Breaking Up With Mac
It’s not you, it’s me.
When I bought my 2009 Mac Pro I was under deadline pressure and looking at a dead PC that I had rigged to run Apple’s OS X. The PC had caused me nothing but pain for the eight months since I built it, but each time I had persevered. Having three days to process over 1,000 images, however, changed that consideration quite quickly.
I called my local Apple store and picked up the last Mac Pro they had in stock.
The box would hardly fit in my car and I had to jam my arm into it to keep it from perpetually changing the song on my stereo. While I mourned the loss of my bank account balance I was elated that I had finally acquired a Mac Pro — the Holy Grail of Apple ownership. Over the next 14 months I would come to heavily rely on that all-aluminum case: it was cool, it was fast, and it was an investment that almost demanded reverence (from those who cared about such things anyway).
About half way into my time of ownership I began to realize why it was, in fact, such an investment. The Mac Pro uses Intel’s Xeon processors and ECC-equipped RAM sticks. A translation for those of you who didn’t dedicate the formative years of your lives to dark rooms illuminated only by the cold glow of a cathode ray tube: the absurdly expensive computer used components of such price that they could feasibly be a down payment on a new car.
In my frantic rush to purchase the machine and finish my images before the deadline, I settled on the least expensive Mac Pro (and the only model they had in stock): a $2400, single processor, four core machine with a paltry 3GB of ECC RAM. It only took a handful of months before I had outgrown those specs and needed to expand. In order to put a second processor in the Mac Pro I would have to buy an entirely separate CPU/RAM board for approximately $800 (if you can find them in the first place) in addition to a second Intel Xeon processor which was itself nearly $1000. Each additional Gigabyte of RAM I required was around one and a half times as expensive as normal non-ECC equipped sticks.
I had to put out nearly $4200 before I had a computer that was as capable as a PC that would have cost me half as much to build outright.
A little background information: I’ve used Apple products for about the past seven years. Like many others I was introduced to the platform through the iPod, then fully baptized in the form of a 15″ G4 Powerbook. I have a deep affinity for Apple products and it pains me to transition away, but I am no longer tied to the platform that once was the only real habitat for proper post-processing applications.
Adobe Lightroom was the beginning of the end.
Apple released Aperture in 2005 and was basically the reason for buying my first Mac. Aperture was a new workflow management application that brought the powers of Photoshop, desktop publishing, and image cataloging into one coherent ecosystem. In 2007 Adobe introduced Lightroom, a competitor to Aperture which I regarded (foolishly) as kind of Aperture Light — a program for weekend photographers who did not need a serious workflow system.
In 2008 I saw the err of my ways.
Lightroom was incredible. It was sleek, fast, and offered direct integration to Photoshop (for those images that just need a bit more editing than Lightroom was capable of). Worst Best of all, it was for both Mac and Windows.
With Lightroom, Adobe created a tool that I could use regardless of my platform: opening up the creative realm to more than the silver towers that dominate the artistic domain. PC’s were now a viable platform that professional photographers could really embrace, at a fraction of the cost.
I bought my Mac Pro for around $2500 after tax and sold it fourteen months later for nearly $1600. In effect I rented it for $64 a month. Not bad when you think of it that way. With that $1500 I was able to build a PC that in many ways is more capable than the Mac Pro and finally purchase a Drobo S to make sure that all my irreplaceable files are kept safe.
While I will dearly miss the design of my Mac Pro and the absolute joy that is Apple’s OS X operating system, I won’t miss having to justify the expense of upgrading it. Nor will I miss the inevitable compatibility-checking of new devices, hoping that the company thought the market big enough to produce a Macintosh edition of their product.
From what I can tell I am in a very small minority. Out of the millions of search results for “switching from Mac to PC” only a handful didn’t auto-correct my query to what I surely must have meant. As it is though, I’ll enjoy spending my money on what a professional photographer should really be concerned with: bribing photo editors with $200 bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
July 14, 2010 Update: Received the new PC parts: Intel Core i7 930 (OC’d to 4Ghz), 12Gb DDR3 RAM, USB3 and SATA6Gb/s support. The Mac Pro was a Xeon 2.6Ghz with a paltry 6Gb of RAM.