Saturday, February 20, 2010

Decision time: pros and cons of PC vs Mac for artists

The posts from the last two days - PC vs Mac for artists and PCs versus Apple Mac - for artists (Part 2) - have all been about me trying to arrive at a decision about what my next computer will be. My current HP Pavilion is making far too much noise for me to feel confident about its life expectancy. Since I no longer have a reserve computer (and I like to be able to access the Internet 24/7) I think I really need to get a move on with buying a new computer and then get the HP sorted and relegate it to #2 computer.

This post is about making lists and trying to sort out pros and cons. You're reading the process which normally goes on before I buy a computer.

The next 'Making A Mark' computer

Current setup:
This is being used with an increasingly ancient Phillips Brilliance 200W Monitor which was very good when first produced - but I've lost the drivers and it's not compatible with software developments and hence runs as a generic PnP monitor. It's an earlier version of this. However it has a very nice matt 19" screen and I used to be able to colour balance it.

Buyer profile:

This is the bit where we go beyond what suits everybody else and start to look at what I need to get a good fit between my computer and me.
  • Power: I'm an artist and writer. I do lots on my computer most days and I want a computer which does NOT hang, get tetchy or act slow. It doesn't need to be as fast as a gaming computer but it must not be underpowered.
  • Heat: The computer is on all day (although is programmed to power down and sleep after standing idle for 30 minutes) and I have lots of windows open all the time (and lots of tabs open in those windows!). I've got a track history of fans not coping and/or giving up.
  • Graphics: My computer needs to have a powerful graphics card which has the ability to deliver very good quality graphics (when combined with a decent screen). I want a make which has a good and reliable reputation (no more early burn outs as I got with the NVidia GeForce 8600 on my Sony Vaio VGN-FZ21Z) Having learned the way NVidia behaved re the defective cards (of which mine was one - see my comment on the last post) I'm not feeling inclined to go for another NVidia card
    • Lots of use of the graphics card for accessing and mainpulating graphics and video files - typically jpeg files and short videos.
    • Not used at all for gaming.
    • I expect I might well want to do more online downloads of TV programmes in the future
  • Quality of Display: blue dot opacities (early cataracts) have been detected in both my eyes so along with my endless glasses cleaning I also MUST now have good definition and sharpness onscreen. Basically as much help as I can get with my deteriorating eyesight. Large size is good for when I want to enlarge screen content to get round blurring. Essentially a screen quality and graphics card issue.
  • Memory: I'm a heavy duty user in terms of having lots of windows open at once. I'm using 4GB of RAM and would want at least the same again. More would be nice.
  • Keyboard: A critical consideration as I've got tenosynovitis in my right hand which means I need to maximise ease of use and minimise vibration levels. (No 'clicky' keyboards allowed!) Laptop keyboards are best re vibration and normal size keyboards are best in terms of not making keyboard skills 'cramped'. Basically any computer has to allow me to use my existing digital Microsoft Media Keyboard (I know this is OK with PCs - but what about Macs?)
  • Portability: no real need for portability; I always work at the same place.
  • Software: Always used Windows to date (and before that Dos!) but not wedded to it and refuse point blank to use IE! Use webware for all websites and blogs plus Notepad, Microsoft Office Small Business, PC Elements 7,Adobe Reader and Firefox. Odd usage of Windows Movie Maker for editing videos and programs for making CDs/DVDs. Kaspersky for security.
  • Learning: Have had to update and learn new things lots of times in last 20 years. Never averse to learning something new - as I have to each time every operating system upgrade comes along. Preference for consistent principles and intuitive rather than the 'read all the instructions very carefully and keep the manula right next to you'! My experience is that I've had to upgrade most software with every new computer. Existing software can still be used on the reserve computer
In the table below I've tried to think about


Buy a desktop
  • less likely to overheat when compared to a laptop
  • ease of access
  • more likely to be able to replace defective parts
  • chearer repairs
  • could have a big new screen to help with eyesight problems
  • can get machines which pay attention to heat (but expensive)
  • Probably need to buy a new monitor too this time around
  • takes up more space
  • can be noisy
  • problematical if not engineered to be energy efficient and dissipate heat effectively
a laptop
  • portable
  • nice keyboards - no vibration
  • can have very good screens - on more expensive models
  • screensize probably not helpful re eyesight issues and intensive use
  • most decent size regular use laptops are not really portable - except within the home (and I always use my PC in one place)
  • much more expensive repairs
Buy a PC
  • Windows 7 an improvement on Windows Vista (but I have no experience of it)
  • some of my existing applications software would work with Windows 7
  • I've never been able or wanted to buy my next machine from the people who made the last one
  • attrition rate of PC manufacturers. Difficult to identify suppliers which will outlast the life of the next computer! Dell and Toshiba pretty much the only ones which have been around since early 90s
  • many of the PC websites are completely unitelligible
  • online suppliers do not have accessible stores
  • unable to identify a manufacturer who makes decent machines AND has good/reliable and accessible service
  • stores which sell computers rarely employ people who understand them
  • telephone support only OK if intelligient and intelligible and one of two (iof noth both) usually missing
Buy a Mac
  • Apple still around after 25 years
  • manufacturer configures machine and makes software hence has a better chance than most to optimise configurations for each machine to suit software
  • option available to dual boot (so no loss re existing windows applications software) - but would need a big enough hard drive to make this realistic (or external hard drive for storage of image files)
  • apparently no problems with viruses etc
  • good and clear website - explains technical aspects clearly
  • machines refurbished by Apple with warranty available
  • Apple Stores are staffed by intelligent people who understand their machines
  • opportunity to make an appointment for a technical discussion in store
  • genius bar in Apple Stores (two easily accessible); ability to talk to a knowledgeable techie person face to face
  • good quality colour and clarityon imac screens
  • very nice matt screen on MacPro
  • tackle and resolve techie issues quickly (eg Imac 27" screen flicker - stopped selling them while they got it sorted)
  • upgrades on current ATI Radeon card available in 21.5" and 27" imacs
  • two close chums (fomer PC users) who are extremely happy with their Macs
  • lots of former PC users commenting on my posts also recommending macs and are repeat buyers
  • need to buy new applications software for Mac
  • need to buy a new Windows 7 operating system for dual boot)
  • glossy screens on iMacs produce reflections
  • initial cost of a Mac (but lifetime cost might not be too different to PC given recent track record)

It's surprising how making lists helps you come to a decision.

Conclusion: Interestingly at the end of the day my decision is not going to guided by or anything to do with the operating software at all. It seems likely that both Windows 7 and Snow Leopard are reaosonably competent systems. I just want a computer which works well with the operating system and which will make me want to be a repeat purchaser in the future. Is that really too much to ask of a computer?

The next question I think is can I live with a glossy screen (any suggestions?) and which size of imac! Plus do I buy new or refurbished?

Many, many thanks for all the comments to date. I don't think I;ve ever had quite so many comments on one topic. Please feel free to continue to express your views.


The Art of the Landscape


Michelle B. Hendry said...

I would never advise refurbished.... Buy new. Only ever heard of less than desirable outcomes from the refurbished. If you are wanting a computer to last for a long time, buy new.

The glossy screen bothered me for 20 seconds. I was concerned about a lot of reflection. I generally didn't have any issues, but there are adaptive screen covers to remedy environments with very bright lights. Boy are those glossy screens crisp!

Considering your eye situation, go for the biggest screen you can afford and will fit on your desk. The extra screen space comes in handy!

vtislands said...

As a long-time Mac user, I know you won't regret buying a Mac. I have a 15" macbook pro with a separate monitor, keyboard and trackball mouse--I do art and large spreadsheets. However, lately I have been just working directly with the laptop and it is fine and clear. I worried about the glossy screen at first, and now I am not conscious of it. We use

Caroline Roberts said...

I have a 2-year-old iMac (the middle size screen) and you won't regret the choice. I love mine and run a second screen off it also. I have used a Microsoft keyboard with my mac but have reverted to the aluminium mac keyboard.

I hadn't noticed the reflective screen until you mentioned it but perhaps that is because my window is to my left, not behind. I suspect the reflections are also more noticeable under shop lighting than in a home environment.

While I was checking to see what model iMac I have I noticed that I have only 2 GB RAM - that explains why I have trouble when I open a stack of graphics files in Photoshop!

Unknown said...

You can buy the MacBook Pro with a matte screen. I did that after hearing that some people didn't like the glossy screen but judging from these comments people don't seem to be bothered by it. Probably depends where you use it. Not sure if the desktop Macs have an option for either matte or glossy.

I've never heard of a desktop Mac overheating.

Julie Dunion said...

I think you've made a great choice. I have a PC while my husband has a mac. He doesn't seem to encounter any the problems I do with my PC - everything just seems to be easier and run much more smoothly.

Jason Waskey said...

I work at Microsoft, and I can wholeheartedly recommend Windows 7.

I have been using Macs for about 17 years now and have *never* regretted a single purchase-- even with the occasional technical hiccup.

Your purchase decision is perfectly sound.

I have purchased at least two refurbed Macs over the years-- never regretted it.

There is one caveat. The Apple approach to mice is really silly. You would do well to invest in whatever ergonomic mouse with more than one button you prefer, and then map one of the buttons to mimic right click behavior--- especially since you're coming from the PC side.

Sandy said...

You said: "I just want a computer which works well with the operating system and which will make me want to be a repeat purchaser in the future. Is that really too much to ask of a computer?"

My question- did you ever hear of anyone who went to Mac and was UNhappy? ever hear of anyone with a Mac going back to a PC? Go hang out at a Mac store and talk to the staff about what one will offer you- more info than on their website. Good luck wiht your decision, but I've already made up MY mind for you!

Making A Mark said...

You read my mind and get the point.

When I boil it down to a decision criteria as simply wanting to be happy with your computer in a way which makes you want to buy another one - it all becomes simple!

Joanne Licsko said...

Katherine, I noticed in your list of cons a few things to comment on further. The new iMac is almost silent, and also considered to be one of the most energy efficient and recyclable computers available. The glossy screen worried me before I bought it, but it is my favorite feature now. The wireless mouse is the best mouse I have ever used and you can adjust the settings to your taste. Note: The mouse runs on batteries. I bought an inexpensive battery recharger so I always have them when needed.

Anonymous said...

I would still recommend a 13"laptop entry level laptop with an external monitor for when you want to do graphic intensive work. you'll be amazed with just how lighter they are and new ones have much better battery life that you would use the portability even if it is from your computer desk to the dining table or the garden outside :)

what i have is 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
with 2GB 1067MHz DDR3 running leopard. have yet to upgrade to snow...

eagerly looking to see what you decide on. : )

Justin Miller said...

You mentioned your need for a low impact keyboard. I can report that the current Mac keyboard is much like a laptop keyboard. Many long-time Mac users were uneasy about it when it came out, but I love mine. This design has earned the name "chicklet" keyboard because the flat white keys resemble candy.
Like was mentioned, I've been using my glossy screen for almost a year. I noticed it a great deal the first week, but now only admire the crispness. I don't think I've ever had to worry about glare when actually working on photos or graphics.
Buy the biggest iMac you have room for.

Sue Dranchak said...

I was glad to come across this post as I am trying to make the same decision. I currently use a hp but I've heard over and over that I Mac would be a better choice based on the line of work that I do. This is coming from a few known Mac users and the sales people at the computer stores. When I talk about my profession (artist) I often get steered toward the Mac.

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