We’ve got this big old Mac Pro in the living room, a 2008 model; I call it “the family mainframe”. I’m thinking it might get replaced with a Windows box.
Long-time readers may remember this computer; I caused a mild Web sensation back in 2008 back when I invited opinions on whether I should hack it. With a hacksaw, I mean.
Do you even need one? · The conventional wisdom is No, because everyone has a laptop and a mobile and many living rooms will have a tablet or two lying around.
I think you do, especially if you have kids. They’ll be wanting screen time, and I like having them at a computer that’s in the room with the family, not hidden away upstairs; using a screen that’s facing the family, not the wall.
Also it has all the music on it, and I’ve stuffed it full of terabyte RAIDed SSDs for archives and media. It rips shiny disks. It connects to the high-end audio setup and also has a Plex server to feed movies to the TV via a Roku. (BTW, that combo works great). My daughter uses it for Scratch and Animal Jam, and my son for playing FPS games; chiefly TF2 and CS:GO recently. A couple years ago I put in whatever Apple’s best video card was at the time, to support him
So, yeah, family mainframe, I like the concept and I think we’ll go on having one.
But now there’s a fly in the ointment. My son used to use Windows via Bootcamp. Except for, I screwed up the Windows install shifting disks around, and due to a well-known Bootcamp/Windows bug, I can’t re-install because there are too many disks and it gets confused. So he has to play the Mac versions of games and there’s a steady background grumble about his ghetto setup. And Steam games seem to crash a lot on Mac.
Enter the NUC · My son had a Significant Birthday and, inspired by Jeff Atwood’s The Golden Age of x86 Gaming, I replicated Jeff’s “Skull Canyon” Intel NUC setup as a gift. The boy had to learn how to install disk and memory and Windows, as a side-effect.
Skull Canyon! · The Intel NUC6i7KYK PC is completely damn brilliant. A triumph of minimalist design, lots of CPU oomph, plenty good enough graphics for Steam games, and if you wanna go nuts on an high-end video card, there’s a Thunderbolt. I put in 16G RAM, which is amusingly physically larger than the 500G SSD. Also it’s tiny and has no moving parts; if he becomes a wandering student it’s not crazy to think about taking it with him.
So far, he hasn’t made it run hot enough for me to hear the fan from my side of the living room. I’ve been encouraging him to load up Dragon Age or something to push it a little harder, but he’s saving his pennies for Overwatch.
Also, I’m a popular Dad.
But Windows, ewwwwwww · Well, yeah. And I’d prefer a Mac. I’ve totally loved our mainframe over the years. It’s dead easy to pop the side off, swap video cards or disks or RAM or whatever you need, and everything Just Works.
But there’s no more room for add-ons, and I can’t even reconfigure the disks much because I bent a rail and at least one of the SSDs will never come out.
But hey, it’s served a family well, worked hard for eight years without really ever causing trouble. And when I replace it I want something that’ll give me another eight, if only because I hate moving furniture around and getting all the dusty wires plugged and organized.
But there’s no such Mac. The Mac Pro is an overpriced onanistic joke. The 5K Retina is a thing of beauty but you can’t keep sticking terabyte disks in. For the first time in years, I’m hearing Hackintosh rumblings, but my hacking time is reserved for cloud software these days.
Yeah, but WINDOWS?!? · Yeah. But you know, Win10 doesn’t hurt my eyes any more. Also it boots damn fast, and (unlike previous Windowses) seems to be ready to do actual work right away when it’s booted. And apparently does a good job of keeping itself updated. And more games run on it. So does Lightroom. I mean, I wouldn’t use it for work (no built-in Apache, to start with), but for a family mainframe the idea isn’t crazy.
Interesting side-note: We’re all so passionate about operating systems, but my kids are oblivious; they have hand-me-down MacBooks and they switch back and forth between those & Windows without slowing down or apparently noticing.
Now, there is still Windows suckitude. I thought it would be good for the boy to install it from scratch (comes on a USB key, these days). It was really rough. First, software installs aren’t like games where you just click the first box you see, without thinking. After he restarted and got things put in the right place, the box was a useless waste-of-space turd, which is to say no network. It couldn’t see any devices. Googling didn’t help me.
Finally, Lauren said “Drivers maybe?” So I visited Intel’s Downloads for Intel® NUC Kit NUC6i7KYK page and whaddaya know, lots and lots of drivers. Dropped ’em on another USB key, tossed it across the room to the boy, told him to run the .exe’s, then to ignore the dopey confusing error messages about “advanced networking” not being available, and the puppy was on the air.
So, it’s like this: Intel and Microsoft are only the greatest partnership in the history of technology, having extracted in aggregate trillions from the people and businesses of the world. But the latest and greatest Microsoft OS doesn’t come equipped out of the box with the necessaries to make the latest and greatest Intel-proprietary PC useful.
That kind of shit doesn’t happen to Mac users.
Ways forward · So, when the current mainframe dies…
I could migrate all the storage to a NAS box in the basement and use an iMac or a Mini or some such. Then I’d have another box to manage, oh joy.
I could get a Windows-flavored mainframe.
Maybe it’s the year of Linux on the desktop? OK, OK.