“Best Mac Ever?”

A note from the publisher

Over at Macworld, editorial director Jason Snell has a blog post up about opinions on the “Best Mac Ever:”

I tried an experiment: I asked the assorted mass of people who are following me on Twitter could find some vague consensus about the best Mac model ever.

A vague consensus? Maybe, maybe not. But I sure got a lot of fascinating answers. Among them:

Matt Deatherage of MacJournals said “they all sucked in their own ways.”

So I need to have a little conversation with Jason about what “private Twitter feed” means.

It’s not the kind of thing I’d say publicly because it cries out for explanation. After all, many Mac models are quite good. But when I heard the question, my rephrasing thought was “Is there some Mac design from the past that I wish I could still buy today,” and the answer, quite frankly, is “no.”

It’s a given that all older machines are slow and small compared to today’s behemoths. Lots of people liked the SE/30, but it seems almost laughable to note that the machine had a 16MHz (yes, megahertz) 68030 processor and a maximum of 8MB (yes again, megabytes) of RAM. That changed to 32MB later on when the logic board was able to handle the newer 4MB SIMMs, but that was huge at the time. (You can view the specifications here.)

Commenters at Macworld have mentioned the Macintosh IIfx, the “wicked fast” six-NuBus-slot behemoth with a 40MHz 68030 and numeric coprocessor that redefined “speed” back in 1990. It was a cool and important machine, but it was very expensive even for the performance. Seriously: read the original press release. With 4MB of RAM and a 160MB (again, megabytes) hard drive, the Macintosh IIfx retailed for US$10,989. That price did not include a monitor or graphics card, by the way.

Staffer John C. Welch voted for the Power Macintosh 8600, another machine we had around here. It was indeed a good machine, but I think I still have some scars on my fingers from the cuts that the chassis inflicted when trying to change the RAM configuration—and that design was much better than the previous ones.

Our next production machine was a 450MHz Power Macintosh G3, which was again a good machine, but we got ours just months before the Power Macintosh G4 was announced, so it always seemed a bit slow to us. (Ours came with a build-to-order 36GB hard drive that, frustratingly, failed less than a week after delivery, and that may have colored our expeirences. So might the color of the machine, which seems quaint less than a decade later.)

After that, a dual-800MHz Power Macintosh G4, still in use as a server, and another one that eventually had mysterious hard drive problems. It was a good machine (you can tell because we still use it), and we never thought ill of it while using it, but after a few years of using a dual-2.5GHz Power Mac G5, I’m not enthusiastic about the plastic enclosures. (Apple seems to have moved on as well in this year’s aluminum iMac designs.) Then again, the Power Mac G5/Mac Pro enclosure is really pretty darn big, and that’s less than perfect, too.

The G5 and Intel-based iMacs are really sharp designs, but your choice of displays is obviously limited. Andy Ihnatko likes the G4-based iMacs, but they only had one user-servicable RAM slot (and no way to replace the hard drive without official service). The aluminum MacBook Pro/PowerBook G4 design is very nice, but far too many people complain about the poor AirPort reception inside the metal case.

The Mac Mini is still a thing to behold, I think, but I wish a good model cost US$400 instead of US$800. The IIci was a ground-breaker in its day, but I still remember it being as finger-scarring as the Power Mac 8600 for some reason. The original iMac was quite nice and very important when it was released nine and a half years ago (can you believe it’s been that long?), but compared to later models it seems big and comical.

On and on it goes. They’re all fine machines, and we loved all of them when they were new, but I’m not anxious to go back to any of the older models.

Commenter Burda said, “The best Mac ever is whatever is next.” Jason responded that this was “A perfectly reasonable answer, though a less fun one.”

I don’t know that the next one will be the best ever, but I know that I want them to keep getting better, just like I want movies to tell new stories, for TV to break new ground, for athletes to achieve more than their predecessors did. All the previous Macs I’ve used on a daily basis were great, but what I really want to know is “what’s next?”

Whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll suck in its own way—and be great in a lot of other ways.