How do you handle owning multiple systems?

Discussion in 'Mac Basics and Help' started by uberamd, Oct 27, 2009.

  1. uberamd macrumors 68030


    May 26, 2009
    I once was a firm believer that everybody should own a desktop and a laptop. As a college student I am required to have a laptop in my classes, and I enjoyed having a desktop at home that I can use as an always on system (stream media, query data, whatever). But lately I am not really enjoying the desktop/laptop combo.

    Why? Simple: I have found that owning a desktop and laptop is a hassle. Here is my current hardware lineup:

    uMBP 17": 500GB HD, 4GB RAM, 2.8GHz Processor
    MacBook Air: 80GB HD, 2GB RAM, 1.6GHz Processor
    Mac Mini: 200GB HD, 4GB RAM, 2.0GHz Processor & 2x 21.5" 1080p LCD

    I would use my laptop all day at class, get home and need to transfer my data between my two places (or use my iDisk), start working some more, ensure my data was once again transferred to the iDisk (or synced properly at least) before heading off to class again the next day. To me this is a huge hassle.

    I just recently moved my 2 displays off my desk that were on my Mac Mini and am just using my mini as a headless streaming media server for my PS3, and when I get home from class I throw my MBP on a Rain Design mStand, plug in my keyboard/mouse, and use it as a 'desktop'. This way I never need to juggle data, keep applications updated in multiple places, etc. I am finding myself liking this whole 1 system routine a lot better, but at the same time I am annoyed because I spent a lot of money on my displays and dual LCD lift stand for my mini.

    So my question is this: for those of you with multiple systems, how do you handle the data shuffle and still remain sane? I want to use two systems because I purchased 2 systems, and I really could use some tips/advice on how to do so effectively .
  2. gilkisson macrumors 65816


    Been there, done that. Feel your pain.

    Upstairs machine has been relegated to being little more than an iTunes server. MBP goes with me everywhere, acts like a desktop at the office, returns to being a laptop in the evening. Apart from juggling my occasional media purchase/download, and Time Machine, I'm done.

    All those upstairs CPU cycles, going to waste... But, my machines serve me, not I them. That will stay true until they revolt, at least.
  3. arjen92 macrumors 65816


    Sep 9, 2008
    Below sea level
    You could reach the hard disk of the macbook pro via your network from your mini. (so you're on your mini, and with the network you acces the hard drive of your mbp). Then you go to your favorite folder and make an alias. Drag the alias to your mini desktop. Next time you come home, place the macbook somewhere. Then go on your mini, click the alias and your done. No need to drag and drop files.
  4. markya23 macrumors newbie

    Aug 18, 2009
    Much as I hesitate recommending a M$ product, I strongly recommend you take a look at live mesh (
  5. Consultant macrumors G5


    Jun 27, 2007
    MBP 17" main machine
    iMac matt screen: edit machine
    PowerMac g4 media files / server

    Don't shuffle data. If I copy folders to another machine I colored it on the old machine so that I know I can get rid of it later.

    There are syncing apps too if you want to go that route.
  6. MacKiddyWiddy macrumors 6502

    Aug 18, 2009
    the way i do it is i have my imac as the server and all files are on that [​IMG] then the macbook syncs them across when needed... its perfect so long as im always in the house when doing it
  7. steve knight macrumors 68020

    steve knight

    Jan 28, 2009
    it's ok but only thew first versions I found were reliable after a bit often changed files sometimes did not get synced. dropbox is far better it is faster more reliable it has versioning it lets you share files with someone you know or the public.
  8. xparaparafreakx macrumors 65816

    Jul 29, 2005
    All homework and school work on the Air.

    Anything Adobe/DJing on the Macbook Pro.

    Gaming is done on the Shuttle PC.

    Works out pretty damn well. I plan to replace the Macbook Pro with a Mac Pro, the old Air with a new Air and the PC with an i9 PC.
  9. svenwillmann macrumors member

    May 6, 2008
    Running a mac mini with server os, serves as ical server etc so it keeps this data on my main machine and laptop in sync without having to do anything
    Also offers the possibility of setting up a mobile user account on the server, syncing the home folder (and some other features I believe) but at the moment I am not using it (maybe I should)
    For folder sync I use chrono sync, does the trick for me so far

    But yes I know what you are talking about
  10. plinden macrumors 68040


    Apr 8, 2004
    Get Dropbox, install the client on each of your machines. Drop all the files you want to share into the Dropbox folder. It'll sync when you have a network connection and it'll magically show up in all computers you have synced to the same Dropbox account.

    You can even create a symlink (not an OS X alias though) to e.g your Documents folder in the Dropbox folder, and your Documents will be sync'ed
  11. MWPULSE macrumors 6502a


    Dec 27, 2008
    i used to try copying my data between machines but i gave that up.. too much hassle!.. so i started using my mac mini as a server for all my media.. i also created a account that is the most stripped out thing ever so i can record audio smoothly for my music stuff :)

    I use my macbook pro for everything else, adobe, wed, email, itunes, i also use it to download stuff. I then sync all my downloads to the mac mini via ethernet.. i have also been known to do software update via internet sharing :)

    My internet situation is definitely not ideal :s

  12. Tom R macrumors member

    Oct 13, 2009
    Get a quality PC laptop from a company that has great docking stations. I use a Dell Latitude with two docking stations for two different locations. Have docking stations hooked up with wireless keyboard and mouse and quality display (depending upon display needs).

    I got real tired of data transfers and this way I am always using the same data sets.

    Simple to plug and play laptop when you change locations...Tom

    P.S. Sorry if I am a bit off point but I relate to the data movement issue...BTW...wish MBP had a quality docking set-up.
  13. MajereXYU macrumors regular

    May 11, 2005
    Re: Docking stations

    Regarding docking stations, it is clear that for the moment, they would be unpractical because Apple places all the ports for their laptop on the side, to allow for the seamless hinge and for aesthetic reasons.

    In the near future tough, this could change with lightpeak. They could design a docking station (probably a small breakout box with display, USB, firewire and power connectors). The whole thing could be connected by a single lightpeak cable. It would then coincide with Apple's modus operandi.
    For now, the current way of doing things would be functional but really far from Apple's design priorities.

    I, for one, am hopeful. Seeing as how they implemented a power adapter for notebooks in their latest Cinema LED display, it seems they are laying the groundwork.
  14. swiftaw macrumors 603


    Jan 31, 2005
    Omaha, NE, USA
    I use MobileMe to keep my contacts/calendars/etc synced across my multiple machines. I use Chronosync to keep my Documents synced.
  15. jodelli macrumors 65816


    Jan 6, 2008
    Windsor, ON, Canada
    My computers are networked and I move files between folders all the time. The most I'll have to do is log in at times depending on what computers are involved.
    It's no more difficult than moving files between hard drives.
  16. robotartfashion macrumors 6502

    Jan 1, 2009
    Phoenix, AZ
    Powerbook G4 - mothballed, pulled out for guests that want to browse in the home untethered

    Mac Mini - plugged in to TV as PLEX/Hulu server (cable replacement)

    iMac - bedroom computer, right now doing duty as a TV as well until I get settled in and get something bigger

    Mac Pro - powered off in office unless I need do to something CPU intensive or for photo editing

    Macbook Pro - goes everywhere with me, when I'm on the wifi at home I have every computer with permissions on for screen and file sharing and I use the Macbook Pro to move files between the computers that I need to. It can be time intensive sometimes but for the most part works pretty well.
  17. colourfastt macrumors 6502a


    Apr 7, 2009
    Simple .. use iDisk syching .. so my iMac, MBP, & MBA always have my documents available.
  18. Macdctr macrumors 6502

    Nov 25, 2009
    I use my MBP for most things work-related

    My Mac Pro is used as my entertainment server
    My PowerMac G5 is in my spare bedroom and serves as my data server

    Both towers are off usually unless I'm doing something like backups for my laptops (Pismo and MBP) then my G5 tower is on. I can transfer files wirelessly and my network is secured and off the grid so to speak.

    If I'm doing something with movies/music then I have my Mac Pro on and I use AppleTV.

    That's pretty much what I do with my multiple systems...:D
  19. flynz4 macrumors 68040

    Aug 9, 2009
    Portland, OR
    I have found live mesh to be unreliable in syncing. My family is now using iDisk in Mobile Me -- for us, it is seems much better.

    Regarding the overall question of owning multiple systems:

    The most obvious solution is to have just a laptop. In many ways, that is the ideal and simple situation. The problem is that the mobile drives are generally too small to hold all of our data. They are fine for documents... just OK for all of our pictures.... and a bit too small for our music. If we get serious about video files... they are left in the dust. The size problem gets exacerbated with SSDs... but the performance advantage of an SSD far outweighs the issues with their smaller size... especially as mobile HDDs are not (or barely) large enough already.

    The second problem with having "just a laptop" is the relatively small screen size... however, that is easily overcome by using an external monitor. The final issue of having "just a laptop" is lower performance... but that is often not a problem for many people.

    Once you move from an "individual computing" (ex: student) to a "family" environment... you also get the added complexity of wanting to share data. For example: it is nice when anyone who buys music or takes pictures, adds their new data to the "family media collection" rather than just having it on an individual machine.

    That leaves us with an almost necessity to keep our data split across multiple machines. The solution that we came up with is:

    1) A laptop and iPhone per person. We have a combination MBPs and MBAs, and a couple of PCs (for our college age daughters who prefer PCs). This is used for web, email, social networking, etc... and has a Mobile Me iDisk for documents and limited media. Most of our laptops have SSDs... and I suspect that we will never buy a new laptop without an SSD. We also all have iPhones which are synced to our laptops via mobile me.

    2) A single home machine (being replaced with a 27" 2TB i7 iMac on Christmas). This holds the "master copy" of all our media (pictures, home videos, music), and a login for each person for their private data (ex: documents and email). This machine is backed up to the cloud using Mozy... so 100% of our family data is secure offsite in case of disaster. This machine is also ideal for editing photos, videos, doing project work, etc because of the larger screen and higher performance.

    3) A single home server (HP MediaSmart EX495) with 7.5 TB of storage. This server automatically backs up all PCs and Macs (although we choose to use a 2TB TC for the Macs). The result a full local backup copy of all each laptop, and also a full local backup of our home computer which contains all of our irreplaceable media (pictures, home videos). Hence... our irreplaceable media is backed up locally to this server, and also to the cloud via The server also contains primary data for things we would not mind losing (ex: Tivo recordings, ripped DVDs, etc). One very cool thing about the home server is that it has a "media collector" so that if anyone in the family downloads pictures or music to their laptops... the media is automatically "collects" and adds it to the family collection of music on the server. We do not rely on the media collector (but it is nice to have). Instead, we try to have enough discipline to always add new media to the home computer (#2 above) so that it is also backed up to the cloud.

    This seems to be working just fine... as long as we do not exceed our Mobile Me iDisk limits (we have not yet). If that becomes a problem, then I guess I could look for other sync solutions... but so far Mobile Me iDisk has been sufficient.

  20. BlueRevolution macrumors 603


    Jul 26, 2004
    Montreal, QC
    Why is having just a laptop not ideal? Compared to desktops, laptops are:

    • More expensive
    • Less reliable
    • Harder to repair
    • More easily lost/stolen
    For some people, that's fine. Personally, I prefer to have a good-quality desktop and an old laptop that I don't mind losing. I only use the laptop (an iBook G3) for internet and note-taking, and I use Dropbox to sync all of my most important files between the two computers. Easy-peasy.

    Once I graduate I may spend an extended period travelling and doing web development work, at which point I'll replace my two-computer setup with a single MacBook Pro.
  21. acxz macrumors regular

    Nov 30, 2007
    iMac for all the work I do at home.
    Macbook Pro for all the work I do away from home - mainly at university because the uni PCs are **** (Vista Business with 1GB of RAM. Makes sense right?).
  22. entatlrg macrumors 68040


    Mar 2, 2009
    Waterloo & Georgian Bay, Canada
    ditto on "been there, done that, feel the pain"....

    I've been trying to solve the same problem and I'm happy with the solution I came up with.

    I have/had:
    13" MBP
    15" MBP
    Mac Pro with dual ACD's.

    Even with Time Capsule, DropBox or SugarSync it's confusing to manage everything.

    I did some hard thinking and experimenting, then cleared my office of all computers and thought about which computer I'd like to have as my main computer, and then I built the system around that, using a minimal approach instead of an excessive approach as my desire for electronics some times takes me :).

    Now my main machine is my mid '09 15" MacPro, . Why? I can use it as a desktop when hooked up to my ACD on my desk. Plus, when I'm away from my desk I have a decent screen to look at, compared to a 13" yet I'm not lugging a bulky computer with a real large footprint like the 17".

    My Mac Pro is off my desk and I'll use it as a server, back ups, downloading, and storage. No syncing, it will be a separate computer, if I need a file from it or want to grab a movie I can grab it wirelessly or load up USB drives.

    My MacBook Air I like very much and still want to use it. But, I'm only going to use it as a netbook for emails, surfiing and work when I don't feel like using the 15" MBP, but I won't store many files on it and I'll be mostly focused on doing 'everything' on my 15" MBP.

    The 13" MBP goes to my office manager who's been waiting eagerly for a notebook.

    Problem(s) solved :)
  23. Bbusyb macrumors member


    Sep 11, 2009
    Notts, UK / Alex, Egypt
    Issues like this have been the primary reason that I've been primarily a Laptop user, getting the most powerful but portable system I can get so that it can handle most of what I need.

    What I found in My case was that a Secondary system only works if you need for specific tasks, and as such minimum data sync is required. So In the Past when I had a Desktop, it was primary used for Video Editing and occasionally gaming, so there was little need to keep thing in sync. If I needed a file, it would usually only take a minute to copy it over.

    Now, With two Laptops, the Second older machine is primarily used as a Media Server / Player / Converter machine. I've got it hooked up to my Media HD's and I can access all of them over the network. Also, A Combination of Logmein and Synergy means that I can usually control it with my MBP, so I'm usually playing Music / Video on it as I work on the MBP.

    The Critical files are kept in Sync using a combination of Dropbox and Sugersync, though I'm waiting for LiveMersh to get a proper 10.6 Client so that I can use it to keep some more, heavier flies in Sync which I currently do manually.
  24. entatlrg macrumors 68040


    Mar 2, 2009
    Waterloo & Georgian Bay, Canada
    What solution did you come up with, how's it working managing the two computers now?
  25. crackpip macrumors regular

    Jul 23, 2002
    Keeping files sync'd has been an issue for me. I have a pair of 8-core Mac Pro's (office and home) and a MBP I use for light work as well as traveling and presenting. The MBP doesn't hold enough RAM, and I have to admit I like the larger displays on my MP's. I'm always looking for better solutions, but because of the fairly large file sizes an iDisk or other remote storage solution is too slow. Currently I use git to keep several folders (not my whole home directory) in sync.

    I have a portable drive that holds bare git repositories. When I'm done working at a location I either push the changes onto the external drive or pull the changes onto the MBP. I have to be a little careful not to make changes on two machines at the same time because binary files can't be merged, but other than that I haven't had any issues with files getting mangled. One of the nice things about git compared with svn is that git only uses a single configuration directory (.git) so it's safe with file bundles. For most of my files, I don't need the history of changes, so if I feel the .git directory is getting too large, I'll rm it and init a new repository.

    It does require familiarity with the command-line interface.


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