We have a lot of computers around the house, but the main family living-room workhorse is a 2008 Mac Pro. Everyone knows that computers have short working lives, but I’m thinking this one could be with us for a while.

Long-time readers my remember this computer as the one that nearly got hacked (as in, with a hacksaw).

Current Status · It’s got two 2.8GHz quad-core Xeons, 6G of memory, and a few terabytes of disk. It’s used for:

  • General-purpose computing for my 12-year-old: Essay-writing, Chinese dictionary, research.

  • Lightroom.

  • Final Cut Express; except I sort of lost my video mojo and haven’t done this in a while.

  • Games; in particular, we had six houseguests over Christmas and it ran Skyrim for dozens of hours.

  • Music; ten thousand or so songs which play through a nice DAC into my high-end audio system.

I added in a bunch more disk to hold the music. Then just after the Christmas gaming marathon, the only-OK-for-2008 video card frapped out. I wondered online if it was worth upgrading, and some colleagues pointed out that for the cost of a good video card, I could get an XBox. But I found a reasonably-priced Radeon 5770 online (2010 technology, admittedly), and decided there was life in that “old” computer.

The Future · Well, two quad-core 64-bit 2.8GHz CPUs are, you know, a lot of processing power. I’m just trying to imagine the home-computing task for which I’d require more.

I suspect that if I’m going to keep this around, I should probably double the memory to 12G or so, and if I’m going to keep playing games, in 2014 or so I should install a 2012-vintage video card. And I could even drop in a couple more processors.

Is there a pattern here? Have quite a few of us, without actually planning to, bought the last new computer we’ll need for a few years? Put another way: Have some computers entered the category of things worth fixing?

[Footnote: This blog fragment courtesy of a rare repo sync into a new, empty repository. Some things are worth waiting for.]



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Hub (Jan 04 2012, at 16:17)

It is true that Apple has sacrificed a lot of upgradability / repairability in the name of industrial design.

The Mac Pro does not make the exception. It is expandable (with a A), but only RAM, HDD and a few internal cards. Not really to replace / upgrade the mother board / CPUs.

The iMac are worse as the screen is included.

That's a very infortunate turn that the inudstry is more or less taking, modeled after the latpops, that will be have a harder price tag laters: e-waste and rare earth metals that are getting rarer.

Ah well....

[link]

From: Matt Ginzton (Jan 04 2012, at 17:13)

I've noticed the same thing. I have the first edition of the Mac Pro (late 2006, two dual-core Xeons), and 5 years later, it's still going strong and I can't see any compelling reason to replace it.

I've added RAM a couple times and upgraded the hard drives a couple times, the latest time removing them all in favor of SSD storage. I'd probably need to upgrade the video card if I used it for gaming, but I don't. I just upgraded to a 27" 2560x1440 display (not the Apple one but same resolution) and was pleasantly surprised by the fact that my 2006 machine can drive it at full resolution.

While more/faster everything is available now, I'm not bottlenecked by CPU, RAM, storage, or video performance, so what's to worry about?

I used to replace computers every 3 years if I bought pretty high-end ones, then I found myself better served by buying slightly lower on the price-performance curve and upgrading every 2 years; never before have I had a machine for 5 years and thought it still had useful life remaining as my main machine.

This certainly has something to do with CPU speeds having reached a level a couple years ago where CPU isn't the bottleneck for almost anything normal desktop computing consists of, but I'm also very happy with the overall system design and upgradability of the Mac Pro. Whose design, you'll note, hasn't really changed since 2006 (or even longer if you count the G5).

None of this is true for laptops yet and it's even less true for mobile though... I don't think anyone's making a laptop or tablet or mobile phone today that will still hold its own in 2017. The smaller form factors are just more constrained engineering problems, and advancing faster, but desktop is a pretty well solved problem.

[link]

From: Mike (Jan 04 2012, at 17:22)

I have a 1st gen (2006) Mac Pro. I finally retired it this November, as the 1st gen has an older PCI bus and the best graphics card it'll take is an nVidia 8800GT, and mine in particular had some sort of event and was now overheating very quickly when gaming.

I'd swapped out many hard disks over the years, the RAM went from 2GB to 4GB then finally to 8GB. The video card went from some 2004-2005 era nVidia to an ATI X1900, and finally the 8800GT.

So, it lasted 5 years in my demanding service. I would like to point out that I was not CPU or RAM bound (2x2 Xeon 2.6Ghz processors). A Mac Pro with a current PCI bus would still be a very effective platform for me.

I'm pleased to report that the Mac Pro is now on the other side of the room, where it is used daily by significant other, and represents a significant improvement in her computing experience. I'm now running a homebrew Hackintosh quite happily (I paid for the OS fair and square, so I don't have any guilt over it).

I would say that since hardware has largely outstripped requirement for years now, that it's quite possible that we've entered the world wherein computers are things you repair rather than replace. At least, they're on a much longer timeline than they used to be.

[link]

From: Alexander Gee (Jan 04 2012, at 19:01)

I think computers are worth fixing however I'm not sure what the layman would think about this. It is likely that they only upgrade infrequently and thus it is easier and cheaper to do a complete replacement.

[link]

From: Charles (Jan 04 2012, at 21:16)

I don't know about things worth fixing, but in just this past month I sold my nearly identical Mac Pro (except my video card blew out while still under warranty). So at the very least, that Mac Pro was the first computer I owned that maintained any significant resale value.

(I'm still not sure selling it was wise, but it eliminated yet another machine I had to maintain, and I was spending more time with the laptop anyway.)

[link]

From: Robert Hostetler (Jan 04 2012, at 23:23)

I've been using a 2.6 Quad Core 2006 Mac Pro with the following upgrades:

- 9 GB RAM

- 4 TB storage spread over the 4 drive bays

- ATI Radeon 4870 video card

Everything I throw at this machine is easily handled. I do web development, which includes lots of Adobe apps and Windows Server Virtual Machine that has Visual Studio, SQL Server, and IE.

According to macrumors forums posts and links there to OWC and Barefeats at:

http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1002692

You should be able to upgrade to the Radeon 5770 in all Mac Pros and people have had various results with the 5870 on the 1st generation ones.

I expect to be able to use this machine for years to come. I know there is 64 bit EFI and faster SATA connections, but I have yet to have anything happen on my Mac that made me think that it was too slow.

[link]

From: Anthony (Jan 05 2012, at 03:53)

I've been thinking exactly the same thing for a while now. My PC is an Athlon 64 x2 6000+ with 6GB RAM and a couple of PCIe video cards in it and it's running Win7 64 Ultimate. I bought it 5 years ago to the day actually and it's mostly original (though clearly the OS is not - had XP Home on it originally). I use it primarily for work, which is PHP/MySQL more than anything. A bit of browsing the web and that's about it.

Every so often I think "I've had this PC for years, I should replace it", but then I think "why?". It's more than adequate for what I do, and unless you're looking for increased gaming performance (I'm really not much of a gamer now) then I don't see a lot of point. The only downside is that spares become harder to source as hardware goes pop (had to replace a HSF mounting bracket that snapped from 'wear and tear' last year and had to resort to ebay for one) and since my PC is running 24/7 I think it's a matter of time until things start burning out now.

Your Mac is clearly far more powerful than my PC, but I think I've finally got a PC that is almost perfectly adequate for my needs. The only problem I have now is that my Firefox instances keep running up to about 2GB and it causes serious slow-down (I have a LOT of tabs open at once) but I believe I would have that problem on a 2012 spec PC too.

[link]

From: John B (Jan 05 2012, at 08:08)

A lot of the comments here suggest that yes, computers are now something to fix, but only Mac Pros are really worth fixing. While it's true that they probably will be fixable for longer than many other computers due to the sheer horsepower they come with in the first place, I think that many other computers are still worth fixing and/or upgrading.

For example, my laptop, and the one before it. I use a 2007 Macbook Pro, one of the first ones with an LED screen. A while back I doubled the RAM, then when the extended AppleCare wore out I got a larger & slightly faster hard drive, and a few months later had to replace the screen. While there was still warranty coverage the mainboard was replaced twice, the hard drive once, and the power supply once. About all that's original in this thing is the processor & case. That said, it's been running relatively slowly since I installed Lion shortly after it came out, and I expect to replace the computer this coming summer as I've reached the point where upgrading won't help much.

My previous laptop was a Dell inspiron which lasted from 2002 to 2007 and again, it was upgraded and had had most parts swapped out by the end, and it ran more slowly than I would have liked for the last year to year and a half.

Unless you're doing a lot of virtualization or something crazy hard it seems that laptops, at least in my opinion, can last for 4 years, or 5 if you're willing to accept a slightly slower computer for the last year, assuming you replace broken parts and do a few upgrades.

[link]

From: Ian (Jan 05 2012, at 08:53)

I was thinking yesterday about the Mac Pro. There has been some criticism lately that the model is not updated frequently to justify the admittedly premium price. Given that the target market for the Pro is fairly small, and that it lasts so long, there isn't much turnover.

I wonder if it would be feasible for Apple to offer Mac Pro owners a subscription model in which owners could pay an annual fee in exchange for Apple certifying compatible upgrade parts. This would allow you to, for example, swap out the video card periodically for one that is known to work with good drivers. Eventaually you could swap out logic boards when a faster bus was available.

It may be that there is no upside for Apple in doing this, but I suspect it would be welcomed by some Mac Pro users.

[link]

From: Shrutarshi Basu (Jan 05 2012, at 10:31)

I've never own a Mac Pro, but I do have a dusty old Mac Mini, it's about 6 years old at this point. The wifi and optical drives don't work anymore, but the rest of it is fine. I've recently pressed it into service as a media box streaming music from the newer Airs in the house and throwing video to a nice 50" TV. There's a lot of computation power in so-called old machines, we just need to have the will and imagination to use it.

[link]

From: Brian (Jan 05 2012, at 10:34)

I'm still using a late-production quad core 2.5ghz powermac G5. Works as well as the day I bought it. Maxed out the RAM last fall for peanuts. The only thing it can't do is run some new-fangled software (through no fault of its own) so I use TenFourFox and Omniweb. Will probably switch to Linux or FreeBSD when 10.5 becomes unusable. No way I'm replacing a perfectly serviceable machine. So not only have I recently put money into it for upgrades, I would likely repair it if necessary and within reason...

[link]

From: Sophie (Jan 05 2012, at 13:07)

I still work on a 2005 PowerPC iMac. And on holiday, I use my 2001 iBook as a netbook. I seldom boot the iBook, but I get a warm feeling every time I see it works like it used to.

I’ll probably get a MacBookPro this year if I like the proc updates…

[link]

From: Jason Miller (Jan 05 2012, at 14:42)

I have the exact same system, but with 32gb of RAM and a Promise DS4600 configured as a RAID-5. I've had no need to upgrade this system, it runs great and does everything I need it to do. I even use it as a virtual machine farm via Parallels. I did just get an Xbox over the holidays to quench the gaming thirst.

[link]

From: David Magda (Jan 05 2012, at 15:30)

I think the longevity has been helped by the fact that Mac OS X has generally gotten faster—on the same hardware—with each major release.

Now this could have been because the earlier releases were slow, or that later releases were optimized, or a combination of the two. Regardless, most other operating systems have generally run slower on the same hardware requiring upgrades of the CPU (and therefore usually motherboards).

I'm generally content with my iMac except for the fact that I'd like to be able to have more RAM. Officially my unit supports 4 GB, but 6 GB can be shoe-horned in. If it was able to handle 8-12 GB, I think I'd be able to cost on it for many more years, but as it stands, the current 4 GB fews limiting lately.

[link]

From: Richard Wills (Jan 05 2012, at 16:04)

I still use my old G3, all i've added was RAM. Replaced te keyboard & meese a couple of times. I don't even try to run a modem on it.

Frankly, it keeps plugging away, running AppleWorks cause mainly what I use it for is writing. It's comfortable to use for long sessions. Plus I can use the Chicago font. So much easier on my poor old tired eyes.

I got a Mac Pro laptop last year for online & modern software such as

Final Draft Pro & Avid. It is inconvenient to translate my old AW files but I'm too old and cranky to be happy with Pages.

[link]

From: Chris Fleming (Jan 06 2012, at 06:44)

Yes, I've noticed this. I realised the other day that my main desktop machine is now 3 years old and isn't feeling sluggish or slow.

The only upgrade since I built it is to add a 30G SSD for the main OS and I upgraded the Main Disks from 2x500G (Raid 1) to a pair of 2TB Disks a year ago.

I imagine that I will increase the RAM in the near future, but CPU wise the 4x2.4G Cores are more than sufficient for everything I need.

Here's to another 3 or 4 years before needing an upgrade.

[link]

From: David Terei (Jan 09 2012, at 23:44)

Yes computers are defiantly worth fixing these days and have been for a little while now I think. Ever since around the Core 2 stage and especially the quad core stage.

I'm not even sure why you are thinking of upgrading the computer any more right now? 6GB should be plenty for any of the tasks you listed, does it ever actually come close to maxing out the Ram?

Gaming is the only task that really pushes computers much but thankfully that seems to be changing a little as well these days with companies not releasing such demanding titles.

[link]

From: Brendan (Jan 12 2012, at 01:43)

Tim and friends who own Mac Pros -- how do the fans hold up over time? If you need to replace a fan, its easy to get a replacement part from Apple? Do most of you keep your Mac Pro turned on 24 x 7, or do you sleep it when not in use.

[link]

From: aiddy (Jan 14 2012, at 12:22)

"Have some computers entered the category of things worth fixing?"

Sounds like Trigger's Broom:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbha4XclSMU

[link]

author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
picture of the day
January 04, 2012
· Technology (76 more)

By .

I am an employee
of Amazon.com, but
the opinions expressed here
are my own, and no other party
necessarily agrees with them.

A full disclosure of my
professional interests is
on the author page.