Ever since Apple announced its transition to Intel CPU’s, I’ve been trying to bring my own personal Computer Roadmap into focus. That’s a hard thing to do when I don’t know exactly what Apple’s plans are, but things have progressed far enough where I have a hazy idea of what I want to do. So, here’s where I’m planning to go, subject to change, of course.
First, I am not going to move video production to the Intel platform anytime soon. This activity needs the most horsepower and the most trouble-free operation I can provide to it. I suspect Apple will need two years to work all the bugs out of the operating system on the new hardware. During that time, there is a high probability that older PowerPC CPU’s running under a tried and true OS would provide better productivity than a newer, faster Intel-powered CPU running under a new port of the operating system. Eventually, the new Intel systems will outpace the current PowerPC’s; but I can worry about that three years from now…if I need to! I can upgrade my software now to carry me through the transition to HD in the unlikely event I even need to go there. I suspect DV will work just fine for me and most consumers for at least the next five years.
I do have some leeway in how I execute this “hold in place”, and that will depend on the makeup of the next PowerMac release. If that occurs on October 19th as rumored, I’ll know by the end of the week what road I’m going to take. If the PowerMac line is all dual-core, dual CPU, then it is likely I will want to trade in my dual 2.0 GHz G5 PowerMac on a newer model, if Adobe Photoshop CS2, Final Cut Pro, or DVD Studio will benefit from the upgrade. If it will be FCP 6 or DVD Studio Pro 3 before dual-core support means anything, then I’m going to sit where I’m at, upgrade my current PowerMac’s memory, and work with what I’ve got. I’ll look at another PowerMac upgrade two years after the Intel transition, i.e., three years from now.
Secondly, I consider my PowerBook as the computer most desirable to upgrade to an Intel CPU. As I’ve said in other blogs, my flight planning and GPS updating software runs only under Windows. So, I need a PowerBook that can run Windows and OS X. If Apple makes the PowerBook both powerful enough and speedy enough where I can run my Windows’ based flight simulators well, then there’s a good chance I would set up my systems to run everything other than video from my PowerBook and not keep another Mac desktop for everyday stuff, a chore currently handled by a G5 iMac. However, that would all depend upon whether application performance and stability under Rosetta was acceptable; and it might not be. I believe Rosetta’s ability to perform has probably been oversold, but I won’t know until I can actually run my own applications using the technology. Hedging my bets against this is what will probably drive me to keep a PowerPC iMac around.
If Rosetta doesn’t work really well, it could prove to be a bad spill for Apple since it would encourage buyers to buy their hardware to run Windows on and ditch OS X. Only if a significant number of users are running most of their applications using Universal Binaries would such a scenario be prevented. Apple is counting on that large scale migration happening. It must, or Apple could be in trouble.
I spent a lot of money a few years ago to transition to the Mac and OS X; and I’m not in the mood to undertake that kind of expenditure to follow Apple through the Intel transition also. I plan to slow my expenditures for software over the next few years and shift most of my current PowerPC applications to my PowerMac which will stay on the PowerPC platform. But I will have to make the move to an Intel based version of OS X eventually, and it will probably be iTunes more than any other application that forces it to happen. There will be a point where PowerPC versions of iTunes will not be available; and then upgrading a couple of machines to Intel CPU’s will be unavoidable. That is an angle of the whole iTunes picture I hadn’t thought of until now and I’m not sure anyone has previously explored. It indeed points to a different aspect of the “iPod halo” that won’t affect Windows users at all but will impact the Mac community greatly. Just like current OS 9 and even early OS X users can’t use the iTunes Music Store anymore at all, the PowerPC crowd will find themselves locked out until they buy a new Mac with an Intel CPU.
This brings up another concern for me, and that is the disappearing Firewire interface first seen on the iPod line. As Apple continues down the USB 2.0 road, it will have less and less incentive to retain Firewire in its Macs. As one who has used USB 2.0 and Firewire on both Windows and Mac platforms, I consider Firewire the more dependable and speedy of the two interfaces. I mentioned earlier that one of my possibilities was to use my PowerBook as a desktop by booting it from an external hard disk and using an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse with it. I’m counting on Firewire to be there to do that. If I let my iMac go and then set up all my processes to use only my PowerBook, what happens if Intel-based PowerBooks are released only sporting USB 2.0? I have no confidence that booting from a USB 2.0 external drive will be as fast or effortless as booting from a Firewire 400 drive. Am I setting myself up for another upset if that comes to pass? I doubt if anyone can argue that won’t happen. It is unlikely as long as digital camcorders use Firewire as an output interface, but there is already research afoot to transfer that function to Bluetooth and other wireless technologies.
Seems like I’ve made an argument to keep an iMac, doesn’t it? Which brings up another question: which one?
I can make do with my current iMac just fine. But if I know I’m going to settle in a few years, I’d prefer to upgrade the machine. I had first thought I might step up to the new iSight carrying iMac just released; but I’m thinking that a Rev B iMac might be a better buy. First, either iMac would give me a faster video card with more memory than I’ve got now. The Rev B machine has a Radeon 9600 with 128 MB of RAM and the new iSight version has a Radeon X600 with 128MB RAM. While the newer Radeon might be faster, I’m not convinced it will be significantly faster.
While the new iSight carrying machine has an iSight buried in it, it’s not going to be a better video conferencing machine than the dual processor PowerMac I already own. You also can’t point an internal iSight at other objects in the room without turning the whole machine, and that is a definite disadvantage. Also, if the iSight goes out, you’ll lose your whole iMac while they perform maintenance. When I already own an iSight, it’s hard for me to see the advantage in the new machine for including one in the unit. For those folks who don’t own an iSight, it’s a no-brainer.
Both machines sport a bigger hard drive than I have (250GB vs 160 GB), integrated Airport Extreme, Bluetooth 2.0 (which I don’t have), and Gigabit Ethernet (which I don’t have). While I’m not using Gigabit Ethernet now, at some point I’d like my iMac to have it so I can move files between it and my PowerMac faster.
But the newer iMac also has two rather major drawbacks. It does not sport an internal modem. Say what you will about having broadband, it does down. (Mine did yesterday for four or five hours). Additionally, many businesses still use a fax as one of their primary forms of sending data quickly. I’d have to buy an external modem if I bought the new machine. That weighs in the Rev B’s favor.
Also in the Rev B’s favor is the memory setup. It comes with two memory slots and uses PC3200 RAM, the same as my current iMac. That means I can transfer the 1GB PC3200 memory in my current iMac to it and upgrade to 2 GB by simply buying another 1 GB stick. That would cost me $ 165. The new iMac has only one memory slot and 512MB on the motherboard of DDR 2. Buying a 1GB stick of DDR2 would cost me only $142 but going to a 2GB stick would run approximately $650; and that’s if I don’t buy it from Apple. The ability to get the Rev B to 2GB with a $165 expenditure gives it slight edge over being able to take the iSight version to 1.5 GB for $142.
In the iSight version’s favor, the screen is reported to be brighter than the original version’s or the Rev B’s.
The only thing that is user replaceable in the new iMac is the memory. In the Rev B, the memory, hard drive, and optical drives are user replaceable.
For me, the overall argument seems shifted toward a Rev B machine. I sent a request to PowerMax for a quote detailing what I might get for my 1.8 GHz G5 iMac on trade in. After I get that and see what the new PowerMac line looks like, I’ll decide what upgrades, if any, I’m going to make. If anything I want is available, that is. Rev B iMacs are quickly becoming rare, even online; and this really isn’t a good time financially for me to do any upgrading.
I haven’t mentioned my PC, and that’s because it’s a minor player in all this. I will maintain the capability to run Windows natively, and Apple’s transition to Intel is now offering me the opportunity to do that without maintaining a separate box. As for the fate of my current PC< if I decide to keep a separate Windows box, I’ll move it up to a new AMD CPU (from its current AMD XP 2800) sometime in the next year. That will more than likely be an impulse buy, something that happens when a really good deal shows up at MicroCenter or Fry’s. But I’m looking harder at whether an Intel based Mac might do the job for me and relegate the Windows PC desk into oblivion so I can replace it with a bookcase.