February 24, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Seven-year itch: a new Mac!

After putting it off for several months, I finally went ahead and bought a new iMac while I was in Northern Virginia last weekend. My niece Cathy and I shopped at the Apple Store in Clarendon, which was very crowded as usual, but there were plenty of helpful and knowledgeable Apple employees to answer our questions. It was the first time I had seen the new ultra-light MacBook "Air," which fits in a manila envelope. My only gripe about the Apple Store is that you now have to ask to get a paper receipt; otherwise, they just send you the receipt via e-mail.

As for the latest generation of iMacs, the brushed aluminum body is really impressive -- solid yet light-weight. (My old iMac "Flower Power" version with the cathode ray tube monitor weighs two or three times as much!) The new iMacs are also extremely quiet, so much so that I can't even tell when the hard disk is running. The enormous 20-inch screen is incredibly sharp, but it takes a lot of mouse rolling to move the cursor all the way across. I would have preferred the older 17-inch version, which is no longer sold. Like everything else in America these days, the once-compact iMacs are now "super-sized." Perhaps the biggest internal difference compared to my earlier Macintoshes is that this is the first model with an Intel microprocessor -- a 2.4GHz Dual Core, to be precise, nearly five times the clock speed of my old iMac. I haven't noticed that much difference in terms of how fast my applications run, however, perhaps because they are older versions that were designed to run on Motorola PowerPC microprocessors. Time to upgrade!?

Transferring files from my old iMac to the new one (with a FireWire cable) went extremely smoothly, except for a glitch with my e-mail archives. I half expected that, because my Mail program had crashed and burned twice over the past year or so, probably because of corrupted files. Everything is running quickly and smoothly now. Another hurdle for me was activating PHP and SSI in the Apache Web server software, which is what lets me do Web site development work. I had to scratch my head and locate some long-lost "how-to" papers, but I finally managed to get the job done. My first attempt to connect to the Internet failed because I didn't realize you have to turn off the cable modem so that it can reset itself. After that was done, "no problemo." Another cause of concern was the increasingly erratic behavior of the cursor on the screen: I would be moving the mouse one way, and all of a sudden the arrow would leap to the other side of the screen. I tried using different USB ports, and even tried the old iMac's mouse, and yet the same thing kept happening. I had a sickening feeling that it was a major hardware issue, but thankfully the Apple tech support guy offered a useful suggestion: changing the mouse pad. Bingo! For some reason, the new slick mouse pad I got from Nebraska Public Television did not get along with the new iMac's mouse, but my 21-year old mouse pad works just fine. Go figure...

New iMac, old iMac

"Out with the old (LEFT), in with the new! (RIGHT)"


So what's the deal about "Seven-year itch"? Well, it just happens that I have bought a new Macintosh in almost precise seven-year intervals ever since I brought home my Macintosh Plus 21 years ago. (How times flies!) The table below compares the technical specifications of each model I have owned:

Model RAM Speed Hard disk When bought
Mac Plus 1 + 2.5 MB 8 MHz 0 + 20 MB Jan. 1987
Power Book 150 4 MB 33 MHz 80 MB Sept. 1994
iMac G3 "Flower Power" 64 + 256 MB 500 MHz 20 + 156 GB Mar. 2001
iMac Intel "Aluminum" 1 GB 2.4 GHz 320 GB Feb. 2008

NOTES: The "plus" figures refer to upgrades after the original purchase, including peripheral hard drives.

So, compared to my Mac Plus, my new Mac is (approximately) 300 times as fast, has one thousand times as much memory, and 16,000 times as much hard disk storage space! (Actually the Mac Plus had no hard disk at all; I'm counting the 20 MB "MacBottom" I bought a few months later.) If you include the $800 cost of the peripheral device upgrade in the purchase price of the Mac Plus, even the most expensive version of new iMac costs significantly less. Just a reminder to you folks from Rio Linda: Anyone who thinks they are getting a better deal buying a Windows PC because they are cheaper is kidding themselves. The enhanced functionality, reliability, and ease of use of Macintoshes far outweighs the price difference. Note that I still have all four of my old Macs, and even after all these years, they still boot up and function properly. Believe it ... or not!

What about software? In coming days I will have much, much more to say about Apple's iWork productivity suite and about the new Mac OS X 10.5, a.k.a. "Leopard." For now, suffice it to say that some of the features are absolutely awesome, beyond what I could have imagined.