Monday, January 16, 2012

An Ode to My Macs

About 18 months ago, Sara and I bought new Macs.

I know it was about 18 months ago because I just finished paying for them. Apple and Barclaycard were offering 0% financing for 18 months on purchases over some amount. An amount we could have reached with just one Mac, but since we were both feeling limited by our computers for various reasons, we decided to get two.

These two Macs are, without a doubt, the nicest and most useful computers I've ever bought. I suppose some of that is due to their being the newest, but there have been plenty of computers that I've bought new but that have merely been okay. That includes most of the Windows PCs that I've bought over the years.

The problem with all the Windows PCs that I've ever owned is that they've all been beige boxes. Sometimes they haven't been strictly beige, but they've all had a certain plasticky, generic feel to them. They've all come with generic keyboards, generic mice, generic power cords. Many of them have booted to a desktop overflowing with crudware. (John Dvorak once pointed out how absurd it was to spend a thousand dollars or more on a computer and then have to immediately run a program called "PC Decrapifier" on it just to get it into a usable state.)

I've had four Macs prior to these two--two laptops (including one PowerPC machine) and two iMacs, and they've all been quite good, certainly way nicer than any of the PCs I've owned. But I found the white MacBook a little underpowered, due to its relatively slow processor (it was an original Core Duo) and small screen, and the 24" iMac was limited to 4G of RAM, which was fine for a while, but once Sara started doing more photography and keeping Lightroom open all the time, our inability to increase the RAM became a real problem.

My new machine is a 15" MacBook Pro with a 2.66GHz Intel i7 dual-core processor, 8G of RAM, and a 128G SSD. For the first time in my life, my primary computer is a laptop. It's a beautiful machine and works flawlessly. The SSD is amazing; the system only takes about 10 seconds to boot, and programs open almost instantaneously. The memory is sufficient to keep all the programs I'm likely to use open at once. The battery lasts an exceptionally long time considering that my usage tends to be processor- and disk-heavy (compiling and running programs). The screen is gorgeous and has tons of contrast.

Sara's new computer is, for the first time, substantially more powerful than mine. She has a 27" iMac with a 2.8GHz quad-core i7, 16G of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. Not even Lightroom can slow down this machine. The 27" screen is absolutely amazing.

But despite the enormous screen, the machine just doesn't take up that much space. It's a big screen, but that's it. Ever since I bought my first iMac (this is the third), I've been so happy not to have a big ugly box sitting on the desk or on the floor with a bunch of wires everywhere. And speaking of wires, this iMac has exactly one: the power cord. The keyboard and mouse are both wireless. And because this is an iMac and not a beige-box PC, the plug on the computer end of the power cord is specially designed to fit into a receptacle in the back of the computer such that nothing but the cord itself is left sticking out. The folks at Apple care how the back of the machine looks.

And the iMac is quiet. It's normal for a laptop computer to be quiet, especially one with an SSD. Their low-power processors don't generate a lot of heat in the first place, and spinning fans to dissipate it takes energy. The iMac is plugged into the wall and could spin fans 24/7 if it wanted. But it doesn't, because it's been designed to work as a little convection heater: heated air flows up through the case and out a vent at the top, while cooler air gets pulled in through a grille at the bottom. Most of the time the iMac is silent save for the slight whir of the hard drive. If I start doing lots of work in Lightroom, then the fans will spin up, but even then the noise is not obtrusive, and in any case I'm obviously doing something with the computer; it's not like it's making noise while I'm trying to watch TV, which is something that always irritated me with my Windows PCs.

Anyway, thanks to Apple for producing such great gear. Sara and I will enjoy these two Macs for a long time.

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