September 8, 2008

Computer Systems and Updates

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The one thing I decided to do with the money from the house was to update my computer systems. My portable is three years old (bless its heart) and the desktop, a Mac Mini, is half that age.

The Mini been a workhorse and very stable. The little box has been maxed out with 2 gig of RAM. The machine struggles with the software I’m running. My current freelance projects use InDesign and Photoshop or require Windows XP software running in Parallels (virtual machine). Photoshop and InDesign can run, albeit very slowly.

Parallels is a whole other ball of wax. Parallels uses allocated system resources when Windows XP is started in a virtual machine. In my case, Parallels takes slightly less than half of the available system memory and only 16 MB of the video RAM (64 MB shared memory, Intel 950 integrated graphics). Mac OS X.4 does not run very well with ~1 gig of RAM; XP doesn’t run very well either.

I also have a household linux server which is used primarily as a backup machine and file server. It’s very solid — and quite old for a computer. It’s a Pentium II, 400 mHz system running Fedora Core 2 (yup, that’s the correct OS number). Got it up and running five or six years ago and haven’t had to mess with it since. The linux box is in an old Dell case: solid steel and weighs about 60 pounds. The power supply or CPU fan is also starting to die. It would be nice to replace the box with something smaller.

I’m hoping to replace the linux box with the Mac Mini. The Mini is the perfect size. The setup concerns include getting the login directory area to be located on an external hard drive and transferring files from Fedora Core 2 to something Mac OS X will read. It should be pretty straightforward. (Heh. Yeah, that’s the kiss of death on any project.)

If I move the Mac Mini, where does that leave my desktop? With what I do, a lightweight portable (focus on portable and not powerful) and a beefy desktop work best. The desktop tends to be around for 4-5 years because the system can be upgraded, provided the starting system isn’t initially a low end one.

What should I do about the portable? I have wanted a Mac Book Pro for quite some time. They are pretty expensive machines, so I’ve held off. I couldn’t justify getting one machine that almost cost more than my last three systems combined.

What do you do when you have Mac software and want a better system? You look for alternatives on Craigslist. The used Mac Book Pros and Mac Pros averaged $1500+. It’s not bad, but you never know what shape the system will really be in. So no luck there.

I did find a netbook on Craigslist: an Acer Aspire One. Netbooks are small (7″-10″) portables with lower system stats and lower price tags. The 8.9″ Aspire One has two configurations: 512MB RAM and an 8 gig solid state drive running linux or with 1 gig RAM and a 120 gig hard drive running Windows XP Home. The price difference is about $30-40. Both configurations use the new Intel Atom processor and have a good selection of ports (ethernet, 3 USB, 2 SD/XD card slots, monitor adapter, audio in/out, and built-in wifi). The Acer Aspire One is also known for having a good keyboard.

The Aspire One is cute. Dainty keyboard that is just big enough to type on if you don’t have large hands. The screen is very clear and overall quite nice. I couldn’t resist its cuteness.

The interesting thing? The Aspire One can run other operating systems. When I purchased my Aspire One, the guy had installed Vista Ultimate on it. Imaging my surprise when several forums reported that OS X could be installed…

(I’m not advocating using bootlet OSes or anything like that but it is possible to use hardware other than Apple’s with OS X retail version. Dig around. You’ll find information. )

So I now have an Acer Aspire One sitting on my desk in all it’s blue cuteness. It’s wonderful — especially since it will run all of my software.

Now I just have to decide what to do about the desktop…

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