I’ve managed to catch upgrade fever again. It’s been about 3 years since I built the PC that I’m using now (well, modulo some upgrades made along the way)
Here are the contenders this time around: a new Mac Pro, a new core i7 build, upgrade the current build with a ssd and a gpu, or a new mac mini.
Cost-wise, the mac pro is the most expensive, and the the ssd+gpu upgrade to my current machine is the cheapest.
Out of these options, the mac mini is looking the most attractive. I think I’m ready again for a mostly integrated computing experience. (This probably has something to do with the fact that I don’t have time to use my computer very much these days) I’ve been playing with a 2006-era mac mini at home for a while, and it meets all my needs except for graphics performance, disk performance, and it’s lack of memory. Ok so I guess it doesn’t really meet my needs.. that’s why I’ve been using my PC most of the time.
The new mini can address all three of these areas. The Nvidia IGP is supposedly leaps and bounds better than the intel chip it replaces. I can buy a new model with 4gb of ram (enough for a vm), and reports on the web claim 8gb is possible. I also plan to throw an intel SSD in there, addressing the disk performance. For large capacity data storage, I’ll just use an external firewire 800 drive, or do something over the network (unfortunately, osx still doesn’t sport an iscsi initiatior).
I can’t help but feel though, that this purchase is essentially going to be a sidegrade. That worries me somewhat.
The 2.53ghz c2d with 3M cache in the mini is going to be a slight downgrade from the e6600 (2.66ghz with 6M cache). I’m going to have less memory (4 vs 6) and the GPU is probably about the same (7600gt). Then again, the mini is a 1/20th of the size of my PC, but still, I certainly am not going to get a huge computational upgrade.
That’s mostly fine, I think. Even if I went the core i7 route, I’d probably be at a quad core (which is mostly useless.. I never even exercise the 2 cores that I have now), and 8gb of ram (since the lynnfield mobo’s only come with 4 slots, and 4gb dimm’s are still expensive). Upgrading my current box isn’t to yield that much improvement — ssd will help, but gpu upgrade probably not much, since I don’t really play any games.
I’ve done a few “side-grades” in the past. One was getting the Vaio 505 thin laptop model (went from a 350mhz P2, to a 366mhz mobile p2), and then the picturebook (which was a transmeta, and pretty much only slightly faster than the mobile p2). There was one more side-grade: when I bought the powerbook. I tried to make that laptop my primary environment, but it was definitely slower than the P4 desktop that I had been using up to that point.
Ok, so I’ve done this a lot in the past. And I kinda think I regretted it in some way each time. Many of the side-grade’s were desktop-to-laptop moves though. This time will be a desktop-to-desktop move, and it will be a bit weird paying $1k for essentially the same capability in hardware.
That must really mean I want OSX. Why do I want OSX this time around? I think there are a few reasons. Support for exchange means I eventually shouldn’t have to run a VM just to access work email (plus MS also claims to be writing a native exchange client.. though I don’t trust their MacBU at all). I also want iMovie. Yea it’s a crappy little movie program, but it’s by far the most productive if you just want to take your flip videos and stitch them together and add a nice looking text title. These days, all the important stuff exists on the mac.. Lightroom, chrome, picasa, fusion, skype. This was definitely not true the last time I had a mac.
Reading some of my older posts reveals some past thinking that I should have just bought a mac pro instead of the current pc I have. Perhaps I will think the same after I buy the mini. This time I played a bit with the mini in the store, and I also have the experience of using this mini at home for a while.
I’d definitely be happy with the mac pro performance-wise.. but can I really justify the price of that thing? By my math, I’m paying almost $1000 extra for the equivalent hardware + OS (also, geforce gt120? really?). With the mini, I think the mark-up is somewhere around the 200-300 range. Plus, for a form-factor that’s not available elsewhere. That’s a bit easier to swallow. I also like the idea of having a machine that idles at 13W, since most of the time I won’t be using it.
Also the whole crux of this plan is that i’m only spending $1k now, so in 2 years, I won’t feel bad spending another $1k on something else if this was a mistake. A Mac Pro locks me in with a ~$2.5k purchase that I will have to make last for 4-5 years, like it or not. I’m just not that sure that the move to the mac will be a good one this time around.
Also, if starcraft 2 finally comes out, and the mini can’t handle it, I’ll probably always be able to put together a 500$ PC to play the damn game. Hopefully blizzard will just make the stupid game scale down well. I mean, I’m not buying a 3 year old machine for anything.
So yea, that’s a bunch of blathering about nothing. I just write this down for myself so that I can read it later and try not to make the same mistakes.

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