Apple Store loses its a-peel

Poor network connection and less-than-snappy performance sink what could have been a shoe-in Apple purchase.

A few years ago I bought my wife an Apple iMac

, one of those lampshade models (which I still think are cool) with an 800MHz G3G4. Aside from upgrading the memory and replacing the mouse, I didn't have to do anything with it for a long time: it just worked.

Recently though it started to have a few problems. Sometimes it would not come out of standby mode and have to be power cycled. Sometimes the browser (usually Firefox) would freeze up for no good reason. We walked out of the Apple Store sans Mac, and I ended up buying her a Dell PC. Plus it was slow, and some newer flash, shockwave, or Java games she liked to play on it were too slow to be fun.

Now, I don't know about you, but just about the only time I get to make any big purchases is when the wife is unhappy about something. For example, a couple years ago, I got a big screen 70" rear projection Sony TV because the wife was unhappy with how small the PS2 game "Baldur's Gate" was on our 31" CRT. I got a new Saturn VUE when the wife was unhappy with her old Ford Windstar. So I took this as an opportunity to upgrade her machine to something more modern.

We have an Apple Store a few miles from where we live so I dragged her out there one chilly spring night to see what we could see. I had been drooling over the new PowerMacs since they first came out, so I was hoping to talk her into one of those, or maybe a Mac Mini or even the new Intel iMac. "The new machines are much faster", I said, "You'll be amazed". It didn't turn out that way.

The problem was that none of the machines worked. I mean, they worked ok for simple, local things, for example I showed her how Expose worked (she was underwhelmed) and Garage Band (she could care less), and a few other things like that, but when she got on and tried to do the things she does every day, none of it worked. Not a single thing.

She tried to go to or and play a few games that the kids like but almost nothing would load. I think we got one to work, a Totally Spies game, but it was no faster than the old computer at home. She tried to go view a movie trailer but it was excruciatingly slow. She tried to read some news online, and it was plagued by interminable delays. I tried to explain that there must simply be something wrong with the network in the store, that it didn't mean the computers were slow. Didn't work.

And truthfully, with the exception of the MacBook I was a bit underwhelmed myself. Based on everything I had read about the new 'MacTel' boxes I was expecting them to be way faster than our old 800MHz clunker. But simple things like opening MS Word, opening a web browser, moving windows around, didn't feel all *that* snappier. Maybe twice as fast, being generous, not the 5-10x speedup I was expecting.

While I would have been happy with a MacBook, she looks at things differently than I do. She sees the little built-in track pad and doesn't like that, and she sees the smallish screen (compared to a desktop). Plus she sees the price tag, which, while it might be competitive with other high-end notebooks, is quite a bit more than your average low-end desktop which she would be perfectly happy with.

So, we walked out of the Apple Store sans Mac, and I ended up buying her a Dell PC, an E510 with a 19" monitor. Moving the files over was a pain (for me anyway) but she's very happy with it and the whole thing with some upgrades was less than $1000. I felt guilty not buying a Mac to replace the old Mac, but as they say, you have to know your audience. Had the Apple Store had provided a nice snappy network and all the tests worked OK, things might have turned out differently.

Anybody need a lampshade? 


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