Knowing When to Move On

I seem to be going through a lot of changes lately when it comes to computing. My last entry to this website detailed my move away from 1Password. This one will provide details on my move away from Apple hardware. Unlike the last one this is not necessarily a desired move but more like a necessary one. First, however, I need to explain how I got here which means actually starting from the very beginning.

The first computer I can remember ever using was a Macintosh II. My father probably bought it around 1987 and kept upgrading it from there until upgrades weren’t available anymore, eventually replacing it with a Centris 650 in 1993 and later a vivid lime green clamshell iBook in 2000. I would play games, but what I really enjoyed doing on the computer was art — which is what he bought the computer for in the first place. My earliest memories involve using what was then Aldus Freehand and also MacPaint. Later, my father bought Adobe Photoshop 1.0, but 2.5 is the one I remember using the most. Being able to use computers for art and design was what got me interested in them in the first place. Until the late 1990’s you’d have been wasting your time trying to do art and design work on Windows.

Personally I have owned a 2001 Titanium PowerBook G4 that I got for college, a first generation Mid 2006 Mac Pro, a Late 2012 27” iMac, a few Mac Minis, and two more MacBook Pros. I have owned quite a few.

I greatly prefer the workflow in macOS over Windows. I am not saying that macOS isn’t without its annoyances (far from it), but out of what there is to offer it’s the one that best provides me with both a useable GUI and a usable CLI in one neat package. Windows does not provide that. Linux can provide that with lots of tinkering, though; more on Linux later.

I’ve been using a Mac for my main computer since 2006 when I bought the first generation Mac Pro. I was tired of constantly fixing Windows XP issues in my computer, didn’t like what I saw in Windows Vista, and Apple was transitioning to Intel processors. It still remains to this day the best computer I have ever owned. The case was built like a tank, and components inside of it were upgradable. I only ever had one issue with the computer. My video card failed; Apple just sent me a new one. There was no taking it into a store; there was no waiting for someone to fix it. I just put the card in myself. Self-upgrading and self-repair are concepts which are entirely foreign to today’s Apple.

I tend to have a major upgrade every six years or so, and in late 2012 it was time to get something new. I was a bit ticked off at that point because Apple decided in Mountain Lion to remove support for 32-bit EFI, keeping my Mac Pro from being officially supported. I ended up having to partition a SSD to create a hacked 64-bit EFI. Apple also hadn’t updated the Mac Pros in quite some time at that point, and there was no word except from an email from Tim Cook on the release of anything new either. I was feeling ill toward Apple at that point, but I really did not want to go back to Windows. I caved and decided to buy an iMac when Apple updated them that December and bought a top-of-the-line 27” iMac.

I haven’t been as enamored with this machine. My intention was to keep it for a few years at the most, but I’ve kept it almost exactly 5 1/2 years. I knew before I bought it I wouldn’t be able to fix it myself easily, and that has always bothered me. I’ve always purchased AppleCare on my Macs, and it was useful for this machine. The first issue I ran into with it was about six months after receiving it where the fan in the computer made a tapping noise. The computer is a thin device with only a fan and a hard drive (part of the fusion drive in my model) as the moving parts. Hard drive wasn’t dead, and the noise only happened when the fan was going. After numerous phone calls and emails I finally got them to realize it was the fan. Because I don’t live remotely near an Apple Store and because I have a desktop they sent someone to my house to fix it where he had to go through a ridiculous process to take the computer apart to just replace a fan.

“Self-upgrading and self-repair are concepts which are entirely foreign to today’s Apple.”

I bought a model with the Fusion Drive where it uses solid state storage to cache a larger traditional hard disk drive. To put it bluntly… it sucked. Internally the SSD and the HDD are separate bits of hardware and literally everything is handled by software — Core Storage. This isn’t a filesystem handling of SSD caching like ZFS can do. Every single time it decided to write to the SSD there was a noticeable few milliseconds pause. Because it only used the SSD for files which are frequently used this momentary pause occured quite often, and when you’re handling a lot of files those pauses add up. Today Fusion Drives don’t have that problem, but it still is slow because the filesystem isn’t handling it, higher level software is. Within a week of running my computer with the Fusion Drive I’d separated the two parts and never returned to using it. This is important to what happened a year later: the hard drive failed. The hard drive they put in the machine was a Seagate, and because it’s a Seagate drive it failed within months of use; it’s what they do best. Thankfully I’d separated the drives. Again, Apple sent someone by to fix it. What did he bring? A Seagate drive. That one lasted longer; it failed almost eight months ago.

Wait! There’s more! Within a year of using the computer the display started ghosting. The display in my iMac was manufactured by LG. They even faced a class action lawsuit over it on MacBook Pros. However, all of Apple’s computers using LG’s displays during this time period exhibited this problem. Apple again sent someone by to replace the display. He replaced it with another LG display instead of the non-faulty Samsung display they started using; that one started ghosting about six months later. I didn’t bother getting it replaced and have put up with it ever since. It’s never permanent, but it has gotten worse over the years.

Many Mac users are exasperated these days because of their recent MacBooks which are — to put it bluntly again — overengineered pieces of shit. They contain keyboards which fail because of microscopic specks of dust, contain so few ports that to use the machines one has to carry around bags of adapters which Apple will gladly sell you for $50 a pop, and have internal components which are inferior to PC competitors’ comparable offerings in every conceivable category. Developers are upset, and even John Gruber has damaging things to say about Apple hardware; it’s bad when he does. They act as if this is a new thing. Apple has been lethargic at updating their Macintosh hardware for at least seven years. They have made inferior hardware for quite a long time, choosing thinness over performance when it was unnecessary to do so. There is absolutely no reason why an iMac has to be as thin as it is; it sits on a desk and doesn’t need to be lugged around anywhere. My iMac is an i7. The new ones are all i5s. Why? Because new i7s run too hot for the tiny heatsink and chassis fan that are used in Apple’s thin case. Processing power takes a back seat to thinness… on a desktop computer. The new iMacs also don’t have optical audio output I suppose because they wanted to differentiate it even more with the iMac Pro and to remove yet another useful function of their computers. The iMac Pro is a compromised machine as well, containing custom lower power (meaning also lower performing) Xeon processors that won’t overheat in the iMac Pro’s thin case; if spending $5000 for a computer I don’t want my CPU a lower performing model. Apple did the same shit with the Mac Pro a few years earlier. The original Mac Pro was a tower. Its replacement is this weird cylinder trash can-looking device that has no internal expansion capabilities whatsoever. The new machines are underperforming compared to off-the-shelf PC hardware because Apple’s overengineering of the internals restricts what they can do with the new Xeon processors. It hasn’t gone over too well; many in the high-end market had moved away from Apple by this point, and surely by now most of them have. We’re again at the point where we were in 2012 with Tim Cook’s promises of a new machine, and when the new Mac Pro drops it probably will be another overengineered piece of shit instead of what the high-end market needs: a simple tower computer with upgradable and replaceable parts. That’s exactly what I’ve built instead of buying Apple hardware again. It is past time to move on. I should have before I bought the last one.

“They have made inferior hardware for quite a long time, choosing thinness over performance when it was unnecessary to do so.”

My father bought an IBM-Compatible PC computer sometime in the late ’80’s, and that machine eventually became completely mine when he didn’t require it to run Automap for routing charter bus trips. The computer I left behind in 2006 when I bought my Mac Pro started out as that machine. I have years of experience building (and breaking) computers, so when I decided this time to build a PC instead of buying shitty Apple hardware I knew what I was doing. I didn’t go into it without a plan; my initial plan was as follows:

  1. Build a “Hackintosh” which would run macOS as my primary operating system.
  2. Failing that, run Ubuntu Linux and see if Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator would be okay in a virtual machine.
  3. Failing that, run Windows 10.

The first plan to extinguish was B. I didn’t get far with Linux. I have a Thunderbolt Drobo 5D, and it’s not supported in Linux. I tried some third party software for managing a Drobo on it, but it never could recognize my Drobo. It wasn’t Thunderbolt that was the issue because the drive it booted off of was Thunderbolt, connected into the Drobo. Even if I got the thing to work the Drobo only supports NTFS, HFS+, and ext3. I would have to use ext3 which is rather slow. I’ve never gotten around to checking much on how Photoshop and Illustrator would work in a virtual machine.1 I do know that VirtualBox’s “Seamless Mode” is far from seamless. I am not sure about VMWare Player. I will investigate this further because I do want to give Linux a fair shot. I enjoy using it quite a lot on my MacBook Pro. This will be easier later also because I want to explore replacing my Drobo with a custom built NAS where I can have my own RAID array with a filesystem like ZFS.

I abhor Windows; that’s why it’s last. Its GUI is overly complicated in places it shouldn’t need to be and at times completely illogical; Microsoft treats its customers with contempt as if they’re criminals with its restrictive and buggy activation DRM that has extremely confusing licensing terms; features are most of the time thought out only half way before implementation; and software lacks the polish Mac developers have historically applied to their applications. There isn’t a Windows equivalent to Panic or Rogue Amoeba. I have also been spoiled by the Unix shell. I know you can now use bash on Windows, but let’s face it the Linux Subsystem for Windows is popsicle sticked and duct taped into it. Just accept Unix already, Microsoft; everyone else has. With all that said, Windows 10 is indeed the best version they have released, and if push came to shove I would reluctantly use it as my primary computing operating system.

At least thus far plan A has worked. Installing macOS was as simple as making a USB stick with the necessary bootloader. Getting everything recognized afterwards was a completely different story. Everything involves loading custom kernel extensions in the EFI partition. Video was as easy as downloading Nvidia’s Mac drivers. Audio was difficult because Apple doesn’t yet have hardware with my particular audio chipset. There were a few kernel panics to sort out which required some manual editing of CPU settings in the UEFI/BIOS/Whatever, but the issues were documented and easily rectified. I have had to learn a lot in the past couple of weeks. Truth be told I have had more difficulty with Windows than I have with hacking an operating system onto unsupported hardware. My computer has an Asus motherboard, and it came with an expansion card for Thunderbolt that apparently doesn’t have firmware on it at all and has to be flashed with firmware when installing the drivers in Windows. That is sheer idiocy, but whatever. Twice after installing the drivers Windows became unresponsive, even in safe mode. Thankfully, I’m using NVMe SSDs. Reinstalling Windows didn’t take long. Actually, the funny thing is it takes Windows longer to verify my serial than it does to install the OS before configuration. My intention with the Windows installation is just to play games, and getting my Switch Pro Controller to work was a pain in the ass. I had to download this hacky software to make it emulate an Xbox 360 controller that has to be copied into each game’s folder and configured for each game that requires the controller. Contrast this to macOS where I simply paired it with the computer and went about my business. Bluetooth in general seems to be shitty on Windows where my Bluetooth keyboard would be recognized but non-functioning. Bluetooth really seems rather pointless for keyboards and mice on PCs because they won’t work until the OS boots up, so I’m having to use a spare keyboard at the moment even though the keyboard works just fine once booted into macOS.

“It is past time to move on. I should have before I bought the last one.”

I am not going to go into any specifics on the hardware I have for my new computer because I’ve already written enough. It was interesting buying individual parts after all of these years, and I probably annoyed Jeff with questions so much he felt like punching my face in. The most difficult part of buying parts was finding parts that did not have LEDs all over them and a case without a window to show off the inside of the computer. My motherboard was also covered with LEDs which were thankfully easy to remove. I do not understand this fascination with turning your computer into a Christmas tree. It’s a waste of electricity for something that — like a Christmas tree — is gaudy and an eyesore. I don’t care to see the inside of the computer unless I’m fixing or adding to it. Building the computer was relatively easy; there were only a few things different, usually in a way which made it easier.

I now have a Hackintosh, running macOS as my primary OS with a Windows installation just for playing games. This feels like a transitioning period for me, and I might move away from Apple completely especially since I am now at the point where I am hacking their OS onto my custom built machine just so I can have hardware that isn’t garbage and can be easily repaired if something goes wrong. Only time will tell what I will do, but I am open to all of the possibilities — even Windows.

  1. Yes, I am aware of free alternatives such as The GIMP, Krita, and Inkscape. While I would and do use Krita especially all of them aren’t complete replacements yet for either Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator for me. ↩︎