Kionon's Guide to Buying a Mac
The Best Apple Macintosh For Every AMV Mac Editor's Situation
I just purchased an Early 2008 Mac Pro 3,1 as a dedicated editing rig and work computer. This was a machine I had wanted to purchase, admittedly, since it was new in 2008, but could never justify the price. But why would I buy an early 2008 machine in early 2017? Well, let’s talk about that and go over your options for being a Mac editor.
If you’re a Mac Editor looking for a replacement or are considering the switch to macOS for various reasons, you have three options, you can buy a new Mac from Apple or an authorised reseller or you can build a typical computer and install macOS on it, also known as a hackintosh, or you can buy something used. Reasons you might be switching to Mac for the first time could be work or school related. I purchased my first Mac because it was recommended for my university journalism classes and the student newspaper used Macs.
Let’s consider the advantages and disadvantages of each of these purchase options:
1. New Mac
- - Recent Specs
- Recent Hardware
- Warranty and Support
- Unbox Therapy
- Longish support life
- “Just works,” usually
- - May be underpowered
- Port differences so…
- May not work with current externals/peripherals
- No downgrade/no support for legacy apps
- - More choice in components
- More power
- ADD ALL THE PORTS
- Cheap or less expensive
3. Used Mac
- - DIY
- Extra installation and set up
- No support
- - More combination choices
- Greater upgradeability/expandability
- Standard Case Design for 2008-2012 Mac Pros
- Less expensive
- Keeps value
- Limited support
I. New Mac Purchase Options
MacBooks, MacBooks Everywhere
- - Research is a must
- Who is the seller?
It seems, especially with high school students, university students, and young professionals you almost can't go anywhere without seeing the iconic MacBook
in some form or another. And generally speaking, if one thinks about getting a Mac, especially as a student, this is often going to be the first thought. However, in the current Mac line up, you have some issues which might cause problems if your focus for a machine is going to be AMV editing. This centers around how the current line up lacks much in the way of upgrades, expansion, or even self-repair. Not good if you need to make incremental changes to keep up with the general trends of the hobby.
If, on the other hand, this is going to be your only
machine, and you need it for a wide range of tasks like all the normal web surfing, paper writing, presentation making, email checking "computer stuff," and you need it to be portable so it can be taken to class, and that's because it is required by your school, but you still want it to keep you entertained, then a MacBook of some sort is going to be your best bet here. In graduate school, I found my MacBook Pro to be more than adequate to this task, plus it does pretty darn good for editing. And for you, this is probably where you can stop reading. It's impossible to go over all the different permutations here of MacBooks, MacBook Pros, and MacBook Airs that Apple currently offers, but in general, assume that what you buy is what you get, and what you get is what you will have. Forever.
If you’re looking for a dedicated editing machine, as I was, then it is likely that you won't be looking for a MacBook (you probably already have one, or are in a situation where mobile computing needs are not as necessary). For editing desktops your next two options are really just the iMac and the Mac Pro 2013.
But wait... What about the Mac Mini?
Well, it’s a capable machine for what it is, but it’s not suitable for being a dedicated editing machine in my opinion. First, because it has essentially not had a refresh since 2014, and that refresh was itself two steps backwards. The CPU and the RAM are soldered to the motherboard and cannot be replaced, at least the RAM could be replaced in the previous versions. And second, there is no longer a quad core processor and the highest configuration of ram is 8GBs. Frankly, that's almost the base level these days. My 2008 Mac Pro has 10GB, expandable to 64 (peak performance gained at 56), and my 2012 MacBook Pro has been fitted with the maximum of 16GBs. As far as new options go, the Mac Mini is a really bad one. It's already aging badly, and it's still for sale.
So what about the iMac?
Better. Better specs, comes with a built in monitor that you can get in Retina 5K, and it’s technically
upgradeable and expandable. I say technically
because you have to remove everything in the computer in order to replace almost any part, the exception being the RAM. The CPU is upgradeable and the solid state drive (SSD) and hard drive (HDD) are upgradeable (but ONLY if you get the version with both an SSD and an HDD at the time of purchase, otherwise Apple will not provide a HDD cable in the SSD only models), but it’s an awful lot of hassle to do it because you have to remove the screen. Very
carefully. Most people would probably just start using externals everywhere, just as they would with the Mac Mini, and that defeats the purpose of a dedicated editing rig, in my view. A useful feature that is of definite use to an editor is the iMac's ability to drive a second monitor from its thunderbolt/mini-displayport. This is also done with a MacBook, of course, but there are monitors you can find and adjust to be very similar or nearly the same as the built in display, so you have two equal dual monitors. Still, the issue with iMacs is that they are mostly suitable for editing situations that don't require a lot of change or a lot of movement. My high school broadcasting program (of which Kumorigoe
and I were founding members nearly 20 years ago) now uses a computer lab full of iMacs for teaching editing and other creative projects. All of these machines are updated or replaced on a cycle and by professionals. The users, the students, are not able to make individualised decisions about components. I've seen similar setups in newsrooms I've worked in. These situations are where the iMac really shines, but it doesn't translate to AMV editors using personal computers.
What about the Mac Pro 2013?
This one is going to be right out for most in the demographic this post is written towards: AMV editors. Editors tend to skew younger, less affluent (usually due to youth), and only just come in at the bottom edge of the “prosumer” category. That’s no insult, it applies to me, too. Although I did get some formal education in Radio Television Film/Broadcasting/Journalism, most of my paid work has been written, and I am not a professional editor, and except perhaps maybe some monetised Tube videos at some point, I am unlikely to ever be. Not only is the Mac Pro 2013 only upgradeable in very specific ways due to its "trashcan" design and the direction of components as tied to workflow ended up going a different direction than Apple designers originally thought, but now the Mac Pro 2013 is underpowered versus its price point. Apple has dropped the price, but not nearly enough. Furthermore, Phil Schiller recently announced that Apple is looking to have a new "modular" Mac Pro sometime in 2018. Future Mac Pro will canabalise Present Mac Pro sales, and rightly so. Even if you have the money and the need, I'd suggest you hold off.
II. Build Your Own "Hackintosh."
Apple founder and CEO until his death, Steve Jobs, has been quoted as having said, "why join the Navy when you can be a pirate?" And at that time, Apple was the pirate and IBM and other institutions of business technology (including, eventually, Microsoft with its MS-DOS and Windows products on so-called "IBM-compatibles") made up the Navy. But my how the seas of fortune have changed in the many years since the Macintosh debuted in 1984. Apple is currently the world's most valuable company (often traded with Google in recent years) and macOS runs on the same Intel processors, many of the same chipsets, graphics cards, and RAM modules as "PCs" (the replacement term for "IBM-compatibles") and indeed, there is nary a technical difference between them. There is now no reason why Apple's software experience cannot be had without an Apple branded and designed system.
Enter the Hackintosh, a homebuilt "PC" system that runs Apple's macOS, in either an "unsupported" configuration of components, or with components that are themselves unsupported (leading to amateur solutions to create compatibility). Please note, the legality of running macOS on non-Apple branded/designed system is in dispute in various jurisdictions, and doing so is a clear violation of the End User Licensing Agreement (EULA), even if there is no question of legality where you live. You must decide if your own approach to ethics allows you to proceed with such an installation. Assuming you choose to do so, be aware that when I say "unsupported," I really mean it.
Let"s be clear, despite being known as one of the strongest proponents of Mac editing, and genuine Apple hardware specifically, I'm not at all unfamiliar with the hackintosh process. My first owned macOS system might have been an original 1.5GHz G4 PPC Mac Mini, but my first main
MacOS system was itself a hackintosh. In 2008 (as documented on the A-M-V.Org forums), tired of having issues with Windows dying in the middle of projects, I did about the only action I thought would allow me to finish my Premiere 6.x based projects... I took my 3.2GHz Intel Pentium 4, 3GB RAM Shuttle PC and put macOS 10.5.x Leopard on it. I had made my first Hackintosh. And, surprisingly, it ran very well until other some older components finally couldn't keep up with the demands I was placing on the system (It was already an older system when I put macOS on it).
In general, my experience installing macOS on unsupported hardware, even in 2008 was relatively simple, and from what I have been able to read, was generally much easier than others' experiences. I benefited from the fact that some of my hardware components were shared with the Intel Mac Mini and detected right out of the box. Other components had community written drivers, and that was great... But there were a number of issues I had which did NOT work out of the box. My onboard WiFi didn't work (but I had an external wifi dongle that had a Mac driver), my sound card took some tries to get to work, and the biggest issue was getting my Nvidia card to work. It worked in the sense that I could get a usable interface, but until I sat down, did a bunch of reading, and taught myself how to write my own "kexts" or "kernal extensions" (essentially macOS drivers) in order to write myself a video driver. Between the required learning and doing, it took me days to get macOS operating the way I wanted. But when I did, it was worth it... for a while.
These days, hackintoshing your system isn't likely to be as difficult as it was for me, because I couldn't go shopping ahead of time. I had a computer which Windows wouldn't run on, I owned a copy of Leopard I had already purchased, and I didn't have the funds to purchase a new system, especially not one with an operating system I hadn't ever used as my main system. However, when considering a new system, you have an advantage I did not nine years ago: shopping lists. The various hackintosh communities have lists of builds with detailed information about compatability and/or if community solutions have been created. It's much easier to get closer to the "just works" idea Apple has always striven to market than when the hackintosh trend was first started.
That said, it's generally agreed, hackintoshes will always be more unstable and finicky than comparable genuine Mac systems.
There are many people willing to take "good enough" for other advantages, but I feel strongly that hackintoshes are largely a "try before you buy" solution. Without my own positive hackintosh experience, I would not have likely felt comfortable enough to make macOS not just my primary operating system but my only
operating system. However, I never seriously considered replacing my hackintosh with another hackintosh, because I prioritised stability over all other factors.
But is there anyone for whom a hackintosh really is the best option? Yes, I think so. And that is the gamer. There is considerable overlap between heavy gamers and anime video editors. I'm not in this group, but many people are. Even if some editors agree that the Mac platform works best for them as far as editing, Macs are generally not, and never have been, gaming machines because macOS has never been gaming software in the modern sense. Having a hackintosh makes considerable sense for the heavy gamer, because when not being used for editing, it can be used as a normal Windows-based gaming PC. In that case, you sacrifice a very high level of stability for access to a particularly powerful gaming machine. This seems to me to be very good trade off. But for everyone else, I think the hackintosh introduces issues that provide no overarching benefit to a macOS only user.
If you are determined to go the hackintosh route, then "it's dangerous to go alone, take this:" (OSx86
III. Buying A Used Mac
One of the major issues with very recent computer technology is increasing levels of planned obsolescence. This is my major complaint with the current Mac line up, and current Apple products in general, but despite a lot of Apple bashing, the truth is a number of technology companies do this. The concept itself is much, much older than the computer industry, let alone Apple, and certainly much, much older than Apple's current lineup of products. That said, there is a noticeable difference between Macs made a few years ago and ones made today which is definitely worth discussion.
Why I Chose My MacBook Pro and Mac Pro
Be aware, however, that the MacBook Pro 2012 model is the last model to be user upgradable, and easily at that (also battery changes are super easy). I bought a Mid-2012 MacBook Pro 13” in March of 2015, and you can see here that my MacBook Pro was manufactured in February of 2015, so it’s only barely more than two years old. 2012 specs, but a newer machine in age. It’s also the last machine to have firewire, and while firewire is essentially a dead port for the average consumer, given USB 3.0 and Type-C, it was an absolute must for me personally, and let me be blunt, I STILL use firewire today. You can take my firewire from me when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. I’ve already decided that for my next MacBook, I will go one of two directions, either I’ll go towards a Late 2011/Early 2012 MacBook Pro 15” or 17” with an Intel i7 for the very same user expandability, or I’ll go towards a new MacBook which I won’t use for editing at all, so I won’t care about expandability or upgradeability.