My first laptop was an AT&T Safari running Windows 3.1 that I bought using my employee discount in 1993. It was fine for spreadsheets and word processing but was woefully underpowered for running Photoshop or Director. Even the games that I wrote at the time were barely able to run on it. So my main computer for many years was a desktop. Usually it was the second most powerful Apple computer that Apple sold. And I replaced it every 18 months or so. In July of 2000 I got an Apple G3 laptop that was capable of doing real work. It lasted a bit longer than my typical desktop and was used for testing games for at least 10 years. It still ran, albeit too slow to browse the current internet, when I recycled it a few months ago. After that I used a couple of G4 laptops and handed them down when newer models came out that were significantly faster. I bought my last laptop in June of 2006 and have been happily developing web pages, Director programs, and apps with it. It runs Photoshop and Flash fine and I’d still be using it if I didn’t need a computer that runs Mountain Lion. I briefly borrowed a newer Apple laptop and I am now using a Mac mini. I can’t really tell much difference in the speed compared to my almost 7 year old laptop. The biggest difference is the hard drive. I upgraded my laptop to a 500 GB drive a few years ago and I’m using most of it. The mini has a terabyte drive and it’s nice to have the extra space.
So why did I buy a Mac mini when I’ve been happily using laptops for years? Three reasons. I work at home and at the office, so I need to have the same data in both places. I don’t go into the office as often now but when I do, I can unplug the mini and take it with me. The second reason I liked my laptop was because I used it to look stuff up when reading, watching TV, gardening, etc. But now I have an iPad Mini and an iPod Touch so I don’t use the laptop the same way I used to. All of the information I need can be found with the iDevices. Plus they are much more portable than the laptop. The iPad Mini also lets me watch iTunes University courses and from time to time Netflix.
But probably the deciding factor was performance and price. The Mac mini was $864 including tax. I already have a couple of monitors. The big Samsung is great for coding and the smaller ViewSonic holds mail, files, and miscellaneous code just fine. It has great color fidelity for the times when I need to edit photos. The Mac mini comes with two video ports and an HDMI to DVI Adapter cable, so I connected the Samsung to the HDMI port with the adapter and the ViewSonic to the mini-Display port with my current adapter. It has four USB ports, which aren’t nearly enough on their own, but with a couple of 4 port dongles I could connect my iDevices, Logitech Mouse, and Dell QuietKey keyboard. Two backup hard drives remain behind my big monitor.
I added a Jawbone JAMBOX to get better sound. Since that’s the main selling point of my apps, I need to be able to hear things well. But it was only $164. And that’s all the extra stuff I had to buy.
So for $1,028 I got a 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, 4GB RAM (expandable to 16 GB for $168 from Crucial if I need to) and a 1TB hard drive. The same specs in a laptop are $2,160. For me, that’s a significant difference. I suppose if I worked at client locations or coffee shops, I’d need laptop. But, since I don’t, it seems like a waste of money to me. Even the lower spec laptop at $1,620 is almost twice what I spent on the Mac mini.
I’ve been using this setup for a month now and it works really well. About the only thing I need to change is to organize the rat’s nest of cables behind the monitor.
Update: As of April 2015 I still don’t need the extra RAM. And I did fix the rat’s nest of cables as I describe in this post.
Update: Summer 2016. My laptop is still going strong, but my wife’s 2009 MacBook is starting to have problems with the trackpad and is a bit slow for editing photos. I considered getting her a Mac Mini, but she works in a variety of places so she needs a laptop. I like the retina display on the MacBook Pros, but they haven’t been refreshed for four years. The MacBook on the other hand just came out. It is light and much smaller than the MacBook it replaces. Speed hasn’t been a problem and she is getting used to using Pixelmator and Acorn, so she doesn’t miss Photoshop. If I need a laptop, We got the low-end model and it works just fine—especially compared to the old one. As a bonus, it plays Netflix and other video sites fine.