Since I feel more and more domesticated now, with a house and all, new wants have popped up all over. I want to create a space and fill it with maps, flags and tech tools (my idea of decorating). In line with that, I wanted to have a fixed workstation at home so that I have a go-to place (nicely articulated in this TED video). That meant buying something new since at the moment I only have a Mac laptop. Budget is always an issue with purchasing Apple products and although affordable, I cannot imagine switching to the Windows system anymore. I was also anxious about investing in a whole new iMac desktop system in which you are tied to a single unit that contains both the CPU and the monitor (meaning if one of them dies, you’ll have to replace both!) In addition, I have a laptop which works fine, so the whole idea of a buying a new desktop computer seemed pointless.
Sometimes one is anxious for nothing. The solution, much cheaper and efficient, was obvious, but it took me few months to see it (duh).
If I could use my laptop as a central processing unit (CPU) and connect it to a monitor, it will become a desktop! When I need the laptop (for my cafe excursions or travels) I can simply disconnect the peripherals and take it with me.
A. The components
Within a week, for about $500, I purchased few components to satisfy my computing needs and to ‘create’ a desktop. Some of these components will last beyond the life of my current laptop, so I think it’s a good investment at the end of the day.
1. Boost computing power by doubling the memory
Price: $113 Life: Medium term
My early 2008 laptop came with 2GB of RAM which was quite sufficient for my needs. However, when I used Photoshop, Aperture or played video games, I certainly sensed a struggle. After doubling my RAM to 4GB (Apple’s memory modules are easy to replace), applications run quite smoothly. I imagine this has also reduced the load on my processor and there is less over heating.
2. Type wirelessly
Price: $78 Life: Long term
I was in the market for keyboards and I looked at several models. It was clear that a wired keyboard would be so last decade but I didn’t want a USB-wireless keyboard either. Given the limited choices in Apple styled keyboards (although you can reprogram Windows keyboards to Mac), I decided to buy another Apple product – the Apple wireless keyboard. Being blue-tooth enabled, it doesn’t use any USB ports, plus you can use it from 10m away!
3. Point and track wirelessly as well
Price: $78 Life: Long term
After researching keyboards it was clear that the optimal price v/s efforts approach was to buy an Apple product – the Magic trackpad. I wasn’t sure if I wanted a mouse or a trackpad. I compared both, the magic mouse and the magic trackpad, at the Mac store (and if you are a potential buyer, I encourage you to do that!) and felt more comfortable with the trackpad. Granted there are advantages and disadvantages of mouse v/s trackpad but the later works for me. Using gestures and multiple fingers, you do much more than a mouse can. Plus it’s easier if you are used to a laptop.
This bluetooth keyboard and trackpad will last for a long time (being Apple products) and I can keep them through future system upgrades. Good purchase (pats my own back)!
4. Mac OS X Snow Leopard operating system
Price: $23 Life: Short term (will not be useful when I change my macbook)
The OS that came with my 2008 laptop was OS X Leopard v10.5 from October 2007. I was kinda surprised that for the last five years I felt no need to upgrade to a new Operating System (OS). So different from Windows days when it was essential to upgrade!
Sadly that version of OS did not support bluetooth keyboard and had limited support for the trackpad as well. So reluctantly I ordered a new OS 10.6 DVD from the Apple online store (since you can no longer download it). It was an entirely pointless purchase and quite rare for hardware to push for software upgrades.. haha!
Apple had released three new OS versions since I bought my macbook. The next OS were Snow Leopard v10.6 (June 2009), Lion v10.7 (October 2010), Mountain Lion v10.8 (July 2012). You’d be surprised to hear that one needs to upgrade from 10.5 to 10.6 before going to 10.7. meaning you’ll need to pay for a licensed software copy each time (so unlike Windows or Linux!).
Ridiculous! I didn’t need a new OS but since I was forced to upgrade, I went to the minimum next level – the 2009 version (to support my devices) and called it a day. OS X installation and upgrade was a breeze, Apple makes computing so easy! Had this been a Windows OS upgrade, I’d be scrambling for a backup drive, boot disks and infinite patience.
5. ASUS Monitor
Price: $214 Life: Long term
Monitors are so cheap now! After some research and looking at Black Friday sales, I bought a new monitor: ASUS VS247H-P. I’ve always been a supporter of ASUS products – I’ve used their motherboards, graphics cards and the EEE travel computer so I feel a connection to their products.
It’s a slim 24″ monitor with LED projection, so it fits nicely on my desk and is great for my needs. I did compare two models: VE247H vs VS247H-P but ultimately settled for the later. Coupled with a remote control, it is perfect for watching movies at home. Now you can’t say that I don’t have a TV.
B. The system
After upgrading my laptop memory, I simply connected the monitor and paired up the peripherals (mouse and keyboard). Dual screen is great but who wants to look at a laptop screen when you have a big monitor next to it? So I assigned my external monitor as the primary display. The laptop is now tucked away on top of some file folders, as a CPU which I can use remotely. Apple calls it a closed clamshell or closed display mode.
So now, I have a sufficiently powerful laptop when I need to travel, and a modular clutter-free desktop workstation to make it feel like home.
Looks like even my cat seems to enjoy the setup!