PC vs. Mac – the hardware
Are you a Mac or a PC? The answer depends less on your hardware preferences and more on your computing philosophy.
Apple ads depict the long-running "platform wars" as clever banter between two clearly different people – a hipster Mac guy and a buttoned down PC user. As it turns out, that's not a bad analogy – each system attracts a different type of personality.
From a hardware standpoint, they're about the same. They use many of the same components from the same manufacturers, including processors like those made by Intel, memory, and hard drives. Price isn't the determining factor either. If you outfit the systems similarly, they cost about the same.
The true differences between the systems lie in the way the hardware is packaged and the software implemented. If you like a close integration between hardware and software, you're probably a Mac. But if you want the freedom to choose from a wide range of system components, peripherals, and applications, you're most likely a PC.
So how do you know which you are? Consider the factors below.
A PC is a box of components, including circuit boards, memory cards, hard drives, and so on – together they help you accomplish tasks. Your PC needs a centralized controller to coordinate these components, and that's the role of the processor. Processors go by other names too, including microprocessor, CPU (central processing unit), and sometimes just "the chip." Both Macs and PCs run Intel® processors.
Apple's approach to computing is simplicity. They do this by controlling the development of the system and the software that runs it. For example, no other company can produce a Mac or its operating system (OS), and Apple dictates how other developers write programs for the Mac.
Apple offers just three tiers of product: high-end, mainstream, and basic systems in either desktop or notebook versions (see the table above). Apple's least-expensive Mac costs $1500 with a monitor.
Apple's high-end systems include the fastest processors, the most memory, the best graphics cards, and the most data storage. The ultra-small systems trade computing power for physical size. And the mainstream machines balance power and price.
The narrowness of Apple's product line can make it easier to decide between buying a Mac and a PC. If Macs offer too little or too much computing power for your needs, consider a PC.
Dozens of PC makers including big names like Dell, HP, Lenovo, Sony, and Gateway, make almost any combination of Intel processor and component you can think of. Some systems match Apple's models, striking a similar balance in size and power at the same price. But there are countless other variations mixed and matched with components of just about every capacity.
A low-end Dell system, suitable for everyday tasks, costs $500. As a result, your range of choices with a PC is much wider than with Apple. If you do undemanding tasks like e-mail, browsing the Web, and word processing, for example, all you need is a basic system.
PCs also offer more raw power than the Mac lineup. Companies like Alienware (now owned by Dell) and VoodooPC (owned by HP) specialize in state-of-the-art gaming and entertainment machines. Also, all the big-name manufacturers offer PC "workstations" with core hardware that often exceeds even the beefiest Mac Pro.
While Apple's range of product is narrower than that of PCs, its systems can be more robustly outfitted. iMacs, for example, offer built-in monitors, webcams, microphones, wireless networking, and more. Apple laptops consistently include a built-in camera and Bluetooth capability. You'd pay extra for these components in some PCs, and then you'd have to install them yourself.
Macs have comprehensive Plug and Play capability. Plug in just about any peripheral or connect to a network, and the Mac automatically "sees" the new equipment or environment – no input from you required.
PCs do an admirable job in this department too, which wasn't always the case. Microsoft Win 7, the latest incarnation of Windows, includes some 12,000 drivers for various peripherals – printers, optical drives, scanners, and so on – and it succeeds in hands-free installation more often than it fails.
The whole point of buying a computer is to get more done with less effort, but looks count too, and the Mac's design is part of its appeal. From the sleek, all-white iMac to the wafer-thin MacBook Air, Apple's machines dazzle the senses in ways PCs rarely do. As one expert puts it, "Apple has fetishised product design”.
Apple's Mac Pro includes slide-in drives. Its laptops use a magnetically attached power cord.
So, does buying a Mac for its design make you shallow? Maybe not, since Apple's streamlined sensibility is both inside and out. Apple's Mac Pro desktop, for example, has slide-in memory cards and slide-in hard drives so you can upgrade your system in a heartbeat. In two of its notebooks, the display and backlit keyboard change intensity in response to room lighting, thanks to a built-in ambient light sensor. Its notebook power cords attach magnetically, so if you trip over them, the cord pops off while the machine stays put. On a notebook touchpad, you scroll through documents line by line when you use one finger and page by page when you use two.
Apple doesn't have a stranglehold on looks, of course, and you'll find PCs with innovative designs as well. There's the Sony Vaio Desktop, for example, with its floating-glass display. Game systems from Alienware and VoodooPC boast aggressively styled, colorful cases, while Lenovo has mastered the art of the laptop keyboard, with soft-touch keys that duplicate the feeling of a desktop keyboard and an eraser-like cursor control.
But when you look beneath external cosmetics, Apple brings all its pieces together like no one else.
Published on: Monday, September 27, 2010