer distractions and just random surfing the web.

With the 13″ Macbook Pro Retina, I get portability at the sacrifice of expandability and probably extended longevity. The 15″ Macbook Pro Retina is just too expensive. While it’s possible to add external hard drives, I’m not connecting one every time I want to view my photos. This means a total reliance on things such as iTunes Match and the upcoming Photos service extend these MacBook’s life, for better or worse. These MacBook’s will probably get a good 4 years of service before either becoming outdated or an accident kills it (hopefully not sooner than that). As yesterday showed, accidents happen randomly and laptops don’t handle them well.

I’m going to eliminate the MacBook Retina from consideration. Given that the Mac Mini is based off of the same guts as a the MacBook Retina more or less plus it’s lack of RAM upgrade possibilities, I’m also going to eliminate that from consideration.

The Decision

So it’s between a BTO 27″ iMac with a 256GB SSD or the base model 27″ iMac Retina 5K with a 1TB Fusion Drive.

Either would need a RAM upgrade sometime in it’s future, although probably not today. The 27″ iMac would need an external drive connected immediately to handle my data, while the Retina 5k could hold all of my data for probably quite awhile. Then there is the screen. Oh, the screen.

For me, the future is now. Base iMac Retina 5K is the choice.

I changed my mind.

After all I wrote about above, when I arrived at the Apple Store and tried out the iMac Retina 5K, I just wasn’t feeling it. The screen is just massive, gorgeous but massive. Then I tried the 15″ MacBook Pro Retina, but it’s price wasn’t right for me.

Finally I went back to the 13″ MacBook Pro Retina, which I already use for my day job. It I just feels perfect. Thinking through my use cases, I kept thinking about whether 8GB RAM is enough. I decided it would be worth a shot. I went with the 512GB SSD and AppleCare. And then paid with Apple Pay. $2048.

Let’s see how it goes the next few days. But the 13″ is the perfect size and I think I made the right choice.

iPhone madness

Never thought I would see a line of 40-50 people in front of the Mall of NH AT&T store.

I am definitely getting one in 2008…question is, when in 2008.

iPhone Guided Tour

This guided tour make me want an iPhone. NOW.

Unfortunately due to that thing called money (thanks to an upcoming wedding, honeymoon, etc.), I probably won’t get one until 2008. At least by then, the price may drop and stuff like 3G wireless added.

When was the last time you saw any cell phone manufacturer or provider do a video showing you the various functions of a phone? Never? Well, that is because the phone interfaces are complete jokes.

The iPhone’s interface is the most revolutionary UI in the history of a consumer product.

Safari 3.0 Beta released

I have tried out the Safari 3.0 beta at work (a PC running Windows XP) and at home (a Macbook running OS X). I am pretty impressed with how much faster Safari loads pages. The new find feature is fantastic and big improvement over Firefox’s version of the feature.On the Windows side of things, I am impressed although it is clearly beta (it seemed very buggy and had some minor quirks, like taking up 400MB of memory). So for the next few days at least, I am going to try to stick with Safari 3.0 Beta on my Macbook and see how it runs. So far I am pretty happy with how it is running. At least on the Mac side of things, it doesn’t seem like a beta product.Minor annoyance: The WYSIWYG editor in WordPress has some bugs with the new Safari, like not being able to create links. However, some of the buttons do work, which is an improvement over nothing working in Safari 2.

Goodbye DRM

So Apple now has high quality DRM-free music on iTunes (for just EMI labels at the moment, but that should change quickly). I went right away to see what songs I had purchased are eligible to be upgraded for $0.30 apiece.

Only 4 songs (and 2 of those are songs Katie bought that I wouldn’t be caught dead listening to) were eligible. So I upgraded those songs and then purchased an album I have wanted, but never got around to buying (Coldplay’s Parachutes). The whole process is painless and now I have an extremely high quality copy that is DRM-free.

I am almost decided that future album purchases will be on iTunes (if the iTunes Plus version of the album is offered). I don’t remember the last time I played a physical CD since I instantly rip CD’s these days and store them afterwards. Why deal with that hassle anymore? As Mark Cuban wrote a few days ago, we aren’t too far away from CD’s becoming extinct.

Now I just have to get an off-site backup strategy together.

iTunes New Music Tuesday is missing on Tuesday

Anyone else notice that there has been no iTunes New Music Tuesday today? Meaning no free single of the week and no new albums on the iTunes Music Store?

Makes you really wonder if sometime this week (I’m guessing tomorrow) that DRM-free music is released on iTunes. Apple did say that DRM-free music would be on iTunes by the end of May and the end of May is Thursday. Due to Memorial Day, you can make the case that Wednesday is the new “Tuesday” this week.

How Apple could really clean house with AppleTV

I don’t own an AppleTV and probably won’t in the near future. Maybe it will get on my wedding registry. However, I have seen an AppleTV in action and my mind is buzzing with possibilities Apple has opened up.

If Apple allowed add-ons to AppleTV, some possibilities I just thought of:

  • AM/FM/HD tuner for local radio (with full control via AppleTV and the wireless remote…just another menu option on the main menu). Plug the tuner into the USB port and your all set.
  • Live access to streaming video. If ABC could figure out how to have on-demand high quality streams right from their web site, then why couldn’t Apple do the same? Imagine being able to subscribe to an entire season of Boston Red Sox baseball thanks to an AppleTV feed of MLB.TV, all live and streaming. Or whenever needed, access your 24-hour news network of choice. Or heck, how about watch your local news live, but all via streaming video? I can essentially do this with ABC.com’s web site right now (granted with prerecorded material, but at least on my Comcast internet connection, it is instant streaming). Say goodbye to paying for Cable TV as we know it.
  • Right now, speaker systems are a pain to hook up. Couldn’t you picture Apple designing a simple wireless surround sound speaker system at some point? I could, it is right up their alley…an era that is traditionally an eyesore (lots of cables and bulky speakers) and needs the Apple touch.

I won’t be buying the first version of AppleTV…but I could see it becoming something real special in the future.  I can’t wait until I can legitimately ditch Cable TV and get only the content I want (live or prerecorded).

Off-site backups with Mozy

Those of you who have read my blog know how long I have been searching for the perfect backup solution. Specifically, one that allows me to do easy off-site backups.

Mozy now has a Mac version (they also have a Windows version) and I installed it last night. They offer 2GB of space for free, unlimited bandwidth, and it is all encrypted (448-bit Blowfish). Every hour, their software checks my computer and uploads any changes I have made to their servers. I also have a daily backup scheduled at 1am, just to be safe.

Since my iTunes and iPhoto libaries cannot fit on the 2GB space Mozy gives for free, I am not backing them up, which is ok at the moment since I do manual backups of those. However, my entire Documents folder, e-mail, address book, iCal, Firefox bookmarks, etc. are all backed up. Even files that are open or locked are backed up!

It is refreshing to know that some of my most important data is backed up off-site. If I ever wanted, just $4.95 a month will get me unlimited disk space as well on Mozy. It is something I am thinking about, although backing up all of my music and photos will probably take a couple of days.

Of course, I still have my nightly SuperDuper! backup to my external hard drive in addition to an occasional DVD backup that I take off-site.

For the first time, I am feeling more confident that during a major disaster, my data is safe. Try out Mozy so you can make sure at least some of your data is safe.

Putting the Leopard delay in perspective

Today Apple, Inc. announced that it next version of Mac OS X, codenamed Leopard, will be delayed until October.

The initial reaction (just from scanning around various Mac blogs/forums) was outrage for those who were expecting Leopard by WWDC ’07 in June.

While I am more disappointed then outraged (after all, OS X Tiger works just fine right now and is very competitive with what Vista offers), here are my thoughts on why this happened.

Apple stated plainly that they had to borrow key OS X developers to help finish the iPhone for its June release, which robbed the OS X team of key developers it need to finish on time. Makes sense, since the iPhone is running a stripped down version of OS X.

While some people don’t like how Apple is transforming from a computer company into a consumer electronics company (an argument I will save for another time), it is 100% clear that the Apple considers the iPhone crucial to its long term health. After all, just like the iPod effect introduced millions of people to Macs, the iPhone has the potential to do just that, if not more. They have to get the iPhone out the door on time so they get the maximum buzz. The more people that have the gateway Apple products (iPod, iPhone, iTunes, Apple TV), the more likely they will switch to Macs in the future.

Second, this is nothing like the often delayed and years in the waiting Windows Vista release. Apple has never (at least in public) promised a feature in Leopard, then announced later that it has been cut (WinFS is the famous Vista example). Apple didn’t scrap an early version and start from scratch, which happened with Vista according to Wikipedia. In fact, Apple continues to hint that it has secret features up its sleeve (today’s press release even said that Leopard will be “feature complete” at WWDC ’07).

Finally, I am all for waiting and squashing the remaining bugs. A four month delay (which is what the delay will be, since June 21st is the last day of spring and October is just 4 months from June) is a small price to pay for no major issues on release day. I’ll take that in a heart beat.

So in closing, take it easy. It isn’t the worst thing in the world. At least we don’t have to wait 6-7 years like the Vista folks did.