When I Bought a New Mac Every Other Year

October 20th, 2016

In 1989, I bought a brand new Mac IIcx. It was a speedy beast for its time, featuring a 16MHz Motorola 68030 processor. The dealer installed 8MB of RAM and a 100MB hard drive. I added the original Apple 14-inch color display, which became a 13-inch after the measurement system was fixed.

At the time, I really thought I had a pretty high-end setup, short of a Macintosh IIx, but far more affordable. Equipped with software and an Apple LaserWriter II printer, it set me back $14,000 on a lease purchase deal. In those days, I was transitioning my writing and desktop publishing work from an office environment to my home, and the monthly price was quite affordable. To put that price in perspective, if you allow for inflation, it is the equivalent of $27,480.08 in 2016 dollars, very much what you’d pay for a mid-sized car.

By 1991, I had a IIci, with a 25MHz processor, and I kept expanding it with memory — it was the first 32-bit “clean” Mac — a cache card and a 68040 accelerator. The latter gave me the equivalent of a Quadra, the fastest Mac of its time. In 1993, I made an arrangement for a small investment in my business, and used some of that money to buy a Quadra 800, with a 33MHz 68040. It sure seemed fast for its time, but I learned moments after it arrived that installing RAM was very difficult. It required pulling the logic board after separating several delicate wiring harnesses.

But I didn’t wait long for its successor, the Power Macintosh 8100 in 1994. This was Apple’s first foray into using the PowerPC processor on Macs, and the 8100 was essentially a Quadra 800 with the new parts. So it had a PowerPC 601 rated at 80MHz. As with its predecessor, RAM upgrades were again extremely difficult. The main limitation of the early PowerPC Macs was the fact that very little software was compatible with the new processor in the early days. So you had to run those apps via a 680×0 emulator, which actually made them slower than a Quadra.

After Apple foolishly allowed Mac clones, I acquired a couple from Power Computing, but they were sent on extended loan by the manufacturer. As with a number of writers and editors, I soon learned that Power actually didn’t expect you to return the computer, but made no effort to insist on favorable press. They were only too happy to get these computers into the hands of as many people with a voice as they could — at least until Steve Jobs bought them out and shut them down in 1997.

Until 2008 I pretty much stayed on a two- or three-year upgrade cycle. I made it a point to sell my older Macs, and they commanded high prices. That year I bought my last oversized Mac, the Mac Pro. Since they could get expensive, I chose a model at the lower end of the lineup, and discovered, the following year, that the new 27-inch iMac was just about as powerful except for tasks that exploited all those extra Intel Xeon cores.

So I made a killer deal. I sold the Mac Pro along with a 30-inch Dell display, acquired a maxed-out iMac and received several hundred dollars change.

As performance upgrades for Macs slowed, I didn’t see the need to move beyond that iMac, especially after my financial situation began to sour. I was no longer the high-paid feature writer for major magazines, so I did my best to stay current without draining my bank account. In 2010, I made a trade-out deal with a Mac dealer, and got a 17-inch MacBook Pro in exchange for advertising on The Tech Night Owl LIVE. It would have been nicer to have the money, but I had enough unsold inventory to make it work.

These days, there’s little need to upgrade a Mac terribly often. Year-to-year performance upgrades are modest, and it takes several years for the differences to become significant. That Apple keeps a form factor going for several years also discourages upgrading, particularly since recent macOS releases provide wide support for vintage models.

Up till recently, Apple has still been able to grow the Mac market ahead of the PC market, which was flat or falling. Not so in recent quarters, and some suggest the slowdown in new model releases may be responsible. Possibly, and maybe that’ll be more apparent after the October 27th media event.

According to published reports, there will be a fairly major refresh for the MacBook Pro, and lesser upgrades for other models. As I reported yesterday, the future of the MacBook Air is uncertain, particularly the 11-inch entry-level model. While the iMac might receive a minor upgrade with new graphics, the Mac mini and the Mac Pro are huge question marks. It’s been three years since the latter was released, without a hint of change.

While Apple doesn’t seem as interested in the professional market anymore, with falling sales, killing any Mac would seem to be a bad move. So I’ll be watching the rumors ahead of the media event to see if there are hints of other product refreshes.

Will I buy any of the new models? Well, my MacBook Pro is one of the oldest models that can run macOS Sierra. It should have been replaced already, but I don’t travel often enough for it to make sense to consider investing in something new. But there is some unsold advertising inventory, so maybe I can cut a deal with someone to replace it.

| Print This Article Print This Article

5 Responses to “When I Bought a New Mac Every Other Year”

  1. Karl says:

    I personally like the slower upgrade cycle. (So does my bank account.) I purchased an iMac (pretty much maxed out) and an entry level MacBook Air in 2014 and haven’t even thought about upgrading yet. Both still feel responsive and run the software I need.

    Now that mobile is the hot thing and desktops sales have stagnated (fallen) over years. I wouldn’t think that upgrading every couple of years to keep up with the newest tech isn’t coming back. With that said, I do believe that it’s time for Apple to update all their Mac lines.

    And I’m still holding out for the headless Mac tower that is easily upgradable – my unicorn!

  2. tech-52 says:

    Apple is still shipping about 16-17 million Macs a year. Most of us long-time proponents, I assume, would like to see Apple continue to push the envelope on Mac development, but clearly it’s a fading market for the company. I’ll be interested to see what they come out with on October 27, but unless the new MacBooks establish some kind of exciting new paradigm, I doubt I’ll be upgrading my early-2015 MacBook Pro anytime soon. I have considered going back to an iMac for home use, and a MacBook for mobile use, but that would just be an extravagance. My iPad Air 2 serves that purpose more than acceptably for most of the times I have to travel. And for those few times where it doesn’t, I can always untether the MacBook Pro from my home office and take it on the road.

  3. Frank says:

    I have a 2011 MBP with a 1TB SSD and I don’t see anything that appealing in the current Mac lineup. The only thing I would like is something that weighs less, but that’s not enough to make me drop a couple of thousand dollars unless they come out with something really exciting.

  4. dfs says:

    Speed used to be all-important. If you replaced your Mac every two or three years the difference in speed was impressive, sometime dramatically so. For my work I’ve always depended on Adobe Dreamweaver, and there was a time when it was maddeningly slow. Every time I upgraded it became very much easier to use. But eventually the Law of Diminishing Returns kicked in. Modern Macs are so fast that nowadays if you could upgrade to one that’s twice as fast you would scarcely notice the difference. How fast you can work is dictated by other factors, such as how fast your fingers can move. Similar things can be said about other factors, such as handling video. I’m not a gamer so I don’t know what happens in that part of the forest, but, speaking strictly for myself, my present Mac can handle gracefully just about anything I throw at it. Unlike the Macs I used back in the 1990’s, the experience my present machine gives me is entirely non-frustrating. And, incidentally, the speed of my networking and connection to peripherals is quite fine too, I don’t hanker after faster protocols. So I have no interest at all in replacing what I have now. The thing seems sturdy enough that I can get many more years out of service out of it. When and if Apple comes up with a new OS that my present processor can’t handle, I’ll probably decide to pass on it. And I bet a lot of people and organizations using current Macs feel the same way I do.

    So if you see statistics about declining desktop sales don’t jump to the conclusion that desktop computers are growing obsolete. They’re just so damn good that the old ideas about replacement cycles don’t apply any more.

  5. David says:

    I bought my first Mac, a pre-owned IIsi, in 1992. Like you I upgraded frequently and was perpetually chopping and changing something (RAM, HD, optical drive, video card, etc.) when that was possible. Since those early days I’ve had an external HD and these days I have many connected to my 2011 iMac. When it comes to all that external storage I’m limited to FW800 that has been flakey ever since 10.9 or USB 2.0. I have Thunderbolt, but prices for compatible drives are outrageous. So I would really like to be able to upgrade to USB 3.1 and have access to the universe of fast, inexpensive external storage. The computer itself is still fast enough and my aging eyes don’t need a Retina display.

Leave Your Comment