Which Mac should I buy? It’s a question I see constantly in forum discussions across the Web. If you’re an average consumer who needs Web, email, word processing and little more, the choices are easy. You can go with what your pocketbook allows and be satisfied. Deciding which new Mac to get if you’re in the content creation business, however, is like trying to decide what milk to buy at the grocery store when you don’t normally do the shopping in the household. You’ve got the choice between 1%, 2%, whole milk, low-fat, skim, no freakin fat whatsoever, the list goes on and on. It’s enough to drive you crazy just looking at the options. Here is my (very opinionated) advice to those who find themselves faced with such an expensive dilemma as to which Mac to buy. You’re on your own with the milk though. MacPro If you’re a high-end print designer, professional photographer, work with video, or are a complete geek, the MacPro is for you. The MacPro in any of its configurations will offer you the highest processor speed, fastest I/O, fastest hard drives and most room for growth of any Mac available. It will also allow you the most expandability at the lowest cost, such as adding extra hard drives, setting up a RAID, upgrading your video card, adding multiple monitors, and more. So what determines if you’re considered “high-end” as a print designer? Well, if you work with a lot of 350MB and up Photoshop files, 100+ page InDesign or Quark documents or have a few thousand fonts, you’re probably considered high-end. All of these things take advantage of everything the MacPro has to offer. For high-end video work in Apple’s FinalCut Studio, the MacPro is a no-brainer. The massive storage available to you, the video card, I/O and RAM use is all that needs to be thought about, and the MacPro is really the only option. If you’re still not sure, ask yourself if you make a living full time with your Mac. If you do, then you can easily justify having Apple’s king of the hill machine. I highly recommend getting the Wireless option from the start, and add an extra 500GB internal hard drive for Time Machine backups, too. iMac The lines get blurred with the iMac. Apple’s middle-of-the-road desktop is quite a stunningly capable machine for all but the most demanding user. Which iMac to get depends on how much money you have in your budget. I highly suggest you adjust your budget to allow for the 24” iMac. Because the iMac has the screen built-in, you don’t really have the option of upgrading to a larger monitor at a later time, so get the largest you can from the get-go. With the best optical drive, video card, hard drive and most RAM of the three, the 24” iMac gives you the most “future-proofing” you can get with an all-in-one Mac. The iMac is perfect for Web developers and designers because it offers a large screen for palette-happy applications like Photoshop, Fireworks, Flash and Dreamweaver. For the same reasons, it also works out great for print-designers who have less demanding needs than your typical MacPro users. If you’re video-creation needs are limited to iMovie and iDVD, the iMac will be perfect for you. Sound designers can also easily get away with using the iMac. The iMac offers plenty of future expandability with USB and Firewire ports, so you can add extra drives and doo-dads at a later time when the need arrises. Because the large 24” monitor is built-in, and the processor is so powerful, the iMac makes for a great Mac in a design studio or in the home office. Because I don’t make a full-time living at home with my Mac, my next machine will most likely be the 24” iMac – (or whatever the largest screen size it comes in two to three years from now) because it can handle virtually everything I could throw at it, for a lot less money than the MacPro I somehow convinced myself I needed late last year. MacBook Pro Using a laptop as your main workhorse is probably not the optimal setup. Talk all you want about portability, but the fact that laptops have smaller, slower hard drives, less RAM and much smaller screens leaves them out of the discussion in my opinion. But that’s not to say that they won’t work for some folks. Print designers should probably avoid them due to the limitations listed above, as should video and audio creation users. But Web developers have the luxury of not needing massive storage and processing power to accomplish their tasks. Dreamweaver, Flash and Fireworks will run at more than acceptable speeds on the MBP. If you’re dead-set on getting a laptop, I recommend getting the 15” MacBook Pro. Why not the 17”, you ask? Have you seen the things up close? They’re huge, and they’re heavy. If the whole point is to have portability, then why would you get something so un-portable? They really aren’t much more powerful than the 15” MBP, and don’t offer much of anything over them other than screen size. If you work from the office most of the time, you can hook up a larger external monitor at any time anyway. Plus, the premium you pay for the larger screen simply can’t be justified for the average user. As far as portability goes, the laptop itself isn’t the only consideration. If you find yourself needing extra storage, you’ll have to leave room in your carrying case for an external hard drive, the power cord, firewire cables, extra DVD/CD blanks, and probably a Bluetooth mouse – because using a trackpad for design work is a real pain in the behind. I carry the Bluetooth Mighty Mouse my MacPro came with in my laptop bag all the time. The 15” MBP is a great little machine on its own, I use mine to run The Graphic Mac. Photoshop runs great for creating the images I need for Web use, Pages handles the writing tasks perfectly, and virtually every other piece of software I need for quick design editing on the road is no problem. MacBook The MacBook, Apple’s entry-level laptop, is no slouch by any means, but it’s technical limitations will come into play for most content creators. Forget about using it for print design, video work beyond uploading quickie vids to YouTube, and audio creation. It’s too slow, has no dedicated video card, it’s hard drive is too small and too slow, and the screen size just doesn’t cut it. Having said that, the MacBook is more than adequate for writers and Web developers who only handle the coding. I wouldn’t want to create elaborate Flash sites on it, but for handling HTML, CSS and running a CMS Web site, the MacBook is great. Like all other Macs, you can add-on to it as the need arrises with external drives, a mouse and an external monitor. MacMini and MacBook Air Ok, you’re kidding right? Both the Air and the Mini are simply not in the conversation when it comes to content creation. Both are crippled jokes, created by Steve Jobs to grab switchers on a budget or pad the bottom-line. I wouldn’t even consider either of them as an acceptable secondary machine. Go ahead, flame away at me, but you know I’m right. Remember, as a content creator, you’re not the average consumer user. The Bottom Line Which milk, I mean Mac, is right for you is ultimately a personal decision based on several factors, not the least of which is price. My final bit of advice to you when deciding which Mac you’ll fall in love with is this; get more than you can afford, because you WILL grow into it. All too often I’ve seen friends and co-workers buy only what they can afford or what they budgeted, and then live with regret for the next few years. If you’ve saved to get the 20″ iMac, then wait a bit longer or drop it on a credit card and get the 24″ iMac. And stretch your money, purchase RAM through a 3rd party vendor such as Mac Solutions. And of course, take advantage of the Macworld Price Grabber to find the best deals on Macs, LCDs, hard drives and more.
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