Originally Posted by hobBIT
You made some interesting points.
I would like to know more about why
people really buy laptops. A machine's performance is not the only decision making factor.
From my own experience with friends and family, they switched to laptops mainly because they didn't want to dedicate a whole desk in their home to a stationary computer system. As simple as that. They wanted a system they can pack away, out of sight, when not in use. No midrange desktop will ever give them that. Even if they buy an iPhone/tablet at some point, they'd still prefer a companion system to be out of sight when not in use.
Well I don't have that problem, that is I have a room for the computers.
As to why I purchased a laptop, it was simple I got tired of dial up and affordable high speed Internet isn't happening around here. So now if I need a large file I have to go down to the library or other WiFi hot spot. Hopefully this is tolerable until they can get DSL out here.
It was like 6 months after that that I got an iPhone. I did not expect it to be the great web and E-Mail machine it is. I read all the hype but I've learned to discount that marketing crap, however this time a product exceeded my expectations. In any event it does drastically reduce the need for a laptop as it is my first choice for E-Mail and even modest web browsing. When the day comes that DSL is available I might not have a need for a laptop at all.
You also pointed to the unfortunate trend of the widening gap in performance between desktops and laptops.
Yes this is huge but will be more important when SL optimized software hits. Right now my dual core MBP will crawl when modestly loaded. Once you actually try to do multiple things at once dual cores just aren't enough. Unfortunately OpenCL might not be of much help at all in these situations.
16 vs 2 threads is certainly something to worry about.
But this gap will close soon I think once denser and lower power CPUs hit laptops. Once 24 threads are introduced in desktops, laptops should have at least 4 if not 8 threads. 24:4 or 24:8 is already a much better ratio than 16:2.
Well it is a somewhat better ratio. The problem is these mobile CPUs just don't perform as well as desk top CPUs with good cooling.
Yet do consumers really need all that power?
Well they need more than what they have no to deliver the next generation of interactive software. As noted above I have my moments with my MBP wear the slugish performance just isn't tolerable. Granted some this may be in part due to one well known program that does not execute well on Mac platforms. Flash isn't the only software that leads to poor performance though.
If a 600MHz iPhone/tablet (or a netbook) is sufficient for most tasks, the few remaining tasks should be fine with a dual-core at 3GHz, and even more so with 4 and 8 threads.
To this I have to say no! An iPhone or a tablet vs a desktop, represent two different use cases. One simply doesn't use a desktop in the same way a tablet is used.
One of the things that disturbs me about the "I want a tablet crowd" is that many seem to think it will actually work well as a document creation device. They won't and likely would only be used in an emergency for bulk creation.
The iPhone is a big win for me because it handles what I currently need while mobile. So the question is what do you do when it is time to buy another computer? Well I have to be honest and say a desktop would be high on the list. If you don't need a laptop, desktops are a much better value. It isn't just costs either as ergonomics plays a big role in preferences here.
Unless you are a professional video editor. At which point you buy a high-end desktop and are not interested in an xMac either.
I like to think of the xMac as an expandable low end Mac. Disk expansion is what comes to mind here and frankly it is because of video. Not for bulk production of video but for storage and management of such. With a company like Apple so focused on digital music and video it just shocks me that they don't offer up a machine optimized for such usage. An xMac with a raidable set of expansion slots would be ideal in this situation. Of course such a PC could find lots of other uses too. The point is there is a market for such and Apple is a major software supplier, so why the disconnect?
Besides Mac Book AIR kinda proves that a PC doesn't have to be a run away success to stay in Apples catalog. Maybe xMac only moves 500,000 a year, that might not be great when compare to MBP but it isn't peanuts either. It does allow Apple to offer a complete product matrix covering the PC and the media (software). The fact is people are storing their libraries on non Apple hardware now due to the lack of a viable Apple solution.
Note all of the above is focused on just one usage of an xMac. Their are numerous other justifications and a well designed XMac could handle them all.
To me it also seems that most laptop 'upgraders' just want a bigger screen. At which point an external second display is probably enough. Or an iMac.
Don't get me wrong an iMac is nice but you get exactly one screen to choose from. As to an external monitor on a laptop, that is OK if you can accept a laptops limited ability to drive large screens. XMac greatly reduces the compromises.
There are statistics about what consumers actually upgrade in their mid-range desktops. Turns out that the vast majority never upgrades anything and makes no use of the internal expansion slots for HDs or PCI cards. So why offer them?
I'm nit sure where you hot that info because I don't believe it is accurate at all. Here is a list of things that I see on a regular basis:
Disk upgrades, both for repair and for the lack of storage. The external drive market for the Mac should highlight demand right there. The problem on the Mac is that most external drives are a terrible solution for the problem at hand.
Graphics card upgrades. I actually thought this would slow up but it hasn't, the tech gets better at a rate fast enough to justify upgrading video cards for many users. What is notable on the Mac is how difficult this is to do.
Of course there are users who will use them, there will also be Mac users who have good reasons for getting an xMac, but the question remains will these be enough for a niche computer maker to introduce a product for a niche user group?
Oh come on now Apple introduced AIR and keeps it in the product catalog. That is a niche machine for those with more money than brains. Here we are talking about filling the needs of a large user segment with a small form factor expandable machine. Well much smaller than the Mac Pro, it is not exactly a niche product at all.
Two other trends working against a midrange desktop machine:
Yes the term has been abused and ridiculed ad nauseam, but I know people who actually started using this to get more performance on demand. Their decision was to stay with a laptop and use the cloud for 2D/3D render performance. Whenever they need some heavy number crunching they rent a cloud service that does this for them. That way they get 256 or more cores if they need them.
That is a great move if you need a render farm. However Intel's processors allow for a significant boost in performance at little to no increase in cost. That is if Apple where to add a properly configured desktop to the line up. A cloud server nay be ideal for abulk rendering job but there is much that can and should be done locally before the work is shipped off to the farm.
In any event I really have to wonder about this organization as laptops just don't seem to fit the demand. I would also have to wonder how often and for which projects the use the farm. The ability to do the work locally improves every few months, there has to be a productivity and cost issue with shipping every project out to the farm.
So instead of your future scenario of tablet plus desktop I see a tablet which can plug into a desktop monitor for more screen real estate and tap into the cloud for more heavy lifting on demand. Mobile Me could easily offer this service for iMovie and iDVD.
Frankly I don't foresee cloud services ever being cost effective for a single user. For businesses that is a case by case situation. As much as I like Mobile Me, I can't ever see it as serving my computational needs. The number one issue being current connection speeds, which are a huge bottle neck which becomes even larger when faster mobile processors are used.
Put GCD on a tablet and you have a parallel processing machine that works somewhat like Libraries on that computational farm you talked about. In effect we should have in a year or two a parallel processing (GCD) and OpenCL compatible iPhone along with a similar but faster tablet. The hardware power will be there.
What won't be there is bandwidth. Let's face it the RF spectrum for data transfer is extremely limited and always will be. Conversely wired connections are far less limited if you can get the wire to your house. The cloud sounds nice in a pure digital world but real world is a very rough and tumble analog reality.
Apple clearly has some interesting design ideas in mind for pushing Light Peak.
Once SSDs become cheaper and more popular it is quite imaginable that soon 3.5" HDs are a thing of the past and 2.5" will be the new standard even for most desktops.
2.5" drives are the standard for many servers these days so the old 3.5" drives are on the way out. What I don't get is why Flash solid state storage is stuck housed in these old mechanical formats. All you really need for SSD is a PC card and a slot to plug it into. Why can the industry move forward here.
So imagine a 30" Apple Cinema Display with built in bays for 2.5" HDs and a Superdrive/Blu-Ray drive connected to your laptop via a single Light Peak cable.
This merges a display plus TimeMachine backups plus DVD drive into a single monitor.
As long as those drives in the monitor are for time machine backup we are OK with this. Light Peak actually inspires several ideas in my mind so I would suspect that there are hundreds of ideas floating around Apple.
And without the Superdrive laptops could finally have enough room for a user-upgradable GPU or even dual GPUs.
Well I suppose some would like that but I'm looking for more internal secondary storage. Ideally SSD on PC cards optimized for thin laptops. Invariable the first limitation I run nto on any machine I've owned has been the lack of disk space. It was an issue on my heathkit, Mac Plus, every Linux machine I've built and now my MBP. The problem with the MBP is that I hit that limit faster than any machine I've owned. Much of that due to iTunes and a couple of SDKs. Which brings up Apples lack of attention to this detail that frustrates their users. The only Mac with sound high quality secondary storage expansion is the Mac Pro which is far to expensive.
A laptop with upgradable GPU plus 'bay monitor' could be a much more appealing solution to most potential xMac buyers.
I really doubt that, after having this MBP and experiences with laptops at work the inescapable conclusion is that there are to many compromises with these machines. Disk drives fail at an alarming rate, hinges break, cases crack and the units are hard to service. Interestingly the iMac and to a lesser extent the Mini are also hard to service and the recent MBP is a much nicer machine to service.
With one crack Apple could have an xMac that is as easy yo service and upgrade as the current MBP is. They could move forward with the adoption of 2.5" drive modules and at the same time setup the machine to accept a new standard SSD card format. This doesn't have to be a huge box and I might even accept a mobile processor in the box if it has at least four cores or threads. In anyevent I want to see at least three bays of storage and you can skip the internal CD drive which does little for me. Frankly this doesn't have to be much bigger than todays Mini. With the drives on edge the cabinet needs to be a bit more than 2.5" high and a little deeper. It is otherwise a small machine that can serve multiple purposes but should have a HDMI port for multimedia use.