Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter — Issue #1019

Gene Steinberg

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Gene Steinberg's Mac Radio Newsletter
July 18, 2021


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THE ROAD TO BECOMING OBSOLETE

No, this article is not so much about electronic gadgetry than a personal observation, something that one might regard as inevitable. But I’ll pull through it.

So over the years, I was always more or less at the front of the line in buying new computing hardware. Not that I had lots of money to burn, but I was able to juggle my finances in such a way as to be able to finance the latest and greatest gear from Apple.

Now having current gear really didn’t help all that much with my productivity. After all, the actual performance boosts from year to year were generally fairly slight. Indeed, the 1994 introduction of the PowerPC chip was, for a while, a step behind. Almost all of the apps I used had to be run in emulation mode till they were updated — if they were updated. That meant existing basically two processor families behind. Apps launched slower, everything ran slower, and it wasn’t the chip matured, and apps came along, that things were improved noticeably.

But having to write about current hardware meant that I had to suffer from the bugs.

When Apple went to Intel in 2006, however, I mostly observed improvements, even with Rosetta emulation. That’s largely because PowerPC development had languished for several years, with only modest speed boosts. After years boasting that the Mac could eat a PC for lunch, that was no longer quite true, especially for notebooks, since the PowerPC G5 was never tamed for portables. That’s one of the reasons Apple made a processor switch.

But I still managed an upgrade every year or two until I didn’t.

So that state of affairs continued until 2009, when I sold a Mac Pro and 30-inch Dell display and replaced it with a 27-inch iMac. While you’d think that was a bad decision, the fact is that the smaller display wasn’t that much smaller, and it provided more performance. Even better, the amount I received when I sold it (to Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus if you must know) was sufficient to finance the new computer and a backup drive. That move can in handy when I hit a financial wall in 2010 for reasons I won’t bore you with.

By 2013, I upgraded RAM, and switched to an SSD, which delivered a healthy performance spark. In 2015, a relative helped me finance a new 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina Display. This was the so-called “Late 2014” version. I even managed to get a decent return when I sold the old Mac to a colleague, and the new computer served me well through 2019, when I replaced a failed Fusion Drive (both the SSD and the hard drive).

Since then, Apple has made it “vintage,” meaning, according to Apple, that the company stopped selling them more than five and less than seven years ago. Once Apple hasn’t sold a product for over seven years, it’s considered “obsolete,” meaning the company won’t offer any repair services. So I have another year before I’ll have to rely on a third-party repair service to get it fixed. But I have to hope that dual drive replacement will be sufficient to carry me through.

Then there is the next macOS, code-named Monterey. While my iMac manages Big Sur quite well, thank you, Apple has decided to exclude it from the list of supported hardware for the new release, making it the first OS my iMac will not be able to use.

Now in the scheme of things, it’s not a catastrophe. The apps I use run fine in Big Sur, and I expect they will continue to be updated for a while yet. My other machine is a 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro, which Apple abandoned years ago, and the software it uses, by and large, continues to be updated. Regardless, I don’t travel near as much as I used to, and the last time it saw more than occasional service was back in 2019, when the iMac sat in an Apple Store for repair. By hooking it up to the same keyboard, mouse and peripherals, I didn’t suffer much except for the smaller display. It has an SSD, which helped.

In the scheme of things, people keep their personal computers longer nowadays. Whether you have a Mac or a PC, you are certainly able to remain productive. I will still be able to write columns and host a weekly radio show. Indeed, J. Randall Murphy, cohost for The Paracast, has two PCs, one of which continues to use Windows 7. And it’s questionable whether his faster machine, essentially a custom-built unit with Windows 10 installed, will be up to the task of meeting Microsoft’s more rigorous requirements for Windows 11.

But I have to consider the future even at my advanced age, and my current computer may be regarded as a ticking time bomb. Any major repair will cost hundreds of dollars, and would it be worth it?

Most of you regular readers know that I am eyeing a fleshed-out 24-inch M1 iMac as what may well be my last computer. Not being top-end model is not much of a sacrifice, since it is probably twice as fast as the unit I have now, maybe even faster with a true SSD to keep things moving along. I had no difficulty downsizing from a 30-inch display 12 years ago, and I do not think losing another three inches of screen real estate will have a critical impact on my current workflow.

I’ll just move it a little closer.

In saying that, I don’t subscribe to the oft-repeated contention that Apple is in a mad rush to obsolete older gear, so they can sell you newer machines. There are usually logical reasons why operating systems are no longer compatible with such equipment. It’s not just to boost sales, but to add features that can only be exploited by current CPUs and GPUs. You could suggest Apple ought to focus more on backwards compatibility, but there comes a time when the new OS features will be severely crippled as a result. How does that help Apple advance a platform?

Besides, Apple makes the lion’s share of its profits from selling new products and services, not on overcharging for repairs. Within reason, they have every reason to want you to place your order. Besides, being able to run a new OS on computers up to five years old and mobile gear up to four years old isn’t so bad a thing.

And one more thing: Published reports suggest Apple will not only introduce faster Apple Silicon chips this fall and in 2022. A larger iMac running one of those enhanced chips is probably under development. With smaller screen bezels, it might have a 30-inch display along with pro specs that will dwarf what current Intel-based hardware can manage. I’ve waited this long, and putting together a few hundred more dollars for a heftier upgrade may make sense for a long-term investment.

Or maybe not. Will the additional expense of a larger iMac make me more productive with my existing workflow? Questions, questions. But I suspect the answer will probably be no, and I shall consider that as I gaze upon the empty piggy bank.

THE FINAL WORD

Gene Steinberg’s Mac Radio Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.

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