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  • The Diminishing Hopes for a New Mac Minitower

    October 8th, 2008

    Just yesterday, I repeated my hopes and dreams for a new expandable desktop Mac to fill the vast gulf between the unsung hero of Apple’s low-end, the Mac mini and the costly Mac Pro. Yes, there’s an iMac, but for millions of people who don’t need another display, and crave expandability without a price to match, I would have thought this idea would be a no-brainer.

    Or maybe I’m the one who isn’t thinking.

    You see, two thirds of all Macs sold these days are note-books. The PC industry, in general, is catching on and note-books are dominating there too. In fact, some companies are trying different colors to move boxes, though I believe that an ugly note-book in shocking pink is still ugly.

    So where does this leave the old fashioned desktop computer? Well, the iMac fits into a somewhat different category, as a descendant of the original all-in-one Mac, with everything in a single case. So in a sense it’s a hybrid that offers the benefits of a desktop with a large screen and solid footprint, and the single form factor that allows it to travel (with difficulty) should you want to take it to a different location. It also helps somewhat with wire clutter, particularly if you go for wireless input devices.

    The iMac also looks good enough to place in the bedroom or den. It doesn’t have to be consigned to a cluttered office area, although that hardy matters near as much in a real office.

    Certainly, from a cost standpoint, separates still matter if you don’t need to buy everything, but convenience has always been a strong attraction in the electronics industry. At one time, for example, if you wanted a home audio system, you’d buy a separate amplifier, preamplifier, tuner and so forth and so on. While such components are still available to folks looking for the ultimate in sound quality, having everything in one box has proven to be a viable tradeoff, particularly since power supplies and other components can be shared, hence actually reducing the price.

    Now If Apple were to consider expanding its computer lineup, it would want to make doubly sure there is a market for the product. When it comes to Dell, HP and all the rest, they flood the market with dozens of overlapping products where actual differences may be near impossible to detect, in the hope that your precise needs will be fulfilled.

    Apple tried that trick in the 1990s, and even their own executives couldn’t tell one from the other. Of course, that’s probably true with the product people from the PC box assemblers. If you put them into a room without Internet access or a cheat sheet, I bet they’d be hard pressed to define the real differences among lots and lots of similar models.

    That behavior prevails throughout the electronics industry. From TVs to DVD players, are the product distinctions large enough to make sense? Quite often everything is the same except for some frills with fanciful labels that few people use anyway. But adding them can seriously boost profits over the entry level model, even though the differences in core functionality, such as a TV’s picture quality and the ability to add peripheral products, such as a DVD player, audio system and such, are not impacted in any noticeable fashion.

    Apple surely doesn’t want to fall into that trap. Yes, there are four iPod models, but each is highly distinctive and it shouldn’t be hard to choose which one you want; except, perhaps, the iPod nano color you prefer. Then again, you can always buy two or three and use the one that suits your particular mood on a particular day.

    In the note-book arena, maybe Apple should consider a tablet model, though the sales prospects don’t seem huge beyond certain vertical markets, such as medical practitioners. There are some who suggest some sort of bridge between the iPod touch and the MacBook, a tiny network device. But didn’t Apple try that before, with the eMate, a hybrid based on the Newton? Is there truly a need for such a gadget?

    I don’t know. I’m just asking.

    Spreading beyond that, I still think that Apple hasn’t quite decided what to do with he Mac mini, and even the possible future of the Apple TV. There is a lot of potential there, but nobody has figured out how to tap it yet. Or maybe there’s no need? Beyond your cable or satellite set top box with built-in DVR, what else do you need to connect to your TV set to receive the content you want? Is the victorious high definition DVD format, Blu-ray, poised to take off at last, or is some future iteration of the Apple TV going to be the ultimate bridge between the computer and the living room?

    More to the point, is Apple truly the company that can really answer that question?



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    20 Responses to “The Diminishing Hopes for a New Mac Minitower”

    1. mjteix says:

      Given what we know about the upcoming Core i7 and the Xeon flavor of the Nehalem chips (which will be more expensive than the current quad-core Xeon used in the Mac Pro), maybe we won’t see a “mini” Mac Pro, but two real lines of the Mac Pro: one with a single cpu and one with dual cpus, that will encompass a larger price range.

      Intel Workstation & Server Processors 2009 (Xeon)Tylersburg
      Processor Speed Cache TDP Memory Sockets Platform Price
      W5580 3.20GHz 8MB 130W 1333MHz 2 Workstation $1600 vs $1279 for the 3.20GHz Harpertown
      X5570 2.93GHz 8MB _95W 1333MHz 2 ___Server___ $1386 vs $1022 for the 3.00GHz Harpertown
      X5560 2.80GHz 8MB _95W 1333MHz 2 ___Server___ $1172 vs $797 for the 2.80GHz Harpertown
      X5550 2.66GHz 8MB _95W 1333MHz 2 ___Server___ $958
      E5540 2.53GHz 8MB _80W 1066MHz 2 ___Server___ $744 -› vs $797 for the 2.80GHz Harpertown

      W3570 3.20GHz 8MB 130W 1333MHz 1 Workstation $999 vs $1600 for the DP-enabled model
      W3540 2.93GHz 8MB 130W 1066MHz 1 Workstation $562 vs $1386 for the DP-enabled model
      W3520 2.66GHz 8MB 130W 1066MHz 1 Workstation $284 vs $958 for the DP-enabled model

      What Apple could release (if they still think that workstations are important to them) is:
      $1299 (or so) single quad 2.66GHz W3520 (or Core i7) 3GB RAM
      $1599 single quad 2.93GHz W3540 (or Core i7) 3GB RAM
      $1999 single quad 3.20GHz W3570 (or Core i7) 3GB RAM

      $2999 dual quad 2.66GHz Nehalem Xeon X5550 6GB RAM
      $3499 dual quad 2.80GHz Nehalem Xeon X5560 6GB RAM
      $3999 dual quad 2.93GHz Nehalem Xeon X5570 6GB RAM
      $4599 dual quad 3.20GHz Nehalem Xeon W5580 6GB RAM

    2. @ mjteix: Fascinating lineup.

      Should we preorder? 🙂

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. rickag says:

      I gave up a long time ago hoping for a consumer tower from Apple 🙁

      Do I want one – yes
      Do I think it would benefit Apple – yes
      Do I think Apple will ever offer one – no

    4. unidogg says:

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, ” I don’t want a mini, don’t need a Mac Pro, and have a cinema display, so don’t desire an iMac.” (and no, I don’t have room for two monitors). I need something in between the mini and Pro; a “prosumer desktop,” a “mythical mac,” a “Mac Midi,” or whatever you want to call it. I’m really frustrated that Apple doesn’t make something in that catagory. I’d be very happy if we saw the lineup mjteix suggests above, particularly if they’d at least add the option of a Blue Ray drive (say what you want, but I would LOVE to be able to back up to a 50Gb to 100Gb removable, storable, archivable, off site hordable solid media! I learned a long time ago that trusting hard drives, even backup hard drives is still a risky proposition).

    5. unidogg wrote:

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, ” I don’t want a mini, don’t need a Mac Pro, and have a cinema display, so don’t desire an iMac.” (and no, I don’t have room for two monitors). I need something in between the mini and Pro; a “prosumer desktop,” a “mythical mac,” a “Mac Midi,” or whatever you want to call it. I’m really frustrated that Apple doesn’t make something in that catagory. I’d be very happy if we saw the lineup mjteix suggests above, particularly if they’d at least add the option of a Blue Ray drive (say what you want, but I would LOVE to be able to back up to a 50Gb to 100Gb removable, storable, archivable, off site hordable solid media! I learned a long time ago that trusting hard drives, even backup hard drives is still a risky proposition).

      If there were enough people like you out there, Apple would have a sure success.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. John says:

      Maybe the much rumored “Brick” is the much hoped for Mac “Midi.”

    7. John wrote:

      Maybe the much rumored “Brick” is the much hoped for Mac “Midi.”

      Well, Apple has now made it quite clear that their October 14th event is where “the spotlight turns to notebooks.” That means that there are not likely to be any other products there. It doesn’t mean a new iMac isn’t going to come out the following week, but anything more than that would seem to require another special event, and it’s getting awful late in the season for that.

      Peace,
      Gene

    8. David says:

      Wow I think mjteix has laid out a fantastic lineup that would please almost every desktop user out there.

      I will never be a notebook person. I prefer having an ergonomic desk with multiple large displays. Call me crazy if you like, but I buy new hard drives every year and use the old ones for my music collection and backup. Having at least 2 easily accessed internal drive bays is essential to this system.

      To me having a powerful desktop plus a handheld is the ultimate setup. My dream handheld fits in to one hand. It would be 3.9 inches wide by 7.5 inches tall (roughly the Newton 2100, but thinner and lighter). Those dimensions would allow a 540×960 display which would be great for documents and web and, when turned on its side, a perfect 16:9 movie display.

    9. Andrew says:

      A mid range would be nice, but I am DELIGHTED with the Mac Pro I bought recently. This thing is incredibly fast and has what must be the best case design ever for a desktop tower. Its also extremely quiet!

    10. Andrew wrote:

      A mid range would be nice, but I am DELIGHTED with the Mac Pro I bought recently. This thing is incredibly fast and has what must be the best case design ever for a desktop tower. Its also extremely quiet!

      And incredibly expensive when optioned to the max. But I agree with you about all the rest.

      Peace,
      Gene

    11. Andrew says:

      Yup. Mine is base config with the dual 2.8 GHz. I upgraded the RAM and added a pair of 500 GB drives myself for a fraction of what Apple would charge.

      Running Leopard Server.

    12. Andrew wrote:

      Yup. Mine is base config with the dual 2.8 GHz. I upgraded the RAM and added a pair of 500 GB drives myself for a fraction of what Apple would charge.

      Running Leopard Server.

      Same here, except that I let Apple include the 500GB (Western Digital) drives. I saved loads on the RAM. 🙂

      Peace,
      Gene

    13. Andrew says:

      I got a pair of 500 GB Seagates for $210 and 2 2 GB FBDIMM modules from Crucial for another $180. Installation of the memory was a bit counter-intuitive, moving one module up from the lower to the upper card, but once I figured that out (in the manual, of all places) everything worked like a charm.

      Also bought an iMac (base 20″ model) and MacBook Pro (base 15″ matte screen) at the same time. I know the MBP is poised for replacement and will likely drop in price, but a round calls to my 4 local Apple Stores found matte screens in short supply, and the store manager assured me that when this model moves to clearance pricing next week he’ll waive the restocking fee.

      Since this is for business use and I’ve been burned before by Rev A. products, I doubt I’ll want the new one anyway.

    14. I suppose the Early 2008 Mac Pro I have is a Rev. 2 product, right? Or 2-1/2 if you include the dual 3GHz Quad model that came out in 2007.

      Oh, and our Web server is a tiny SuperMicro 2.13GHz Core2Duo with 4GB of RAM and a pair of 250GB drives, using a hardware-based RAID system for mirroring. Since we’re the only company on that box, and we have a few software tweaks (it runs CentOS, the enterprise version of Red Hat Linux), it’s actually a lot faster than the dual Xeon we had previously.

      Peace,
      Gene

    15. Andrew says:

      I guess its technically Rev B, as the dual quad from 2007 was the same logic board as the original Mac Pro. Either way, its a great machine.

      I just don’t have the geek creds to run a Linux server, so Leopard it is.

    16. Andrew wrote:

      I guess its technically Rev B, as the dual quad from 2007 was the same logic board as the original Mac Pro. Either way, its a great machine.

      I just don’t have the geek creds to run a Linux server, so Leopard it is.

      I don’t either, actually. But there’s a pretty decent app suite, WHM / cPanel, which can handle most of the stuff regular people need to do to manage that server. Yes, I know a smattering of command line stuff, but depend on support people for the hard stuff.

      Peace,
      Gene

    17. Andrew says:

      I am hoping to avoid that and just keep everything in-house. I will probably need a consultant to get all of the IP pointing and DNS record stuff set up right at the host end though.

      I’ll let you know how Leopard server works out. SBS 2003 has been pretty good, but I could just never get my Macs to authenticate VPN reliably and lately I’ve had a number of events in the log of people from outside trying to hack into my server.

      It was actually trouble with Windows clients that made me move the office entirely to Macs, so the Mac server and Apple Remote Desktop will make it a lot easier to manage the whole thing. I hope.

    18. I don’t want to pay for the cost of bandwidth. A host can get a quantity price and pass it on to the customer. So I let them take care of this. Also, since I’m paying by the month, if the server can’t handle the load, we just upgrade to a faster one, and then come back here and beg for donations to help pay the cost. 🙂

      Peace,
      Gene

    19. Andrew says:

      I gave you one last year, great site though I often disagree with your approach to cost-comparison.

      My inTERnet website is limited to my law practice and is only informational. My inTRAnet site has much higher demands, but since everything is now on gigabit ethernet served by the Mac Pro, resources should not be an issue.

      I looked at having someone else host it, but I need to share files over VPN connections both to my second office and for when I travel, but want fast local file sharing in the main office, which means using my own server.

    20. Thanks, Andrew.

      I understand the limitations of your setup, which is why you have to keep it in house. We just want to make our content available to everyone, though some of our sites are actually censored in China.

      Peace,
      Gene

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