THE ENDLESS DEBATE OF MAC VS PC FOR AUDIO PRODUCTION
When I was in college studying all about everything in the audio world, there seemed to be an endless debate between everyone on whether Mac’s or PC’s were better for recording and mixing. Having used both extensively and having had the same debate over and over and over again, I think I’ve heard about every reason for siding with one over the other and below I’ll address some of those questions as well as tell you what my personal choices have been based off of.
Probably the biggest component to this debate relates to technology over time. What I mean by that is who’s got the latest technology available and integrated? Is Mac ahead or is it PC? There is always a developing landscape of the new or the best and it’s always shifting back and forth. So just for the sake of argument and reference, I’m writing this article August of 2017 and so my information will be based on what is currently available.
The comparisons I’ll be using are fairly simple. I really only have a few things that I look for.
- Deliverable Options
So let’s get into each one these and see how things stack up.
Performance is really one of those things that is entirely subjective and really depends on a whole host of issues including user configurations, hardware, drivers, operating systems, and any other variable out there. Without sitting down and doing a bunch of bench tests (which there are tons of videos on and you can look them up), I’m going to chock up performance to a single question: Does it work and does it get the job done?
- Mac – Yep it works
- PC – Yep it also works
We can also delve into this further with the time-line I mentioned earlier as well by asking a simple question: Who’s ahead on the technology front? Like I mentioned before this is something that is always in flux and if I had to hand out a winner over the last couple of years I would say PC was winning hands down. With CPU’s like the new Core i9 with 10 cores, the 20 core Xeon and AMD’s new Ryzen chip, massive jumps in RAM motherboard support from 16GB to 128GB, M.2 support, an increase in both smaller and larger case sizes, the release of the current Nvidia GTX 10 series, implementation of both USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt, water cooling and some other things, Mac has really only given us Thunderbolt in the same time period. That being said, I think Mac has realized their failings in both the professional and consumer markets and is scheduled to release the new iMac Pro that will be up to par with anything currently available in the PC market. The Mac Pro is also getting an overhaul which hasn’t been updated since it’s current release. Overall I think Mac has been trailing mostly due to PC’s ability to innovate change much faster over time and it will be interesting to see how Apple addresses things if they truly ant to compete.
Stability is one of those things that’s also subjective. Having used both Mac and Windows extensively, I don’t really think one is better than the other. Each of them has their quirks and it’s really more about knowing how to find a workaround or solution for each of the problems that each of them presents a user with. That being said, Mac is notorious for really strange problems where everything breaks when they have software updates and it’s a really sore subject with Mac fans. Remember when iTunes deleted everyone’s music libraries with one of their releases? The funny thing is that each of the Mac Fanboys will tell you that they don’t ever do an upgrade until at least six months after a release because of the huge probable risk of system failure being involved. This can happen with Windows too, but seems to happen much less frequently. As we’ve seen before, there are also strange things that occur with releases when Windows drops a new OS like the BSOD and bricking that seemed to afflict mostly HP Laptops.
Like I said earlier, I don’t think one is better than the other and it’s mostly a matter of personal preference. I’ve run Pro Tools and Pro Tools HD on each of them and I’m comfortable moving back and forth between each of them.
Compatibility may not seem like a huge issue, but as someone that moves between the two platforms on a regular basis, I’ve found that it’s important to be able to have all of my hardware (like external hard drives) work the same. Mac’s and PC’s both definitely have their own quirks, but overall I’m going to have to give this one to PC just due to the simple fact that PC adopts whatever works and implements it quickly. As an example of that, Mac gave us Thunderbolt, and PC has adopted it while also creating a version that is UBS backwards compatible in the form of USB 3.1 (a.k.a. Type C). On the flip side, Mac hardware is always proprietary and, aside from Thunderbolt, always seems to be based on technology that’s technically old in the world of PC (take Mac’s 1366 MHz.RAM that is still being used in the current Mac Pro as an example). Ultimately though, they both work, which in the end is all that matters.
Deliverables are a huge source of contention between Mac and PC users. In the spirit of saving space and getting to the point as quick as possible, there are two schools of thought that I’ve come across when it comes to things like files and formats. On the Mac side, there is limited support for anything in the world of audio outside of Mp3, WAV or AAC. This has both the benefit and the downside of forcing compatibility to one of these formats. On the plus side (as Mac Fanboys always remind me), everything just works. On the downside, I end up having to convert everything to one of these formats, and the sore point for PC Fanboys is that often there are formats that have better compression rates and take up way less space (like Windows Media Files for example), and the counter argument heard from the PC camp are that there are a serious lack of options, choice and tools when it comes to anything on a Mac. The conclusion? It’s up to the user and there are pros and cons to both sides. Personally though, I like options.
Longevity and Upgradability
In case you’re wondering, the answer is always, It Depends. When it comes to things like longevity and upgradability, There are pros and cons to each side of the isle and it sort of depends on what you want. Do you want a machine that’s going to be the same for a while until it’s out of date in which case you replace it with a new machine; or do you want a machine that is upgradable and can keep up with the latest technology? Either one is fine and it’s really a matter of personal choice. Personally, as I sated in the paragraph above, I like options and so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that I like PC’s much more. I use my computer for way more than just audio production. A lot of my friends are programmers and are avid gamers. I’m not a huge gamer, but I do enjoy going to LAN parties and kicking it with a bunch of dudes that are screaming at each other across the room as they pummel each other into submission. So when the new Nvidia GTX 10 series GPU’s came out it was no big deal to swap out my old GTX 640 that couldn’t handle anything anymore and get something much better to keep up with my fiends. I also like to tinker with things too. On the flip side, there is also something to be said for having a no maintenance machine that just does it’s thing and when it’s done gets replaced. There is a significant dollar amount attached to each way of thinking and realistically, you’re going to pay for it either way. I think the question is do you want to pay for it all at once or in increments?
When it comes to Mac vs PC, this is really the main event and it’s a real grudge match. So in order to do a fair comparison, we’ll compare my computer (and what I paid for it) vs a comparable Mac Pro. My computer is a few years old and so is the Mac Pro so it should be a fairly straight comparison. So onto the specs.
CPU: Xeon E5 6 Core @ 3.5 GHz
RAM: 64GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC
SSD: 512GB PCI-e SSD
MB: Apple Proprietary
PS: Apple Proprietary
CASE: Apple Proprietary
GPU: Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM each
COOLING: Air Cooled
DISP: LG UltraFine 4K Display 21.4 Inch (Mac Store Sug,)
OS: OS X El Capitan
CPU: Core i7 6 Core @ 3.4 GHz
RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws Z Series 64GB DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 2400
SSD: Mushkin Enhanced ECO2 2.5″ 512GB SATA III Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
MB: MSI X79A-GD45 Plus LGA 2011 Intel X79 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard
PS: EVGA SuperNOVA 1000 G1 120-G1-1000-VR 80+ GOLD 1000W Fully Modular
CASE: Fractal Design Define R5 Blackout Silent ATX Mid Tower Computer Case
GPU: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060 Mini ITX OC 6GB GDDR5 Graphics Card
STORAGE: WD Black 1TB Performance Desktop Hard Disk Drive – 7200 RPM x2
COOLING: Intel BXTS13X Water/Liquid Cooling
DISP: Dell E2414H 24-Inch Widescreen Backlit TN LED Monitor 1920x1080P x2
OS: Windows 10
As you can plainly see, there is a huge disparity between what my computer cost and what a Mac Pro goes for today. Straight across the CPU, the RAM and the SSD are about the same. But that’s really where things start to change. I’ve got more storage and water cooling (which is quiet), and even if I added 16TB of storage today (no expansion chassis required) it would only add about $500 to my total. My computer is up to date, the Mac Pro is still using parts from 2013 and they were outdated then. Even though the Mac Pro has dual GPU’s, my single GTX 1060 beats the crap out of both those cards at everything. Now let’s keep in mind that when I bought my computer the Mac Pro was closer to $6,800 without a display. Now granted I built my own computer and if I had to go out and buy a pre-built one it would probably be $1,000 more but it still comes in way under what the Mac Pro cost. Now I’m sure there are those of you out there that are saying, “What about the new iMac Pro? I bet it would wail on your computer!”. Yeah that’s probably true. But based on Apple’s record with the Mac Pro, a fully loaded iMac Pro with an 18 core Xeon, 4 TB SSD and 128GB of RAM is probably going to cost a kidney or your firstborn child. If we use the current Mac Pro fully maxed out (which is half the machine by the way) as a guide, it’s going to cost at least $7,000. That’s an insane amount of money. And the funny thing is that my computer might still be able to compete with this new behemoth solely because I’ll still have more storage, more expandability, an awesome GPU and the option to upgrade my computer at a fraction of the cost. Even if I dropped in a new motherboard and 128 GB of RAM (which would put me right back on par with the iMac Pro) it would only add about $1,500 to my $2,827 total. That’s still $971 under what the current Mac Pro costs and it’s probably way less that what the iMac Pro will cost. Sorry Mac Fanboys, when it comes to cost, PC wins hands down.
Ultimately it doesn’t really matter what you prefer when it comes to Mac or PC. They both have strengths and they both have shortcomings and honestly I don’t really prefer one over the other to work. The two things that really shift me away from Apple and toward PC are the cost and the ability to keep my hardware current. The sad thing is that for the most part, they use the same parts, so the question for me has always been why should I spend $5,298 on something when I can get something that has similar or better specs at almost half the cost? It doesn’t add up and for my money, I’ll stick with PC The money I save can go to other things like pre amps or mics or guitars.