So, this happened:
Yes, I bought a new Mac Pro. For certain values of “new”. Hear me out, though, after the jump.
So, my last post was about my angst about replacing my 2008 Mac Pro tower, the best Mac I’ve ever owned. So what happened? Well, upon further reflection:
- The idea of a 2012 Mac Pro, even the CPU-upgraded Ramjet aftermarket ones, fell off the radar because with Apple’s definition of obsolescence, that hardware will become unmaintainable as soon as 2018.
- Similarly, someone pointed out that with the very idea of a third-party graphics card no longer in any of Apple’s shipping Macs, it could become difficult for the Hackintosh community to keep going. No idea if this is true, but it makes sense, I guess?
- If I wanted a year-old iMac, or the new MacBook Pro, I could have bought either of those ages ago and wouldn’t be in this position.
- Waiting isn’t really an option, with my 2008 machine not supported by Sierra.
I think my needs, for development and especially for video work (Motion and Wirecast, mainly) are best served by the Mac Pro. Even the pathetic, three-year-old Mac Pro, because what I want is lots of cores, silent operation, and expandability of RAM and storage, something the iMac and MacBook Pro can’t offer.
I’d been catching up financially for a while, and finally had a $4,000-5,000 budget to work with. What made finally pull the trigger, ironically, was Tim Cook’s ham-fisted, half-assed claim that desktop Macs remain strategically important to Apple. Marco Arment parsed this as suggesting the Mac Pro is likely dead within Apple, given the fact that Cook explicitly equated the concept of the desktop with the iMac and only with the iMac.
If Marco’s right, then the choice is either today’s Mac Pro, or no Mac Pro.
So, I ordered. I’d kept my custom configuration page open for a couple days while I figured out monitors and external storage, and one morning found the estimated ship date had slipped almost a week. In the end, I ordered on December 22, and the custom-built machine didn’t even ship until a week later on the 29th. There’s likely a holiday break involved here, but it’s a safe bet the delay was not caused by excessive demand for the model. Indeed, I have to wonder if they only run the Austin factory one or two days a week at this point.
I got a six-core computer… I really wish I could have afforded eight, but I just couldn’t come up with another thousand bucks. That money went into my peripherals. I got an OWC ThunderBay 4 to hold my big 3.5″ HDDs.
I know what you’re thinking, spinning disks are quaint and wrong here in 2017. Well, not when you can get 4TB for $300, they’re not. I use my big disks for video, where the drive head moving around is the least of your bottlenecks: for playback, you’re reading slowly in one direction (audio and video samples in QuickTime files are interleaved for the expressed purpose of making file I/O easier), and for editing or compressing, the CPU/GPU is more of a bottleneck. Putting your iTunes collection and your iOS device backups on SSDs is kind of a waste (to say nothing of Time Machine backups). Only downside here is that the ThunderBay is louder than I would have liked, although I have it on the floor behind the desk… it kind of sounds like the HVAC or the wind outside, and isn’t so loud that I think I’ll pick it up on my mic (maybe if it were an omni, but it’s a cardioid).
For the screen, I bought a 28″ 4K monitor from NewEgg (I often shop there as a form of thanks for them fighting the good fight against patent trolls). I’m not actually running it in 3840 x 2160, of course; I’m doing the HiDPI thing and basically getting a 1920 x 1080 Retina monitor out of the deal.
I freaking love finally having Retina on my desktop. It looks so great to have the Mac UI in high resolution at a size where I can really appreciate it (as opposed to staring at my work laptop all day). Only problem at the moment is the HDMI connection seems only able to drive the display at 30Hz; I’m told I have to go Thunderbolt to get 60Hz. Fortunately, the monitor has both HDMI and DisplayPort (full-size) inputs, so I’ve ordered a suitable cable and hopefully that fixes it.
I haven’t pushed the computer too hard yet, having only had it for a few days, and having too much work to do on the iOS 10 SDK Development book to afford to take a night off to livestream stuff. I did take the opportunity to reshoot about a third of the images in the book to get them up to Retina resolution, focusing on small elements like icons and inline error messages that get scaled up in the book. They should be a lot less blocky for everyone who just got the beta 3 release that went out today. Just before blogging, I took one of my Motion projects with a couple layers of composited effects and scrubbed around it and exported the file, and it was unsurprisingly much faster than the 2008 Mac Pro.
I made one other Apple-related financial decision last week, and it was a big one.
That’s a sell order for AAPL stock in my IRA. I’ve blurred some specifics, but the number of shares is in the low four-digits. At over $100/share, you do the math.
Also, this was my entire position in AAPL. For the first time since 1998, I do not hold any Apple stock.
I bought AAPL after rolling my 401k over into an IRA after leaving Turner (I worked at Headline News for three years). This was 1998, and everyone thought that I was nuts to invest in Apple in such dark days. My belief was that computers that people could actually use and enjoy was an important value, and something that Apple could deliver on. Obviously, they did. I bought more after rolling over another 401k in the early 2000s. I did sell some of my position in a panic during the Apple stock backdating scandal, but held a lot of stock throughout the entire rise of the iPhone, with dividends reinvested into more shares.
That’s kind of what prompted my decision. Looking at my IRA, the incredible growth in Apple made me badly overweight in the company. Your IRA shouldn’t be 70% all one company, no matter what company it is.
So I needed to sell some of it to diversify. But honestly, I look at what Apple’s doing nowadays and ask myself if this is still what I believed in back in 1998. I’m not a fan of the new MacBook Pro, with what seems like a gimmicky Touch Bar (let’s give it a year and see if it’s any more salient a feature than Force Touch) and a de facto $500 price hike. In the Mac line, at least, 2017 Apple seems a lot like 1994 Apple: misguided products, propped up by gouging the loyalists. The difference is that today’s Apple isn’t dependent on computers, and indeed barely cares about them thanks to the timespace-warping enormity of the iPhone. It’s like being in an alternate timeline where the Newton was a smash success, so the Sculley/Spindler era went on indefinitely.
One piece that caught my eye after putting through my sell order was Apple survived a horrible 2016 and the end of its golden age. Now what? by Chris O’Brien in Venture Beat. He notes that Apple posted year-over-year revenue declines in every quarter last year, joking “naturally, the stock is up about 10 percent so far this year.” Which would be a good joke, but if you run a comparison financial chart, that’s barely keeping pace with NASDAQ for the year, and well behind the Dow Jones Industrials.
So, why put 70% of my retirement in Tim Cook and Jony Ive, when they don’t outperform a nice, boring, safe index fund?
I’m honestly not sure Apple is even a consumer electronics company anymore. I’m starting to think they’re more a fashion and luxury goods company instead. When they make the devices thinner just for aesthetics, at a genuine cost to their performance or utility, the old “form over function” slam rings a little more true than it used to. As does the idea of charging high prices because they can; it’s been a while since we’ve seen anyone rebut the “Apple Tax” by configuring equivalent hardware in the PC or Android space… maybe because us Apple fans wouldn’t like the results?
And if they are a luxury goods company, why would I invest in that? The whole reason I bought AAPL in the first place was from reading Motley Fool back in the day (on AOL even! yes, I’m old!), whose emphasis on buying single stocks came from knowing what a company did and how it could be profitable doing that. I understood Apple in the 90s and believed that if they kept doing the right thing, they would succeed. They did, and I was rewarded handsomely for believing in them. But now, what the heck am I supposed to think when they’re maybe making a car, or making $300 coffee table books to celebrate how great they are? This makes no damn sense to me, so it’s time for me to be out.
The Mac Pro, I understand. I wish it had been updated, and I surely overpaid wildly for what I got. But I can be pretty confident it’ll give me about five years of solid productivity in Xcode, Motion, Wirecast and the other apps I depend on for my work. That’s an investment I can still get behind.