Computer Quandary

I've got a bit of a decision to make soon and I'll admit that it's keeping me up at night.  No it's not the presidential election, that one's obvious for me. It's also not Canon v. Nikon, as the 5DII has helped me on that count. Rather it's a platform issue.

As I may have mentioned before, I'm not a Mac guy. That's right, I'm a Windows user about 95% of the time. I like building my own machines a little too much. My current desktop is a 2.4GHz Core 2 Quad with 8 gigs of RAM and 5 hard drives. One 74GB Raptor boot drive, a
pair of 500GB drives in RAID 1 for general storage, and a pair of 1TB drives in RAID 1 for my photography. This whole thing runs 64bit Vista and it screams. Very fast, very stable, and very silent (just two 120mm fans on low voltage).

Interestingly enough, I was emailing with John Nack from the PhotoShop team a couple of months ago and I asked him the win/mac ratio of Photoshop sales and he said 70% Windows to 30% Mac.  And I've got to tell you, I was a little suprised. Sure, people use Photoshop for all kinds of things besides photography, but that's a big number, which means there are a lot of photographers who use Windows.

Back when I went to music school it was all Macs in that industry too, and I stuck with Windows. There's just something about Apple that pisses me off. Maybe it's the smugness of too many of their ads. Maybe it's the form over function much of the time. Maybe it's the fact that even after you close all the windows of an application, the application is still running. And it drives me nuts that they're a company that gets blowjobs from the mainstream press but rarely gets called on it's failures (Proprietarty ADC display ports?, The fact that they never document what they've changed in software updates "Misc bug and performance improvements", Hyper-inflated battery-life quotes, No MMS on the iPhone? Come on!)

It's definitely Mac users who think that you've got to use a Mac if you're doing photography, but who have no idea how their machine works and think that the guts inside are different than any other computer ('My mac has a sad face today, I've got to bring it in to get it fixed'). Hey lady, it's not a pet, it's a computer. I had a hard drive problem a month ago and a Steve Jobs ass kissing friend of mine said snidely, "You know, that wouldn't have happened if you had a Mac!"  Well, first off, it was the hard drive in my Macbook Pro that died, so up your nose with a rubber hose and secondly, the drive was made my Hitachi, which also makes drives used in computers of every brand. It's the same stuff inside, especially with Apple's move to Intel a couple years ago. Ya, that's another good one, for years they portrayed x86 processors as slow and stupid compared to their PowerPC's, then they to and switch without ever having to eat their words, but I digress.

Now, as I just mentioned, I do own a Macbook Pro from about 2 years ago that I use when I travel, but I only bought that because I don't know of any comparable machines that are as compact with as good a screen on the Windows side. Even with 4GB of RAM and a 7200RPM drive in it, it's no match for the 400MB PSD files my work ends up creating.

So here I am, a desktop Vista user with a Mac laptop for travel.  So what's the problem?  Well, a couple of things. I've got an approaching storage problem that needs a long term solution. Unfortunately most of the external drive enclosures with RAID support just bridge the SATA connections together to get it to your PC where you create the RAID sets in software. So if I go that route, which is currently heavily favored, I need to decide on a platform because the drives will end up being platform specific. Second, I've had these machines for about two years and while there's nothing WRONG with them, Intel is releasing it's next generation of chips in the next month or so, and Apple looks to be replacing it's laptops on Tues. And with big big files, every cycle counts so I'll be upgrading sooner rather than later.

In the past few months I'm getting to the point where I use my computer basically for 4 things. Firefox (email), LightRoom, Photoshop, and watching movies. Obviously I can do all of this on either platform. Photoshop CS4 ads an application frame to the mac, which fixes my pet peave that the desktop is visible underneath the files you have open and clicking on it by accident takes you back to Finder. Though CS4 is also 64bit on Windows and not on the Mac, which means more available RAM. One thing I would miss is Qimage which I love and use to print my images. I've never been able to get decent color out of Lightroom or Photoshop even when I turn off all of their color management and let my HP printer driver handle everything, settings which give me perfect prints in Qimage.  I guess that I could use boot camp or parallels to print, but that sounds like a pain. And while I've got my laptop talking to my desktop through SMB file sharing, it never seems quite as seemless as two machines on the same platform

My pie-in-the-sky dream is a really fast Macbook Pro with an ExpressCard eSATA adapter hooked up to a 4TB external RAID set and a 30" NEC monitor.  That way, I've got the best of both worlds, big screen and fast hard drives along with a lower pwer consumption and the ablity to disconnect and take my main machine anywhere. But I don't think this next generation will be quite fast enough for that.  I've grown fond of 4 cores when converting RAW images to DNG.

So I'll probably end up with a new Mac laptop and a new desktop.  The question is if I should wait for the new Mac Pro and get one of those? Or just do what I've always done and build a sweet new quad core machine in the next couple months, for about one half what I would pay for an inferiorly speced Mac.  Decisions, decisions.

Comments welcomed, but I've got one esoteric Mac RAID question for anyone out there who could answer.  If I create an eSATA software RAID set on one Mac, say a desktop, and then plug it into another Mac, say a macbook with an eSATA port; Will it mount and work seamlessly?  Would I for example be able to have my laptop on a shoot, take 50GB of photos, come home, plug in the RAID to the laptop, copy the files, unmount it and mount it back to the desktop to do my post work?