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  • Running Out of Macs to Upgrade

    August 13th, 2014

    So it is now pretty well known that Apple won't be able to take advantage of Intel's latest chip family, Broadwell, until 2015. Well, not unless there's a low-power Mac in the works that would represent a slimmer MacBook Air, or an Air-Lite version. The low-power version is the only Broadwell chip that's come out so far.

    Now I can understand that it's not always possible to predict exact release dates of new chip technologies. In large part, however, it appears Broadwell's biggest advantage is in power consumption, which would make your MacBook Air and MacBook Pro run longer on a single battery charge. That's a good thing, certainly,

    But not so good if all you want is a faster computer, since performance improvements in Intel chipsets have tended to be relatively minor in recent years. Absent a solid state drive, which really makes your Mac soar, the differences in performance for each model iteration have been relatively minor. Yes, a 2009 iMac is noticeably slower than a 2013 iMac, but the difference is mostly measured with apps that take extra time to do their thing.

    These days, I expect a Mac mini, which hasn't seen an update since 2012, would deliver performance that would satisfy most of you. Adding a Fusion drive would deliver most of the performance of a dedicated solid state drive at a more affordable price, and it would really make the difference.

    In any case, some of the rumors still suggest a 12-inch MacBook Air with Retina display is in the offing, though it seems that Apple wants to keep the existing lineup as affordable as possible. While the benefits of the higher resolution are undeniable, particularly on a notebook (less so on a desktop computer where you are farther away from the display), the question is whether the higher price would attract a large portion or customers, or just cannibalize business from the MacBook Pro with Retina display.

    But I expect, as prices for Retina display panels decrease, there may come a time where Apple could offer the feature in the standard MacBook Air without a price premium. Remember it wasn't so long ago that a solid state drive was a relatively high-end option, although prices for upgrades to the largest capacities are still too expensive for most people.

    When it comes to the iMac, I'm running back and forth as to whether it makes sense for Apple to release more new models this year. Yes, there are likely slightly faster Haswell chips to be had, and changing the version number for 2013 to 2014 might make the iMac appear more current. Psychology means a lot when it comes to sales, but it may just be that the cheaper 21.5-inch model announced some weeks back will be the sole change in the lineup for this year. I suppose that depends as much on how existing sales are going as on the availability of somewhat faster parts from Intel.

    Still, the $1,099 21.5-inch iMac, which is essentially a MacBook Air in a desktop guise, is regarded by the reviewers as underpowered compared to the model you can get for $200 more. Maybe it makes sense for Apple to cut the price to $999, clearly removing an important barrier in terms of marketing, and do a minor speed bump for the rest of the lineup. But I sort of think Apple could have done that at the same time the cheaper model was announced.

    The Mac Pro doesn't seem to be a candidate for a near-term refresh, unless faster Xeons are available that would rally make for a decent performance difference.

    In any case, I really don't see why the Mac mini hasn't been touched for two years. Maybe it's not such a great seller and all, but it shouldn't take much in the way of development money to put in the latest Haswell chips in that tiny box. No need to change a thing otherwise, and maybe reduce the price by $50 or $100. It would surely make it easier for Windows users to make the Mac migration, along with the perception that they are upgrading to a current model rather than something that's using older chip technology.

    As I said, maybe performance wouldn't be all that different, but perceptions count for a lot, and I expect increased sales would more than cover development costs and the price of the newer parts. Unless Apple has some major form factor and parts changes in the offing, I just wonder why the mini is left to stagnate. Indeed, this is a great time to pick up business from Windows PC users who are just sick and tired of Windows 8, and may not even find the modest changes in the offing for Windows 9 to be compelling enough to stick with the platform.

    Certainly the promise of Yosemite has made the Mac alternative all the more compelling. The tighter integration with iOS was a smart move, even though some Mac users incorrectly believe that OS 10.10 will make their computers operate like an iPhone or an iPad. From personal experience, I can state that's not the case. Besides, Apple is not going to build a convertible Mac with a touchscreen and all the other unneeded stuff that Microsoft installed on the failed Surface 3.



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    4 Responses to “Running Out of Macs to Upgrade”

    1. Urs W. Keller says:

      Faster CPUs are not necessary IMHO, but faster GPUs ... YESSS! FCPX would benefit most from this

      Gene Steinberg Reply:

      @Urs W. Keller, That's the reason for the stellar performance of FCPX on the new Mac Pro.

      Peace,
      Gene

    2. Kaleberg says:

      The 11" Macbook Air has a serious advantage in that the TSA does not require one to remove 11" or smaller laptops or tablets from one's bags during security checks. A 12" version would be more troublesome when flying. Besides, it fits with the line better: 5" iPhone, 7" iPad Mini, 9" iPad, 11" MBA, 13" MBA / Macbook, 15" Macbook. There aren't any even sized Apple screens. Sure, one might be torn between 11" and 13", but Apple has never been known for making this kind of decision easy.

    3. patrick fisher says:

      Kind of sad they don't update the minis too often.

      Won't comment on the cheaper, if somewhat inferior, iMacs. It's their low-end machine, if not a great value compared to spending a little more, which a lot of people can't do. It seems more of a machine for novices and those who can't spend more and to entice some to bring eyeballs to the store and entice them to upgrade to something better.

      The Airs are pretty sweet, even if they are not retina.

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