The Practical Mac

The Mac Challenge Kickoff

- 2002.03.26 - Tip Jar

In last week's column, we introduced the Mac Challenge. The purpose of the Challenge is to see which is more stable under ordinary usage, a Mac or a similarly equipped PC. Thank you to everyone who emailed their thoughts and suggestions regarding the Challenge. As a result of the great number of emails we received, we have adjusted the test criteria.

I had tentatively chosen a custom-built PC with a top-of-the-line Asus motherboard, an AMD Athlon processor, and Windows 2000. This PC is the standard in our company; we probably have hundreds of similar units. I also have access to a Dell OptiPlex with a 1.7 GHz Pentium 4 processor and inquired of our readers as to whether I should use this. The overwhelming consensus was to use the Dell with Windows XP.

The prevailing opinion was that in large businesses where the IT department does not make the purchasing decisions, the Dell with Windows XP was more likely to be purchased. Therefore the test would be more meaningful to the corporate world if this hardware/software combination was used. We heard and we have responded.

However, we would like to point out what we consider the lunacy of using what we know will be an inferior combination just because this is what "everyone uses." This begs the question, "Why then does everyone use this?"

As a result of readers' suggestions, we will also be making the following changes/additions to the Challenge:

We will also be evaluating the ease and speed of installation and setup.

Two additional categories will be added: Gaming and listening to music. I own Civilization III for both platforms and will be looking for a few more games available on both platforms. I will also find an iTunes equivalent for the PC.

Ease of connection to the following peripherals will be evaluated: printer, Palm, and digital camera.

I now have an evaluation copy of the latest version of Photoshop for the PC, so the graphics area should be more fairly matched.

The duration of the test will be adjusted. Each platform will be used for 30 consecutive days.

To recap, here is a summary of each platform:



  • Dell OptiPlex
  • 1.7 GHz Pentium 4 processor
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 20 GB hard drive
  • 3.5" floppy
  • 2 USB ports



  • iMac DV+/450
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 40 GB Maxtor hard drive (5400 rpm)
  • DVD
  • External FireWire CD-RW
  • USB
  • FireWire


  • Windows XP
  • Microsoft Office XP
  • Internet Explorer 6
  • Netscape 6
  • Outlook (in Office XP)
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • Front Page Express
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver
  • SmartFTP
  • Adaptec EZ CD Creator 5
  • Adobe Photoshop 7
  • LimeWire
  • MP3 player TBA
  • Civilization III


  • Mac OS X 10.1.3
  • Microsoft Office v. X
  • Internet Explorer 5.1
  • Netscape 6
  • Entourage (in Office v. X)
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • Claris Home Page (Classic app)
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver (Classic app)
  • Fetch
  • Roxio Toast Titanium
  • Adobe Photoshop 7
  • LimeWire
  • iTunes
  • Civilization III

Both of these computers were manufactured prior to the release of the OS which is installed on them.

There we have it. Now, only the contest remains. May the best platform win.

First up: The iMac. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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