PC or Mac—Making a Sensible Choice
Related: Apple macOS, backup, GPU, howto, laptop, Mac Pro, MacBook, MacBook Pro, security, USB, video
This article is rather unlike the other articles here at diglloyd.com in that it contains a great deal of opinion based on personal experience, and a sense of what constitutes quality, and a good “user experience”.
Proving oneself “correct” on such things is difficult even if considerable time and effort were expended—and anyone whose world view is threatened by such opinions will accept neither opinions, nor facts. Many things in this article are not indisputable facts, but nonetheless offer a valuable perspective on the state of computing today, from an author with extensive professional experience.
- Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt, or the use of psychological intimidation to cause either or both individuals or groups to change their behavior or conform.
- Microsoft Windows (“Windows”) and all its variants (XP, XP Home Edition, XP Professional, 2000, 2000 Professional, NT, NT Server, etc) are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation and are hereafter referred to simply as “Windows”.
Some Microsoft Windows (“Windows”) users are not going to like this article. Please don’t write and complain that I’m being unfair to Windows—it is without a doubt responsible for tens of billions of dollars of lost productivity, damaged data, downtime, and a stultifying awful computer experience for hundreds of millions of people. Or it’s really great—and so is the swampland (sorry, beachfront) property I have for sale.
Inside a corporate firewall having only a small number (percentage) of Windows machines, I’ve seen email and web access slowed to a crawl for days at a time due to Windows-based viruses. I’ve endured countless baffling Windows “hiccups” and in general suffered more than anyone ought to from stupidly-designed user-antagonistic software on Windows.
Windows (the operating system) somehow attracts software vendors eager to match its mediocrity by designing equally crufty and obtuse software programs, a sort of “misery loves company” scenario which should be offensive to anyone who thinks computers ought to make life easier.
There you have it—read no further if you’ve now concluded this article is too biased to continue—but the foregoing is all true!
Is Apple’s Mac OS X perfect? Of course not—far from it. It has a large number of annoying problems, bugs and limitations. But it’s analogous to the United States—it’s a lousy country, having gone through many revolting abuses of its citizenry throughout its history—but it’s the best country on earth.
I am not a “Mac fanatic”. I prefer Apple’s Mac OS X (what makes a “Mac” a Mac) only because of a more fundamental principle: “the experience with the fewest hassles and the greatest rewards”. If there were a consumer computing platform superior to Mac OS X, I would switch to it in a heartbeat. But there is no such thing in 2006. The reason I like Mac OS X is no different from the reason I like Surefire Flashlights, Trek carbon fiber mountain bikes, or BMW “M” cars (on the racetrack at least).
Read on for my completely opinionated and impish take on why you should avoid Microsoft Windows like an STD, and get a Mac instead—based on 20 years of professional software development experience, and heavy use of both Windows and Mac OS X.
Read this article if you are a PC (Windows) user considering switching to an Apple Mac running Apple’s Mac OS X (new Apple Intel-based Macs can run Windows and Linux and Solaris now too). The comments apply primarily to the new Intel-based Macintoshes, less so to the older PowerPC-based machines.
Much of this article is opinion (based on many years of professional experience), and though the reader is advised to exercise his/her own judgment on the matter, much of the value of this article derives from a viewpoint formed from objective observations over many years, and the willingness to express those observations freely without regard for what others might think (especially the companies producing the products). This is rather uncommon, and it is rare to find such unconstrained viewpoints expressed in printed magazines—which have their advertisers to please.
The author is in no way associated with Apple Computer, Inc or Microsoft Corporation, nor has he ever worked for either company.
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Microsoft Windows (“Windows”) and all its variants (XP, XP Home Edition, XP Professional, 2000, 2000 Professional, NT, NT Server, etc) are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation and are hereafter referred to simply as “Windows”.
Apple, Mac, Mac OS X, Mac Pro, MacBook, MacBook Pro, PowerMac, etc are trademarks of Apple Computer, Inc.
I am professional software developer with 26 years experience, has used numerous flavors of Apple hardware and software, having purchased and used (generally and for software development) at least 10-15 different Apple Macs over the years (writing them all down would take some research!).
If you’re a long-time Mac user, you might remember Salient Software’s DiskDoubler, AutoDoubler and CopyDoubler, Symantec’s Norton Utilities for Mac, Pretty Good Privacy PGP and PGP Disk. You might even remember Mansfield Systems TechScriber and Salient Software’s Partner.
I have also purchased (and used for software development), three dual-processor PC workstations over the past decade, running Windows NT, Windows NT Server, Windows 2000 Professional, Windows XP Professional, and RedHat Linux. He has also used Sun’s Solaris. Work on these machines involved C++ and Java software development on various Application Server products, the latest of which is Sun’s Glassfish Application Server (see also BlogX).
This section discusses considerations for operating systems and software for an Apple Intel-based Mac. The main question many Windows PC users have is “Can I use my software on a Mac?”. The answer is “no”, and “yes”, as we shall see.
The operating system is responsible for the look and feel, ease of use, and reliability of the computer. It is the critical software that to a large extent makes the user feel at-ease and comfortable with the computer, or befuddled and stupid.
While all new computer users are confronted with the problem of learning something entirely new, Mac OS X is (by far) a better choice for anyone using a computer for the first time. However, if the computer will never be used for anything but a few basic chores, such as web-browsing and mail, and no additional devices will be attached, the two operating systems offer more modest differences, but see Viruses and Malware.
Reliability is also a major factor with an operating system—does the computer as a whole crash very often. In my experience, Mac OS X is incredibly robust. The mail and web servers at diglloyd.com have been running for 6 years (first with Mac OS 9) without ever crashing (prior to diglloyd.com the server had a different web site name). The latest versions of Windows (XP) is also very robust, but with security breaches hitting the headlines every week, and the constant threat of viruses, it cannot be considered on par with Mac OS X.
In my personal experience, far more crashes have occurred on Windows than on Mac OS X. Less-than-perfect hardware compatibility might be responsible in part for this—in fact the Polar IR USB Interface @AMAZON unit driver software crashes Windows XP 100% of the time when unplugged. This is almost certainly Polar’s fault, not Microsoft’s, but in my experience it is not uncommon to have hardware installation and technical “difficulties” in the Windows world, where such things would simply result in market failure on a Mac (the products would receive scathing criticism by Mac users who don’t tolerate such incompetence).
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First, it must be made clear: much of the current risk to computer users has to do with “social engineering”—tricking the user into voluntarily revealing information such as passwords, name, address, social security number etc. Buying a Mac instead of a Windows PC won’t change that basic fact.
And wait—an Apple Mac is a Windows PC—if you’d like it to be.
One of the major strengths of Mac OS X is its relative immunity from computer viruses, in contrast to Windows, which “offers” a cornucopia of literally tens of thousands of malicious viruses, if not hundreds of thousands.
I have never run an anti-virus program on Mac OS X, yet has never had a virus or trojan horse or malware software “infection”. This is simply unthinkable on Windows.
For the record, Mac OS X has no inherent immunity from viruses, trojan horses and the like, and a virus with great fecundity might yet emerge for Mac OS X. And in fact, it is possible to navigate to a new or unknown malicious web site, and (foolishly) download a program (“trojan horse”) that can exploit a security weakness and/or trick you into allowing it system-wide access to your computer. But such events require your cooperation, which is very different from simply having your computer infected by computer virus without doing anything but your normal activities (like reading email or visiting a web site).
But the facts are that there has never been a successful “in the wild” virus propagating on Mac OS X. Period. You might read a scary press article now and then about a security weakness on Mac OS X that in theory could lead to a security breach—and that is true, but try to find any evidence of even a few thousands Mac OS X systems being infected—you won’t.
Part of the trouble with Windows is that it has been so popular for so long that hackers over the years have developed incredibly sophisticated skills in producing computer viruses for the Windows operating system. It is also true that many of today’s viruses and trojan horses are less concerned with causing damage than enabling financial gain for the writer, and financial harm to the victim (the owner of the Windows PC). The recent trend in “spyware” and “trojan horses” stems in large part to criminal activity designed to drain online bank and PayPal accounts and related types of fraud.
Running Windows is the riskiest strategy you can follow in terms of risk to your data and money. You simply must use anti-virus software with Windows and keep it up to date, which is an added cost on an ongoing basis, both in terms of money (initial purchase and subscription fees), and your time and vigilance (making sure it is up to date). Not to mention the hassle factor.
Some anti-virus programs think Windows itself is a virus apparently (maybe not too far off the mark!). Witness this fiasco:
At the heart of the problem is part of Windows' built-in security, a file called Lsass.exe. This was wrongly detected as a virus by CA's eTrust software and was deleted, causing some servers to crash and fail to reboot.
Though CA fixed the bug quickly, such hassles are all part of life with Windows. Would you like it if you just lost $10,000 in business because your server went down? Or the “fun” of reinstalling Windows and all your programs? Reread my assertion on the costs.
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Windows security holes
Another factor with Windows is that it is full of security holes, which can be observed simply by reading news headlines. Years of software development based on initially primitive technology, coupled with a priority on backward compatibility have kept older code and APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) in use, in which new “exploits” are continually found. Some are publicized, but the sophisticated criminal groups no doubt are actively looking for security flaws to exploit quietly for ill-gotten gains. A few million dollars, after all, can make a nice living for someone in the former Soviet Union.
By contrast, Mac OS X is based on Unix, an operating system that from the start was designed for a higher level of security, and has proven to be far more robust than Windows in practice, when security breaches and viruses are considered. This is one reason why Solaris and Linux are very popular among corporations.
Still not convinced? Just check out the news: Viruses and Worms, Security Threats, Flaws. You’ll find a few articles on Mac OS X flaws, but they are red herrings. There are no “botnets” ever reported of Mac OS X systems—just theoretical issues or the occasional reported problem where a naive user downloads an known program from a skanky web site and runs it. Or just consider that after installing Windows XP Service Pack 2, you still have 54 security patches to install.
Bottom line: would you drive a car that is #1 for carjacking or break-ins? If not, then don’t run Microsoft Windows.
Magazines mislead and amp up the FUD factor (fear, uncertainty, doubt)
The basic assumption in the computing press today is that there is nothing wrong with having to deal with all the problems that come with running Windows. This attitude is self-serving—it fuels a constant stream of advertising dollars, fueled by articles discussing how to solve all those problems—well, those are just part of having a computer aren’t they. The anti-virus companies are particularly fond of emphasizing all the problems—the more the better.
Users should not have to deal with viruses, worms and the like—and the most attractive computing platform that offers the least number of such problems should be the one recommended to the vast majority of the computing public. That is the message that should be repeated over and over, and it is the only message that Serves the computing public. But it’s not the one that will bring in the advertising dollars, or allow article after article about the latest threats, all of which serve to increase revenue for the publisher. And it’s not popular to say so, but the Truth never is.
But instead of telling the Truth, which is that running Windows is just a Bad Idea (and an unpleasant experience at that), the press instead goes into an eye-glazing description of all the problems to be solved!
As if we’d all like to become mechanics after we buy our car, so we can reboot it before driving, learn to put out engine fires, and mix our own gasoline. If you wouldn’t buy a car that inexplicably stops working, or drains your bank account, why would you lower your expectations for a computer?
A recent Consumer Reports article on computer security (sorry I’ve misplaced the issue) is a good example of the foregoing discussion. Page after page of details on how to protect yourself. Egads—if this were a car, Consumer Reports would immediately give it a black circle and warn buyers away.
The August 2006 PC WORLD has a front-page article “10 Biggest Security Risks You Don’t Know About”. The issue is well worth buying so as to understand the threats out there. The sub-articles include:
- Zombie PC Armies Set to Attack;
- Your Stolen Data free on the web;
- Phishers co-opt legitimate sites;
- The human security hole;
- Crooks redirect your browser to their scam web site;
- Rootkits and viruses partner up;
- Viruses call up your cell phone;
- Malware on your passport;
- Your data held for ransom;
- No safe haven: Threats Plague All Platforms
Several of the above items apply to both Macs and PCs, because they involve “social engineering”, or tricking users into revealing information about themselves. No person or computer is immune from that kind of attack, since it’s the user who is fooled into entering a password, or social security number, etc.
The “Zombie PC” is real—you can thank Windows for this problem—these are not Mac OS X systems. A “zombie PC” is a Windows machine that has been breached by a hacker due to the numerous security flaws in Windows, use of a Trojan horse, etc. The owners are generally not even aware their PC is under external control, since it might be utilized only at desired times by the hacker.
Millions of these PCs are controlled by hackers and they can bring even the largest sites down eg “denial of service”. Who is responsible? Both the hapless PC owner (for buying Windows and then not keeping it up to date with the latest patches and anti-virus), and, fundamentally, Microsoft, as the vendor of Windows. If such Zombie PC armies are not a national security threat, nothing is—they could be targeted at any internet-accessible target, including much of our national infrastructure. This will happen at some point in the future, as organized crime will be only too happy to accept payment for such “services”.
The last of the PC World items, “No safe haven: Threats Plague All Platforms” is pathetic: it makes it sound like Mac OS X is no safer than Windows, which is extremely misleading, and backed up only by one vague example having to do with an instant-messaging worm. In fact, a quick google search reveals the following at lifehacker.com:
Oompa Loompa spreads itself through iChat. It will look like someone (possibly from your buddy list) is attempting to transfer a file called latestpics.gz (see image above). For the worm to affect you, you have to accept the file, unzip it and then launch it, something you shouldn't do with a file like that on any operating system....It does not result in data loss and is rated low-risk by security experts.
So you have to run as an administrator, run iChat, you have to download a compressed file and you have to accept it, unzip it, and run it—and it can’t spread beyond your local network. I’d be surprised if more than a few hundred, or even a few dozen people were affected by this. “Hello...Earth to PC World”—that's your best example of a Mac threat? This is a form of social engineering: trick the user into doing something foolish. PC World is spreading FUD here, and I consider their take on the matter of Mac OS X risks grossly misleading.
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Lloyd recommends 64GB for iMac or Mac Pro for photography/videography.
An Apple Intel-based Mac can directly boot (start up) with either Apple’s Mac OS X or Microsoft Windows XP, using Apple’s Boot Camp, an optional download in Mac OS X 10.4 (“Tiger”), and something likely to be included with Mac OS X 10.5 (“Leopard”). The only caveat is that you need to acquire a legal copy of Windows XP service pack 2. Perhaps Apple will offer this as a future “build to order” option at the Apple Store.
Given that as of September 2006 the Mac Pro is actually less expensive than the cheap-plastic Dell equivalent, why wouldn’t you get a Mac Pro instead? I’ve owned three (3) Dell workstations (not just cheap consumer PCs), and they were all poorly built of cheap plastic with awkward internals and design. Walk into an Apple Store, and see what real design is about.
Choosing Mac OS X or Windows is straightforward (you do have to take the time to also install Windows XP, which takes 3-10 times longer than installing Mac OS X). When you power-on your Mac, holding down the option (alt) key offers a choice of operating systems as seen below. Just click on the desired boot partition—in this example “MBBoot” is the Mac OS X boot partition and “Windows” is the Windows XP boot partition.
The term virtualization refers to the ability to run one or more operating system(s) from within the “host” operating system. For example: running Windows XP “inside” Mac OS X. In essence, the virtualization software “tricks” the “virtual” operating system into thinking that it has full control of the underlying hardware, when in fact it does not. In other words, you can boot your Intel-based Mac with Mac OS X, then run Windows in another window on your screen! The first such program that enabled this functionality is Parallels Desktop For Mac, and other vendors will be releasing competing products, all made possible by hardware features of the Intel Core Duo chips.
This exciting technology offers a truly convenient way of running Microsoft Windows (XP, 2000, NT, etc), Linux, Solaris [1, 2] , etc, all while running Mac OS X as the “host” operating system. Several vendors are working on this technology, and Parallels already offers it. I have used it, and it works quite well, though compatibility with oddball hardware devices remains an issue, and it’s not fully-baked yet (occasional crashes which cause Windows to reboot , but not Mac OS X).
A major appeal of virtualization technology is that Windows applications which have been coded to expect an Intel processor in fact do have an Intel processor—and therefore can run at nearly full speed. This compares to past emulation efforts such as Virtual PC (acquired by Microsoft a few years ago from Connectix), where such programs were executed in software, which translated instructions for the Intel processor (CPU) into those for the PowerPC processor. Microsoft has stated that Virtual PC will not be carried forward for the Intel-based Macs.
Virtualization runs very fast indeed, and you can see for yourself with certain photography-related benchmarks in the diglloyd.com MacBook Pro Experience Report—Software.
Add to the above that backing up up this virtual Windows PC is as simple as copying a single file (representing the C: drive), and it’s a “killer application”. By backing up this file periodically, you can revert your entire PC to its state on any given backup date in a few seconds—very powerful, and very enabling if Windows gets infected by a virus—just throw the current file in the trash, and replace it with a backup. WOW!!! Such a strategy is limited only by the frequency of your backups.
Virtualization holds great promise, and it’s quite possible that Apple will exploit this technology in the future to offer a Rosetta-stone approach for software. The spectacularly-invisible Rosetta software allows Macintosh applications designed for PowerPC (the longstanding kind) to run on Intel-based Macs. There’s no reason to believe Apple could’t do the same for Windows applications—Apples has the talent in-house.
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The most intriguing technology emerging (besides dual-booting and virtualization), is the ability to run Windows applications without Windows. A beta version of CodeWeavers CrossOver Mac was released in late August 2006. This technology holds great promise, as it eliminates the expense of buying Windows (at $200+), while allowing the use of Windows applications. It likely will also provide some defense against Windows viruses, since many are likely to be incompatible (as will be some Windows programs). Running Windows applications without Windows is particularly appealing, as Microsoft won’t derive any revenue from it—and with all the downtime and lost productivity whose root cause is Microsoft Windows, it seems only fair.
Hard-core game-players might want to check out whether their favorite games have been optimized for the particular video card found in the Mac they are choosing, and will probably need to boot into Windows XP to realize maximum performance, because the heavy-duty graphics in some games have been optimized for Windows XP. In fact, many games are not available for Mac OS X at all.
Really hard-core gamers might need to avoid a Mac, since the very latest in graphics cards might be PC-only.
What do you lose and gain with an Apple Mac?
First, be aware that basic models such as the MacMini and iMac Intel Core Duo offer no internal expansion (other than memory), though they do offer the ability to use an external monitor, and to use USB or Firewire devices (please check the specifications for details at the Apple Store, since Apple changes models on a regular basis).
Even with the Mac Pro, you do lose the vast variety of form factors available in the generic PC world. Apple’s Mac Pro workstation has 4 drive bays (though you might be able to add two more in a spare optical drive bay). In the Windows PC world, you can choose a variety of form factors that might allow 0, 2, 4, 6, 8 or even 10 internal drives. You lose that choice with an Apple Mac Pro; there are no small/medium/large cases to choose from.
Given that individual drives have capacities up to 750GB, and that four (4) of them total 3 terabytes, this seems to be a non-limitation. Add to that the fact that a variety of vendors like FirmTek offer external SATA expansion, and the “problem” is little more than idle bar-talk—Apple does make the XServe and XServe RAID after all.
On the plus side, installing drives in a Mac Pro means installing a few guiding screws, then simply pushing the drive into place—no cables or connectors to mess with; the rear of the drive simply slots into place appropriately. Buy your drives (SATA for internal use) cheaply at various online stores.
High capacity, high-performance fault-tolerant storage for photography and video.
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Apple is not very good about offering a wide variety of graphics cards, or even making them available after you order your Mac. Nor are there lots of Mac video cards out there, but expect this situation to improve now that Apple uses Intel chips, and an Intel-designed motherboard.
On the other hand, Apple does offer high-end video cards suitable for dual 30" displays and even 3D visualization, so this is a non-issue for 99.99% of the computing base. If you intend to use Apple’s Aperture (and possibly Adobe’s Lightroom), be sure to get a higher-end video card (eg the ATI Radeon X1900 XT), as the processing power of the video card is used to speed up operations on digital files.
No Mac has a serial port. Period. You will have to find a USB-to-serial adapter (many are available). In most cases, this works just fine. I use the Ergomo Pro power meter on my bicycle with a USB-to-serial adapter on the MacBook Pro, booted into Windows XP.
The lack of serial ports is a problem on some Windows PC laptops too, and is not confined to Apple hardware. As more and more vendors get a clue, they will offer USB-based products, and the serial port will slowly fade into oblivion. Good riddance.
The Apple machines have best-of-class hardware design. Put an Apple MacBook Pro next to a conventional plasticky PC laptop, or the Apple Mac Pro next to a generic PC (or Dell or HP, etc), and the Apple is far more attractive than the alternatives, with few or no exceptions.
Peek inside a Mac Pro, and find the cleanest, most intelligent design available—that statement includes a comparison with two Dell dual-processor crapola-case workstations and a custom-designed (specified by yours truly) PC with a high-quality case, power supply, etc.
From what I’ve seen, there simply is no comparison, unless you think hay and horse manure are about the same stuff, more or less.
You get as much or more in this area than most PCs. Check out the specs on the specific Mac you’re going to buy before you buy, just to be sure. It’s easy to add USB and Firewire ports (so long as you have existing ones). The Mac Pro already has 5 USB 2.0 ports, 2 USB 1.1 ports, 2 Firewire 800 ports and 2 Firewire 400 ports, so only someone with lots of gadgets will be concerned in this area.
Laptops offer more limited expansion, so be sure to check the specifications before buying.
Macs have a lot of goodies you won’t find in a generic PC. Inexplicably, Macs do all lack one key thing for photographers—card readers for digital camera memory cards—strange given Apple’s appeal to the digital imaging crowd—but easy enough to add via USB or Firewire.
Both the MacBook Pro and Mac Pro can drive a 30" dual-link DVI monitor. Try that on a Windows PC notebook.
On a MacBook Pro, the goodies include built-in wireless 802.11g, BlueTooth, and a built-in iSight camera.
On a Mac Pro, goodies include up to four (4) video cards for up to 8 monitors, with a seamless intelligent desktop, 1200 watt power supply (try finding that in a standard PC), a DVI-to-VGA adapter, dual gigabit ethernet built-in, optical digital audio input and output Toslink ports, front-panel headphone mini-jacks, iLife 2006, and keyboard expansion cable.
If you’re a music-lover, the Apple iPod and iPod Nano dominate the market, due to their superb industrial design, and the outstanding (and free) Apple iTunes software. Every other choice at present pales in comparison to the Apple offering.
Particularly statist governments like France are apoplectic over the success (“domination”) of Apple in the music area. It’s for good reason that Apple dominates the industry: the alternatives are crap. Madame La France: create something groundbreaking of your own for a change (grapes excluded), without a government subsidy, and leave Apple alone.
Performance is on par or better than most equivalent PCs, now that Apple is using the same Intel chips and indeed Intel-designed motherboards. There almost certainly are a few high-end specialty Windows PC products out there that might be a smidgen faster, if you are willing to pay for exotic parts, or the very fastest chips. However, so far Apple has seen fit to offer the very fastest Intel chips, probably to defuse any potential criticism of the switch to the Intel platform—it has to be faster than PowerPC, or the wind comes out of Apple’s sales (and sails).
Some things might be a bit faster on Windows XP, and some things might be a bit faster on Mac OS X. This is an application-specific issue. You will have to check your specific software to be sure, but the difference, given the same CPU, is likely to be small.
That said, I can say that the Power Mac G5 Quad is the smoothest machine I’ve ever used, with Mac OS X doing a superb job of yielding a responsive experience. I can’t say the same for a dual 2.2 GHz Opteron system I owned for 18 months running Windows XP—Mac OS X is just smoother and more responsive, even when the CPUs weren’t fully utilized (and especially with heavy disk access).
When I recommended the Power Mac G5 Quad to a friend of mine who owned quite a few high-powered Windows PCs, one of his very first remarks after installing it was “I can’t believe how quiet it is!”. You can expect vastly superior noise characteristics from an Apple desktop or laptop as compared with virtually every PC out there. Apple’s custom design for every Mac usually (but not always) results in an outstandingly quiet machine. Exceptions include the obnoxious eMac (the PowerPC model).
I’ve had good luck with only one of three PCs I’ve owned: two Dell workstations and one custom-built PC.
I’ve had very few problems with Apple hardware, though Apple, like all manufacturers, has built some products with inherent quality problems, usually due to one bad part, such as a capacitor. Growing pains with heat, lithium batteries, etc are shared by both Apple and PC makers. It’s easy to find a user who gripes of problems with any brand, but customer satisfaction is very high for Apple Macs as compared with other vendors. In fact, customer satisfaction with Apple support is the highest of any PC manufacturer.
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Lloyd recommends 32GB RDIMM modules for most users (more expensive LRDIMMS are for 512GB or more).
The standard warranty is one year. I didn’t use it for the last 3 Apple Macs I’ve owned.
AppleCare is Apple’s extended warranty. If you spend more than $2000 on a Mac, particularly with an LCD monitor (very expensive to repair), it’s a screaming deal. Under $1000 and the cost is relatively high, and you might be better off just sticking with the standard warranty.
My rule of thumb: when buying a high-end Apple laptop, or desktop model with LCD monitor, I always get the AppleCare (though I might delay its purchase). AppleCare yields a total 3 year warranty at a cost which is typically less than 10% of the total price. Because the price of AppleCare is fixed, if you spend $5000, it’s a terrific deal as a percentage of the cost (a $3000 Mac Pro system costs the same for AppleCare as a $7000 Mac Pro system). Figure the percentage, and go from there.
There are several less-well-known features of AppleCare:
- you can buy it at any time prior to the expiration of the original 1-year warranty (but allow at least a month as a precaution!). This is helpful if you think you might upgrade before a year is up;
- it extends the 90-day free telephone support period to 3 full years;
- in many cases, such as laptops, it includes 2-day shipping to get the unit repaired.
In general, Apple’s policy on repairs is quite liberal and I consider their warranty to be excellent. However, Apple could take a lesson from Dell, and offer various levels of on-site repair.
There are an unacceptable number of risks in running Microsoft Windows, an aging operation system full of security holes and frequented by viruses. While the forthcoming Windows “Vista” will no doubt improve matters, history suggests that the improvements won’t be enough.
Mac OS X for everyday use
Buying an Apple Mac and running Mac OS X as the everyday operating system is the right choice—and booting it into Windows as the need arises is an excellent plan. You will be rewarded with a better user experience, fewer hassles, top support, and lower costs over time. And you’ll get a more attractively and solidly built machine to boot.
Specialized hardware or software
Those with specialized hardware or software requirements might consider a Windows PC, but in many cases, booting a Mac into Windows might prove a better idea. A personal example is with my MacBook Pro; I boot it into Windows XP to run two specialized programs (Polar Heart Rate Monitor software and Cycling Peaks software, both of which have specialized hardware, and are Windows-only). Users who require specialized high-end hardware cards (PCI, PCI-X, etc) might well be forced to stick with a Windows PC, but even that will be changing as Apple has now adopted the same standards as the Intel world for plug-in cards in its Mac Pro line.
Friends and family support
If you live in an area with no Apple Store and no Mac users-groups, and all your friends, family and acquaintances run Windows, you might consider the help available from those parties as a factor in deciding on a Windows PC.
But a Mac can also be a PC running Windows, so there is a “Plan B” available to you—boot your Mac into Windows as needed (or all the time if you prefer). Considering the excellent Apple support (do buy AppleCare if you are a “newbie”), this issue should be a modest one. In my past experience with users who have “switched”, there is a learning curve, but the usual surprise and delight more than balance that issue.
Apple is not perfect
Mac OS X is a superb product. Apple Macs are very well built (the Mac Pro and MacBook Pro being in a class by themselves), and have an excellent track record for reliability. But no vendor is perfect, and every product is subject to failures and problems.
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