What to buy with savings from using Windows?

Commenters have been talking about how it is worth spending extra $$ to have a Macintosh instead of a Windows machine, or, more likely, in addition to because one still needs the Windows machine.  The implication is that money is infinite that there is nothing better to spend it on that a high-style personal computer.  So what would I buy in the next month or two instead of the Mac?  (We can call this “the straight guy’s dividend” — money that one saves by not having to invest in a fancy wardrobe and an iBook.)

  • an Infrant 1 TB network-attached storage (NAS) device to hold my music collection and photos (700 GB in RAID 5 so you’re protected from a hard drive failure)
  • a Canon EOS 5D full-frame digital camera and 24-105/4L image-stabilized lens (both just announced; finally we have a reasonably light almost cheap full-frame digital camera that lets one’s wide angle lenses be truly wide), not sure about the lens actually because f/4 is kind of slow and will make the viewfinder dim even if the L quality is very good
  • maybe a brand-new liquid-cooled silent PC, as long as I’m shuffling files around (Sony VAIO seems to be the only major-brand liquid-cooled silent PC; does anyone know of another?  The VAIOs are supposed to be kind of flaky and hard to deal with due to custom drivers.)  Though maybe it is better to wait until there is a stable release of Windows Vista available (anyone know when beta 2 is supposed to be ready?) and do the reinstall of the apps only once.
  • a Sonos whole-house music system
  • a Gigabit Ethernet switch to complement the NAS box and all of its clients, including the Sonos (which brand of switch is best these days?)
  • a Zen Vision from Creative to show off photos when I’m walking or driving around — also good for backing up CF cards though lames out when it comes to displaying Camera RAW format images
  • Samsung CLP-510 color laser printer, only $300 at the local Microcenter
  • exercise machine that controls video games from http://www.powergridfitness.com/ and an Xbox to go with it

(There are other toys that would be nice to have, e.g., a Eurocopter EC120, but I’ve excluded them from this list due to the fact that they cost a lot more than a Macintosh.)

Would these be more or less fun to own than a Mac?

20 thoughts on “What to buy with savings from using Windows?

  1. …but to answer the question, if you were to save, say, $500 – $1000 by purchasing a Windows machine instead of a Mac, what else might you do with the money?…

    Yamaha Motif rack module synth
    Any number of small-scale investments, earning you at least $35 in interest each year
    A nice donation to the non-profit organization of your choice
    A tank of gas for your SUV 😉

  2. Heh. While reading your post, I was listening to digital music wirelessly streamed from my Powerbook to my main stereo speakers by way of an AirPort Express. An Airport Express module costs $125 from amazon; my Powerbook serves as the controller. A Sonos Zoneplayer module costs $500 and requires a $400 controller. So if you want music in two locations, the Sonos system costs $1200 whereas an iBook with two Airport Express stations costs $1250.

    Bonus if you buy the Sonos: you can sync the same music to different locations at the same time. (With AirTunes you have to pick one location at a time.) And it’s an amp, so you can drive big unpowered speakers with it.

    Bonus if you buy the mac – in addition to wirelessly serving music anywhere in the house, you get a free wireless 802.11 network, printer sharing to all those same locations, and, by the way, the use of a mac. And it takes a lot less space on your shelves. (The controller, being a mac, is a little bigger, but the modules are so small as to be essentially invisible.)

    Also, keep in mind that the cheapest “headless” Mac is currently $500, can use all your windows peripherals, and takes up less space than the average laptop.

    So if you were seriously considering Sonos, take a look at AirTunes.

  3. Glen: I do want the music in about four places at once and I want them all sync’d so that the same track plays in all parts of the house. No matter where I am I want a change in the music to be reflected across the rest of the units.

  4. On the cool-o-meter most of your suggestions outperform a Mac. But then, my next computer purchase (which will be a Mac) won’t cost as much as any of them, and is not actually substitutable because I’ll be buying it for a specific purpose (video editing) which none of them can do and no other computer can do as well. (Don’t buy a VAIO, though. Their reputation for flakiness is well-earned. And they’re almost as overpriced relative to capability as Powerbooks. If you want a water-cooled PC, there are almost certainly any number of places in the Boston area that can build you one better and cheaper than a VAIO.) I don’t have the spare funds to buy a computer (any computer) just for cool…but it’s nice to buy one for a task I actually need to get done, and get cool along with it. 🙂

  5. Avoid desktop VAIOs at all costs. They perform reasonably well only if you don’t install non-Sony and non-Microsoft software on them. Running apps that are trying to be creative with sound/video usually results in having to reinstall the whole system.

  6. Your postings are increasingly resembling those of John C. Dvorak everyday…

    Again, I’ll say outright TCO of Mac is < Win OS, given all the stuff that comes standard on OS X AND all the included software (which may not suit professionals, but is fine for the general user). In your post you caution about “reinstalls” but on OS X it’s a simple matter of dragging an icon…

    And you could save a lot more money buying a Kia too over that SUV… …three fillups and there goes the cost differential between an inferior Win OS machine and a state of the art OS X OS (granted, there are still flaws and annoyances, but even Win engineers have admitted to me that OS X > Win XP, and that Windows w/Longhorn^H^H^H^H^H^H^HVista is trying to get to where OS X is).


    70%+ sites run *nix/Apache, and these are tools that come with default install of OS X. The web is the biggest reason to own a computer for the majority of computer users. Why on earth would I want to run Windows and pay for licenses for all the proprietary rubbish needed to approximate a *nix server that I can develop & test on my own OS X (or Linux) box.

  7. For $1000 or less, these are the things on my list right now

    Epson Stylus Photo R1800 (about $500)
    a camcorder (Panasonic PV-GS250 or Sony DVD403, about $750)
    4 extra hours with my patent attorney ($1000)
    some really nice meals at fancy restaurants (for two, $110 3-course meal @ Chez Panisse to $330 9-course meal @ Ritz Carlton)
    a quick tour of Japan. I know a 6-day tour that costs $1k per person, airfare & food & lodging all included

  8. If you want four+ locations then you’re talking $2500+ worth of Sonos not counting speakers. And the Vaio is $2200, and the Canon EOS 5D can be pre-ordered for $3300.

    Meanwhile, the cheapest iBook currently costs $1k, which is only $500 more than the cheapest PC laptop. Were you planning to buy /six/ of the cheapest PC laptops? I suppose you could retitle this blog entry “What to buy with 4-7 times the savings from using Windows?” and be fine…

  9. walk up to a mac, open a console window, and type “which python”. Feel free to type “which perl”, “which java”, and try a few others. If you don’t know what any of this means, then the other gizmos will matter more to you. If you do know what that means, then you *might* want the mac more than the other toys. Kind of depends on what floats your boat.

  10. Naum, et al: All of this talk about the horrors of Windows sysadmin has me confused. I haven’t touched the WinXP desktop machine that I am currently typing on since 2001. The white box vendor did the install so I can’t even claim to have done that. The only things that I have ever done resembling sysadmin on this machine are (1) ask Windows to defrag a hard drive (1 minute of my time, a few hours of the machine’s), (2) approve Windows’s request to install patches and upgrades.

    Gee Bee: It is nice that Apple includes these 1960s-style computer languages, thus saving folks who want to run Perl the two minutes that it takes to install Perl on an XP box (http://www.indigostar.com/indigoperl.htm came up from a Google search for “Perl and Windows XP”; maybe if you work at a hedge fund a two-minute savings is worth paying $500 extra). But it would be more interesting if Apple included a good language from the era (Lisp!) or even tried to move its customers into the modern era with Haskell or ML. I found Perl pretty useful back in 1994 when doing a CGI programming project but it was free then and I’m not sure why I would want to pay Apple big $$ to get me back to the tools of 1994…

  11. Phil – didn’t know you had a Paul Graham-eque nostalgia for Lisp. He’s actually quite excited about OS X (http://paulgraham.com/mac.html).

    By the way, I’m not sure that “perl” is the most pleasing thing about “which perl”. It’s the “which” – that you are working in UNIX (OK, freeBSD) rather than DOS. I agree that it is a sad state of affairs when you’re delighted to pay big bucks to be restored to old tools. But when you’ve taken ten steps back, it’s still gratifying to take a few steps forward, yes?

  12. Again, as a developer, having *nix tools and Apache (which is the still the predominant platform on which the web runs) allows us the best of both worlds — a superior UI and all the *nix goodness. You may decry these as 60’s tools, but the F/OSS model is taking over, and that is primarily a LAMP (or substitute FreeBSD or other *nix web server engines). The proprietary model, as it pertains to server world, is still flavored *nix, and being able to mirror an entire server realm on my own laptop is excellent – yeah, you could use those tools on Windows, but I could paint my house with a toothbrush too, Apache on Win, ugghhhh… …Google, that you herald, is built on F/OSS. Most of the application development I see in the business world is all going on in Perl, PHP, Java, C++ (oh, the pain) or some type of application server framework. Take a look (http://www.alexa.com/site/ds/top_sites?ts_mode=lang&lang=en) at the top sites, and *nix/Apache combo comprises the majority — the great number of startups including the one I work for now, pretty much all are on the LAMP path (though we have a few OS X servers too).

    I really would like to work with Lisp, but there’s just not an awful lot of demand for that language outside of academia (Paul Graham has written at great length about his use of it for Viaweb, but I believe I read that quite a bit of that was rewritten after it was purchased. Some other outfits (Orbitz) are using Lisp, but recommending Lisp for a project is a good way to get people looking at you funny. And TBHWY, most of computing tasks these days are string munging exercises that really are suited to scripting languages (well, at least with all the “quoting” concerns).

    And your price comparision is not really fair, considering (a) all the software bundled with OS X that one would have to pay for on Windows (or seek F/OSS equivalents) and (b) superior OS that doesn’t get gunked up like Windows. As to the sysadmin stuff, I’ve not encountered major stuff (though just the clunkiness of reinstalls and other goofy things that just is handled much more eloquently in OS X), but again, my church group, my family, my hockey team, etc.. all beseech me to help rid their Win boxes of demons. So much so that I grew weary of it, that I just tell them to go buy a Mac, you can get a Mac-Mini for $500 that will serve the average user quite well, and comes loaded with iLife and other great software.

  13. I’m running Linux – what do you guys suggest I do with the $150 or so I saved from not running Windows?

  14. Danny: I don’t think Microsoft gets $150 when a person buys a complete PC system, including keyboard and monitor, for $350. The figures that I have heard are always under $30. They make more when people buy Office as well but OpenOffice eliminates the need to pay for Word, Excel, and the rest. You might be able to pay $130 for Windows if you buy it in a retail box in a store but almost all copies of Windows are sold pre-installed on new computers. I’m using my savings right now to pay for gas for my airplane to take a couple of people flying to Martha’s Vineyard (they bid at a charity auction where I donated airplane and helicopter rides).

  15. An alternative to the Zen Vision is the Epson P-2000 “photo fine” viewer (I have one). It has a larger hard drive (40GB) and supports RAW files for Canon and some other cameras. It does have its idiosyncrasies, and video support is not as good as for the Creative model, but to offload photos from a CF card and view them on a nice portable display, it works well.

  16. The one time (several years ago now) I saw a biggish computer supplier actually split the cost of Windows out of their system bundles, it was $145 – Australian dollars, which was probably under US$100 at the time.

    I’ve never never seen that again – I think Microsoft has leaned pretty hard on all the vendors of any size to stop them unbundling Windows.

  17. Michael: RAID 5 gives you high throughput for big files such as video (the data are spread across multiple disk drives so you can read from several simultaneously) and it protects you from the failure of a single hard drive. It is not a backup in the sense that if someone comes to your house and steals the NAS (or breaks into the machine and wipes all the data maliciously) you won’t have another copy.

  18. I just needed my first new computer in years so I switched to a desktop power Mac (primarily from Linux, and some windows). Yes, it was $2100, and a similar windows machine probably would have been about $1600-1300, depending on which Mac zealot you get to rate the performance of the two machines. But it’s still plenty fast.

    The time I get back from not having to futz with things, or deal with Windows’ annoyances is way more useful time to me than the time I’d save by having Word load 2-3 seconds quicker.

    Of course, I hate word processors (I use Lyx ’cause I’m too lazy to learn LayteX yet), don’t really have to interop with much Windows stuff, and am much happier in Unix (especially a Unix that I can just plug my digital camera into and have it automatically, witthout hassle, download the photos and -then- print them on a color printer, wiithout hours of driver setup). It’s definitely not a perfect experience, but it’s much closer than either linux or Windows for my purposes.


  19. RE the NAS box: while I have had several RAID5 arrays give me good service, a friend pointed out that RAID1 might be a better choice now. RAID1 doesn’t leave your data smeared all over several disks, in case the controller messes up. For work, I recently purchased Seagate external USB/firewire 400GB disk for $270 each (I think). They should be up to 500GB capacity by now. Possibly RAID5 would give better performance than RAID1, but disk performance hasn’t been a big concern to me lately.

    How much is the Infrant box? If you saved $500 by switching to the Seagate disks, you could buy a Mac Mini 🙂

    RE the gigabit ethernet switch – I have a cheap “TRENDnet” 5 port box here. Somewhere I read a comment that they weren’t very good, but this one is still passing packets. I suspect all the cheap ones have similar chips and similar performance. A step up would probably be HP Procurve – do they still include a lifetime warranty?

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