Miscellaneous Ramblings

Alltime Favorite Macs: Nostalgia Confronts Realistic Pragmatism

Charles Moore - 2011.01.24 - Tip Jar

Mac 360's Alexis Kayhill posted an interesting piece last Friday, The Top 7 Macs of All Time: Read It and Weep, which she says wasn't the article she originally set out to write. She explains that her assignment had been to compile a list of her favorite Macs ever, but she couldn't do it, noting that looking back over two decades as a Mac user she can think of some favorites (and others not so much) but concluded that not one of them compares favorably to any Mac she's currently using.

Conducting a straw poll of Mac-using friends, family, and colleagues determined that while everyone had fond memories of Macs past, nobody would want to swap their current late-model hardware for an oldie goldie.

"What's so special about Macs of 2011?," she asks rhetorically, answering that it's largely speed, observing that sitting down with a PowerPC machine after becoming acclimated to multicore Intel power is like riding a Harley and then trying to get along with a tricycle.

I know what she means. A I have a foot in both worlds.

Unibody MacBookObjectively, my late 2008 model aluminum unibody MacBook is no screamer compared with Apple's latest Core i and Core Duo machines, but it feels like one compared with my Pismo PowerBooks - which are both upgraded from their original 500 MHz G3 processors to the maximum possible (for Pismos) 550 MHz Motorola 7410 G4 power. The nearly 11-year-old PowerBooks are definitely still usable for what I mostly do on them, which is mainly composing and editing editing text, email, and a bit of light-duty image editing. They're fairly decent performers for Web surfing as well, but everything goes faster on the 2 GHz MacBook with its 4 GB of RAM and Nvidia 9400M graphics.

My Favorite Vintage Mac

PowerBook G3The Pismo is my no-brainer pick for favorite Mac oldie, and it's simply phenomenal that they're still a practical proposition for production work at all given their advanced age. But were I obliged to live with just one of my present Macs, I would choose the MacBook without hesitation - and even better if it could be a new 13" MacBook Pro or MacBook Air.

It doesn't surprise me that Alexis Kayhill was unable to find anyone among her Mac-using acquaintances who wouldn't make a similar choice. The Macs of the past several years are the best computers Apple has ever made from a functional perspective, and it's just icing on the proverbial cake that that they're also the most affordable.

Worst. Mac. Ever.

Worst Mac ever? I would have to agree with Dan Knight's evaluation of the mid-90s desktop Power Mac and Performa 5200-53xx & 6200-6320 families as the absolute, all-time bottom of the barrel "Road Apples."

Mac Longevity

So how many years can one realistically expect to get out of a Mac?

It depends partly on what you want to do with them. I'm doubtful that I'll ever be able to reprise the longevity I've gotten from the Pismos. On the other hand, my wife is still more than satisfied using the 2004-vintage 17" 1.33 GHz PowerBook I handed down to her when I upgraded to the Core 2 Duo MacBook.

Speaking of which, I'm now just short of the 24 month mark since I purchased it in early 2009, and while I'm convinced that it's going to be high on list of my all-time favorite Macs, it's beginning to feel a bit lazy compared with Apple's current offerings. And I still wish it had a FireWire port like the 13" MacBook Pros have, although I have to concede that I really haven't missed having FireWire as much as I had anticipated.

My target for intervals between upgrading my main workhorse systems has been three years ever since I bought my first Mac back in 1992, I've done pretty well at adhering to it, and it remains my objective, which puts buying a replacement time for my MacBook sometime in early 2012 - which is beginning to seem a long way off.

The Upgrade Cycle

That's consistent with the way these upgrade cycles usually play out for me. For the first year I revel in the greater power and storage capacity of my new machine compared with whatever it replaced. At 18 months, twinges of slight frustration and dissatisfaction have started to set in, especially after upgraded models of the computer I'm using have been introduced, but I still really have nothing to complain about.

However, by the beginning of year three - the point I'm at right now in the current cycle roadmap - the aging Mac is usually beginning to feel compromised, and the hunt begins, although for my last four primary Macs I've managed to reach or beat the three-year replacement benchmark.

Of course, it helps that I like the challenge of getting useful service out of antiquated hardware, as witnessed by the Pismo PowerBooks still in service.

Actually, I still have most of the Macs I've ever owned, and only a few are not in working order. Our 700 MHz 12" iBook G3 died suddenly at the youngish age of six, but it had been a virtually flawless performer up to the day it completely refused to respond to the power button - presumably a terminal motherboard issue. One of my daughters is still using my old 1999 WallStreet PowerBook, and I'm pretty sure that even my first Mac, an original form factor Mac Plus of late '80s vintage purchased used in '92, would boot up if I dug it out of storage, although I haven't done so for many years.

Looking forward, at this point I have a short list of two potential replacements for my MacBook when the day comes to upgrade: the 13" MacBook Pro and the 13" MacBook Air. One imponderable at this juncture is that it's highly probable both models will be updated by a year from now. A

t present, it would boil down to the Pro's lower price, larger storage drive capacity, upgradable RAM, and FireWire support vs. the Air's higher-resolution display, SSD speed, and downright seductiveness. My head says Pro, and it doesn't hurt that I have been very happy with my MacBook's looks and logistics.

We'll see

Macs notwithstanding their current relatively bargain-basement prices in historical context are still generally more expensive than typical corresponding Windows PCs, at least up front, so it logically stands to reason that they should have longer useful lives.

How about you? Do any oldies still entice you, and what do you consider a reasonable service life for your Macs?

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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