A few weeks ago, I made a life-changing decision and I’ve been dealing with the implications the past few days. That decision? I ordered a new desktop computer, and I’ve been slogging through the process of attempting to re-create my decades-long work processes on it.
If that sounds overly dramatic, you need to understand that my last desktop computer was purchased in 2009. I’m tempted to use the dog years method of calculating age, but despite the persistent (if fading power) of Moore’s Law, it would be an exaggeration to say that my old Mac Pro was the equivalent of 84 years old. In fact, it still has its girlish figure, and performs like it’s hardly 60 years old.
I [obviously] put off the upgrade for as long as I could, but I finally reached the point where (1) I could no longer upgrade the operating system because Apple’s OS wasn’t compatible with the hardware, and (2) the same was true of much of my important software, the most current and capable versions requiring that unobtainable operating system. The thought of trying to upgrade incredibly out-of-date hardware and software was intimidating, but the vanishing capabilities of the computer finally convinced me to take the plunge.
My first thought was to take the route I traveled in 2009, which was to get the fastest and most powerful desktop computer Apple made. So I went to Apple’s configuration page for its Mac Pro tower (the rack-mount version being unneeded and too expensive). After selecting the most powerful option for each component (i.e. memory, hard drive, graphics card, etc.), the grand total was — are you sitting down? — $52, 748, before sales tax. That’s pretty close to what we paid for our first house. Sure, that house didn’t have 8 terabytes of SSD storage, but it did have a fireplace. So, onto Plan B.
I settled on Apple’s 27″ iMac, albeit with some reservations. The iMac is a beautiful, fast, all-in-one machine, but its expandability gave me pause. I had four hard drives in my old desktop, and “needed” all of them. I also was accustomed to have dual monitors and I wasn’t sure if/how I could pull that off. As it turns out, all it takes is a bit more money.
But before addressing those hardware issues, I had to get at least the most critical data ported over from the old box to the new one. This turned out to be incredibly simple, a process that any long-time iPhone user can relate to. In the simplest terms, the two computers were introduced to each other, agreed to go out for drinks and a romantic evening, and when all defenses were down, the new computer pilfered the old one’s purse. It’s a story as old as 80-column punch cards.
I let that process unwind overnight, and when I checked the next morning, the new computer was ready to go with the applications and data I needed to perform the most immediate tasks. Well, sort of. There was a whole slew of third-party applications that aren’t supported by Apple’s latest operating system (version 12, aka Monterey). Some of them were shareware that only needed updates; some were obsolete and could be deleted without angst. But a few others required some extra attention, specifically all of Adobe’s programs, which I rely on daily. The two critical apps are Photoshop and Acrobat, and this is where I had to bite the bullet and hand over my credit card.
If you haven’t kept up with Adobe’s business model over the years, you might not know that you can no longer buy the company’s flagship programs; they’re available only via subscription in something called Creative Cloud. For someone like me, accustomed to owning software rather than renting it, this requirement was hard to swallow, but the alternatives weren’t good either. Fortunately, through a special bundling deal, I got the two aforementioned programs plus a whole slew of others (which I may or may not need in the future…but at least they’re available) for a fairly nominal cost. The benefit of going this route is that the programs are never out-of-date, and I also have the option of storing files in the cloud. That latter option is not a good one right one, given our horrible data and bandwidth limits on our internet account, but if our city ever claws itself into the 21st century, that option will become more attractive.
So, after working my way through the software issues — which took a day or so — I focused on the hardware challenges. First up: how to solve the hard drive expansion question. I turned to my go-to source for Mac hardware: Other World Computing. They sell an external drive enclosure that accommodates four hard drives and connects to a Mac via a single Thunderbolt (USB-C) connection. The Thunderbay 4 arrived yesterday, and before bedtime I had physically transferred three of the old Mac’s hard drives into the new enclosure and confirmed that they mounted properly onto the iMac’s desktop. Then, earlier today I extracted the boot drive from the old box and put it into storage (you know, just in case), and took an older backup boot drive from storage, installed it in the enclosure, erased and reformatted it, and boom! — 10 terabytes of storage on the new computer, even more than on the old one.
The Thunderbay 4-bay hard drive enclosure. It can also be configured
as a RAID with the addition of some software, but I don’t need that capability.
The dual monitor situation was not solved so easily, primarily because I’m an idiot and ordered the wrong adapter to connect the DVI port on the monitor to the Thunderbolt 3 port on the iMac. In my defense, I didn’t know Thunderbolt from Chevy Bolt when I order the new computer, and I certainly didn’t realize there are four iterations of Thunderbolt connections. Had I taken to the time to do a little research, I wouldn’t have made the mistake of getting a DVI-to-DisplayPort/Thunderbolt 2 adapter, which is as useless to me as…well…something really useless. (The correct adapter will arrive next week and should return to me the coveted dual-monitor setup.)
Here’s the new setup as it now appears (yeah, I need to do some cable management). I kept my old wired keyboard and Logitech wireless mouse, because I use the numeric keypad daily, and I like a scroll wheel. Apple’s Magic Mouse is cool, but a bit too touch-sensitive for my taste.
I’ve been using the new computer for a couple of days and despite the pain of the transition, I must admit that I should have done this a long time ago. The resolution on the new iMac’s display is pretty breathtaking and I really could get by without a second monitor because of the size. The speed and power of the new computer is gratifying. I once considered myself a “power user” because of my web development work requirements. That’s no longer the case, but the nobody ever wished their computer was slower, did they?
I’ve still got a learning curve to climb in a couple of areas. Apple no longer supports iMovie (although it still runs),
so I ordered an installation of Apple’s Final Cut Pro to handle video editing projects. I’ve fired it up and the interface doesn’t seem to be that much different from iMovie, but I’m counting on a lot more capabilities and more polished product.
Along those same lines, on the surface the new version of Photoshop doesn’t appear to be much changed from the old and decrepit v. 5.0 I’ve used for years, but there’s still a lot to explore.
For the geekier Gazette gazers (not to be confused with geezers), here’s a brief comparison of the technical specs for the old and new computers.
|Specification||2009 Mac Pro||2020 iMac|
|Operating System||OS X El Capitan (10.11.6)||OS X Monterey (12.0.1)|
|Processor||2.66 GHz Quad-Core Xeon)||3.6 GHz 10-Core Core i9|
|Memory||8 GB 1066 MHz DDR3 ECC||64 GB 2667 MHz DDR4|
|Graphics||ATI Radeon HD 4870 512 MB||AMD Radeon Pro 5500 XT 8 GB|