Trying to decide what personal computer to buy in 2018

I’m thinking of buying a new personal computer. I’m writing this essay to crystalize my thoughts on what to buy.

Why I don’t currently have a personal computer:

I must have bought twenty personal computers over the years, starting from an Exidy Sorcerer in 1978 and ending with a 13” Macbook Pro in 2013.

But since 2014 I’ve been without a personal computer of my own. The Macbook Pro’s been taken over by my son. I’ve got accounts on all my family’s computers, but when they’re all in use I’m reduced to using my work laptop.

My company has a “don’t use company resources for personal projects” policy. Since 2014 I’ve complied with this mostly by being too busy/lazy/distracted to do any personal projects. :-) But now that I’m helping my kids with their programming projects, it’s time to once again consider a personal computer.

Why not an iPad Pro?

I bought the original 12.9” iPad Pro and tried using it as a personal computer. It didn’t work out, because I like to program apps, and the iPad Pro doesn’t let you do much programming. And even if it did, the iPad Pro keyboard is not very good for typing.

The 2018 model iPad Pros have great hardware, including an improved keyboard, but they still don’t allow programming apps.

What’s my budget?

To put things in perspective, my first PC cost over $3,500 in current dollars, my first Mac was $7,000 in current dollars and my most expensive personal computer ever was a Macintosh IIfx at $20,000 in current dollars. I didn’t actually pay $20,000. I was an Apple employee at the time, and they had a “Loan to Own” program with extremely generous employee discounts. My most recent personal computer cost $1,650 in current dollars.

So, all things being equal, I’d say my budget is in the $500-$2,500 range. Perhaps more if there’s a really big benefit.

What do I want to do with it?

  • iOS programming
  • Unix programming
  • Web surfing
  • Content creation

I don’t need a high end GPU. I’m not planning on using it for PC gaming or local machine learning.

Laptop or Desktop?

Over the past few years I’ve been living the laptop lifestyle at both work and home. I like being able to take my laptop on trips. Recently it’s been useful to take my laptop around the house to my different kids as I help them with their programming projects.

So for me I think the laptop portability outweighs the bigger screen and better price/performance of a desktop.

One use case: iPhone development. This typically requires the ability to charge, and debug a USB-attached device at the same time.

The case for an iMac Retina.

Recently I’ve been using an iMac Pro at work. I really enjoy:

  • Speed of compilation.
  • Beautiful 5G screen.
  • Large number of ports.
  • Clean industrial design.

That makes me think that maybe a iMac 5G might be a reasonable choice.

Hardware specs:

  • 16 GB RAM
  • 512 GB SSD

New or used?

I don’t mind used, but it needs to be new enough to run the current version of Xcode.

Upcoming changes:

  • New macbook and iPad Pro TBA October 30th.
  • iMac 5G spec bump October/Nov?
  • New mac mini “pro” some time this year.
  • New mac pro some time 2019

Some possible configs

Hardware Price $
iMac 5K 32GB/512GB (includes third party RAM upgrade) 2400
Macbook Pro 15 32/512 3000
Macbook Pro 13 16/512 2200
Macbook Air 13 8/512 (not retina) 1400  
Hackintosh AMD 16/500 (reuse old monitor.) 900
Hackintosh laptop 600-900
Nothing, keep using current hardware. This is a good option during the school year. 0


In the end I bought a 2019 Macbook Pro 13”. I sometimes regret the small screen, compared to an iMac, but I like the price and porability.