October 20, 2007

Moving To Mac? Apple Must Fix iMac First

I am going to need a new computer in the next few months, and I am seriously considering making the switch from Windows to Mac. After reading several reviews in which Apple's Tiger OS compared favorably to Vista, I started researching Mac hardware. Unfortunately, this was where I ran into problems. As much as I want to make the switch to Mac, Apple has some serious hardware problems to fix before I'd be comfortable buying an iMac.

My Dell Dimension 4500 is showing its age, especially when I use Photoshop. I've maxed the RAM, added a faster hard drive and DVD-RW drive, but I've reached the point where additional upgrades are either not possible (RAM) or impractical. A new computer is in my future, hopefully during the next few months.

My computing needs appear to be rather different from many of the consumers targeted by PC makers. I do all the usual office and internet applications, have a massive .mp3 collection, but have no interest in gaming. Most of my computing demands come from Photoshop instead. I value speed, want to be able to run multiple applications simultaneously, but have no need for cutting-edge video cards.

What About Vista?

Initially, I thought about building a new PC for Vista. I've never built a PC before, but I thought it sounded like it might be a fun project. However, I soon scrapped that plan, as I simply won't have time to devote to researching components, etc. until next summer at the earliest. I guess it is one of those situations where I'd rather pay a little more in exchange for saving me the time and hassle of doing the build myself.

My thoughts then turned to buying a PC with Vista preinstalled. But then I started reading about all the user complaints with Vista. Hardware and software compatibility issues were surprisingly common, customer satisfaction was low, and the hardware requirements (especially with regard to RAM) seemed steep. I almost bought a Dell XPS 410 system (which doesn't appear to exist anymore) that probably would have been fine, but Vista was getting such terrible press that I decided to wait.

Considering Mac

I've owned a few Macs, but I abandoned the platform around OS 8 and have been away since. What initially led me to start thinking about returning to Mac was that I read many Vista vs. OS 10.4 (Tiger) comparisons in PC magazines which all picked Tiger as the superior OS. An emerging consensus in PC magazines of all places that Tiger was better than Vista was hard to ignore. Added to this was my discovery that it now appears Macs have figured out how to run Windows reasonably well. I knew that OS 10.5 (Leopard) was coming soon, so I told myself that I'd buy a Mac once Leopard was here and started researching hardware.

Unfortunately, this has not gone well at all. There is simply nothing in the Mac desktop line that I find compelling. I ruled out the Mac Mini because of the RAM limitations and because I can't help thinking that I'm going to want more computer than that for heavy Photoshop work. I ruled out the Mac Pro because it is outrageously expensive. While I could afford one, I see little reason to do so given my needs. This brings me to the only other option in the Mac desktop line, the iMac.

At first glance, the iMac appeared to be exactly what I needed. However, there are three problems that create reasonable doubt. First, I simply hate the idea of an all-in-one machine. Not only is expandability too limited (and I have upgraded every computer I have ever owned previously), but I simply don't like the idea of having the monitor permanently tethered to the computer. What if I want to replace it? What if I outgrow the computer but the monitor is still fine? I know I can add a second monitor to an iMac, but this doesn't help.

Second, I have read some fairly negative things about the glossy surface of the new iMac screens. My concerns here are more about difficulty with color calibration for photo work and less about glare. I think I can arrange lighting to defeat the glare concerns, but it sounds like these monitors present color calibration issues.

Third and most significant, I have read far too many reports of serious problems with the screens of these new iMacs on the Apple.com discussion forums. The 20" model is known to have an inferior screen, but the 24" also appears to have problems. Screen freezes are widely reported, and user after user is reporting an inconsistent color gradient across the screen of the 24" model. Imagine the left side of the screen being a full stop brighter than the right side. This is clearly unacceptable for any sort of photo or graphic work. Apple has not yet been willing to acknowledge the problem, and some users have reporting the same problem on multiple replacement iMacs they received from Apple. Until Apple acknowledges and corrects this problem, I have a hard time recommending an iMac to anyone.

Where Does This Leave Me?

I really don't know. Leopard will be out on October 26, and I would really like to be able to move to Mac. However, I am discouraged that Apple doesn't offer a desktop system that will meet my needs. If they can fix the iMac quickly enough, I will certainly consider it, but this seems unlikely given that they still haven't acknowledge a problem.

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