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Considering New Macintosh Computers?

For years, the Macintosh has been the computer of choice for many photographers, designers, and, by necessity, the print service providers who have to print out their files. Over the years, I’ve found some companies have tried to standardize on one computer platform or another—in other words, just have either Macintosh or PC platforms. The problem with this strategy is that it increases the likelihood of printing errors due to file format problems and font errors. As a result, most companies have to have both a Mac and a PC computer to output files from customers and must update those computers every few years.

The most common Macintosh computer I see used by service providers is the desktop model known as the MacPro. For years, the high-powered MacPro has been the industry standard. That might change with the newest version of the MacPro, which is several thousand dollars more than the previous version, which was already more expensive than a PC. It’s not that the Macintosh platform will no longer be cost justifiable, but it’s possible that the new MacPros with their high prices may not be the Macintosh of choice. Instead, the Macintosh of choice may become the iMac.

I spent a few hours in an Apple Store recently talking to the staff and looking at multiple configurations of iMacs. The latest iMacs offer similar CPUs and offer two advantages: a built in screen and an internal hard drive. In comparison, the new MacPro does not come with the screen or an internal hard drive. The new MacPros use solid-state drives, which is one of the reasons why the costs are so high.

According to the Apple site, “Solid-state drives have no moving parts and are capable of accessing data at speeds up to 215MB per second, which is up to twice the speed of hard drives. In addition, four solid-state drives working together combine to access data at up to 750MB per second.”  There is no doubt that the solid-state drives offer significant improvements in performance, but if you look at the benchmarking specifications you’ll see that the improvement is greatest for people working with music, video, or gaming.

Another concern is that having a limited amount of space on a solid-state drive will require a backup strategy to remove the large files and leave room to work on the drive. That will mean more frequent backups over networks to external drives, servers, or cloud-based services. Backing up large files over the network could create a network bottleneck. In my opinion, I would prefer to use fast and large internal hard drives because they have a much larger capacity requiring less frequent backups. If you’re considering a new Macintosh, consider a 3 TB drive called Fusion, which combines solid-state performance and large capacity. Although not available for the MacPro, it is available for iMacs.

Another challenging question when upgrading from the older MacPros to a newer computer is what to do with the internal hard drives. For example, in my four year old MacPro, I have four internal 2 TB drives. Can those discs be salvaged? The answer is Yes—one idea is to use those internal drives in a RAID storage array attached through a high-speed connection such as Thunderbolt. But the bad news is that you may spend up to $1,000 on the enclosure.

The bottom line here is that if you’re considering upgrading your Macintosh, you don’t necessarily have to spend $4,000 or more on a fully-configured MacPro when you may be able to buy two discounted iMacs from the discontinued section of the Apple Store or by taking advantage of the NAPL discounts for Apple products.

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About Howie Fenton

As an NAPL Senior Consultant, Howie works with commercial and in-plant print shops and industry manufacturers. Consulting directly with printing companies, Howie specializes in the areas of operations and digital production, with a focus on workflow, customer service, estimating and prepress performance and benchmarking, as well as budgeted hourly rates. Howie’s experience and expertise positions him to coach companies on their investment priorities such as web to print, pdf workflows, variable data printing and digital equipment. As a follow-up to that, Howie works with companies to streamline their operations and train their staff to sell the value of the digital technologies. As one of the leading in-plant printing experts, Howie performs in-plant audits and customized surveys that benchmark financial performance, analyze workflow issues, and measure productivity, customer satisfaction, and in-plant competitiveness. His evaluations help clients increase efficiency and reduce costs, and his services are used to benchmark financial and operational performance and to demonstrate or improve that performance. A frequent speaker at industry events, he has written five books and two books on digital printing and variable-data printing and is a regular contributor to several industry publications.

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