The Mac Evaluation is Over…and The Verdict Is?

specs_optical20060228In my last posting I mentioned that I was exploring the possibility of switching to an Apple Mac system. Specifically, I was looking at a Mac Mini so I could minimize my investment in a new system and reuse my current hardware (i.e., wide screen LCD monitor, keyboard, mouse). I was able to spend some time at the local Apple Store and talk with a long-time Mac user who worked there, and also had about 2 days of hands-on stick time with a Mac Mini connected to my current LCD Monitor and hardware. Below are my findings:

I have to admit that I was enamored by the coolness factor at the Apple Store, which was loaded with iMacs, MacBooks, iPhones, and iPods. I visited the store in the late afternoon, and it surprisingly filled with customers. I opted to try out a Mini Mac configured with a 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (4 MB Cache), 2 GB of RAM (667 MHz Bus), 120 GB hard drive (5400 RPM), which was the high end model. As you can see from the specs, the speed of the components are those typically found in a laptop (most desktop PCs have hard drives running at 7200 RPM). Of course, this is necessary to fit everything in such a tight, compact package of the Mac Mini.

Instead of giving a length comparison between the Vista OS and Mac OS X, I’ll try to just highlight what I thought was important in my decision whether to switch. First, the Mac booted up very fast (less than 1 minute) and was ready to go, compared to my Vista PC which takes more than 1 minute to boot up, and even then it continues to load system processes in the background as I try to start up Firefox or Outlook. Also, I found the Mac system very snappy in performance, with no noticeable lag in any activity I was doing (albeit, I was just checking email, web browsing, and working with Excel spreadsheets). It seemed that the Mac OS (with UNIX under the hood) was a very well tuned, efficient operating system.

The one thing that really stood out for me, was the appearance of the Mac interface. It reminded me of the various flavors of Linux that are currently available (e.g., RedHat, Ubuntu, etc) with the fonts and appearance of the drop-down menus and windowing system. I’ve always liked the high-res icons that are used in these Linux system, and they are also present in the Mac OS. So, on the surface the Mac OS appears to be just another flavor of Linux that you can download for free from the Internet (although I can’t comment on a performance comparison).

The built-in calendar (iCal) and email (Apple email) applications that came with the Mac OS wasn’t all that impressive. They were certainly usable, but the Calendar app was a bit sparse in features (for example, you couldn’t scroll down through the weeks in the month view using the scroll wheel) and there was no way to specify recurring to-do events. The Apple Safari web browser wasn’t the greatest in my opinion, but fortunately the FireFox web browser (free) was available for the Mac as an alternative.

The basic usage of the Mac OS is definitely different from the Vista OS, but it wasn’t a problem figuring out. What was really nice, was the simplicity in setting up a WiFi connection to my home wireless network with the Mac Mini (it has built-in WiFi).

The real downer for me, was the font smoothing technology used by Apple for displaying text on the screen. I hated it. It made the text appear way too fuzzy and blurry for my eyes. In fact, the more I tried to use the Mini Mac system the more it bothered me. I tried everything I could think of to correct or minimize the problem, by using different DVI video cables, adjusting the color, brightness, and contrast of my LCD monitor, making further adjustments to the color settings and various font smoothing options in the Mac OS. My changes did improve the displayed text, but it still was bothersome to my eyes. For example, below is a comparison between the Vista and Mac rendered text. My wife thinks both renderings are just fine, but after looking at a full page of text on the Mac, I just can’t stand it.

font_smoothing11(click image)

This second example came from a posting on the Internet. Here you can see that the smaller the text, the blurrier it is on the Mac system:

font_smoothing2

As I continued my evaluation of the Mac Mini, the blurry font issue just persisted. I did a Google search on the topic, and found numerous other users with the exact same issue. Most of them recently switched from a PC system to a Mac, while others use both PC and Mac systems daily. Lots of people complaining about the fuzzy/blurry font issue, with no real remedy in sight. This all started when the Mac OS X (ten) was released about 4 years ago, and it doesn’t appear that Apple will be fixing it anytime soon.

So, the blurry font problem is the major deal breaker for me. I don’t want to stare at blurry text all day long and have to accept it. Maybe over time it wouldn’t bother me so much, but the fact that I have to use a PC for some of my work on a daily basis makes me think I’ll never be able to accept it.

Of course, there’s a few other issues that come up as negatives in me switching to a Mac. First, the Zune Software doesn’t run on a Mac (only on a Windows PC) so there would be no convenient way for me to sync my Zune to my main desktop system (without running virtual emulation software and/or having a dual-boot system). Second, I have my Vista system set up to record and process TV shows using a built-in TV Tuner card which are converted to WMV format for my Zune. If I switched to a Mac system, I would need to get new TV Tuner hardware (USB model) and find a way to automate the conversion process (as with my Vista system).

So, I think the great Switch-to-a-Mac experiment is officially over. Although the Vista OS has it’s share of problems (slowness, hangups, etc) I am so use to how it works, the interface, nice smoothed fonts, etc. I have to stick with it. Also, what’s nice about my Vista system is that I can upgrade the components very easily (motherboard, hard drives, TV tuner card, video card, etc) whenever I want. With the Mac Mini, that is not doable if you don’t want to void the Apple warranty, and you don’t have any options for changing out the motherboard (or logic board in Apple terminology). Hopefully, the new Windows 7 OS will be speedier and more stable than the existing Vista OS, while keeping their current ClearType font smoothing technology!

Verdict: Keep my Vista PC as my primary home system

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4 thoughts on “The Mac Evaluation is Over…and The Verdict Is?

  1. sean says:

    Thanks for the sharing your experience, it’s very useful.
    Especially the font thing – I remember noticing something odd myself but I couldn’t figure
    what exactly was the problem.
    My situation is quite similar to yours (I have no Zune) but now it’s September and after few months of disappointing slowness of Windows 7 (beta, RC) and even worse Vista experience before that, I’ve been thinking about going back to Win XP or even Linux.

  2. zunetips says:

    sean: Personally, I don’t have a lot of complaints about Vista. I’ve been using it for a few years now, and it seems to run fine on my old Intel 2 Core Duo and now my Quad Core PC. It runs pretty snappy and I don’t see any slowdown. Of course, I spent a lot of time fine tuning my machine (e.g., turning off File Indexing, removed unnecessary background services, etc).

    I’ve also used the Win7 beta for a while on an old laptop and I was surprised at the responsiveness. As such, I’m eagerly awaiting it’s release to install the 64-bit version on my Quad Core machine. Again, I’ll be making some tweaks and changes to help improve the performance.

    Maybe the issue is with the processor of the computer… I was using a 2 and 4 core CPU, so the extra cores might help speed up Vista?

  3. kassios says:

    Excellent review and very true.
    I am an iMac, macbook Air and recently mac mini owner.
    You should try an iMac. The display is crisp and very pleasing, and MacOSX is really light years ahead of Windows systems.
    BUT.
    My newly purchased mac mini exhibits the fuzziness of its external displays (I am using dual monitor setup). On the same monitors an old pc with windows XP has a crystal clear display, while the new mini shows pure display quality!
    I am really frustrated with it’s graphics performance.
    I am actually considering making it a dual boot with Windows 7, just to test display quality with windows nvidia drivers.
    Apple, wake up!

  4. zunetips says:

    kassios: If you check out my main tech blog at coho.wordpress.com you’ll see that I did indeed purchase an iMac last year. I absolutely love the big, hi-res screen and the issues of fuzziness are non-existent on my 27″ iMac screen. My Quad-core iMac runs super fast and I never, NEVER, have to reboot it like my Quad-Core Pentium PC. It just works.

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