Time to upgrade …?

My home iMac is getting comically slow and I think it’s time to either sell it before the hard drive dies or pay the price to upgrade to SSD. I’ve been considering a handful of options to get a machine that doesn’t take 10 minute to fully start up and they break out in the following series of flawed options. Before I get to those, let me break down what I actually do on my Mac these days, because it’s not a ton.

  • Acts as a ‘poor man’s NAS’, serving up music for use with Airplay around the house and streaming movies that I have ripped to our Apple TVs.
  • Web development and light Photoshop / Sketch work
  • Novice iOS development
  • Family photo management
  • iMovie use a few times a year
  • Playing 5+ year old games from time to time
  • Web surfing, banking, social media … standard consumery stuff

Nothing too taxing, really. I tend to keep a computer for 4-5 years though, so I want something that will last but not cost an arm and a leg. With that said, here are the options I’m looking at currently:

Buy a 13 inch MacBook Air (approx $1700)

I actually have a MacBook Air at work (current gen, i7, 8gb RAM) and it’s a great machine and does everything that I need it to. However, nothing is perfect.

Whatever I buy, I’ll need to stick with for the next 4-5 years. Do I really want to go retina-less with a new computer? Honestly, if the air had a retina display I’d pull the trigger here and be done with it. Also, buying a laptop as a ‘desktop replacement’ means a desk full of cluttered wires, dongles and such. Additionally, to get anything close to the 27" of real estate I’m used to will require the purchase of another monitor. Dual displays are a crappy soultion in my mind.

Buy a 13 inch MacBook Pro (approx $2200)

A MacBook Pro has almost all of the pros and cons that the Air have, but the added benefit of an even faster machine, a retina display, and the new trackpad. Still, these features come with a price tag of about $600. The biggest con here is definitely the price, as otherwise it is the most ‘future ready’ machine of the options I’m thinking about. I just don’t use my home computer very much these days.

Buy a top of the line Mac Mini (approx $1600 + monitor)

This makes the list of options simply because it checks the “always on, home server” angle that I like about my iMac. Nearly every review I’ve read of the new Mac Minis seem to think it’s basically one elaborate joke from the folks in Cupertino, as the benchmarks perform worse than a 2+ year old Mac Mini for a lot of tests. I’d still have to buy a new monitor, which means any of the ‘new computer’ options will require a new monitor. However, this specific option would require it on day one. Good monitors in the 24-27" range typically will set you back around $300-500, so this ‘cheap’ computer is no longer very cheap.

All that said, I like the idea of a small, quiet, power efficient machine that will probably be more than enough for what I do (web development and basic computing tasks) for quite some time. And it doesn’t clutter / complicate things the way a laptop does.

Replace the old hard drive in my iMac with a SSD (approx $500)

This Samsung 850 EVO drive gets good reviews and is stupid cheap right now. Now, swapping out a drive on an iMac isn’t easy, so I’d need to get this OWC kit to do it, but I’m still upgrading for under $400, and that should last me for quite some time as long as the screen or any other crucial part doesn’t fail me.

The 2011 iMacs have a SATA II controller, not a SATA III controller, which means even upgrading to one of these fancy new drives will only net half the speed promised. Throw in the lack of more modern bluetooth versions and this option isn’t perfect either, given the cost. It’s now or never to sell this thing if I want to do it now.

So, where does that leave us?

Not really sure, honestly. I feel like the MacBook Air is a fine computer today, but it’s saddled with already ‘older’ tech that won’t age very well. The Pro is definitely more future ready but it comes at a price that I’m not sure I really want to pay. The Mac Mini is unfortunately hobbled and would require an immediate investment in a monitor, which drives up the actual cost of the machine. And upgrading my iMac is a band-aid that could very well be $500+ down the tubes when something else dies on it in the next year or so.

I might just do nothing and buy a new computer when the iMac blows up.

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