Congratulations, and relax. The Mac is a great choice, indeed arguably *the* choice, for design work. You're off to a good start.
Before you start, are you in college now, or is this a career change, or are you going back to school? You should seek lots of advice about the general process as well, but I'm sure you're doing that. The main reason I ask is that you can get discounts on both hardware and software if you're an enrolled student.
The first question is which Mac to buy. This will largely be determined by your budget, and somewhat on what you like or think you'll need. Some points to consider:
- For design work, screen real estate is enormously important, so you'll most likely want a Powermac tower. You can buy any screen you want with it, and keep on upgrading parts as you start to actually make money with your Mac.
- The one possible exception is if you anticipate being highly mobile, in which case you might consider a Titanium Powerbook, which is a very very nice notebook (and what I'm using now). Since you trade off processor speed, screen size, and expandibility for mobility, it's a better choice as a second Mac than as your sole Mac, though.
- The iMac is a great machine, but I would not seriously consider it for design work, unless you're on a very tight budget. It is a one-piece system, which means you cannot upgrade the drive (for example, from a CD-burner to a DVD-burner) or the monitor, and it is harder to upgrade the hard disk, etc.
So supposing you settled on a tower, you next choose your configuration. Some more thoughts:
- Which model of tower to get is up to your budget. Any will do fine, especially for getting started. They'll all burn CDs, which is important for giving people files and backing up your work; you might consider a model with Superdrive (DVD burner) to make backups even easier.
- LCD monitors are sweet, but quite expensive. Unless you live in New York or San Francisco, where a square foot of space costs $$$, you'll probably be happiest to start with a CRT monitor. A good size to start with is 19", but the bigger you can afford and fit, the better.
The last thing to consider is software. You should know that all of the major design applications are completely cross-platform (and almost all started first on the Mac), so don't worry about running Windows. (Incidentally, the bit about the iMac being Windows-compatible is only somewhat true. It can certainly use files produced by common Windows programs, like Microsoft Word and Excel, or Adobe Photoshop. It can also connect to Windows networks if you're in a workplace or a school. It does not
run Windows 'natively', which means that you cannot simply install Windows on it like you would on any PC. Be glad - Mac OS X is better! However, you can
run Windows in a pinch, rather slowly, using a program called <a href="http://www.connectix.com/products/vpc5m.html
" target="_blank">Virtual PC</a>. You'd only want to use it if there were a vital
program that didn't exist for the Mac. Doing design, that is unlikely to be true.
What kind of work will you be doing, or do you hope to do? Web? Print? Both? Neither? In any case, <a href="http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/main.html
" target="_blank">Adobe Photoshop</a> and <a href="http://www.adobe.com/products/illustrator/main.html
" target="_blank">Illustrator</a> are foundational. (Don't miss Adobe's package deals, and student discounts if you're in schools)
If you're doing print, read up on the religious wars about which application to use.
Those are my thoughts for now; i'll let others chime in...