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.
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.