Tag Archives: iMac

iMac or Mac Pro?

Out of curiousity, I was looking at specs on Apple’s website recently and noticed something interesting. When comparing features and prices between their current top of the line iMac and bottom of the line Mac Pro (default configurations for both), a person is better off buying the iMac, unless they already have a high-end monitor available for the Mac Pro, or (perhaps) have a specific need for some key feature that’s only available on the Mac Pro.

Why?

It’s actually pretty simple: The iMac is spec’d higher, it’s $500 cheaper, it includes a high-end monitor for no extra cost, and it’s power consumption is substantially less. This is just a ballpark figure, but I generally allow my Mac to run 24/7, idle most of the time with the screen dimmed, and, comparing the wattage figures for that usage between the two models, I estimate I’d burn through about 75 kilowatt-hours more per month with the Mac Pro.

Is a 3.1GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 (iMac) better or worse than a 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon “Nehalem” processor (Mac Pro)? Many people will simply not care–either one will be fast enough. The question is actually somewhat important to me, though, given my ownership of a Nikon D7000, which produces some rather large and slow-to-process RAW image files. Some extra speed would be helpful with that. I am too lazy to bother looking up the answer to the question right now, however (am I the world’s lamest blogger, or what?!?!).

Graphics cards: I admit I neither know, nor care, about the difference (if any) between them. (I suck at video games, and what else do you need that kind of hardware for, anyway? Generating Bitcoins? LOL Good luck with that.)

Firewire: The Mac Pro has two FW800 ports. The iMac only has one, but also has the new “Thunderbolt” ports. These are useless at this point, but will be quite nice once Thunderbolt peripherals are available. Those who, like me, have a lot of external hard drives, will perhaps be ambivalent about the prospect of upgrading lots of enclosures. I am also a bit concerned that I may actually have more drives than are allowable on a Thunderbolt bus. When you figure a 3 terabyte limit on drive size, multiplied by the small number of Thunderbolt devices allowed on one system, you end up with a limit on total system storage that’s substantially lower than you’d get using Firewire devices. It also gets more complicated when you realize, from a practical standpoint, that if you max out the drive size on all of the devices, you are going to run into backup issues, so the practical limit is even lower. Obviously it will be more than enough for all but the most dedicated hoarders (heheheh), but some of us may get a little cramped, especially once those 1080p video files start to pile up! (This is actually an interesting theoretical question. Let’s say, for instance, that for some crazy, insane reason I needed a petabyte of storage space on my iMac system, and, through some miracle, had the money to pay for it. Is that amount of storage even possible on an iMac system, and, if so, how could it be accomplished? Food for thought. Heheheh.)

On the whole, with the noted reservations, I suspect the specs are a win for the iMac, at least for now. Apple will get around to updating their Mac Pro line sooner or later, and at that point, the situation will presumably change.

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Filed under brainstorming, computers

Memory Madness

Last summer I had a serious meltdown with my iMac G5, which forced me to make an emergency purchase of a new Mac. I ended up getting a nice 24-inch iMac from the clearance section of Apple’s website. It was about $100 less than the low-end 24-inch iMac of their current models, and I believe the CPU was a bit more powerful than the newer model.

There were a couple of areas where the older model fell short, though. One was the internal drive, which is only half the capacity of the newer model: 320 gigs instead of 640. As it turns out, 320 fits into my backup scheme (for now) much better than 640 would have, but on the other hand, that amount of space is already feeling cramped. That, however, is a whole other discussion, given the complexity of my drive/space issues.

What I am really complaining about is the RAM situation.

First, let me say that one of the appeals of the older model was that the RAM cards cost a lot less. The newer iMacs apparently use a different type of RAM, which costs 6 or 8 times as much per gigabyte as the old kind. That means if I had gone with the newer computer, I probably wouldn’t be able to afford a memory upgrade at all. However, since the newer model came already equipped with 4 gigs of RAM, I probably wouldn’t need to. The older model came with 2, upgradable to 4, and my old iMac was maxed out at 2.

2 gigs was working ok on the old computer, but since the upgrade, there have been problems. What’s more, I could not have anticipated that this would happen. (If I had, I would have bought the newer iMac.)

On the old iMac, I had three programs which were utilizing quite a lot of RAM, but the situation was tolerable. I was able to manage my usage so I didn’t do a lot of frequent switching back and forth between them, and none of my other software was particularly demanding in terms of RAM.

However, this has all changed on the new iMac. I was still running Tiger on the old one, but the new one came equipped with Leopard, and Leopard comes equipped with Time Machine. It turns out that Time Machine can be quite a memory hog itself, and since it runs automatically, once every hour, it’s not an issue that goes away. In fact, it’s a constant annoyance.

What happens is Time Machine relies on a process called “mds”, which is involved in Spotlight indexing. Basically, it’s how Time Machine knows which files to back up and which to skip over. On most systems, mds won’t take up huge amounts of RAM, but the more files you have, the more demanding it becomes. I have a lot of files, so mds is sucking up over 350 megabytes of RAM each time a backup is performed.

This is bad because it has to borrow those megabytes from other programs, which then have to grab them back after the backup is done, and this happens every hour. This back-and-forth swapping of data can seriously slow things down, if a lot of it needs to happen all at once. When I have my big memory-hog programs open, and Time Machine has recently performed a backup, I invariably have to sit twiddling my thumbs waiting for the memory swap, even on something simple like pulling up a Finder window. And then an hour later, I can look forward to it all happening again. Anyone who’s used a computer a lot knows that an hour can fly by pretty quickly, too.

Clearly I need a RAM upgrade.

So last night I ordered one. And this is the part that’s got me pissed off: My current 2 gigabytes of RAM is installed in the form of a pair of 1-gig cards, one in each of the two RAM slots in the computer. That means no empty RAM slots, so if I want to upgrade to 4 gigs, I have to buy the full 4 gigs, rather than just 2, meaning the upgrade costs twice as much as it ought to.

The final bill for this RAM upgrade, not including sales tax, comes to just over $100. In other words, the money I saved by getting the older computer has been entirely eaten up by having to upgrade the RAM to equal what the newer computer would have had, and of course the hard drive is still only half the size. So I ended up with a lower capacity computer for the same amount of money! Obviously, I should have skipped the fucking clearance model and just got the newer computer!

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Filed under annoyances, computers

Computer death

(I originally posted this on my Flickr profile page a couple of months ago…but I think it fits here too. I’ll put today’s date, since I don’t want to get into the confusion of retroactive posting, heh.)

Update 7/13/09 – About a week ago, my iMac started to die, so I haven’t been able to upload anything lately. In fact, the computer is so fried that I have a hard time even checking email messages–for some odd reason, email seems to really annoy whatever the problem is. My best guess is the video hardware is failing, although it could be some other problem that would have video issues as a side effect. Anyway, the effect of this is that I am not all that active lately, and I’m going through computer withdrawal. :(

A new Mac is shipping sometime this week. It’ll take a bit to get myself up to speed, especially since I have to work late Thursday night (dammit!), and especially if I run into problems getting files off the old computer (I’m pretty sure the drive is fine, but whether the computer will cooperate long enough to allow the new Mac to hoover all the files off of it is another question entirely).

Anyway, that’s what’s been happening lately. I’m not dead or anything, just having an equipment disaster.

The good part of this is that once I am up and running, my slow-computer problems should be solved. :) In the meantime, I am tired and stressed out.

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Filed under annoyances, doom and gloom