Monday, November 23, 2009

System Design for Martha

I need to buy a new computer for Martha.
  • Must drive a flat panel display
  • Must accept data from a FireWire miniDV camera
  • Must have a DVD burner
  • We have an ancient parallel-port printer.... which would be nice to use.
I could buy a Mac Mini. The Mac Mini has the FireWire interface and DVD burner. However, it will never work with that printer (a replacement will cost $150). The graphics would be much better than any mini-ITX integrated graphics I'd get. We'd get the 2.53 GHz, 4 GB memory, 350 GB version, $830. A VMware executive will cost another $70. The whole thing will come in a nice little case and make very little noise, and I will have even less idea how the software works than I do with the PC.

Or, I could build a PC. I'd get a 3.16 GHz Intel E8500, 8GB memory, 500 GB hard drive. I can get a FireWire card and a DVD burner, and a motherboard that sports a parallel port. Martha will be happy that I didn't make her figure out a Mac (more to the point, how to run PC-only software under VMware on the Mac). Vista will almost certainly never work with the printer, and so I'll still have to get a replacement anyway (a wash at $150). Even crammed into a mini-ITX case (with some risk it will not all fit in the case), it'll cost $875. The Mini idles at 14 watts, and any PC I build will idle at 35 watts. The 20 watt difference, over 5 years of 24/7, costs an extra $350.

Update: Since Martha figures she's going to be stuck with the sysadmin, she opted for the PC, to avoid learning about VMware, Boot Camp, or any other virtualization. If we could order the Mac Mini with Windows preinstalled under a supervisor, such that I could have told Martha that she could simply install any Windows programs or drivers, then she probably would have gone for that. Oh well.


  1. The Mac Minis these days are on Intel dual cores, so you can always install Windows instead of Mac OS X without having to resort to virtualization. Apple's Boot Camp software is designed to let you choose your OS at startup and includes the Apple drivers you'll need. My MacBook runs Windows 7 very well, although I don't really test its' limits with complex software.

    If you do resort to virtualization, Sun's VirtualBox is open source/free (albeit perhaps a little slower than VMWare or Parallels).

  2. You can always buy a USB to Parallel adapter cable..they run about 10-25 dollars depending on the brand.

  3. Anonymous,

    I appreciate the tip about the USB/Parallel adapter. I think the problem may be that the printer driver wants a bidirectional connection to the printer, because I see that these adapters that you suggest have a list of printers that they work with, and our DeskJet T45 is not on the list.

  4. I looked at the mini, and found that an imac was a much better deal. (also , display was awesome). You pay a premium for minis..

    So, screw the printer. Printers are cheap. Get a networked laser printer and be done with it.

    Sack windows. When you need to do something with the mac, it's BSD. so there's shells, ssh, all your friends. Only if you have a lot of very favorite windows apps would I stay with it (we didn't ).

    And with mac, no worries that your computer is going to attack the NSA as some huge botnet. 8)


  5. One of the advantages of a Mac with OsX is that it doesn't seem to require anti-virus software and anti-spy software. That anti- software has to be updated periodically, and the cost adds up. So, even though a Mac costs more to buy, in the long run it may cost less because of not having to use anti- software. I've had my I-Mac for a few years now - I got it to replace a HP PC. I've had no problems with it. No anti-virus or anti-spy software. Software failures are very rare and if an application does crash, almost always it is possible to restart the misbehaving application without rebooting the computer.

    In late August, I bought a mac notebook - the smallest and least expensive one available, to provide my with wi-fi Internet access on a motorcycle trip. It worked beautifully - the OS never crashed or caused problems.

    After using PCs for over 20 years, I am sold on Mac.