How Much are You Spending on Mac Pretension?

by Chris Seibold May 01, 2008

If you've never taken the time to visit a winery, you should. The tour generally goes as you would expect, you get lectured on the barrels and how important they are, how many grapes it takes to make a single bottle of wine and how the must is filtered out. It is interesting if you want to learn about making wine but you can get educational tours anywhere. The payoff with a winery tour comes at the end when you get to taste the wine.

Tasting is when something really interesting happens. You get tiny cups full of wine and you are told what you'll taste. If someone hands you a merlot and says that you'll taste currents and oak you'll taste (not surprisingly) currents and oak. By the time the tasting is done you've had a enough wine that you're a little tipsy and, since drunks are easy to sell to, you buy the complicated bottle that reeks of cherries, lawn darts and boar tongue to serve the next time you have a complex dinner.

A few weeks later, when you get around to cooking the meal and cracking the wine, the discovery is that the wine is neither as complex or as complimentary as you thought it was. It is just regular old Mad Dog 20/20. How can once complex wine with hints of rose petals and acorns become the most banal of table wine? The answer is obvious. When you bought the wine you bought both the description and the wine. When you opened the bottle you got just the wine.*

This brings us to Macs and the goodness thereof. Most Mac users make a conscious decision to use the Mac but there are a few that use the Mac out of necessity. The interesting thing is the different takes the types of users have on the Mac. Those that willfully use the Mac are generally big fans and when something goes wring they'll blame themselves. Those that are forced to use Macs have a different take, for the people in the "have to use a Mac camp" the Mac is far from perfect. Generally they see it as another device with its own set of annoyances and irksome glitches. Not necessarily better or worse than alternatives, simply another machine with another set of issues.

It would seem to be a battle of the kool-aid drinkers versus those that are forced to use the Mac. Can there be reconciliation between the two? Of course not. The Mac users who buy in are always going to spew the happy crap Apple sells and those who feel forced feel naturally bitter.

This brings us to the more important question of how can you separate the amount you want to love your Mac to how much love your Mac is worthy of? Turns out you can't. Like wine drinking the bottle has as much to do with the taste as the liquid inside the bottle. That is to say why you like the Mac isn't as important as how much you like the Mac. In a perfectly logical world you'd coolly choose the best machine for your needs but since the world isn't made up of a bunch of Vulcans go with what makes you happy.

On the other hand, maybe you're wasting money buying more Mac than you need. If you're really all about the Mac experience, how much Mac do you need to get your daily recommended intake of vitamin Steve? We need a way to quantify the feel good part of the Mac experience and separate from the upsell part of the Mac experience.

Separating what you need from what you think you need is trivially easy. Turns out that Apple has been lying to you, well not exactly lying but letting you believe what comes naturally. What you believe is that you need a faster processor. What you believe is that you need a faster hard drive and FireWire 800. What you believe you need is hard drive bays. Apple is happy to let you believe that you require a beefy processor and a dedicated raphics chip while simultaneously selling what you actually need. What you actually need, and "need" is used in the loosest sense of the term, is a Mac Mini.

A Mac mini? No, no, no you'll say I need more than that. I use my computer for four years, if I don't get the latest and greatest I'll be too far behind in computing years to do anything useful. The machine will be too slow. How can I possibly limp along with a external FireWire 400 hard drive for Time Machine? Those thoughts fit in nicely with accumulated computing wisdom which says:

Decide on your budget for a new Machine, add 10% and get the absolute most machine you can for that amount of money.

The reasoning is that the superfast machine you buy today will hold up much longer than the low end machine you buy today. Which is true, the faster the machine you buy right now the longer it will be comfortable to use. That isn't the same as saying that buying the faster machine is the best value. Maybe in the old days, but it isn't true anymore. We can prove this to ourselves with the following exercise:

Original Mac Mini (January 05): $499, Xbench Score:~45

Top of the line G5 Quad (January 05): $3299, Xbench Score: ~130

Mac mini Dual (Current) $799: Xbench Score:~125

Xbench isn't a perfect indicator of computing power but the suite of tests does support the conclusion that high isn't where the best bang for the buck is found, it is at the low end. In this example you would've been better off by buying two Mac minis (you can do stuff on an Intel Mac mini you can't do on a quad core G5) than one top end G5. How much better off? Well, suppose you bought a mini today, it will stack up to the G5 and you'll have two grand left in your pocket for tattoos and such to impress your friends.

The real question is why you don't want a mini. You don't want a mini, supposedly, because it is underpowered. You're a power user after all, using a mini would somehow be beneath you. Yep, you've drunk the kool aid, you've taken huge gulps of the stuff. In fact, you probably have to pee now. Apple is good with your decision by the way, every mini that turns into an iMac means more profit.

Why you're not the 90%

When Steve introduced the mini he said it would cover 90% of users. He was lying (Steve spins the truth better than any politician), his estimate on the number of people who would be well served by the mini was off by 9%. Although erroneous, Steve had made an interesting statement, not because of the breadth of the users covered but because it made 95% of Mac users sure that the mini wasn't for them. Brilliant marketing really, on one hand Apple is kowtowing to those fools who base the decision solely on cost meanwhile the company is telling you that as a rarified Mac user you certainly couldn't get by with a mini. Because you, of course, see yourself in the top 10% of computer users (you are using a Mac after all).

Who doesn’t the mini work for? Anyone with an extra dollar. You don’t want to be the guy who uses the lowest cost mac, you want the Mac that will make folks envious. Not many people are immune to this syndrome. Imagine you wrote the Big Book of Apple Hacks and you decided it was time to get a new computer. That is an instant quandary: Mac Pro or 24" iMac? A rational examination of your computing needs and computing resources reveals that, in fact, a Mac mini would suffice. Remember though, you wrote 600 pages about Apple, wouldn't it be a bit ridiculous for you to have the bottom of the barrel Mac?

The truth is that computers are becoming ever more powerful but users aren't. What was a huge increase in performance isn't the leap it used to be. Going from a 68000 Mac Classic to a 68040 meant palpable time savings and access to programs that weren't usable on the early Macs. But with every chip revision the gulf between the higher end and lower end machine becomes narrower. To give one concrete example: a local publishing place which once relied on tower after tower to fuel the Adobe heavy programs they use have switched from towers to iMacs. This decision was made after heavy analysis. There was simply not enough time savings to justify the added expense of towers.

Perceptions are obviously getting in the way of wise computing decisions when it comes to the Mac and the slow selling mini is the prime example. There's nothing wrong with falling in love with the Mac, most of us can't help it. But there isn't a good reason to buy more Mac than you need just to keep with the web Joneses. That's something I'll keep telling myself right up until the moment I plunk down the cash for a new MacPro.

*It's true. In blinded studies wine snobs couldn't tell very good wine from table wine, or even white wine dyed red from actual red wine. Instead they rated the wine based on the fanciness of the bottle. If they expected good wine the wine got good ratings. If the expected cheap stuff, the wine got bad ratings. Hadley Stern provides an excellent case study here. After I signed on to write The Big Book of Apple Hacks (you can never have too many references to the book in an article) I wanted to do something nice for Hadley to thank him for helping me get the project. I purchased a semi exquisite bottle of port for the guy. Sadly, my longing for alcohol got the better of me and I drank it. I filled the bottle up with isopropyl rubbing alcohol and Robitussen cough syrup, recorked it and sent it to Hadley via UPS. Later, when I asked him how the port was. Hadley said it was very good. Though he did allow that it took some time for his sight to return.


  • Hey Chris,
    Great article. 
    Welcome to the club of “If you don’t love what I love, then I hate you.”
    I think Murphy Brown said it best, when she quipped that “the only important thing was our taste in music.”  (Overpriced at 99 cents, of course.)

    Ring the bell.  Orwell wins again.  (Lemmings are slow learners.)

    Steve Consilvio had this to say on May 02, 2008 Posts: 47
  • “You’re a liar and a Mac hater. And so is everyone associated with Apple Matters/iPhone Matters.”

    Zato3, you wound me sir. I do in fact have four Macs. I currently own a PowerMac g5 1.8 MHz (probably the best computer I’ve ever had), a G4 iBook with the screen removed that displays on an attached monitor (You can read all about doing that project in the Big Book of Apple Hacks), a MacPro I ordered on the day of release and a white MacBook I recently purchased to duplicate the mobility of the now stationary iBook.
    As far as iPods go: I’ve got an iPod shuffle, the silver one 1 GB (my favorite iPod by the way). An original iPod nano (the black one, color screen 4 GB you can discover how to make a really cheap iPod case in the Big Book of Apple hacks and see the nano as the nano used as the guinea pig), a 30 GB black Pirates of the Caribbean iPod and an 80 GB pirates iPod still unopened in the box.
    I got an iPhone the day the thing was released from an AT&T;store, I even stood in line for a few hours. I’ve got an apple TV , I watched No country for old men in HD on it (looked great) and sometime in the next week I’ll be picking up an airport extremem base station.

    But wait, there is more. I built an entire desk around a G5 before I bought the G5. That is some forward thinking for a Mac hater. Pics or it didn’t happen? Glad you asked:
    My Desk!
    See, I was using a G4 at the time but i knew a g5 wasn’t too far away so I designed the desk to accomodate the upgrade. I can’t help it, I get the techno lust sometimes.

    But will any of this make a believer out of you? Will the fact that about half the stuff I write gets me accused of being an apple sycophant ameliorate your obviously heartfelt concerns? Likely not, words won’t sway some from the fervently held beliefs however erroneous they may be. So I recorded a special video just for you. To let you know how much I really love Macs.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on May 02, 2008 Posts: 354
  • Thanks Steve, but I think this must be the club of “If you love what I love for the wrong reasons I hate you.”
    On the bright side, I finally made it in a club!

    Chris Seibold had this to say on May 02, 2008 Posts: 354
  • I would have sworn zato’s comments were intended to be satirical. Clearly my expectations were too high.

    A good article and a good lesson. To everyone who has been criticizing Seibold for hating Macs, rememember, as he himself points out: This isn’t limmited Macs. Apple happens to have some of the best marketers around, but there certaintly not the only people trying to screw you out of your hard-earned dough.

    simo66 had this to say on May 02, 2008 Posts: 78
  • Financially, we probably should buy a cheaper computer and continue to make payments into a savings account to buy the next generation on schedule.

    But we’ve got to know whether we have that kind of dicipline.  And we’ve got to be willing to move everything to the new computer before giving our old computer to our grandchildren.

    And being able to show off our latest toy is worth a fair amount of money (the excess between what I need and what I want is “toy”).  We don’t get value in just fulfilling our needs - we also get value in having a show off.  Look at all of the trucks with fancy chrome, detailing, and high-definition radios!

    I was going to buy a Mac Pro this Christmas for myself - the only thing that stopped me was that Apple didn’t have the same motherboard the cheaper Pro and the more powerful one - I wanted upgradeability, and they didn’t offer it.  (I couldn’t afford everything at once).

    So I’m showing off my 24” iMac instead.

    Howard Brazee had this to say on May 05, 2008 Posts: 54
  • When we move from logic to religion, we cannot put cost-benefit analyses on which Macs you buy then.

    And “My choice is right therefore your choice is wrong” is religion, of the sort that virtually all modern wars are based upon.

    It’s fun going to the services of Steve Jobs - but excommunicating you because you agree with him differently from some other church members is worse than silly.

    Howard Brazee had this to say on May 05, 2008 Posts: 54
  • Damn Chris! you need to get out and get some sun dude! That is some white skin bud!


    krreagan had this to say on May 05, 2008 Posts: 10
  • Krreagan,
    That isn’t a picture of me. That is a snap of the guy who beat me up last week. Why he felt the need to pose after the win I’ll never know.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on May 05, 2008 Posts: 354
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