The Missing Macintosh

Filed under: Still Speculating, just not wildly.

mactweener.png

My inept Photoshop skills aside, Leander’s post below and the prevalence of the OSX86 project and similar efforts really speak to a single problem within the Macintosh lineup: The Tweener. That is, the Mac that is in between the Mac Mini and the MacPro. Apparently there are a WHOLE lot of folks who are desperate for this machine. Why it doesn’t exist is a mystery. Not only is there apparently a huge market for this kind of machine, there is an even larger market for “Certified Mac” after-market parts.

It’s a wonder that being the “Salesy” part of a duo that built their first computer in a garage, Steve doesn’t seem to get that enthusiasts want a computer they can “tinker” with.

As always I am gratuitously soliciting your comments as to what you’d like to see in this machine. My specs follow after the break


Customization: This machine really ought to be able to be personalized. Now NO ONE wants Apple to go down the slippery slope of trying to support all kinds of hardware, cards and whatnot, letting idiot write 3rd party drivers that mess up our Mac experience. Leave that for Windows Fans. But I don’ t think its too much to ask to have multiple video and sound card options, and a processor that is end-user upgradeable.

  • Standard ATX Type Mini-Tower, 2 external drive bays 4 internal SATA II drive bays.
  • Intel Core 2 Quad Processors (Various speeds available for purchase). –>UPGRADEABLE PROCESSOR SLOT<–
  • 2 Gig of RAM upgradeable to 4.
  • All the usual trappings of Mac-Land, Firewire, airport extreme, ethernet built in.
  • End user selectable and upgradeable video-card (multiple cards with SLI too much to ask?)
  • End user selectable and upgradeable Sound Card.

Price-point: $1100 – $1500 depending on options.
That’s my core requirement set, I’d love to hear everyone’s builds.

Related
  • Camperton

    I know it’s not what you want but in Apple’s view the iMac is what fills the gap between the mini and the pro.

    They didn’t have their resurgence because they released “tinkerable” computers that fill every conceivable niche. And that’s straight from Leander’s book.

  • Cameron

    I just purchased my first mac the other day after being a PC user since I was 5 (28 now). I have to say that a machine with which I could tinker would have been an easier sell to me… coming from a world where I can go to Wal-Mart and get a replacement part if I am in a fix.

    PS – I am very happy with my Mini.

  • Cypy

    I realize that the iMac may be the solution Apple provides in this case, and this makes me a bit sad, but what really chaps my hide is the fact that they don’t have a cheap, mid-range laptop with a 15″ screen. The MacBook is nice because it is so small, but the fact is, it takes MORE money to squeeze all its components into a small frame. I wish they made a version of the MacBook Pro that had the specs of the 13″ MacBook, but was cheaper.

  • Shag Finger

    I agree, I want something more than my Mini offers and I want to be able to upgrade the HDD, DVD-RW, memory, sound and video cards at will without worrying about breaking something in the process. I also have a really nice 23″ cinema display that I bought prior to switching full time to Mac from XP. I don’t want to feel that I wasted all that money and leave it sit idle and buy a 24″ iMac. I also didn’t have the money to get even the basic of Pro models. A tweener model, hell even a Pro that could be optioned down to half its current base price would be nice.

  • C Rolls

    I’d venture to say that anyone who needs (1) multiple sound/video options, (2) an upgradeable processor slot and (3) up to 4 GB of RAM can shell out a few pennies and get a pro.

  • Beschizza

    Hey, Leigh, check this out:

    http://hanabusa1.blog29.fc2.co

  • Ritchie

    The missing Mac, what a dilemma !

    As desk machines, there are currently 3 possibilities :

    - A Mac Mini – not tinkerable, but you can use whichever devices (screen, keyboard, mouse) you wish !
    - An iMac – not tinkerable apart from memory, keyboard and mouse.
    - A Mac Pro – expensive beast when you add all you need (screen, keyboard and mouse)

    I won’t talk about laptops !!

    What could we need more ?

    You are right, that for some, they’d like a tinkerable machine cheaper than the Mac Pro.

    The only problem, is that there is a lot of machines cheaper than the Mac Pro that you can tinker with, BUT if Apple were to enter this arena, it would be a losing proposition. They wouldn’t make enough money for it to be interesting.

    On the other hand, there is an area that Apple hasn’t entered yet, that wouldn’t be a losing proposition, an Home Server !

    They already put a foot in the door with the Apple TV, BUT it is not a server (it can be tinkered with to become a server, but it’s quite complicated).

    What we need is a Mac Mini (or Apple TV) format tower with 2 sliding hot swap hard drive tray, with all the content services available in OS X Server (iCal server, QuickTime broadcaster, LDAP services, etc). We should be able to tinker with the memory. Gbit ethernet of course, but WiFi is not a necessity and BT useless in a server. Of course a good enough Core 2 Duo or Quad is necessary.

    Another device Apple should make is an Apple Disk Head : Dual FW 800, which you connect to 2 NewerTech miniStack v3 with Hardware Raid controller on OS X with AFP service (and NFS of course), Gbit Ethernet and the Mac Mini format of course !

    The last thing Apple should provide is an iNetwork Supplement for Airport Extreme, that would consist of all the Network Services available in OS X Server to be installed on AirPort Extreme/Time capsule devices.

  • Ian

    Please! I don’t even care that much about the specs. I’m happy with the performance of my Mini (except for lack of satisfying dual monitor support). I’m just sad that its cute little self has to be buried in a mass of USB port/ external drive/ card reader. Bummer.

    I’m a long way from “a few pennies” shy of a pro, but I would really like to move up from the mini. Sigh.

  • Larsitron

    I would argue that the computers that filled this niche have failed in the past. I would point to the old G4 cube and the prior era before the PowerMac (now Mac Pro) iMac split.

    Being a Mac user that lived through the dire straits of the mid 90s, I’m all for Apple going for commercial viability over a bunch of new models.

  • Anthony Agius

    I’ve been wanting something like this for ages! Intel have a great mainstream processor in the E8000 series, yet Apple ignore it :(

  • Nick

    maybe they are hoping for more people like myself, who were stuck in this dilemma and decided to go with the pro because the mini is just about as useful as a toaster for what i do

    a mid level mac would have been what i needed…i guess most would consider the imac mid range, but its not exactly what i was looking for

    regardless i love my mac pro…even if it is a little more than what i needed

  • leigh

    I love my Mac Pro, too… that said, I know lots of people, developers mostly, that would love to have a desktop Mac, but don’t want the limitations of an iMac or Mini (no configurability or expandability at all), and for whom the Mac Pro is just too expensive as a development machine.

    The Mac Pro is a workstation, the iMac’s are Terminals, and the Mini is frankly a toy. We need a “Prosumer” Mac.

    Would I buy one? No. But the virtual media storm that arose around non-company Psyster, and the whole of the OSX86 movement, really speaks to the need.

  • David Anderson

    I’d be happy with a “mini pro” — if it had good graphics and could accept lots of RAM (at least 4G).

  • Jeff

    Ok, the “tinker” crowd is fun, but we don’t even need to go that far.

    They just need a more expensive Mini that comes with a real video card and a 7200 rpm drive. Basically, sell a Mini with the same stuff the Macbook Pro has.

    No, it won’t make the “tinker” crowd happy, but it will satisfy 3/4 of the people who want a machine between the Mini and the Pro.

  • Camperton

    @ Jeff

    I agree. Just add another tier to the mini configurations like the ‘mini pro’ or something and that would fill the niche quite nicely. You’re right, there’s no reason they couldn’t have the specs and ports of a Macbook Pro in a mini case.

    They should do it!

  • leigh

    Gads people… Steve, are you listening, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t create a mini on steroids. We don’t need another copy of the old joke: How do you upgrade your Mac?

    A: You throw it away and get a new Mac.

    I’d like to be able to upgrade my video card and processor, or add a hard drive, (which owning a Mac Pro, I can, but you shouldn’t have to spend the price of a Hyundai on a computer for the privilege of longevity).

    A fifteen hundred dollar “Prosumer” Mac Pro Lite would suite me and this market better than a suped up Mini.

  • leigh

    Ritche:

    LOVE Your idea of a “MacMini” media server, with standard server features (iCal, iChat, iMail server) etc. Brilliant! I’ll amplify, and say, make it an appliance like an Apple TV, virtually no configuration, and just hard drive expandability would be PERFECT.

  • steven

    well…i think that, in fact, there is a missing mac….I want to change to mac, and altough i love the iMac, im a total geek, and i like to play with the machine inside it…i think apple should release a kind of, iMac Pro…or something like that, with upgradeable GPU, CPU, Memory, HD, etc….and with a versions for games, that could be the Mac Pro, but with SLI or CrossFire capabilities..

  • ManoloRuiz

    I have no idea why doesn´t exist a Mac-Midi yet.
    Apple has the incredible oportunity of making the exact hardware that many Mac users are waiting, not to say all that OSX86 entusiast wanting to make a real movement to a different and excitant OS, but not agreeing with actual Mac hardware:
    - Mac-Mini is just limited and only useful for very basic operation (web browsing, music listening, photo management…).
    - In the mid range, iMacs are beautiful but almost not upgradable, linked to a LCD screen not as good as the actual market shows for less money, and with laptop electronics inside(less powerful and expensive than that desktops can offer)
    - Mac-Pros are soooooooooo expensive.
    Which specs could the Mac-Midi have?: Barebone-PC size, up to 8-16 GB RAM, 2 external 5 1/4″ and 2 internal 3 1/2″ bays, upgradable PCIexpress Graphic Card, 2 or 3 PCIexpress free slots, enough USB, firewire 400 and 800 ports, Ethernet and WiFi. I know, it sounds like a PC, but… a MAC is a PC at last!
    IMHO, Apple could sell Mac-Midis like hot cakes.

  • Mac Newb

    Not gonna happen, if I do want as well…

    Apple is not going to conform to this market, it has to tell you what you want and will live with. Before, I thought not being able to tinker with my Intel iMac was gonna be painful and costly, but now I am perfectly happy with it prowess after 1/2 years (which is actually the best computing experience I’ve had so far). I don’t need to tinker and change cards and drives. I don’t need to play Crysis on it, coming to 360!

    Just look to the horizon for the next Apple device, and it should satiate.

    Now where did I put my cup of kool-aid…

  • Barry

    It sounds like there are a lot of people who would like to see Apple come out with a Mac Semi-Pro. ;)

  • chloedog

    I used to think the demand for these midrange macs was overblown, until I found myself looking for one! My list of wants was: full 3.5″ 7200 RPM drives (preferably more than one for storage and backup or maybe RAID), eSata capability for externals, a good video card for work and play, a decent processor, and of course no built in monitor.

    In the end, I built myself a Hackintosh. I built a PC using components known to work well with OS X, and for about $1200, I had a 3.2 ghz quad-core mac with an NVidia 8800GT, 2 500GB drives, and 4GB RAM. I brought it to work and it outperformed our quad-core MacPros in Maya rendering. Price for duplicate specs from Apple? $3300. Wow.

  • imajoebob

    As one who used to make a living managing IT, I used to enjoy tinkering with my desktop. A new drive here, upgraded memory there, even a video or sound tweak. But once I bought myself – with my own money – a PowerBook, I never looked back. A “tinkerable” computer is a false economy. The amount of time, effort, and dollars spent to continually upgrade a computer to make minor improvements is a net negative.

    The iMac fills this “middle slot” perfectly. Unless you need some sort of video upgrade, you can use the iMac as is. You can upgrade the memory and add almost unlimited external storage. So saying the iMac isn’t expandable is simply wrong.

    If you really want to spend your time and money constantly upgrading and changing your computer, then you don’t want an Apple. Macs are designed to stay with a user for 5 or 6 (or more) years. PCs are outgrown in 2.

    You don’t need a better Mac to use new technology; new technology learns how to better use the Mac.

  • Linus

    Of course there should be an iMac without built-in display!
    Let’s call it iMac Desktop?

    And an iMac Desktop + large Cinema Display could be just a little more pricey than the iMac.

  • Parker

    I think the specs provided are even too high end for my tastes…

    The low end doesn’t have to come with a quad processor. Duo works fine for me. There are very few applications where quad even works well. The processor should be upgradeable if I want to go quad in the future…

    Who needs a custom sound card? Sounds like a throwback to ye olde pc days. I’d be perfectly happy with intel built in audio. On the other hand, if i could override it and put in a sound card, that would be sweet.

    With these chops in the hardware, I would expect that you could hit the Hackintosh 800 dollar number with a good video card. Drop it to 500-600 if you are willing to use built-in intel video (but upgradable via card)

    My next mac will have specs similar to this. If Apple makes it, great, I will buy it. If they don’t offer this, someone else will get my money. I’d rather Apple to have it, but Apple will not force me into getting either a crappy (mini), duplicate hardware purchase (monitor, imac) or super expensive (pro) machine.

  • Iain

    8GB of memory max but only 2 HD bays. 4 HD bays is the realm of the Mac Pro.

  • Steve

    The reason why I won’t buy an iMac is the screen can’t be adjusted. But the Mini doesn’t do multiple displays. I would like a traditional horizontal pizza box case that can support the display.

  • wonkydonkydotnet

    What the “Apple doesn’t care about this segment”-sayers aren’t thinking of is: this segment has HUGE pent-up demand, and as long as it’s less than a Pro, they’ll pay for it.

    I’ve emailed The Steve no fewer than 3 times about this.

    Make it 1/2 a Mac Pro for Half the Price.

    Apple has got to include in the margins for this machine a Substitution multiple for all the mini, iMac and Pro revs they WILL lose from substituting.

    1 socket, unsoldered, upgradable, desktop CPU, C2D-C4D, 2FW, 2-4USB2, 1 GigE, 1 Double-Wide Graphics (for the FPS tuner crowd), 3 PCIe (1 x16), BT (opt), AP (opt), 1 Optical Bay, 2-4 Sata HD Bays, Max 4-8GB standard Ram, smaller than Pro ~SFFish form factor like an Optiplex GX150, Mid-Low GPU w/ upgrade opts, CPU upgrade opts to recapture revs from grassroots efforts (ex: going from 4 to 8 core Pro). $1300 average price, no “package config” (ie: good, better, best schema) higher than ~$1799.99, only user config over that.

    People WILL bitch about the price, but the Mantra they will go back to is:
    “I don’t have to buy a monitor, it’s better than a mini, esp. graphx, and at least it’s cheaper than a Pro.” -as they buy this thing in the Billions of units.

    Hackintoshes will disappear a bit b/c updates/breaks are just a bitch.

    As long as you keep the price inside of certain Psychological tolerances and pain points, people Will buy it.
    Esp. IT buyers who don’t want the iMac’s monitor and can’t justify a Workstation for a ~reasonably average employee. And they’ll repeat that mantra ^^^ as they do.

  • CashGap

    Never happen, it’s all risk and no reward from Apple’s point of view.

    Hopefully, Apple will continue to remain smart enough to resist this mistake.

    Mid-tower Mac would require development. It would steal 1/3 of its sales from the mini, increasing revenue but lowering GP. It would steal 1/3 of its sales from the iMac, no change in revenue or GP. It would steal 1/3 of its sales from the Pro, lowering revenue and GP.

    Oh, and you might pickup a sale or two from Hackintosh builders, but with their broken moral compasses they are just as likely to shoplift one from the Apple store as buy one. They’ve already shown they don’t honor contracts, so why respect laws?

    End result:

    Apple would spend R&D money developing a machine that would lower total revenue, lower GP, and make a MAJOR dent in the “it just works” aura of Macintosh. Why? Because everyone would be capable of easily and inexpensively creating a sanctioned Apple-labeled Mac that didn’t work, the first time they plugged in a random card.

About the author

Leigh McMullen

Leigh McMullen leads the Advisory Services & Strategy practices for the professional services arm of one of the Big-Five firms. He has written several books that would cure any insomnia you might have, and is an avid Mac junkie.

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Posted in Hardware, Macintosh, Rumors |