Desktop Experiment

| posted in: nerdliness 

For the past 15 months I’ve been running an experiment in having a desktop computer, the first desktop computer I’ve owned since 2002. The experiment actually starts with the purchase of a 12.9” iPad Pro.


In March 2021, with a COVID-19 stimulus check in my pocket, I ordered a 12.9 inch iPadPro, a Magic Keyboard, and an Apple Pencil 2. At the time I was considering updating my 15-inch late-2013 MacBook Pro for a newer laptop, but with Apple’s conference looming on the horizon I didn’t want to get a laptop just before new ones were released.

I was attracted to the 12.9 inch iPad as it would work well for digital sheet music. As it turns out, it also works surprisingly well as a laptop replacement. I have used my iPad almost exclusively since it arrived. I rarely tote my laptop around now.

With the Blink terminal app installed I’m able to perform code / nerdy things by remote access into one of my “real” computers. With forScore installed I have access to over 170 pieces of music.

M1 iMac

Having my mobile needs met through the iPad, I was very intrigued by the new M1 iMac, and in June 2021 I bought one. It is a beautiful machine, both to use and to look at. It only has one drawback—it is desk bound.

Since the start of the pandemic I have worked remotely 100% of the time. I have a 2015-era 27” iMac from my employer on my desk, and next to it I have my 24” M1 iMac. Thanks to Universal Control, I’m able to use the keyboard and trackpad from the M1 iMac to access both machines. During the work day I use my computer for my things: email, non-work related browsing, listening to music, etc. I use the work iMac for, well, work.

At the end of my work day, when I go home (yes, going home is something you do even when you work at home), I take my iPad and move to the living room. I don’t use my computer in the evenings, or on the weekends. I remotely access the M1 iMac to do coding work, but I don’t sit at my desk and interact with the computer directly.

M2 MacBook Air Lust

Ever since the new M2 MacBook Air was released, I have had a strong attraction to it. Compact but still capable, comes in a dark, almost black color, and it is eminently portable. However, having a 12.9 inch iPadPro and a 24 inch M1 iMac and an M2 MacBook Air feels like overly conspicuous consumption.

Not that I am opposed to having more computers. I already have two Raspberry Pi (a 3 and a 4b), a 13 inch Asus Q325 running Linux, an Intel NUC also running Linux, a 15” 2009 MacBook Pro that mostly collects dust (I may try Google Chrome OS on it), my 15” 2013 MacBook Pro, which I occasionally use, a Mac Mini, and the afore mentioned 12.9 inch iPadPro and M1 iMac. Oh, and an iPhone and Apple Watch.

Still, having both a desktop that I really don’t make full use of and a MacBook Air seems wasteful and extravagant. When I initially started thinking about trading my M1 iMac in for a MacBook Air, the M1 wasn’t listed as an option on Apple’s trade in calculator. Once it started listing the M1 iMac the trade in value was $800. By craftily not acting on impulse I have managed to lower that trade in value to $600 and now $450.

The configuration I’d want in the MacBook Air (24GB Memory / 2TB Storage / M2 chip with 8‑core CPU, 10‑core GPU, 16‑core Neural Engine) lists for $2499. Subtracting $450 from that brings the cost down to $2049. Using the education discount the starting price is $2299 minus $450 nets $1849.

Through my Apple Card I can get interest free installment payments, spreading the cost out over 12 months, ~ $155 per month.

Buyers Reluctance

As a first born, I find it difficult to ask for things and to let myself have things. Deciding to switch computers—returning the iMac is a surprisingly hard decision to make. I want the MacBook Air, but then I also want the new Apple Watch Ultra, and a Studio Display. I’m attracted to shiny. There isn’t any computing need of mine unmet by my current combination of iPadPro and iMac, except for portability.

The experiment in having a desktop helped to me to realize that for my personal computing needs and habits, a laptop is the ideal solution. There are things that I want to do, and like to do, that cannot be performed on an iPad. There are also things that the iPad can do that a laptop (or desktop) can’t do. For me the ideal combination would be a laptop and an iPad.

Committing $155 a month for a year to reach that ideal is the stumbling block. At least for now.

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.