Low-end Mac

  • What's the least expensive, lowest-end Mac I can use with a monome? Would a 1.2 or 1.5ghz Powerbook G4 get the job done?

    I've been doing a lot of online shopping, and most of the sub-$500 Macs are several years old. I'm hoping they'd stand the test of time (without requiring expensive repairs or buying a whole 'nother one), but would spending too little limit me in the future? New apps that require significant CPU power, etc. Faster CPUs mean higher prices. FireWire seems to be required if I want an external audio card with better latency, so that requires a Macbook Pro or high-end Powerbook, which increases the price further.

    I figure at some point I'll probably have to purchase Ableton Live, so I'd need something that's capable of running that, in addition to the Max/MSP apps. So, what can I get away with? Thanks!

  • Mac minis are too expensive for what you get. My budget is under 500.

    G4s can't run 10.6; Apple dropped support for 'em starting with Snow Leopard. So that's definitely a possible strike, if future software will require 10.6 features. Also, I read somewhere that some VSTs or other software plugins might not work on PowerPC-based machines . . . does this include any common monome apps? If so, that'd be another point in favor of Intel Macs.

    I've no particular need for lots of horsepower, since I won't be using the laptop for anything but music production. If Live and the Max/MSP programs can comfortably make do with a G4 for some time, then I may go for that, and just buy an Intel Mac some years down the road as-needed . . . also for a cheap price. But if stuff is too demanding now, or will only work on Intel chips, then Powerbooks might be out of the question.

  • unfortunately, this sounds like a test case. i would recommend borrowing a low-end macintosh in order to see if it will handle the kind of processing you want to do... especially if you're looking to spend sub-$500. this is one of the reasons i moved to gnu/linux.

  • Don't know if you've considered this already, but if you go down the Windows PC route you'll get much more bang for your buck and are much more likely to get a laptop within your price range that will cover what you want to do. You may even get something new for your budget. Don't get me wrong, Macs are lovely machines (just bought a 17" i7 MBP myself and it's marvellous,) but you can essentially do everything that you need on a PC and generally for less cash. You can get PC's with firewire if you were adamant that you wanted a firewire interface, but there's also USB, which for what you're talking about is more than up to the job.

  • the older macbooks have FW and run c2d, ive seen them run on ebay for about 450 - 500.

  • I actually happen to work at the apple store so I would love to answer your question.

    First off the most important part that I don't think anyone has mentioned is that the older models come with severe limitations. You must understand that the mac community is built around the 'it just works' idea and one of the ways we believe in doing that is keeping everyone up to date with the newest stuff. That mentality cuts sharply though. Some older macs don't run the newer versions of OS X (10.5-10.7) very well because of their processor architecture. Sometimes 10.4 even runs slow. So although any given app like ableton may work, you will lose out quite drastically on speed. Not just from hardware, but from your choice of using older versions of OS X.

    Now I'm not just saying that, in fact Ableton themselves list fairly high specs that if you were to buy a G4 might cut you out pretty badly:
    "1.8 GHz G4/G5 or faster (Intel® Mac recommended), 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended, if supported by your computer), Mac OS X 10.4.11 (10.5 or later recommended), DVD-ROM drive"

    So my advice? If you can't afford any used macs that at least have an intel processor, don't get one. Now what kind of salesman says that? One that has you in mind. I would recommend in that case that you find a nicer windows laptop and go with that. There are plenty of DJs and electronic artists around the world that manage to survive without macs, the biggest thing to remember is just that you should attempt to not bog down your computer with other software and files. As I have seen written before, treat it like your lifeline, keep only the apps you need and have nothing else. Also, if you refrain from going everywhere on the internet you'll save yourself a lot of trouble on a windows system.

    Hope that helps and you come to a decision that makes you happy.

  • MCDELTAT has it right, i believe. Theres really no sense going for something less than a core2duo (and those are what 3-4 years old?), given how much beefier moore's law has made things. If sub 500 and portable is the goal, its going to be tricky, imo...

  • are you in any real rush to get it one? i say just save up until you can get a new one and it will be well worth it. yes, it will be longer till you get it but i think you will be satisfied in the end. sometimes it's not worth going for the least expensive options.

    my macbook is about 3 years old and still running pretty strong. i plan on getting a new one at some point in the near future just as a back-up because if anything happens to the one i have now i wouldn't be able to go without my music making!

  • yeah, think about this: youre spending the money, you want to maximize the time you have with the computer before you regret using it. Save up, get the best you can go for. Keep an eye on the refurbished sales, you can get some good deals if you watch for them...

  • You're not going to get yourself into an intel laptop for under $500. It just isn't going to happen.

    You have to:

    • buy an old G4 laptop. (please don't)

    • sacrifice the laptop idea and get a mini/build a hackintosh

    or

    • save up more money

  • I can vouch for MCDELTAT and the rest, for I still am using my PPC G4 1.42 on 10.4.11.

    I also posted a similar question not too long ago. It got plenty of good feedback, check it out:
    http://post.monome.org/comments.php?DiscussionID=10246

    For studio use I have work arounds, such as modifying work flow by bouncing tracks with a couple proccessors, before recording new stuff or mixing.
    That doesn't make it the end of the world, but if you want to retweek later in the mix, forget about it. I would have to go back to an earlier saved version, retweek, bounce all over again. Not to mention a little bump time-wise/work flow hassle.

    To give you an idea, my last project. Basically I needed to start bouncing when i had an impulse with a few individual outs, with each out typically containing a compressor plus another effect. Also another instrument track with clip envelopes. And a vocal track with compression plus a send processing audio.
    Even then it was too bogged down, I should of bounced earlier.

    One benefit of this is it has forced me to limit options and choose more effectively/creatively, thus actually finishing projects.

    As for live shows tho..I'm reduced to DJing with two tracks, little effects, plus one instance of molar.
    Another benefit: that has allowed me to minimize, thus resulting in less train wrecks. I haven't performed in almost two years, but I been back to practicing getting sets together and these are my findings with this machine.

  • i'd suggest getting a used mac mini with a c2d processor, and figuring out how to rig it to run with your gear without a display (i.e. load the right software on bootup) for performing live.

    if you absolutely NEED some sort of display (like, holy shit, what mlr preset am i on?), you could whip up a 2x20 character LCD on an arduino for around $50.


    i've actually been thinking about doing something like this for a while (i was looking at 7" vga screens though, which are more expensive)...

    that said, tehn was running on an ibook g4 for quite some time, but i think he was also using max4 instead of max 5, and i don't think he was using ableton.

  • i think vnc display through a tablet would be interesting. Its sad, one of the cooler ipad rumours floating about before release was that it would be able to directly connect with your laptop, and be wirelessly useable as a second monitor/interface. Shame that never went anywhere officially...

  • "You're not going to get yourself into an intel laptop for under $500. It just isn't going to happen. "

    Im selling my mid 2008 intel based macbook for $450 :P

  • I'd like to add on a little to whats been said, most specifically stretta.

    I've just barely started following the hackintosh trend and that is actually a very viable option. I've seen people create some pretty reliable machines more so than I would have thought. If you have moderate skills at computers you can pull it off.

  • @01100010
    Ah, well, problem solved, then!

    @MCDELTAT
    I've done three. I don't actually recommend it if you're not willing to get your hands dirty and do it wrong a few times. Then something gets updated and you need to go search for new kexts that may or may not exist. I think the useful lifespan is much shorter. You can put up with a lot from an older Mac. You can stretch them out years. Long term maintenance with a hackintosh becomes weighing the potential pain in the butt vs. starting over with a new machine. Older motherboards and parts cease to be supported. In the beginning it is great because you can make a powerful machine for very little money (compared to a mac pro). The one I'm using currently I put together to finish the album I was working on as my G5 was becoming untenable.

  • @Stretta
    You just did a Funneled Stone on a hackintosh? That deserves so many extra browny points I think I actually owe you brownies.

  • with walnuts, man. Walnuts brownies is the reward for perseverance through fiddly tech problems.

  • I've always preferred grey-scale brownies myself...

    (I'll get my coat)

  • I also work at an Apple Store and agree with MCDELTAT. Get a windows laptop of you really can't afford to get a new or at least Intel-based Mac.

    I run a 2.4ghz Core 2 Duo (white) 13" Macbook from 2008. I replaced the standard drive with a 7200rpm drive and put 4gb of RAM in, and the thing is a beast.

    You could buy the same model I have for about 500-600 buck on eBay and for another 150-200 you could pimp it up like I did. It's plenty fast for production and definitely for day-to-day use.

    However, depending on what you're going to be doing with it, even a computer with the same specs as mine may NOT be fast enough for what you are doing. I recently started to run mlrV through Soundflower and into Ableton for some side-chain and reverb effects, and it's become a battle for me: I need to minimize latency because a lot of my stuff isn't quantized, but I also can't have clicks and noise when I perform, which I do occasionally get. Basically, I need a faster CPU chip, which the new i5 and i7 chips offer (even at the same clock speed) because of their architecture.

    Summation of my advice: save up a lot more and get a better/newer Mac, or save up a little more and get a powerful PC.

  • I probably will have to save up a lot more, then, since I absolutely refuse to get a Windows machine. In the mean time, I can at least buy some kinda grid controller and use it for basic PureData apps and MIDI sequencing in Linux. I finally got a working softsynth chain in JACK, so I can at least get some musical ideas down before diving into all the Max/MSP apps on a Mac.

    I did see that there are a fair amount of old white Macbooks for less than $500 on eBay and CL, and they even have FireWire ports for an audio interface. But from what you're saying, if even a C2D isn't enough, neither is an older Core chip.

    I just don't want to get sucked into trying to buy a "futureproof" laptop. Made that mistake ten years ago; spent way too much on it. It was obsolete before I'd finished paying for it. I'm trying to stick to minimum specs where I can. Hopefully Apple will refresh the MBP this year to drop the prices on the current lineup.

    Thanks for all your input, folks!

  • it all depends on your expectations and how many effects you plan to run live.

    if you can get away with sample chopping and a few simple effects, then you should be fine on a c2d macbook, as long as you have enough ram.

    futureproof is a fallacy for sure, but if you get a new mac, you can expect it to last. i've said this before in other threads, but i'm still running strong on a 2.24ghz mbp from 2006. i wouldn't even call it obsolete now, but it is certainly ancient in computer years. it was top of the line when i bought it, and i had to send it in to apple care once or twice, but it handles my live setup without a hitch (again, i'm not using that many effects live, and i'm not using max+soundflower+ableton, just max.) resources you use running multiple programs and routing audio between them are resources you can't use for DSP.. so just do the DSP in max =)

    and since it hasn't been said in this thread yet, if you buy anything from apple new, buy apple care. seriously. as long as you don't spill a beer on the keyboard or drop it down a flight of stairs, you're basically guaranteeing that you'll have a usable computer for 3 years..

    and also check [[http://store.apple.com/us/browse/home/specialdeals/mac?mco=OTY2ODY3Nw|here]] for refurbished deals (after you've saved up more, of course ;)... you could end up saving a lot that way, and still getting apple care.

  • Speaking of Macbooks -- is there really a need to load up on screen size? I mean, I watched the latest galapagoose video, and the thing is just lying way out of the way, not being used at all. Most monome videos are similar; artists rarely touch 'em.

    The bigger the screen, the higher the price, whether for a newer Macbook or older models. Is there a reason to get a bigger screen, or is a 13" sufficient, assuming my tired old eyes hold out.

    Are larger screens useful just for doing complex software work, like Live? But if that's the case, wouldn't all that be done ahead of time, "in the studio" where desktop LCDs are available, rather than when actually performing or playing around? Does screen size really matter when playing around? No matter what hardware kit I have, I definitely don't want to have to look at the screen or fiddle with a mouse and keyboard. I'm all for going as small as possible, if it's a reasonable way to cut costs!

  • hands on, its amazing how much bigger the 15 is from the 13, but its still a very usable size. The 17 doesnt really look all that much bigger than the 15 from afar, but you feel the difference with it on your lap...

  • This has worked out pretty well for me -- I bought a kit-build 128 from one of the regulars here. I'm borrowing a 2008 white Macbook for the next several months; at the end of that time, if need be, I can use the money I'm saving to get a unibody/Pro variant.

    In the mean time, the thing has 2GB RAM and a 2.4ghz C2D chip, so that seems like it should be good enough even for mlrv 2.0, right?

  • I can run mlrV on a six year old PC tower with 2GB RAM and an AMD 2.1 GHz single core processor, so I would say a three year old Mac should be up to snuff.