Seeking Mac advice

January 7th, 2009 — Wordman

The iMac in my kitchen has flaked out and evidence suggests that parts of the logic board are fried. Though the board could be replaced, basically it’s time upgrade to something else (it is a PowerPC machine, after all). I’m struggling with what to replace it with, however, and am soliciting advice from readers.

This machine acts as the central hub for the house, so is our main media repository. It also hosts the sorts of information you might normally track using paper, magnets and a refrigerator: shopping lists, calendars, sticky notes, and so on. It’s also the recipe database and cooking timer. I should also mention that I will probably be redoing my kitchen soon, so the exact height between the counter and the bottom of my cabinets might change slightly.

Here are my main contenders for a replacement:

A 20-inch iMac: This is the obvious choice, but for for one glaring problem: it’s about a half-inch taller than the space under my cabinets, so it will not fit as is. There is, however, quite a bit a clearance between the bottom of the machine and the bottom of the stand stand, so it would definitely fit if I took the stand off. I could then mount it to the wall on an articulated arm, which would actually be quite helpful. Unfortunately, the 20-inch iMac doesn’t include standard mounting brackets on the back. Apple does make a bracket for the 24-inch model, but this wouldn’t fit even without the stand. So it looks like I need to use a custom solution, making use of this third party bracket and then, because this leaves the stand in place, cut a good bit of my stand off with a metal saw. (Further, as I understand it, getting the stand off of this model iMac is very involved, and certainly voids the warranty, so I might need to saw the thing while it’s still connected to the machine.) I was hoping that MacWorld 2009 might feature an iMac revision with a VESA mount, but no such luck.

  • Pros: powerful, one unit (i.e. not as many cables running amok), sexy.
  • Cons: setup that is complex, annoying and risky

A Mac mini and VESA mounted LCD. In this case, I would mount the mini upside down to the bottom of the cabinet, and use an articulated arm to mount the LCD. With choices of vendors, I could certainly find a VESA mountable monitor, so the labor wouldn’t be a problem. The issue here is that while I was hoping for an iMac rev, I was flat out expecting a revision of the mini during MacWorld. The current version was released in August 2007, and was only a very minor improvement to the version released in February 2006. While they are fairly cheap, buying 18-month-old tech is not a great idea, especially a product line that might be canceled soon (or mutated into something very different, like an AppleTV/Mini hybrid). This counters one of the mini’s largest advantages in such a setup: that you could keep the same monitor and just swap in new minis as the tech curve advances. Since Apple doesn’t seem that interested in the mini, that advantage instead changes to the bummer of basing the whole thing on a concept that isn’t sustained. The biggest problem with the mini, though, is that the hard drive in the current models just isn’t large enough to be a media center. While it’s possible to upgrade the drive, it’s a pain.

  • Pros: cheap, potentially upgradeable, easy setup, monitor choice allows more flexibility (such as also using it for TV, speakers, etc.)
  • Cons: old tech, uncertain future, underpowered, extra cables

A mounted Modbook Pro. These were introduced at MacWorld 2009. Since Apple is never going to make their own tablets, this is the only way to get a tablet right now. (An iPhone with a bigger screen won’t count, and Apple might never make that either.) New to this model is the addition of a touch interface, to go along with the pen input of the previous model (or a bluetooth keyboard). In some ways, the pen input is a natural fit for a kitchen, and the touch is even more so. It would also be nice to pull it from the mount to use as a tablet on occasion. A drawback, in addition to the cost, are that it would be a step down in screen size, though this might not be the end of the world. The other problem is that I can’t tell if it is VESA mountable or not. The old one was not, but Axiotron claimed to be working on a bracket for Q3 2008 that would allow VESA mounting, though they have yet to deliver it. There hasn’t been much coverage of the Modbook Pro so far, so I’m hoping for more mounting information.

  • Pros: touch interface, could be unmounted and used as portable
  • Cons: expensive, smaller screen than current iMac, uncertain mounting, not available until the summer

Other possibilities exist, but aren’t as palatable to me. A small form-factor hackintosh, for example, could be done similarly to the setup mentioned for the mini. It’s not clear how long hackintoshes will remain possible, though, and I’m not sure I want to be bothered setting one up. (Also, I’ve been counting on the purchase of a new Mac to provide an upgrade to iLife, which I would otherwise need to buy.)

What would you do? Are there other choices? And what kind of VESA arm should I get?