Mac Metamorphosis

Is a Mac Better than a PC?

- 2000.05.25

Is a Mac better than a PC? I've been asking myself that question for several weeks, and I have written many drafts while attempting to figure out which is better.

We can look at this question from many angles, such as performance, stability, ease of use, price, expansion, and total cost of ownership.

You also have to factor in other things, especially whether the computer is customized or stock. I can easily build a PC for several thousand dollars that would smoke the greatest Mac. On the flip side, I could do the same with a Power Mac.

If we are comparing systems customized by power users, a Power Mac is better than any PC you can build on your own. Let's take my G4 as an example. I purchased a stock G4/400. Once I got it home, I pulled out the ATI video card and replaced it with a 3dfx Voodoo3. I replaced the stock 10 GB IDE hard drive with a 9.1 GB Seagate Cheetah 2 drive along with an Ultra2 SCSI controller.

One thing that makes my customized G4 better than a PC is that, should something go wrong it, I don't have to call Taiwan for support. Sure, most of the component in my PC don't require that kind of long distance call, but if the motherboard dies, I most likely have to call someone in Taiwan or another Asian country. You could customize a PC just as I did with my G4, but most PC power users prefer to build systems from the ground up.

When it comes to stock systems, I find the Macintosh superior because of its life span. I have upgraded my PC five times in the last three years. (By my standards a PC upgrade is when I have to purchase a new motherboard, CPU, and memory.) Video card swaps are common for better gaming performance, and I don't not think that practice will stop any time soon, despite the fact that I own a Macintosh. Some Macs were road apples from the day they were born, while others have aged a lot more gracefully. Generally, the ones that age best seem to have robust hardware spread throughout the machine. With a Mac, you won't blow your whole budget on just a processor.

The stability factor is very questionable with cross platform comparisons. No doubt you have heard of people who have 600 MHz Pentiums and G4s who can't burn a CD without making a coaster. Honestly, my G4 crashes just as much as my Pentium III does, which is about once a week. I leave my computers going 24/7, and even when I am not working on them, they are still receiving a work out acting as servers for myself and others.

Apple provides their operating system on CD when you purchase a new Mac; a lot of PC manufactures don't do that. If the PC vendor does, it is most likely a bloated customized edition of a poorly made operating system called Windows.

A funny (yet true) to story: My friend installed Direct X 7 on his PC because his new game required it. When running the game his video was all distorted, so he called the vendor, who told him that can't help him because they only support software that came with the computer.

The Mac OS is built and optimized for use on Macintosh hardware. PC vendors try for that, but they can't do it because no matter how much they put on top of Windows to make life easier, they still have to deal with its kernel. With a Macintosh you get a little bit of special attention because your operating system was built specifically for your computer.

I am not really going to take sides on which hardware platform is faster. I can build a computer on either platform that can smoke the other, but the Macintosh is a better performer from a price comparison point.

On an operating system level, some operating systems provide better performance than the Mac OS. The Mac OS is not very good at symmetrical or pre-emptive multitasking. An example of this is when I try to get to a website on my G4. Should the browser have trouble accessing the site, I lose all functionality while the computer tries to figure out what it wants to do. In a true multitasking operating system this would never happen, and I would be able to do other things like chat with a friend while the browser was making up its mind whether or not to throw an error 404 at me.

While Mac OS is not the fastest operating system, it definitely wins for ease of use. I have hit the point where speed is not as important as it used to be. I am not in the mood to tweak this and fix that anymore - I just want to be productive. The Mac OS helps me do that more efficiently than ever.

I find this true in many different environments. One environment where I find the Mac OS exceptional is when traveling. I was on a cross-country flight about a month ago and sitting near two people who were just turning on their laptops. One of them had a PowerBook and was off and running in under 5 minutes working a document. The other had a Windows based laptop and spent around 20 minutes playing with multiple settings in Windows and then finally opened up the document they wanted to work on. With a Macintosh I get to be productive, because there really isn't any tweaking involved. I see people on PCs all the time just wasting time playing with their system settings because they have nothing better to do. Since I started using a Mac on a full time basis, I actually had to go out and get a life - because my G4 requires very little maintenance.

I consider the Macintosh better than any PC out there. My proof is that the PC under my desk has not been turned on in over six weeks. It just sits there collecting dust while I figure out what I want to do with it. I have thought of turning it into a Unix server, but for some reason I don't touch it because somewhere in the back of my head I think I might actually need to use it as a desktop computer some time. I am sure you will eventually find certain parts of it for sale on eBay.

Special thanks to "my critic," Lisa, for contributing material and helping with the overall continuity of this article.

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