Composer Notes: Ep. 15 - Mac Vs PC
Some of you will know that I am an Apple Fan Boy. Along with my MacBook Pro I have owned 4 IPhones, 3 Ipads, 2 Apple TV’s, 1 Apple Watch….and convinced my wife and children to have iPhones and iPads.
Over the years I have used many windows based PC’s for music production but changed to Apple about 10 years ago. This change transformed my personal studio experience from one of technical exploration to creative flow.
Over the years I have sat and watched the social media arguments over which is best for music, Mac or PC. The arguments have been passionate on both sides, often insulting or derogatory, and with not much reasoned argument on either side.
To be honest, for me it was a a bit of mute point as I was happy with my Mac and was not about to change.
I have been using a MacBook Pro for music production since 2012. It was reliable and stable and did everything I needed it to. Whilst I was fast outgrowing it, my business plan included a Mac upgrade in early 2022.
That was until 2 weeks ago when the unthinkable happened.
It died! The Logic board has fried and is not repairable. Fortunately I have always backed up my data.
This presented a dilemma…repair or buy another machine.
After assessing my options, the only viable choice was to buy another studio computer. Repair was not going to be cost effective.
Before I explain my search for a new pro-audio computer, I should explain what I was looking for. My business plan is to expand my two music ventures…..Black Lab Music, which produces bespoke music, provides record label services and recording facility, and my solo artist career as an indie-classical composer. The plan in 18 months time was to:
· Be able to run large virtual instrument templates
· Be able to cope with complex mixing and mastering ‘in the box’ – which means it needs to run lots of plugins.
· Have a lot of super fast storage – between 2-4TB
· It needs to be super quiet
· I need to be able to get at my existing data. (I am a Presonus Studio One user which runs on mac and PC).
· Needs to be upgradeable and last for at least 4 years in its purchased state
· It needs to be reliable, stable and come with IT support.
This translates to:
· A high processor ‘Core’ count – 10 or more
· At least 64gb ram, preferably 128gb.
· M.2. Or SSD storage
· I don’t need monitors or keyboards – I have those already
So…like a good Apple Fan Boy, off to the Apple Website I went.
The current range of Mac’s is interesting. Mac Mini, MacBook Pro, IMac, IMac Pro or (if you can sell a kidney)….the Mac Pro.
One thing that they all have in common is that you can’t upgrade them over time, other than the Mac Pro (I accept that if you have a degree in rocket science then you can change the ram on the Mac mini….yes I’ve seen the videos and decided that I was a musician not a scientist!). This means that what you buy, you are stuck with.
So, starting at the Mac Pro…..i needed approx £10,000 to spec the machine to meet my criteria. At that point, my wife took control of the credit card.
Working my way down the price list, the iMac’s were discounted as they are not upgradeable and I didn’t need to have a screen. Also, it wouldn’t fit in my studio without a major rebuild, and even after it wouldn’t be in the right position to be ergonomic.
I considered the MacBook Pro’s. They would fit seamlessly into my studio and were very powerful. But, they were still less than 10 cores (8 is the max) with a max of 64gb. This would be somewhere towards £4000 with a small SSD. This didn’t hit the spot. I know I would need more ram in the future. Plus, in a few years, 8 cores is not going to be sufficient.
Next was the Mac mini. 6 core, small SSD, not upgradeable. It failed to meet the criteria. I seriously considered this as a temporary solution to get me though the next 2 years when I could get a better machine, but £2500 seems a lot for an under-powered temporary solution.
So….what is left…..a used Mac Pro Trashcan. Lots of my pro-audio friends are using these. They sell for about £2500-£3000 second hand. But, this is a 7yr old spec machine. My MacBook was 8yrs old when it died. I just didn’t feel comfortable spending that much on something that could die at any moment. I considered the older MacBook Pro’s, but there are a lot of horror stories about keyboards and heating issues that again didn’t justify the £2K+ price tag with no warranty.
After about 4 days of sleepless nights, pacing and my wife telling me that it’l be ok, I finally plucked up the courage to do what I thought I’d never do……start looking at windows PC’s.
I have read many horror stories on social media about windows PC’s and pro-audio, and these came to mind like a migraine. But, I also know that social media is full of the vocal minority. So, with my logical head on I started to research…..proper research…..facts…..the real info….not just social media hysteria or marketing hype.
Fortunately I have a friend who runs the ‘Expert Blogs’ www.pro-tools-expert.com (Hi Russ). He has amassed some of the best in the industry experts to provide advice and guidance to mere mortals like you and me. Over the last year, they have run various articles about moving from Mac to PC. After a lot of genuine, non-social media, research I found that a lot of pro-audio professionals are doing just that.
Because like me, they need MacPro power without the MacPro price tag.
One columnist in particular has documented their experience…..Dan Cooper (link is below). This is a man who does pro-audio for a living. He is well respected in the pro-audio community and his view is not easily dismissed. Another is James Ivey….he is running a Pro-Tools PC. He has the same credentials as Dan Cooper! The more and more I researched, the more I found that Pro-Audio professionals, recording studios and production houses were using PC’s (contrary to perception).
After researching Dan Cooper’s spec and requirements, they were very similar to mine. I then research more and more about the individual components he spec’d to understand why he chose what he did.
I then spoke to various pro-audio PC manufacturers. I picked their brains about why they use certain components, how reliable are their machines, how do they test them, and what support they offer.
I then contacted their previous customers and asked them abut their experience. They were very happy with their windows PC pro-audio experience.
This was an extensive process but I wanted the facts and cut through the social media or marketing hype.
Through it all I found that I didn’t need to spend £10,000 to get MacPro power. In fact, I could probably spend less than £2,000.
Queue another 4 days of pacing, sleepless nights and my wife providing reassurances that she would still love me if I was no longer an Apple Mac user. My kids said they would stand by me. This seemed like a bigger decision than ‘deciding’ to have kids….if that is ever a conscious decision!
For 4 days, I knew in my heart what I needed to do but didn’t have the confidence or the courage to do it. Seriously!!
Then, one evening, like a wolf taking itself away from the pack to die…..I went to a quiet part of the garden with my iPad (and my iPhone and Apple Watch) and large whisky …. And ……then …..I ……did ……it.
I bought a PC.
Not just any PC mind…..a custom built Pro Audio PC from www.scan.co.uk. This happened to match the same spec that Dan Cooper bought….plus a few extra’s. Scan were able to hit all the criteria around support and specialist pro-audio knowledge. They will set up the machine for pro-audio use and provide 3 years of technical support.
But, and this is the whole point of writing this article…..why did this Apple Fan Boy buy a PC?
It was simple.
Apple priced themselves out of my business.
They no longer make an affordable machine that meets my criteria. Don’t get me wrong, if I had £10,000 kicking around to spend on a computer, I would have bought the Mac Pro. But I don’t. And I can’t foresee a time when I will every have that sort of money to spend on a computer. In fact, I cant see a time when 99% of pro-audio professionals will ever have that sort of money to spend on a computer.
Which is why so many pro-audio professionals are moving to PC’s.
By cutting though all the hype and social media slagging matches, I managed to find sensible, legitimate argument for which is better…mac or PC. In short, that depends on what you want the machine to do and how much you are prepared to spend to get it.
My advice is simply this…if you are in the market for a new computer, work out what you need that computer to do before you buy one and how much you are prepared to spend to get it. You maybe surprised what you end up buying.
For those that are interested, here is the spec of my new computer which I bought for the same price as a mid spec mac-mini with and intel i7 (8th Gen), 6 cores, 32gb ram and 512gb SSD.
· Intel i9, 14 Core/28 thread, 10th Gen Processor
· ASUS Prime x299 A-II motherboard
· 64Gb ram (upgradable by me to 256gb)
· 512gb M.2. OS & Programme drive
· 1TB M.2. Sample Library drive
· 2TB SSD – Project Drive
· ASUS Thunderbolt Card
· ASUS FireWire 800 Card
· Sapphire RX 550 Pulse 4gb Video card