Switching from PC to Mac: How much computer do I need?
February 28, 2005 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Apologies for what is undoubtedly a topic that has been covered before, but I can't seem to find a relevant thread. Making the PC to Apple switch. Right now I have a Dell PC from '98, which is creaky and slowly failing and therefore gets only minimal usage. I'm having trouble figuring out how much computer I need. I'm not looking for a minimalist machine -- part of the reason that I'm willing to take the plunge is so that I can expand my home usage pretty significantly.

Other helpful info about what I want: I'm not into gaming, and I'm not a web designer. Not interested in a laptop. Not interested in another PC. Currently stuck using my work computer for iTunes and storage of phots -- I would like to get all personal crap off of my work computer. I realize that "expand my home usage pretty significantly" is ambiguous, -- I intentionally want to leave myself some room for the unknown.
posted by desuetude to Computers & Internet (23 answers total)
I think the imac g5 is a pretty solid all-round machine. If you're doing anything really intensive (graphics work, video) you could consider the g5 tower, but that might be overkill for what you're doing. As always, you're still going to want at least 512megs of ram, and you would do well not to buy it through apple, although I'm embarrassingly uninformed on how easy an upgrade it is on the new imacs.

on preview, does "minimalist machine" refer to design or specs? Either way I think all you're saying is that you shouldn't be looking at the mac mini.
posted by cmyr at 9:36 AM on February 28, 2005

well if your current display is good, you could pick up a mac mini (just get more ram in it) or go for a 17" imac (also up the ram). if by "expand my home usage pretty significantly" means you wanna play with video, then get a superdrive in it as well.
posted by ShawnString at 9:36 AM on February 28, 2005

Best answer: I'm not looking for a minimalist machine -- part of the reason that I'm willing to take the plunge is so that I can expand my home usage pretty significantly.

Too me that seems to rule out the Mac mini and iBooks (I know you're not interested in a laptop); and probably the eMac too -- yet you say nothing that indicates you need the power or spec of a PowerMac. Present PowerBooks are long in the tooth so I think quite clearly your best option is an iMac G5. You don't indicate budgetry limits, and big is beautiful, so why not go for the 20 inch?
posted by nthdegx at 9:36 AM on February 28, 2005

Response by poster: Clarifications:

* By "minimalist" I meant usage, i.e. probably not the eMac.
* Planning on donating the monitor to a friend.
* Probably not going to be getting into a lot of video.

iMac G5 it is, then, which is what I suspected. Thanks for answering so promptly.

Next problem:
While I'm actually really good with software, I'm not so much of a whiz with hardware. Saying things like "purchasing/installing additional RAM" scares me. Help.

Also, will I regret the 1.65 GHz machine and wish I'd gone for the 1.8? Is it worth the extra $200 for me?
posted by desuetude at 9:56 AM on February 28, 2005

I'm not seeing a lot of information in your post on which to make a recommendation. You might want to expand more on exactly what you plan to use the machine for.

My experience with macs (since the early days, I'm older than dirt!) is that the purchase of ANY new mac is a joy! Even if it is the bottom of the line machine...

The truth of the wisdom of the purchase is determined years later. The "bottom of the line" machine will keep you happy for a while, the "top of the line" machine will keep you happy a lot longer.

Typically, unless you have very limited plans for the computer, buy the best you can afford.

The laptop vs. desktop debate is answered by how you need to use it, if you don't need to take it on the road, stick with a desktop.

On preview... I've found that installing cards, memory, airport cards, etc. on a mac is usually pretty easy if you can follow instructions, almost everything is documented on the web.

I just replaced a drive in an older iMac, having never cracked one open before it took me all of fifteen minutes.....

good luck with the purchase.... !
posted by HuronBob at 10:03 AM on February 28, 2005

Best answer: Apple ships much too little RAM for their own silly reasons, but if you really want to take advantage of a nice machine like the iMac, you'll have to spring for some extra RAM. Luckily, on all the Macs I've ever used, installing RAM has been a snap, and well worth the minimal cost. My little eMac with 768 megs of RAM soars like a little wren, demonstrably faster even in just the Finder.

For better and for worse, consider RAM to be part of the cost/hassle of a new Mac.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:08 AM on February 28, 2005

Also: the 1.65 to 1.8 GHz difference is supposedly underwhelming, so my advice would be to not waste your money.

And: HuronBob is right about all Macs being good Macs. I have never been disappointed in my eMac's power - I edit in FCP all the time, run Photoshop, the whole bit - and the topmost eMac today is $900 cheaper than the 20-inch iMac.

OTOH, if you have the money and are willing to spend it, you'll probably appreciate the iMac's niftiness.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:11 AM on February 28, 2005

Best answer: The easiest and most expedient way to add RAM is to include it with your initial order from Apple. They charge a premium for it, though, so many people recommend buying RAM from a third-party vendor (Crucial often gets good recommendations) and installing it yourself. It's not very difficult.

Apple has iMac G5 DIY instructions on their web site.

MacWorld has iMac G5 Benchmarks that compare the 1.6 and 1.8GHz iMac G5s.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:11 AM on February 28, 2005

BTW - an interesting article and set of links at Lifehacker [February 25, 2005]: On switching from PC to Mac.
posted by ericb at 10:12 AM on February 28, 2005

I wouldn't rule out the Mac Mini. I'm currently of the opinion that as long as you have at least a 1GHz G4, processor speed is pretty irrelevant for most people that don't spend their lives doing complex video rendering.
posted by cillit bang at 10:19 AM on February 28, 2005

MacInTouch, a good Apple news site, has a detailed review of the iMac G5, benchmarks, and reader reports. And Ars Technica has a mini-guide to Mac OS X for people switching from Windows.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:30 AM on February 28, 2005

I've got an iMac G5 1.8 GHz with the 20" display at work. I originally got it with the standard memory allotment (256MB) and it was sluggish even doing just the most basic tasks. I added 1G RAM and it picked up a lot, but it's still not as fast as I would have expected. Not as fast, for example, as the 2 year-old 1.5GHz PC running XP on 512MB RAM that I also have at work, running the same applications. If you do go with the 1.6 GHz, I'd put the saved $200 immediately into a minimum of 1 GHz memory. (that $200 will go further if you buy the memory from someplace other than Apple, eg Crucial).

For me, the 17" also seemed small. The iMac has that widescreen display ratio and with the 17" it was just too short in height. The 20" is just right and has a fantastic picture.
posted by shoos at 10:35 AM on February 28, 2005

I switched from a tower PC to a PowerBook -- mainly to get away from wires and being tied to a desk. Now I can sit anywhere and do my computing. Do consider an Apple laptop -- the PowerBooks are great (if a bit "long in the tooth") or an iBook might be fine if you're not into power-computing. You can always hook the laptop up to a screen and keyboard while you're at home.

Add RAM -- you will find the extra makes the machine much nicer to use.
posted by anadem at 10:37 AM on February 28, 2005

Response by poster: Whoo hoo...moving along in the decision process. Going with a 1.6 GHz 17". After scanning all the fantastic links and advice above, it does seem like the best fit for my preferences and anticipated usage. (I don't need the mobility of a laptop, and the smaller keyboard drives me bonkers. I definitely want a new monitor, but I'm not a size queen about display and would rather save a few bucks on that aspect.)

Regarding extra RAM:
If I accept that for optimized "normal" usage I need to go ahead and get more RAM, is that 512 MB "best package" (looking at the Crucial site) a really good start for the initial purchase?
posted by desuetude at 10:50 AM on February 28, 2005

I just put ram in an Emac, and googled around until I found a manual on apple's site. It wasn't *that* easy, but you don't have to be an uber-geek to do it.

Basically, go to http://crucial.com and order as much as you can afford, then figure out where apple is hiding the panel that holds the ram, then go to the hardware store or MalWart and buy some metric allen wrenches, or possibly a torx wrench, because a simple phillips screw is far to mundane to be used on a Mac, and then open it up.

You'll see a slot that matches the size of the memory. You'll see notches in the bottom of the memory card at different lengths. Make sure they match the slot. Take out the existing memory so you can figure out how to put in the new stuff, then push it firmly and evenly into the slot, making sure that if there are any doohickeys designed to lock the card in place, that they are opened first.

Yes, I know this needs pictures, but those are my general ram-installing principles.
posted by craniac at 10:50 AM on February 28, 2005

I go for an Emac over an Imac, and the G5s are very expensive (but then again, you can use it for 3-5 years or so). Add more ram to any mac you get--none of them come with enough, ever.
posted by amberglow at 11:08 AM on February 28, 2005

Just an aside: use dealram.com to find the best RAM prices. You can usually find RAM for about half off the Apple Store prices.
posted by letitrain at 12:37 PM on February 28, 2005

I've got an iMac G5. It took my husband and I about two minutes total to install new RAM. Seriously. These things are way easier to upgrade than the old iMacs and eMacs. The whole back panel comes off and everything is beautifully arrayed before you. (Complete with a few thoughtful Apple logos which serve no purpose except to let you know that the company was thinking of you seeing them.) I don't recall us needing any special equipment. It was really easy.

The one extra I did get from Apple: the Bluetooth kit with keyboard and mouse. I didn't really *need* them, but it looks so cool to not have any cords on your desktop.

Oh wait, I got one other extra: AppleCare. After getting burned when my iBook monitor died two years out of warranty, I'll never buy another Mac without it. I've actually already used it on the iMac - I had a burnt-out logic board after two months. Granted, you'd still be in the normal warranty period then, but it was well worth the extra money to be able to call the secret AppleCare service number and be directed to somebody local that actually knew what I was talking about. (As opposed to the first time I called and accidentally used the general number and got transferred to a nice but clueless guy in India who didn't help me a damn bit.) Nice AppleCare Man arranged for my local service agent to make a housecall to pick it up - since I don't have a car and I didn't fancy carrying this thing six blocks through Sydney - and drop it off afterwards. I really recommend it.
posted by web-goddess at 1:12 PM on February 28, 2005

Apple Care Apple Care Apple Care.

It's the only extended warranty I would ever advocate. Even if nothing happens to the hardware, you can call them with the dumbest questions and nice people in Canada will answer your computing questions without making fun of you to your face. When I first bought my PowerBook, I used to call Apple Care more than I called my mother.
posted by jennyb at 8:06 PM on February 28, 2005

Excuse the threadjacking.....

As I have pounded on my PC in frustration when XP crashed yet again and I don't know why, I have dreamt of switching to a mac.

Yet, the one deterrent is all this talk of Apple Care. While I do get frustrated by my PC, I have never, let me be clear, never, ever, ever, had to take it in for service to get it working again. This goes back to my 8088, my 486, and my current P3.

Everytime I read a thread about Apple, someone's logic board is always burning out, or something else has gone wrong with the machine and thank god there was someone to call.....

What am I missing? (In fact, my Atari 800xl and 1040 ST never had problems either....)
posted by szg8 at 8:10 PM on February 28, 2005

Buying Tip: Apple does do 'price matching', I know; I work for the consumer sales department. So, if you go online and find it cheaper you can email a website link to your sales person. They in turn will print it off and get manager approval. Shipping is always free with new computer purchases from Apple so your sales person should not use that as a sales tool, per se. At least don't buy the line 'I am gonna give you FREE SHIPPING TODAY ONLY!'. Don't be fooled. Also we make commission and will do anything we can do not to give you a price match. This price match policy includes all Apple products from the iPod right on down to ram upgrades: They price match on everything except 3rd party products (and the iPod Shuffle). Also, if you are student (or if you have a child who is) that's another way for you to get a discount. Also, to 'close' a computer sale we can give a 'deal closer' like a free iPod Shuffle 512 or an additional discount; but that's up to the individual sales person. The sales people will be more apt to give you discounts if you help their 'attach rate' (the amount of additional add-ons you buy) Good luck.
posted by Livewire Confusion at 8:10 AM on March 1, 2005

Also, as per AppleCare, I would not go for it. In addition for working for Apple, I own an iBook Graphite G3 "clamshell", an iPod Shuffle 512, iBook G4 14", and a Mac Mini. None of these items ever needed use of an extended warranty. Apple makes good stuff, however when they do mess up (usually due to some engineering oversight or manufacturing error) They crash hard, but mishaps like that usually happen with in the first couple months and that is clearly covered by the original 1 year warranty. Also, AppleCare does not cover customer abuse (i.e. cola on the keyboard, dropping it, or peanut butter in DVD slot) I recommend you just get homeowners insurance if you don't already have some. It will cover your iMac if any of the above things happen. The best thing AppleCare can do for you you is give you unlimited phone tech support for three years... What are you gonna need to ask them about in three years that wouldn't have come up in the first year?
posted by Livewire Confusion at 8:23 AM on March 1, 2005

I use the 2.0 GHz iMac. I've owned many, many other Macs, but this one is by far my favorite. I'm a graphic artist, and I use a dual 2 GHz G5 at work, but feel very comfortable using my iMac for the occasional design project. Best of luck!
posted by unclejeffy at 6:40 AM on October 30, 2005

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