Merits of Expandability

Hmm... Well this is entertaining. One of the things I discuss with certain people quite often is whether or not the average mere mortal will actually need in-computer expansion capabilities such as slots and extra hard disc bays. I know, almost everybody could always use more memory, but honestly, will most people ever actually install an upgrade graphics card?

I typically say that most average human beings won't need these things, and in fact a lot of people who are considered "high end" users don't actually use a lot of the expansion capabilities bestowed upon them. I typically include myself in this, because I realize that almost everything I've ever wanted for my Macs has either been an add-on that I could do externally via a firewire port, or something I didn't need.

On the other hand... just today, I found one or two different PCI Express cards that I'd like, and I realized that if I had the opportunity to do so, I would probably have all four bays of a MacPro filled within a year. Getting those drives will cost more because I've got to figure out something to put them in, and when I do that, I won't even get all of the performance the drives are capable of offering. (after filling the internal bays, I'd probably have to try to get an eSATA card. :P)

And all of this comes from just two tangents I went on today... data longevity and video i/o. Actually, data longevity led to video. I was researching using a MiniDV deck as a tape drive for making backups of my iMac's external hard discs. (one of which is, in and of itself, a backup of its startup drive) From there, I was surprised at how much cheaper it is to buy a whole MiniDV camcorder than to buy a standalone MiniDV or Digi8 deck. From there, i researched high def camcorders. I found that there is a 3-ccd Panasonic camcorder selling for less than 600usd. The catch is that it records AVCHD data onto DVDs or SDHC cards, and AVCHD is pretty much impossible to use on a Mac.

Enter another PCI-E card. It turns out that blackmagic design has a card out there with HDMI input for just $249 This brings a complete high-def setup (with a fairly nice camera) for less than a thousand bucks. (though there is the Canon HV10 for 650 too, which is "proper" tape-based HDV that can be imported into imovie or final cut.

Well... not that I've got money for any of those upgrades now, or for the prerequisite "really high end Mac," but it was at least an interesting observation on the apparently "not totally useless" expansion slots, and how a higher initial investment in a system with more options for connectivity can result in a lower investment later for things like getting into high def video, or expanding storage capacity. I think next time I buy a Mac, I'm going to save up a bit more and try to get a MacPro [or whatever midrange/highend system is suitable at the time].


Byron Winmill said...

Just a couple of observations.

There is a big difference between wanting to expand a system and actually following up on it. Part of the reason may be cost, as you observed. Part of it is also time. Does a give person want to spend the time obtaining, installing, possibly troubleshooting, then learning how to use new hardware?

My second observation suggest that the answer is no. I have seen a lot of computers in thrifts and dumped on the streets over the years. There are typically very few addons to these systems, and what is in there may simply reflect a build-to-order type setup. Of course I cannot be sure that is the case because I don't know the history of those machines, but very few machines seem to have anything special in them.

Given the lack of longevity of hardware these days, it is probably wiser to buy what you need and leave it at that -- until it is time to upgrade the whole setup. Of course that won't work for everyone. Indeed, it is probably least likely to work for people who love fiddling around with our computers (like us). But for most people I think that it's a safe bet.

Besides, you had another reason for that iMac. You live in a dorm. Small living quarters and a big computer are not a good mix. Not only because of the space used and transportation, but because desktops seem to generate more heat.

Cory Wiegersma said...

I'd say that that makes sense. I think expandability in most cases is just a concept that most people have left over from the days before cellular telephones and broadband Internet, and general-purpose external i/o that literally does it all, like Firewire and USB2.

An example of the general purpose external expansion ports is that my father asked if I'll need a television in the dorm, and he said because of space it might be easier to wait until i get to Flag, then buy an LCD TV, but my reply to that was that I may as well just add a tv tuner to the iMac if I really needed TV or Videogames (they make usb2 tuners that have special game modes for low latency).

The effort involved is definitely what stops a lot of people from using expandability, I think. I have a friend who recently bought a dvd burner for his PC, and can't get it to work. Of course, I think the problem is that some people "need" expansion because they are simply too cheap to buy a machine that actually does what they need. Unfortunate, but true from what I've seen. Another problem is people who hang onto machines too long, while trying to force the machines to do things they were never meant to do. It makes me think of somebody who is actually running 10.4 on a Beige G3 as his main computer. Unfortunately, there's so much crap jammed in there and hooked up externally, the original computer in there is barely alive anymore.