What You Need In Your Next Computer: More Horsepower, Less Storage

by Randy Murray on November 13, 2012

I recently bought a new computer system, primarily for work. I was surprised at how difficult a decision process it was, but I’m very happy with the end result.

My previous work and home machine was an early 2008 iMac. It’s been a workhorse, but I found myself dealing with long wait times for it to wake and free itself of whatever it was up to so that I could work. It served me well to work on at my desk, but it was also our home media server, hosting our nearly 20,000 song music library and a growing TV and movie collection, and over 30,000 digital photos (and the photos are of increasing size and resolution). Because of this it’s also the machine that we sync our iPhones, iPods, and iPad to.

Add to that the fact that sitting at that desk and working at that computer has been making my back and neck pain increasingly worse. I needed more power and more flexibility with how and where I work.

Here’s the problem boiled down: I needed a powerful machine I could move around AND I needed a home system that stayed put.

I’ll spare you the long process of considering virtually every combination of Macs, iOS devices, and even desk configurations and tell you how I ended up: I’m keeping the iMac, which I’ll soon rebuild to be only an iTunes/iPhoto repository and sync station and I bought a brand new Macbook Pro 13″ with Retina display.

And it is, without a doubt, the best Mac I’ve ever used.

It is wicked fast. Applications launch in barely a breath. I can switch between tasks with no lags or pausing. There have been no crashes or even frozen applications. And the Retina screen is a thing of glory.

But I hesitated to buy it. Why? Because of the very limited internal storage options.

For my entire computing life I have always operated by one rule: you can’t have enough storage. My first Mac, a Mac SE, had a 10 megabyte hard drive. The old iMac I just demoted has a 250 GB internal hard drive and I have two 1 terabyte external drives connected to it.

It was very difficult for me to envision having less than a terabyte of internal storage for my new machine.

But as I debated and discussed this problem with friends I realized this: I don’t need to carry everything with me all of the time. But I struggled with that idea. Could I really buy a new machine that I’d use for years with less storage than I’d had in my previous machine.  I asked everyone, even Apple Store sales associate (though it was clear that I’d been using Macs for longer than he’d been alive).

So I asked myself: What do I really need?

I need access to my stuff. I don’t have to carry it with me. Here was the list that I made: I use Dropbox for all of my work and current personal creative projects. Since I’m a writer, that means lots and lots of really small text files. I would not migrate my old iMac over to this new machine. I would only install the applications that I really need. That includes Microsoft Office, Final Draft, and Scrivener.

I selected the Macbook Pro with 120 gigabytes of flash memory.

And when I was done I still have over 90 gigabytes of available storage. That’s a very comfortable amount of space.

I can temporarily fill it with things if I choose to travel. I can bring over movies and music, then dump it all when I’m home. And by using iCloud and iTunes Match virtually all of my music is available to me anywhere I can get online.

By not worrying about massive storage, I could select a more powerful and faster machine. I like having lots of home storage, but I’m finally comfortable in having less in my portable devices. When I trade in my 1st generation iPad which has 64 gigabytes of storage I’m going to happily purchase one with just 16.

It may seem ridiculous, but I somehow feel lighter.

What You Need In Your Next Computer: More Horsepower, Less Storage by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Charles November 14, 2012 at 11:04 am

Wouldn’t it be nice if iCloud made the home server unnecessary. Here is my sob story: I was perfectly happy with iTunes Match until the iOS 6 changes that they made, now it’s not for me. And I would happily pay an additional iCloud storage fee so that I can park my iPhoto library there which, over a year later, I still can’t do. Needing a home server in the days of iCloud doesn’t seem all that great to me.


Randy Murray November 14, 2012 at 11:06 am

I agree – iCloud is not what it could be. I’m having better luck with iTunes match, but I had to resort to manually deleting files on my new iPhone. Now it works like a charm.

Ideally, I like to have home storage AND cloud storage. You can never be too paranoid about backups.


Charles November 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Clearly Apple knows what they are doing. I plan to buy an 11 inch MacBook Air sometime soon and will probably spend $300 to upgrade from 128G to 256G and another $300 to upgrade my aging TimeCapsule. Neither of these would be necessary if I could make iCloud do what I want to do.


Nathan November 14, 2012 at 11:45 am

Identical thing happened to me recently. Trusty 2009 iMac. I need a laptop of some sort for my freelance work – the iPad didn’t cut it anymore – so I got a 15″ rMBP. After putting all my apps on it that I need, I still have 214GB left out of 250. I’m pretty pleased with this.

Same with my iPhone; went from a 64GB 4S to a 32GB 5. I had the 4S filled, but making choices about what NEEDED to be on my phone helped make my phone use feel more efficient. I’m happy :)


Randy Murray November 14, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Good for you! I just upgraded to an iPhone 5 and stuck with 16 GB and sold my 64 GB iPad 1st gen on eBay and bought a 16GB iPad Mini.


Brad Blackman November 28, 2012 at 10:06 am

I’d love recommendations on setting up a home base “media center” computer for the family. I’d love to trade my 15″ 2008 MBP for an 11″ or even 13″ MBA and hook it up to an external display for design work. 3 small children means the home machine would be mostly for storing music and watching Netflix. Is there anything you suggest for going about that?


Randy Murray November 28, 2012 at 10:18 am

Practically any iMac or Mac Mini from the last 5 years will do, especially if you equip it with enough external storage. The key to easy distribution is to use Apple TVs. You can then connect to your “media center” for stored music, TV, Movies, etc.

You can also use any other Mac you have to access the shared library on your media center, as well as iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads.

Here’s the secret: strip it down and only use it for iPhoto and iTunes. Sync your iOS devices and serve/store media and you should get plenty of additional life out of an old machine.


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