The Computer Blog

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Making a Mac Pro

Okay, I broke down and bought a Mac Pro. I didn’t have a compelling reason to do it other than I knew I’d upgrade sooner or later; two of my sons were doing video work and could use better systems than they had; and I was on vacation with too much time to think. Once I finish building up my Mac Pro, I’m sending my dual 2.0 GHz G5 PowerMac to one of them and he’s giving his dual 1.25GHz G4 PowerMac to the other. The latter has a dual 1.0 G4 GHz Quicksilver PowerMac he’s sending to me; and after I check it out and outfit it, I plan to send it to one of Connie’s relatives (if he wants it) to get him into some Photoshop work on the Mac.

The really scary thing about buying the Mac Pro isn’t what it costs to buy the machine. It’s what it costs to upgrade it into truly workable condition. My stock 2.66 GHz dual processor, dual-core Intel Xenon powered tower only came with 1 GB of RAM (in two 512MB sticks) and a 250GB hard drive. I want to take the machine to 4 GB of RAM and that will cost me $550 (adding 3 GB to the one that’s there). For the moment, I’ve compromised by accepting a 3GB configuration with its $350 cost, figuring I’ll add in the other GIG of RAM once I’ve paid off some of the other expense. I bought a second 250GB SATA II hard disk to run with the stock hard disk in a RAID 0 “scratch disk” set-up and plan to buy a 500GB SATA II hard disk to use as a boot disk for OS X and some brand of Windows (either XP or Vista). Together, those latter two disks cost another $220 plus tax. My current cost of making the machine workable is $570 more than the cost of the machine itself, and the extra RAM later will raise that to $770 over the purchase price of the machine. Unfortunately, that only covers the hardware.

Software upgrades that take advantage of the Mac Pro’s excellent performance will cost me at least another $1000 over the next year, most of which will be spent upgrading my four Adobe applications. Currently, I’m running Adobe Photoshop CS2, Illustrator CS2, In Design CS, and Go Live CS. While they run acceptably well under Rosetta, what’s the point of having a Mac Pro if it’s slower than my old dual G5? So, buying a Mac Pro commits me to buying CS3 versions of those products when they’re released in the next few months, and I am expecting them to cost me $600 – $900. The same holds true for a new version of Microsoft Office, though not to the same degree. I’m happy enough with Office 2004’s performance under Rosetta. I will not upgrade it unless Office 2008 has some compelling features other than just being faster as a Universal Binary. But if I do buy Office 2008, it will run $150-$300 depending on what version I have to buy. I have to also confess to costs associated with new or additional Windows software since I will probably run some version of Windows as well as the new Microsoft Office 2007. Those costs will be $380-$440. And all that doesn’t count the $50 I spent to upgrade Print Shop to Version 2, a Universal Binary, or the $200 I spent to upgrade Final Cut Pro. Add that up and it comes to a total that ranges from $1380 to $1890. Pretty staggering, huh?

Needless to say, this whole thing is putting me in debt for some time.

With the Mac Pro buy, though, the planned upgrades of the Mac systems in our house come to an end. Unless they break, I intend to run these systems for at least five years. As a user, I am not pushing my software though I am learning to not only to produce art, photos, and videos that fascinate family and friends but turn a buck at some point. That’s not to say there won’t be some things I do to upgrade our now current systems (like more memory, hard disk swaps, or operating system upgrades), but major purchases are done for a very long while (unless we win the lotto, in which case I have one more system to buy for a family member).

That said, I was running as many as four systems not more than a year ago. I had a PPC powered G4 PowerBook, a G5 iMac, a dual G5 PowerMac, and an AMD 2800+ XP powered PC. They were a hassle from a time and mental standpoint, but I needed all of them for different things. Now, I can do it all with two machines. Additionally, over the past few years, Connie and I have spread our “old” machines throughout the family. Today, a majority of folks in both our families are Mac users; and there are a number of them, including me and my wife, who would not go back to Windows-only PC’s unless forced to. I like to think we’ve improved their quality of life in some small way, though I’m not sure you can ever argue that computers of any shape or size do that. They are definitely a mixed blessing.

Still, Apple has learned with each generation of machine; each has been more powerful, better looking, and quieter than the one before, making me happier with each succeeding generation. I have no regrets about switching to Apple’s camp. It’s been a positive move for me in almost every way, and I’m not spending any more than I was when I was building and upgrading my own PC systems. I’m getting more work and play done, now; and in the end, that’s what buying a Mac or “making” a Mac Pro is all about.

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