As many of our readers know from my DIY desk overkill, structured wiring obsession, pencent for whole house audio, DIY Server Rack, frequent Star Wars references, and typical demeanor, I like to fancy myself a nerd's nerd. I freely admit and appreciate this nerdliness about myself and have no qualms about truly embracing the title. I'm more at home behind the keyboard and a monitor working on websites than I ever am while working on the house (though the house is more of a relaxing hobby). So about two weeks ago when I restarted my computer only to have it hang at the bios screen, I was rather annoyed, a little worried I might lose some files, but also a bit excited by the possibility of getting a new computer. I'm fortunate in that my computer skills allow me to approach such a situation with a bit more calm and understanding than the person who is at the mercy of Geek Squad. I feel for everyone who ever has to call them.

My old computer, a Shuttle xPC, has been a wonderful PC for the last four years. If you're not familiar with the brand Shuttle, the primary thing they are known for are these small form factor computers that take up far less space than a traditional tower.

I bought this style of computer primarily because it was a "small form factor" PC and would take up less space in our new office desk I had been building. In addition to it's miniature size, I was also able to configure it in a adequately powerful setup without breaking the bank, and I knew it would do what I needed it to do for some time.

Sadly, over the past several months I was starting to see its issues and age. The PC was older and slower than I wanted it to be, was starting to struggle to keep up on normal tasks, and had been spontaneously rebooting more frequently than I wanted it to. Add to these problems that this little computer ran extremely hot, so even the desk fans I had installed weren't adequately cooling it and I had to keep the left cabinet desk door cracked at all times to keep it from overheating. It was not an ideal situation (and Wendy always hated that the door had to stay open).

The failure to boot (which actually turned out to be a motherboard hard drive controller failure) was simply the last straw that made me decide to get a new computer.

In the past four years since I built my old PC, I've been slowly converting myself to Mac guy. It is strange since I've been Windows/PC since i really got into computers in 1994 (though I did own an Apple IIe as my very first computer in the 1980s). My Mac conversion all started with my iPhone 3G, which turned into the 3GS...4...and now, the 4S (the S stands for "super awesome").

When my HP netbook's motherboard went bad last year, I replaced it with an 11" MacBook Air. At just over two pounds, I take that thing with me almost everywhere i go.

And most recently, on the advice of a blog comment, I replaced my wireless access point with an AirPort Extreme.

So when I started to look into a new replacement computer, I went into my search with an open mind between a Mac or a PC. I already had a monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc, so I didn't need a whole system, just the computer itself. The other limiting factor was size. I had to get a computer that was the same size or smaller than the Shuttle I was replacing, otherwise I would need to make some changes to my desk, and that wasn't about to happen.

After much thought, and waffling between another Shuttle or Asus small form factor PC, I bought a Mac Mini Server. The latest version specs are more than powerful enough to do everything I need to do, it's got a tiny footprint so it would easily fit in the cabinet with plenty of room to spare, and it was a Mac, which had been working really well for me on my laptop, so why not give it a try on the desktop.

After I ordered it, the computer arrived at our house about four days later. As with every apple device we've owned, unpacking it from the shipping container and packaging is like disassembling a small work of art.

After I stopped drooling over the attractiveness my new toy, I got to work setting up the computer and migrating my old computer to the new one. Setup was quite easy due to my handy side access point on the desk (probably one of my favorite things about our house). And, luckily, after trying lots of tricks and keeping my patience, I was able to get my old computer to boot up Thought it was up and running it was not a reliable fix, so I was more focused on transferring everything I needed more than anything.

Now you might be wondering how I was going to transfer everything from the Windows PC to the new Mac given that they are different operating systems. Through the magic of VMware Fusion 4 (though you could use another piece of software called Parallells), I'm able to run the Windows operating system within Mac OSX. It's a pretty spectacular thing, and one of the coolest things that's happened to consumer computing in the last eight to ten years. When you're a software developer who wants to target multiple platforms (like me), or just someone who likes the Mac software but has to do things in Windows, Linux, or other operating systems from time to time, it allows you to do just that without the need to buy several different pieces of computer hardware to support your requirements. With this solution I was able to install all of my windows applications, files, and development tools without the need for a second computer. Brilliant.

But did I mention how pretty the new computer is installed in its permanent home?

Just look at how small and contained it is compared to the old computer.


I even had to remove the case cover to keep the heat down

And the best news of all, I can close the door to the cabinet!! (This is a big deal...especially to Wendy.) I installed a temperature monitoring application to track the various hardware temperatures in the new computer. I did this with the door opened (for baseline readings) and then closed. Amazingly, there was no change in temp over these two periods. This meant that I could close the door to the left cabinet and keep it closed. For the last several years this has not been the case with the old computer.

The new computer may have been more expensive than a simple replacement of the shuttle device, but more room in the cabinet and a door that will actually be able to stay closed? Let's just say that Wendy can't complain too much about the cost.

So that's what I've been up to lately, and part of the reason it's been a little quiet lately on the renovation progress front. Whenever I've got a technology issue going on, I can't think about working on anything other than resolving that item. But I'm glad to say that this issue is now behind me, our office is better for it, and I'm continuing my slow and steady transformation to a true Mac Fanboy.

Do you have any good or bad experiences with Apple? Is your iPhone your new right hand like mine has become for me, or you a dedicated Droid user? Perhaps you aren't even in the computer or smartphone world (but I'm not sure how you're reading this blog if this is true). I know I might be opening up this blog post to a litany of ranting comments and potential flame wars, but I'm willing to risk it.

Comments 17

Comments

2/16/2012 at 2:22 PM
Hmm, I think Apple owes me commission on that wifi access point! ;-)

Well, I've had at least one Mac available to me since about 1992. (Was programming in BASIC on a VIC-20 at home back in 4th grade... Nerd runs deep here.) I've had a Linux system since '98, running RedHat 5.1 on a 486/33 I put together for peanuts with all used parts. Sometimes windows on a junk spare box just in case.

I'm on my second Mac Mini now. The first one was ordered about a month after Apple introduced the Mini. Eventually it went to HTPC use with the tv and stereo. Most reliable computer hardware I've ever owned, doubt it ever crashed. Finally replaced it with a newer one a year ago because ppc wasn't cutting it any more!

I don't believe I missed a thing by never resolving an IRQ conflict or config.sys or any of that awful DOS crap. I'm a full time Unix/Linux software developer. When I get home, I want zero problems with my computer, and Macs have been providing that for years.

Now that virtual machines plus intel processors make running Windows or Linux trivial on a Mac, well, why go back?

Now, go work on your house! ;-)
2/17/2012 at 9:57 AM
Wait, so you're telling me you never have to do odd configuration things to get stuff to work on linux? Call me skeptical. :)
Alex
2/17/2012
@Thad, thanks to your rec, I can now get wifi throughout the house.

I'm sort of Windows by default since my college courses were centered around Microsoft technologies. I'm not 100% sure, but I believe shortly after I left they moved from C++ to Java.

These day's I'm pretty much 100% C#, but now with my Mac I'm hoping to get into objective C a bit, we'll see how that works out.

@Lordscarlet, this is the type of geek discussion I hoped for on this comment thread.
2/17/2012 at 10:27 PM
@lordscarlet: Apart from maintaining a hosts file, actually, no. Which is pretty amazing to me now that you point it out! I've sure put in the time over the years getting Linux to do what I want on the hardware I had. (ndiswrapper for an old laptop's not-quite-supported wifi chipset comes to mind.)

Back when I was younger and single and didn't have the wife, house or kids, I even messed around with Gentoo Linux (the one you compile yourself from scratch). Though that was ultimately too much trouble, oddly enough. :-)

@Alex: Objective C is a weird language for sure; I took an intro class on it locally just for my own information a couple years back. You approach it differently than Java or C++. It does some things nicely though. (Is that hand-wavy enough for you? heh heh)

I'm not so sure how thrilled I am with the direction OSX is headed, with Mountain Lion. We shall see what becomes of general purpose computing...
Jason
2/16/2012 at 4:03 PM
Looks like a virtual twin for the cabinet in my office. Add in a Drobo for storage and you're there...
Alex
2/17/2012
How do you like the Drobo? I like the case a lot. You may have seen in the photo with the AirPort, I have a WD MyWorldBook as my NAS. I was thinking about some thunderbolt storage just for fun, but it is way too expensive right now. I also hope, but doubt, that Drobo will make Thunderbolt accessories. Seems like too much effort for not enough benefit (right now).
Jason
2/17/2012 at 4:57 PM
Alex,

Nested comments don't seem to work from my phone, so I'll reply to my original comment here.

Drobo has been great. I had several 500Gb and up externals and never seemed to have enough space to get everything on one drive to sort out duplicates. I took the two 2TB drives (both WD MyBooks) apart and used their drives in addition to two smaller ones to start. Pulled everything off ALL the other drives and then replaced the smaller drives when I had cleaned out space. All told, I have 7TB of drives, giving me 4.65TB of space in one box with one set of cords.

The big deal was that it gracefully handled a drive failure on an older drive. Didn't even blink, just flicked on an indicator and went on ticking. Replaced it later and it took care of everything. Beats the hell out of what I have to deal with at work.
Alex
2/17/2012
Thanks for the info, I will absolutely check it out, especially for the graceful failure and easy replace.

The lack of a reply on second level comments are my own laziness. The system can handle them, I just didn't feel like doing more css to properly handle the nesting display. It's on my to do list. :-)
Jason
2/17/2012 at 5:10 PM
No worries, I like the way it comes out looking in the end. Never been a fan of multiple levels of nesting comments anyway. :-)
Kim S.
2/16/2012 at 6:26 PM
We have become a total mac family after a toshiba laptop that would just shut off and a dell desktop that was slow as molasses. We now have an imac, a mac book pro, an ipad2 and 4 iphones and numerous older ipods. (We also have 3 teenagers!) We love all our apple products!
Alex
2/17/2012
It's funny how the progression seems to go. Like an all or nothing conversion over the years.
Stacy
2/17/2012 at 9:56 AM
I switched to Mac about 4 years ago, but I have to say I have not had a problem-free love affair with the company. Problems I've had with the two MacBook Pros I've owned include:
--having to replace the motherboard after about a year
--A severe screen graphics problem that caused red lines all over the screen, that the Geniuses couldn't diagnose
--Defective trackpad on my less-than-a-year-old machine
--Defective CD-ROM drive - won't play movies

As for my new iPhone which my husband gave me for my birthday, I like it but don't love it. I miss the voice search feature on my Droid (I have the iPhone generation just behind Siri), and I especially miss the (free) turn-by-turn GPS app on my Droid. (How can iPhone not come with a decent GPS app???).
Alex
2/17/2012
Ugh, sounds like you got the unlucky Apple. I know the feeling on stuff like that (though not with Apple specifically). It is one of the most frustrating feelings when the thing you bought to do one (or many) things simply won't do what it is supposed to.

As for the iPhone vs Android (and even vs Windows Phone 7 and vs Blackberry) argument, every phone has its nice features and every phone has its "Why would it not have this" features. I do somewhat agree on the turn by turn GPS, but I also think I like the stance of Apple saying "We aren't going to invest the time/effort/money to do a perfect one, let's let the market create one." I know if an iPhone had built in turn by turn for $50 more, and it had the option to remove that feature, I'd remove it. In other words, it's not a game changer for me.

As for Siri, you aren't missing that much. Your phone does have some level of voice interaction. Just hold down the home button until "Voice Control" comes up. It may not be able to tell you how many appointments you have or read text messages, but you can do voice dialing tell it to do things like "Play something by Dave Matthews Band."
Karen
2/23/2012 at 8:35 AM
@Stacy - I switched over to an iphone 4S (since I had a MacBook Pro and an itouch and wanted to basically stay in the Apple family). The only thing I missed with the Droid, and greatly missed at that, was, like you, the turn-by-turn navigation. An Apple employee suggested the MotionX GPS Drive, which had a month's free turn-by-turn navigation for you to try out. After that, it is $9.99 a year. Not quite as good as the Droid's, but it now works for me.
threadbndr (Karla)
2/17/2012 at 1:08 PM
The only Apple device I own is a tiny ipod Shuffle (the old school, matchbook sized one from about 5 years ago). And it was a gift from my Apple obsessed sister - it didn't work to convert me.

Oh, and I have itunes installed on one of my computers to support it.

As long as they work, I don't care what platform they run on. (I'll going to totally date myself even worse than the last time and confess that my first computer had a TAPE drive. Not kidding.)
Alex
2/17/2012
Hey, you could have said that your first computer ran on punch cards and tubes. A tape drive is cutting edge compared to that stuff.

I'd say that of all devices to sell you on Apple, a shuffle would probably be at the very bottom of the list. We had an older iPod, but I wasn't really on board until my first iPhone.
Nate
2/21/2012 at 10:44 AM
On the NAS front, I've had horrible luck with the WD MyBook product line and had to pay for data recovery services (OUCH!). I switched to a dual bay Buffalo running RAID 1 for 2 TB of total storage and it's worked well. I'm going to need to add another device, possibly a Drobo or a Buffalo quad, once the fiancée/wife moves in as she's got a TON of digital photos and video that needs to be backed up for her Photography business.
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