is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. You can reach him through one of the services below.+
In his excellent and characteristically exhaustive weblog post on the pros and cons of owning an Apple PowerBook, Jon Gruber advises: “Anyone already using an aluminum-era PowerBook G4 would probably be well-advised to wait” before buying a new Macintosh laptop. He also goes on to say that, in spite of Apple’s pending move to Intel processors, there are still at least “a handful of reasons why someone might want a last-generation PowerPC Mac instead of a first-generation Intel… The current versions of Adobe’s and Microsoft’s suites should run under Rosetta, but I strongly suspect performance won’t be as good as on last-generation PowerPC machines.”
As it happens, all of that is perfect advice for the situation in which I currently find myself. My 1 GHz PowerBook G4 is quickly approaching its second birthday and it’s starting to show its age. It’s noticeably slower than I’d like it to be, and it has no hope of running Apple’s forthcoming Aperture photo editing software. Still, it functions ably for portable computing needs, so I know it’s not quite ready to be replaced by a new PowerBook. On the other hand, if I want to offset the big bill coming my way from the Internal Revenue Service next April, now is the time for me to invest in new computing horsepower.
So I’ve been thinking more and more about buying a desktop machine. Notwithstanding the several desktop Macintoshes I’ve had at my various jobs, this will be the first desk-bound computer that I’ve bought for my personal use since my first Mac, a lowly Power Macintosh 6100/60 purchased back in 1994.It will also be the first time in over eight years that I’ll keep a desktop machine in my home office, such as it is.
From Lap to Desk
This is a counter-intuitive move in an age when laptops are rising in popularity and desktops are falling. But I’m taking to heart the lessons of my incredibly trusty Power Macintosh G4 (Mirrored Drive Doors), which I’ve had at the office for three years. It’s been an absolute workhorse, and its surplus of ports, bays and slots has proven to be continually useful. There are many, many advantages to portable computing, but expandability is not one of them — towers like my Power Mac, on the other hand, are highly adaptable and configurable by the end user, a trait I’ve really come to value.
As a consequence, I’ve been looking closely at the cost of a brand new, dual-core Power Macintosh G5. It doesn’t look cheap.
Power Mac G5 Pricing Estimate
|Dual 2GHz Power Mac G5||1,999.00|
|AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth Addition||99.00|
|AppleCare Extended Warranty||249.00|
|Two 1GB Third-party DDR2 SDRAM Modules||275.00|
|20″ Apple Cinema Display||799.00|
|Shipping & Sales Tax (approx.)||400.00|
There was a bit of sticker shock when I added it all up. I’m not sure exactly how much I expected to pay — maybe US$1,300 less? I’m fully aware that the Power Mac G5 is, after all, a professional machine and that it comes with an attendant price point, but it still seems somewhat painful that it should be so prohibitively expensive for home users.
This underscores a drawback of Apple’s long-standing, simplified product line: there’s a gap between the company’s offering for home users and its offering for pro users. You might call it the ‘prosumer’ line, for lack of a better term — a market segment that, not coincidentally, camera manufacturers have made the most of in the past few years. By bridging their priced-to-move point-and-shoot cameras and their much more expensive professional grade cameras with reasonably priced digital SLRs, Canon and Nikon have convinced a nation of wannabe photographers to spend hundreds of dollars more than they might otherwise have for cameras, lenses and accessories.
It’s perhaps too convenient an analogy to be realistically applied to Apple, because prices for the company’s consumer and professional lines aren’t as dramatically far apart as what we see in the camera industry. But it’s a shame that, for those for whom iMacs or Mac minis are insufficiently expandable, the only alternative is the grand expense of a Power Mac G5.
The Right Mac for the Right Job
To be explicit, what’s missing is essentially a more expandable counterpart to the iMac G5 — a serious machine based on a version of the same, top-of-the-line processor but, crucially, without the iMac’s built-in display. Instead, a reasonably powerful video card would allow users to add an Apple Cinema Display (or any third party monitor), or to swap that same card for a more powerful, game-friendly substitute. The production savings from the display could be spent on a more manipulable enclosure: a mini-tower with at least one open drive bay and two available PCI slots, along with room for the addition of a moderate amount of RAM, perhaps up to 4 Gigabytes. While we’re at it, the machine may as well be priced similarly to the iMac, as well: US$1,399, say, for a 2.1GHz model equipped with a 250GB Serial ATA hard drive and an 8X SuperDrive.
Naturally there’s the danger that such a model would steal market share from the Power Mac G5 line, cannibalizing sales that might otherwise have gone into more expensive models because of this alternative machine’s expandability. This existing gap between Apple’s consumer and pro lines is, of course, no accident; it’s a sign of shrewdness, not incompetence, that the company’s current offering forces consumers like myself to spend for more horsepower than I truly need. I acknowledge that readily, and I’m realistic about that proposition being a very good reason why Apple isn’t likely to bring a machine like what I’m asking for to market anytime soon. Not soon enough, at least, to factor into my buying decision for this year. For better or worse, there’s probably a new Power Mac G5 in my near future.+