Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Equiping the entrepeneur/researcher – buying a new computer

Posted by shannonclark on October 10, 2006

Later this month I will buy at least one new computer, possibly a couple of systems. These systems will be for work purposes (but also some fun) so while price matters, it is not my only or even primary concern. Rather, I am looking for the right mix of components to support a wide variety of future needs – all while, I hope, helping make me more productive and successful in the future.

What my uses will be

For the desktop system(s) I will be using this as my primary hub, a repository for lots of data, a testbed for visualization techniques, a development/staging server for some light programming (see my recent post on the Netflix Prize for one such use). I plan on running multiple OSes (either via dual boot or tools such as Parallels). In addition to research, writing and blogging from this system, I also anticipate doing some light audio recording/editing, some video editing, and much increased use of digital photos. And while it won’t be my primary use, I also do hope to catch up on the games I have missed playing for many years and perhaps dip into Second Life and WoW.

From a technology standpoint I have a few, relatively simple requirements. I will run this system as a dual monitor system, probably with dual 23″+ monitors (either Apple Cinema Displays or the Dell 24″ display) -not the cheapest option but very sharp, very high resolution, and will finally give me more then enough pixels to really use all the tools and capabilities of my system.

At a minimum I want 500GB of storage, I’m currently downloading about 400mb+ of new podcasts every day (currently deleting them after listening in most cases), most of my relatively small cd collection remains unripped for lack of space, and I have only barely touched on digital video – almost never using bittorrent etc to download videos, let alone editing or making my own.

For future proofing and the programming I’ll be doing, I’m planning on at least 2gb of relatively fast RAM, and I expect to upgrade this in a relatively short timeframe to more like 4gb or even more.

Since my apartment does not have ethernet drops but does have wifi, I plan on primarily using this system via wifi (perhaps running ethernet when I need to do serious uploads though my wifi speeds are probably faster than my DSL upload speeds).

Some of my programming work will involve visualizations but more critically I want to be able to run the full versions of newer OSes such as Vista (at least for testing, unlikely as my primary OS) and I’d like to be able to run modern games in their full visual capacity. So I’m thinking at least 256mb of dedicated video ram on a fast graphics card, and possibly a dual graphics card system to support the dual monitors very well.

My decision

I’ve decided to go with an Apple iMac + additional 23″ Apple Display. As of this morning, Apple has them refurbished and available at the Apple Store they also have some really great deals on a MacPro if that is what you are looking for (I was tempted but decided while I do anticipate needing to upgrade what I bought – with more memory and perhaps a bigger HD – I’d being paying a $500 premium for that priviledge but more critically I’d be getting capabilities I may not need (quad Xeon’s pretty much overkill for much of what I need to do I suspect). Though I was (am) tempted.

[UPDATE – the iMac I ordered wouldn’t arrive until Nov 30th at the earliest, so I have canceled that order and ordered customized iMac 24″ with 2gb memory and a 500gb HD which will arrive later this month instead, a bit more but I’ll have the machine over a month sooner and with two of the upgrades I otherwise would have to spend about $500 or so on anyway – so for $100 or so more I’ll have the machine when I need it and without the added delays of buying memory and a larger hd and installing them]

I also picked up a wireless keyboard/mouse, copy of iWork, and a copy of Parallels (so I can run Windows XP or Vista and Windows native apps without rebooting).

It has been many years since I used a mac significantly in my daily life – my family bought a Mac 512k MANY years ago (we then upgraded it to the Mac Plus – i.e. a whole 1mb of memory). However, in college my dorm computer was a NeXT Cube so in many ways OS X will be a return to my roots – it is deeply indebted to the purchase of NeXT (and since I’ll have a mighty mouse I don’t even have to suffer the woes of a single button mouse – yes, I know, the mighty mouse is technically a single button mouse tricked out to pretend to be multi button and have a scroll wheel).

My biggest migration worry will be migrating my very large archive of Outlook Mail (about 6 GB of mail in a variety of .pst files). That is my most significent collection of data and resources that I need easy access to (though I’m not giving up my Thinkpad so I will have access there – but having everything in one place would be nice).

I will also need to figure out how to keep some data files in sync between my ThinkPad and my iMac – specifically my music collection and especially the podcasts that I download – ideally I’ll find a REALLY smart set of podcatchers that could do the following:

– allow me to download on EITHER system (i.e. when I am on the road with the laptop)

– allow my portable music/podcast player to sync against EITHER system (not sure if I can do this with my current device an iPod Shuffle that I think is restricted to syncing with one system, the “real” iPods I think can be a bit fancier in their sync capabilities)

– note when I have downloaded the content and instead of syncing it again just copy it from one machine to the other (i.e. keep the media files in sync – or most specifically keep my laptop’s media files in sync with my “full” collection on the iMac)

– migrate any paid content I buy (say the few items I have bought from the iTunes Store) so that it is valid on either system

– syncing includes noting when my podcatcher deletes a file – i.e. currently if I rate a podcast with 1 star, my podcatcher will automagically delete it from both iTunes and my HD when it next syncs that podcast – saving me a lot of time and effort

– in the very best case my ratings and played attributes will also be synced (i.e. did I skip the file, have I played it yet etc). I typically only download to my 512mb Shuffle unplayed items – whether podcasts or music, that way I’m slowly working my way through my collection as I listen over the course of the day

Other software I will be seeking

I will definitely heed the suggestions from friends and the Internet, such as the recently posted “10 Apps to Increase Productivity on your Mac” or Google’s list of Google apps for the Mac. And being an avid user of MindJet’s MindManager for Windows, I will definitely take a look at their recent Mac version of MindManager! [full disclosure, MindJet sponsored my conference, MeshForum and gave me and many MeshForum attendees a free copy]

Much of my current online activity is browser driven, once I port my bookmarks from Firefox to the new iMac (and likely install Firefox there as well) I will have many of the things I use every day. Plus iWork for the occasional presentation or document I have to create (and I’ll work on porting/converting my archive of Word docs and Excell spreadsheets as necessary).

iLife should be good enough for my initial photo managment, podcast creation, etc and there are of course great Mac software for all of that. My biggest concern at the moment will be how (if) I can automatically keep some parts of my two systems in immediate sync – i.e. when both systems are on the same network, can I get them to auto sync as necessary (which not coincidentally would serve to back up my laptop and parts of my desktop – though over time my desktop will need other backup measures as well as it has close to 5x the useable hd space of my laptop.

What other applications should be I looking at – both free and paid? What games are available natively on the Mac (especially natively i.e. not Rosetta on the Intel Mac – i.e. is WoW available? How does Second Life run?).

I am looking forward to installing some of the many great and useful Unix applications that I have not been using – especially analytical and visualization tools for data analysis. I may also buy a Wacom tablet so I will have a tablet interface (and can use the little known Apple Inkwell capabilities of OS X)

One Response to “Equiping the entrepeneur/researcher – buying a new computer”

  1. […] apps I use today – Windows XP and Web As a follow up to my post about buying a Mac, here is a quick and dirty list of the apps I use every day, as well as the apps I have installed […]

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