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If you’re buying a PC this Christmas, buy a Mac

As you’d expect, from time to time people ask me for advice on what machine to buy. Usually the answer is a question – what do you want to use it for? – and based on the response I’ll suggest a PC or a Mac, a desktop or a notebook. There’s no such thing as a computer that’ll suit everyone… or is there?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and, other than budgetary constraints – and to be fair, the difference in price between basic PCs and basic Macs isn’t much these days – I’ve come to the conclusion that for the average punter, a Mac’s the better buy. That’s partly because of the usual Apple reasons – lack of viruses, blah – but also because of Boot Camp and even more importantly, open source software such as Firefox, OpenOffice.org and so on.

Sure, there are still things PCs are better at than Macs, such as games, but an entry-level PC with integrated graphics won’t be a spectacular performer so it’s probably a false economy. If all you want to do is play games, get an Xbox or a Wii or a PS3. If you’re into modding, a PC’s probably better. And if you’re a hardcore gamer whose ideal machine has enough power to solve the meaning of life, a PC’s still the better bet. And if you’ve invested in digital music downloads and players that use Windows Media copy protection, or PC-specific hardware such as horrifically expensive internal graphics cards or sound cards, there’s not much point in switching.

But other differences have gone away, and the biggest such difference is compatibility – instead of slow emulation via Virtual PC, you can run windows apps via Boot Camp (or Parallels Desktop) if there’s a particular program you can’t live without.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still niches where a PC is the right machine. But for the average digital photo-collecting, web browsing, online chatting, emailing, music downloading, odd-letter-writing man (or woman) in the street, I’m struggling to come up with good reasons why a PC would be better than a Mac – beyond the marginal price difference (which I think is negated by the need to install 500 security programs on a PC and the bundling of iLife with Macs).

Have I missed anything important? I’m genuinely curious.

17 replies on “If you’re buying a PC this Christmas, buy a Mac”

The 20″ imac under XP can play Half-Life 2 with reasonable settings. Better than a P4 3.06Ghz with a Radoen 9700Pro anyway. As an all-round machine the imac is really nice.

I have to agree about the Mac, anything ‘creative’ and the Mac simply runs off into the night giggling.

Video editing on a Mac? Easy as pie! Plug-in camera, switch on, import.

Editing on a PC? Plug-in camera, install drivers, install software, restart, restart again after crash and lots and lots of waiting. And waiting. Did I mention the waiting?

That’s the computers sorted – what about laptops/notebooks? Mac still better?

Hmmm, the price difference is more pronounced but I think the same pros apply. That said, I think for the overwhelming majority of computer users a laptop’s a bad buy unless you’ve got sod-all space to put a PC (or you’re a fearless road warrior, blogging from the killing fields of Southwaite motorway services).

I found this week that iPhoto is actually pretty good. Although it is very easy to delete stuff by accident.

Sorry, missed a bit from that last comment – even if you *are* a road warrior, I’m not convinced that an expensive laptop is the right way to go. Instead of spending £1900 on a top-line MacBook Pro, I think you’d be better off spending £999 on a 20-inch iMac and £750 on a MacBook. It’s more portable than the big laptop, and having two machines instead of one is great insurance against theft, disaster or cock-up. And you’d be £150 better off.

Yeah, I love iPhoto. Although it runs like a pig when you’ve got a stupidly large digital photo collection.

OK, so mibbe I’m starting to side with some of the mac fanboys. Took some pictures on the way home from work last night (only a couple online) and decided to faff about with NEF format (Nikon’s proprietary RAW format). Plugged the camera into the mac and edited the photos and uploaded them to flickr. Took some more later on and tried to do the same on the PC. So far it’s taken me about 2 hours. Photoshop 6 and PaintShopPro 7 can’t deal with NEF. (There is a plugin for PS7 and above) The Nikon (trial) software that I downloaded worked but ran like a pig (this is a new P4 3.2Ghz with 512Mb memory) and another trial app worked for a few minutes then completely locked up. These progs were hopeless – the Nikon one couldn’t batch convert and due to the speed were unusable for editing and the other one batch converted but couldn’t edit.

iPhoto just worked. I hate to admit it though. ;-)

That’s pretty typical of the mac/pc user – it either works or is a totally pain the in the floppy drive.

Does Picasa [http://picasa.google.co.uk] on Windows not support RAW?

Yea, I agree with that. If guys are doing creative, the first choice is Mac, for video or music, PC or Mac both suitablt. But for gamming I would suggest PC rather than Xbox nor PS3, the first release always on PC. I think you guys will agree with that :D

>>But for gamming I would suggest PC rather than Xbox nor PS3, the first release always on PC. I think you guys will agree with that

Not really. Other than Crysis and WOW, there are very, very few notable PC exclusives. There are definitely more games launched on the PC, but not necessarily good ones. The biggest selling game of last year was a simultaneous release on 360, PS3 and PC (COD4) and they reckon that the biggest selling game of 2008 won’t even be released on the PC (GTA4). Also you don’t need a new graphics card to play them.

Then again, PC games are typically £20 cheaper for the same titles, and there’s the whole modding scene…

>>PC games are typically £20 cheaper for the same titles

A top-tier PC game will retail at £30 and a 360 game (despite the RRP of £50) will always retail at £44 max, but even that is unusual. The last 3 360 games I bought were £32 (Mass Effect, Assassins Creed and Devil May Cry 4) and £30 for Super Mario Galaxy, all within days of release.

Fair enough. It’s still a tenner difference in most retailers, though: eg amazon does COD4 for £30 PC and £40 Xbox.

Yeah, but the point is – how many games do you have to buy to make it worth spending more on a single graphics card as opposed to a console? You can get a 360 for less than £200. At a push you could get a machine to *load* crysis for that. It would suck mightily. If Doom 3 is any example, it will be a matter of months before the Recommended Specification for Crysis is the minimum spec for all new PC games.

When I worked for Gateway, the happiest sound you could ever hear was someone asking for a computer to play 3d games. Instantly double the unit price. That certainly hasn’t changed in the last 8 years.

I think we’ve reached the point where graphics are starting to become a little irrelevant. I think that (for most games) they’ve become good enough. Someone pointed out something in a Plasma TV review the other day that is equally true of games as it is on movies. The reviewer noticed a slight green tinge to a certain shade of black in a particularly dark scene during a film. If you notice that then you’re obviously not enjoying the film.

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