However after all those years it was starting to suffer from cruft-accumulation. The disk was ticking, it refused to sleep and it'd freeze randomly. On top of that iPhoto was really starting to creak under a growing library of RAW files.
So, I replaced the laptop with an iMac for day to day processing and storage. There are some great deals on the Core i3 21" model these days.
For arm-chair surfing I contemplated the iPad but it still seemed limited. Instead, I went out and bought a 32Gb 2.5" SSD drive and got it installed (be warned - you'll need some of those annoying star-shaped torx screw driver heads to get the drive out of its tray). The drive itself was a relatively cheap ($150NZD) no-name brand unit.
After a clean OS X install, the MacBook now boots in 2/3's of the time it takes for a hard-drive. Apps launch marginally faster, the system seems a little more responsive and its marginally quieter.
Almost 90% of the applications I use are now web-based and I access my data from shares on my iMac so I'm hoping the small drive will extend the life of my MacBook by another couple of years.
First impressions are pretty positive -
+ Lovely build quality and finish (makes my MacBook feel cheap 'n nasty)
+ Instant on is great
+ Size is just about right
+ Screen is nice (but attracts finger prints and gunk so get a protector !)
+ Very responsive
+ Easy to read
+ Video playback is great
+ Battery life is great
- Doesn't appear to do Bonjour/Rendezvous OOTB - WTF ?! Why can't I see my shared iTunes/iPhoto libraries ? Sure its an oversized iPod but with built in wifi I should be able to share my media transparently
- I find the on-screen keyboard easy to use but the layout isn't great (and why are all the letters in caps regardless of which 'shift' mode you're in ?)
- No stereo speakers (granted a bit tricky depending on the orientation but still . . .)
- Loading apps is a serial experience - why can't I queue a bunch up instead of doing them one at a time and switching context backwards and forwards to the App Store ?
- Never having used the Apps Store before I find the 'lock-in' a bit disconcerting. Why do I need to sign in just to get free apps ?
- Doesn't appear to have a multi-user or 'guest' mode function (even the Newt had that)
- I know everyone bags hand-writing-recognition but it would be a nice to have for the note-taking apps even if you did the HWR afterwards
I've used a Psion, Palm, Newton and Blackberry and the iPad is a definite candidate as a PDA replacement. Its big enough to do a bit of casual work on while svelte enough to carry around. It remains to be seen as to wether or not it can supplant my MacBook as an armchair browsing system.
I don't think I'd consider buying one until it v2 came out with a camera and more polished apps (the hardware itself is great).
The Mini itself is a bit of an engineering marvel - it looks great, its tiny and its versatile. Its never going to compete against a high-end workstation but who wants an enormous, noisy and ugly) PC sitting in the lounge ? From a noise perspect you do hear a hum which tends to drop into the background over time but its not to bad - if you placed it in an AV cabinet of some kind I suspect it would be largely inaudible.
I wanted to use the Mini as the basis of a home media centre - so I ended up picking up an EyeTV USB Hybrid Tuner and a Logitech Di Novo mini-keyboard.
I don't have a fancy flat screen or panel - I use a dvi/av cable from the mini into my 29" CRT TV. I was able to get 1024x768 which works out well for pretty much everything except on-screen reading - anything optimised for on-screen display works out quite well (Front Row, ITunes full screen etc). Whenever I get around to picking up an LCD screen I'll use a dvi/hdmi cable although a few people on various AV forums have mentioned they've got better results with a dvi/vga lead or a dvi/dvi (TV's seem to come with vga rather than dvi as a PC input) - something about the TV treating a dedicated PC input better than the hdmi input in terms of resolution options. I did need an external PC monitor to setup the initial resolution and run through a few configuration items - it didn't pick up the TV straight away so don't goto all the effort of cabling everything up and tidying it away until you're sure you can get to your Mini to easily tweak settings (I had an external keyboard/mouse for the first few days in case Apple Screen Sharing or the Bluetooth failed).
EyeTV itself was able to tune all NZ freeview channels without a hiccup.
Problems and annoyances:
- Finding somewhere to put the EyeTV tuner that didn't obstruct the tiny IR receiver built into the USB unit. The small tuner is the size of a memory stick and comes with a small extension lead but its only about 15cm, once you have an aerial plugged in things start to get unwieldy.
- The second problem, and this is reasonably minor (for me), is that the Mini has a relatively anemic 2.5" built-in drive which can be a little sluggish; as EyeTV buffers whatever you watch to disk (I've set aside about 1Gb which is an hour or so of video) it can drop frames if you try and do something else that is disk intensive (like ripping an mp3 or copying to disk). As a result I've moved most of my data to an external Western Digital MyBook connected via FireWire - this offloads most of my disk i/o to a bigger/faster drive on a smarter interface. Sometime in the near future I'll pick up one of the Mini-style drive/port-replicator units to sit under the mini and I'll hide the MyBook away behind the telly. If being able to time-shift TV and use your Mac as a server of some sort is important you may want to look at a Mac with a fast disk (otherwise you'll have to deal with occassional dropped frames).
There is no NZ episode guide available over the interweb - makes it difficult to program or schedule future recording activities. Someone has knocked up an AppleScript to pull down listings but its kind of a kludge.
EyeTV integration with Front Row and/or Plex is minimal. Apple have made enhancing Front Row pretty difficult - the PyeTV plugin offers a modicum of integration. Plex is an open-source media-centre project which is looking at including integration in future releases.
The DiNovo Bluetooth mini-keyboard works very well - some of the ley mappings aren't that great but for its size and flexibility it performs all the tasks required of it. As it has a built in scroll pad it also acts as a mouse substitute. You wouldn't want to do any serious typing with it but its sufficient for occasional interactions with the Mac.
I've recently programmed my old Logitech Harmony 520 universal remote to learn both the EyeTV remote and Apple remote settings - so I've gone from five remotes (dvd, amp, tv, apple, eyetv) down to just one. Again the mappings available are a little frustrating at times - you won't get 100% functionality but most of the time you rarely use more than 25% of your remotes buttons anyway. Its simply a matter of focussing on those core functions and mapping them onto the universal remote. The software Logitech ships with the remote works on Mac & Windows pretty much exactly the same way. One peeve - you need to create an online profile which stores all your remote settings and configs - if you're offline you can't edit or alter your remotes settings.
One slightly aggravating side-affect is that the Harmony has a pretty powerful IR beam which will happily send signals to almost any other Apple device in range. As a result I've ended up putting a bit of tape over my MacBooks IR receiver so it doesn't respond to the remotes commands destined for the Mini. To be honest this isn't really anyones fault - it would be nice if Apple allowed you to pair your Mac to a single remote - maybe when they switch their remote to Bluetooth . . .
What would be really cool is if Logitech incorporated some of their Di Novo technology into their Universal Remote (or vice versa). At the moment I use the remote 90% of the time and use the keyboard mouse about 10% of the time - providing a mouse mode for the remote and an alphanumeric key pad would help eliminate another device.
Overall it works really well - if you're sick and tired of connecting and disconnecting a laptop or pc to watch or listen to media then consolidating those functions into an always-on media-centre PC is definitely the way to go. Some tinkering is involved to achieve best results and when the thing freezes you do begin to wonder if you haven't overcomplicated the act of blobbing out in front of the TV (depending on the technical bent of your other half the EyeTV/Mac combo probably has a moderate to low SAF (Spouse Approval Factor)).
10:36 up 68 days, 17:27, 3 users, load averages: 0.52 0.39 0.34
I have the Mac OS X 10.5.3 update wanting to reboot in the corner of the screen but I'll see how much longer I can hold out.
Pretty awesome stability for a laptop that sleeps/resumes almost instantly several times a day.
17:17 up 65 days, 9:40, 2 users, load averages: 0.21 0.17 0.28
Pretty good stability for a laptop (or computer of any kind). I could have kept going as performance seemed the same as it did when I'd rebooted 65 days ago.
My MacBook has been the fastest and most stable Mac I've ever owned. Highly recommended if you're in the market for a non Windows laptop.
I guess once you switch to an essentially x86 PC architecture you've got to start coming up with some other ways to innovate. Hopefully this diversification won't affect Apples core business areas (Mac OS X & Macintosh hardware).
I wonder how good/bad it will be ? Looks promising so far.
Big risk for a small company (comparitively speaking of course) to get distracted by telephony . . .
It looks like professional desktop workstation (Windows, Linux and OS X) class machines will pack a fair bit of power in the very near future.