My Turn

Performance or Productivity?

Victor Panlilio - 2001.10.30

We've received a lot of feedback to last week's Why PCs Are Better for Power Users and Macs, PCs, and Power Users, several of which we plan to share this week.

I own both PCs and Macs. I don't build my own systems, even though I've occasionally upgraded machines for friends (notebooks and desktops). I noticed that your comparison is limited to desktop machines used for a narrow range of activities. After you've played Unreal Tournament, do you still have mental energy to ponder the implications of quantum mechanics, general relativity, genome mapping, thermodynamics, and protein folding? (Hint: I'm an engineer in a family of engineers and scientists, and we don't use terms like "power user.")

My point is this: For hardware tweakers, creativity means building a custom PC from carefully chosen parts - just as my neighbour is lovingly restoring a Datsun 240Z. For other people, a well-built machine with a tightly-integrated, modern OS offers a superior user experience because they'd rather focus on writing (prose, poetry, code, whatever), composing music, creating visual art, editing audio or video, isolating functions on the human genome, or pursuing other creative goals - which are largely unrelated to the task of researching, selecting, and assembling electronic components for a personal computer. The electrical engineers I know don't build their own PCs - they're too busy designing circuits or writing software for stuff like flight control systems and the robotic manipulator arm of the International Space Station.

It depends what you like to spend time on. If you like to build custom PCs for gaming and CD burning while you dabble in Photoshop and play Unreal Tournament, that's one thing. After a long day at work, when I get home to my wife and son, do I want to think about which CPU cooler and thermal paste to use on an overclocked Thunderbird? Not likely. For what I do in my spare time at home, I believe in using technology that is simple, elegant, and user-friendly.

Dr. Christof Koch, a cognitive neuroscientist who is researching the biological basis of human consciousness, puts it this way (and he should know a thing or two about how the human brain works):

"From a user point of view, Macintosh has always stood for a cutting-edge combination of elegant hardware and very easy-to-use and highly functional GUI."

In other words, it isn't just about SPECmarks, PSBench, game framerates, or whatever. Of course, nothing I wrote above changes the economic or technical merits of custom-building PCs vs. Macs, but it does imply something about the self-aggrandizing notion inherent in the term "power user."

Share your perspective on the Mac by emailing with "My Turn" as your subject.

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