32 reasons why PCs are better than Macs: are they still true in 2010?

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32 reasons why PCs are better than Macs: are they still true in 2010?
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Once upon a time, these were the reasons PC users could still hold their heads high. But do they still hold true?

Background: In July 2007 we'd gotten a bit sick of rampant Apple worship. In the interests of balanced debate, we ran an article outlining 32 Reasons Why PCs are Better than Macs.

Three years later, is it all still true? The Apple bandwagon has only picked up more steam with the success of devices like the iPhone and iPad, and MacBook sales are higher than ever.

We've revisited the story below, starting with the first 16 points. In coming days we'll be adding extra points to the list below. Readers with a copy of the latest August issue of PC Authority
get the full shebang: we put four Macs in a room, side by side with the best PCs money can buy and asked, which would we choose? Plus we discuss issues like security, gaming, and the Mac "ecosystem".

It's time for us to wade into the slanging match again. Here are the 32 Reasons Why PCs are Better than Macs - revisited for the age of Windows 7, Steam and Core i7. 

1 - Service packs don't cost $199

What we said in 2007: Since Mac OS X was launched in 2001, there have been four "new versions" of the operating system - Puma, Jaguar, Panther and Tiger - with a fifth, Leopard, due imminently. That's almost one a year, each costing a princely $199 - racking up a total bill of close to $1000 for anyone who's bought every version. And they say Windows is expensive.

Apple has effectively introduced the first subscription operating system, and has somehow gotten away with it. If Microsoft had done likewise, Bill Gates would have been before the anti-competition courts quicker than you could say, "isn't $199 a bit steep for a service pack?". The Mac zealots claim that each new cat really is a new operating system, but that argument doesn't bear scrutiny. Take Panther (Mac OS X 10.3): the Apple press release hails "more than 150 breakthrough new features", the pick of which are a new "Finder", a way to see all your open windows at once, and bundled video-messaging software. God knows how insignificant the other 147 were.

John Gillooly: For most PC owners Windows 7 has been the first operating system purchased since Windows XP. Considering that XP was released back in 2001 it means that the actual cash outlay for the operating system is small. Even those who went with Windows Vista haven't needed to fork out for the service packs needed to improve it to a modern standard.

Apple on the other hand gives out its mobile phone software updates for free, yet charges desktop users for the privilege of jumping to the next minor iteration of OS X.

Zara Baxter: Back in 2007, we said that every time Mac created a new point release of OS X they charged full OS price for it. That's still true, unfortunately, but at least Mac has slowed down its point releases, after the rapid succession of OS 10.1-10.4. Since 2007 we've only seen Leopard and Snow Leopard, while Apple focuses its efforts on iOS and the the iPhone and iPad.

Both Leopard and Snow Leopard, while only point releases, have added a few major improvements, such as CoverFlow, iCal, Spaces, Spotlight and Time Machine as well as Microsoft Exchange support and full multi-touch trackpad support.

2 - No price premium for flashy design

What we said in 2007: There still isn't a PC maker on the planet that can hold a candle to Apple when it comes to product design. But not everyone wants or needs a computer that looks like it fell off the back of a Bang & Olufsen lorry. Macs routinely cost more than their PC equivalents. The cheapest Mac you can buy, the Mac mini, costs $949 and comes with a piddling 60GB hard disk, a meagre 512MB of RAM and no screen. Pop over to Dell, and that same $949 will buy you a Dimension E520 Vista PC with a 160GB hard disk, 1GB of RAM and a 19in flat panel display. Dell's cheapest system costs just $898 at the time of writing. We're not expecting Dell's bargain-basement models to trouble our A List anytime soon, and Kate Moss wouldn't be seen dead near one, but they'll suffice for a cheap office PC that sits under a desk all day or a computer for the kids' homework. Mac buyers simply don't have that choice.

John Gillooly: Just take a look at the desktop section of our Mac vs PC feature. The Mac Pro looks good (even if said looks haven't evolved from the old Power Mac days) but for a similar pricetag you can get a truly beastly PC packed with cutting edge components. You can also choose from a huge number of case designs and sizes, tailoring the results to your precise needs. You can even get ones with the same sort of brushed aluminium finish seen on the Mac Pro.

Despite a newfound respect for the iMac, even it is very narrow in focus. The tightly integrated all in one design is unique, but it is also a lot more expensive than an equivalently powered PC would be.

Zara Baxter: The design tradeoff seems much less like a tradeoff these days. Not only have we found a few cracks in the impregnable MacBook Pro design, but you get much closer to value for money these days. Our testing shows that the iMac and MacBook Pro, in particular, are very good systems for their price - you'll be hard pressed to find a good quality 27in monitor for less than $600. A PC allows you to buy more parts for the same price, but the iMac holds its own comfortably. And who wouldn't want the stylish and powerful MacBook Pro?

What you do get with a Mac, instead of a design premium, is more akin to a battery life premium on laptops. They consistently outperform their PC counterparts in our battery life testing. The only PC laptops that come close are ultra-low-voltage (ULV) PC models. Of course, ULV PC laptops underperform in other areas compared to the MacBook Pro models we've tested.

You still can't choose a bargain basement, drop-dead hideous Mac for the back room, but is that such a bad thing?

3 - Thousands of decent games

What we said in 2007: "I was designed for the home," scream the Mac ads. You were? Then how come you've got such a poor bunch of games? At the time of writing, the top-selling Mac games on Amazon.com were World of Warcraft (yawn), Crazy Machines: The Wacky Contraptions Game (What the?!) and The Sims II - a two-year-old title designed for loners who need imaginary friends to compensate for the lack of actual people in their pitiful lives. Want the adrenaline-filled 3D action and spectacular graphics of Rainbow Six: Vegas? Or, a spin round the track at high-velocity in a beautifully rendered Porsche in Test Drive Unlimited? Want to revisit a seminal classic such as Half-Life 2? Sorry, you can't. Computer says no. That's not to mention the fact that the PC has a near-monopoly on all the decent graphics hardware. And even if you did want to upgrade your Mac's graphics, you probably couldn't anyway. "Nvidia graphics options for Apple desktops and notebooks can only be purchased through Apple or as Apple update kits," warns Nvidia's website. If you're even halfway serious about gaming, you need a PC.

John Gillooly: One of the smartest moves that Microsoft ever made was the tying in of DirectX to gaming hardware. Both NVIDIA and AMD develop graphics cards with DirectX as the intended software platform (while they support OpenGL it hasn't been a priority for nearly a decade now). DirectX is a technology tied exclusively to Windows (and the Xbox), which means that gaming hardware runs best under Windows.

Despite the fact that OS X gaming has had a shot in the arm thanks to Valve Software's Steam distribution platform, the need for OpenGL is a major stumbling block. So far the major 3D action games released through the Mac version of Steam use an OpenGL variant of Valve's Source engine, which runs slower than the DirectX version does. This is why the vast majority of releases are five-year old games that can run adequately on the Mac's graphics hardware (as long as Apple doesn't break the graphics drivers with an OS X patch).

This is also played out by those beta testing the upcoming Starcraft 2. The Mac version of the game is noticeably slower than the Windows one, thanks largely to OpenGL. So while there are more games available now for the Mac, the reality is that the best PC gaming platform is still Windows thanks to a combination of hardware, software and much wider developer support than OS X.

Ironically enough the top selling Mac game on Amazon is a Nancy Drew adventure, but Blizzard games like World of Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo II still dominate the bestseller list. The bestselling OS X games on Steam are a bit more diverse, but the selection is thin compared to that available for Windows.

Zara Baxter: Poor PC. It's become the poor relation of gaming lately. More games are released for console and developed for console first these days - our counterparts at Atomic estimate 90% of games are developed for console first.

But that doesn't mean that the Mac has caught up. sure, Steam now has a Mac version, but the range of games is still considerably smaller than the PC.

It's interesting that the lack of games for Mac is concentrated into a few areas.

Casual games has been one area which has grown enormously since 2007. It's predominantly thanks to the iPhone, according to the Casual Games Association. Its now by far the largest category of games these days and the games are often cross platform, running in web browsers or on Flash (we won't talk about the iPad!). So if your tastes run to lightweight gaming, you'll be satisfied, no matter which platform you pick.

Simulation and roleplaying games are also catching up on the Mac. Blizzard releases all its games for both platforms, and the likes of Civilization V will be available for both platforms. Spore and Sims 3 are available for both.

When it comes to immersive first person shooters, however, it's fair to say that the only way Mac competes reasonably well against PC is if you're willing to install Windows.

4 - Two mouse buttons

What we said in 2007: Yes, we know Macs are meant to be so simple your Grandma could partition the hard disk while solving the Countdown conundrum, but do they really need to be dumbed down to use only one mouse button? A monkey with Attention Deficit Disorder could master two buttons, but Apple's (seemingly not ironically named) Mighty Mouse resorts to a single mouse click by default. Yes, you can easily tweak the driver for two buttons or simply plug in a normal mouse, but a firing squad is too lenient for the imbecile who decided that pressing Ctrl and left-click was a better out-of-the-box solution than a single press of the right button.

John Gillooly: Ludicrously, while Apple now has more than one mouse button, its Magic Mouse still has issues for advanced users. One thing, noticed especially by those trying to game, is that it is physically impossible to press the left and right buttons at the same time. The use of a multi-touch surface is nice, but it lacks the tactile satisfaction that a scroll wheel imparts.

Of course, this is a niche situation, and this is one area where Apple has improved its performance. USB has also had a lot to do with it. In reality you only need an Apple branded mouse to complete the ecosystem. Any old USB mouse will work.

Zara Baxter: Keyboard shortcuts are great, aren't they? The Mac is designed for it, including control-click rather than right click. I don't think this is a reason why PCs are better than Macs, when two-button mouses work perfectly well with Macs.

5 - Broadband just works

What we said in 2007: It's hardly their fault, but our poor Mac friends aren't always well served by the ISPs. Broadband modems can fail to work properly on Macs (especially with Bigpond cable), and when customers attempt to phone the tech-support lines for assistance, they're none too amused when the script-reading person at the other end tells them to "click on the Start button and select Control Panel". Finding a reliable ISP is hard enough; finding one that also supports Macs is a headache you really don't need.

Zara Baxter: Thankfully, the days of ISPs not playing nicely with Mac products are over. The support may not always be faultless, but the connections are perfect.

6 - Custom-made systems

What we said in 2007: Gaming PCs, video workstations, media centres, digital photo PCs, build-your-own, mini-chassis, midi-towers, business PCs... need we go on? There are dozens of different desktop PC configurations that can be fine-tailored with thousands of specialist components to meet a buyer's requirements. How many flavours do Mac desktops come in? Three. Mac mini, iMac and Mac Pro. If none of those meets your needs, take a hike.

The open architecture of the PC platform, on the other hand, gives you access to an immense range of configurations, enabling you to tailor a PC to your needs without wasting money on capabilities you won't use. It also means you can make modular upgrades, such as fitting a new CPU and motherboard without having to replace your existing graphics card and hard drives. Try that with an iMac.

John Gillooly: This is still one of the major advantages held by the PC. With a Mac, flexibility involves what peripherals you can plug into it. With a PC you can tailor a system's internals to your specific needs. If you need more RAM, then throw some in. If you want to game you can choose just how much to spend on a graphics card. Or if you dislike load times you can throw in a Solid State Drive (OS X still doesn't support advanced features like Trim).

If your needs change you can easily upgrade your system to keep up. Need more storage? Then buy some internal hard drives. Decide you want to be able to burn Blu-ray discs, then grab an internal burner. If your Mac is too slow to cope with new workloads then it's off to the Apple store for a replacement, whereas with a PC you have many options to upgrade your current hardware for a fraction of the replacement cost.

Zara Baxter: Customisation is still the bastion of the PC, but we also know that few people ever really customise their PCs. I'm one of those customisers (I get twitchy if I can't choose every last component in my new desktop system), but I'm relatively rare. From our reader surveys, we know that over 50% of people buy branded desktops, and while the rest buy from small stores, I'd estimate that 80% of PC buyers don't upgrade or customise their system.

Having said that, Australia is one of the great hold-outs when it comes to custom-builders, DIY and system configuration. That makes us a great country in which to buy a custom PC or upgrade parts, if you want them.

There's still a lot more choice in PC desktops, even if you only consider branded systems, but it's nowhere near as broad as it used to be.

7 - Macs are months behind

What we said in 2007: If you want cutting-edge hardware, you need a PC. Remember when the Intel Core CPU was released? Apple finally jumped ship from IBM processors, even though PC processors had been outstripping the PowerPC G5 CPU for years. But even though the agreement was trumpeted from the rooftops by Intel and Apple, it still took months for the complete Mac range to go fully Intel. Core 2 was even worse, with almost the whole PC market having them before Apple shipped a single Core 2 Mac. The same is true of almost all new technology. Not only is there no option to buy a desktop or laptop Mac with an internal HD DVD or Blu-ray drive, you can't buy an internal Mac-compatible one at all. The same is again true of graphics: while the PC has up-to-the-minute 3D video hardware, Macs are an entire generation behind. And while PC users have had super-fast draft 802.11n wireless for nearly two years, Apple users have only just acquired it.

John Gillooly: Apple's Mac Pro was last updated in early 2009, using hardware that was once impressive, but now superseded. If you want a Mac you are stuck with whatever Apple thought was a good idea at the time it set the specifications in stone.

Apple's use of Intel components does mean that occasionally Mac owners will be at the same point in the technology curve as the PC. But it also adds a secondary source of feature lag beyond Apple's. Take USB 3.0 for example. The big PC motherboard and laptop manufacturers have been proactive in getting USB 3.0 onto their products, yet Intel has indicated we won't see it built into its chipsets until 2011 or 2012. Mac aficionados are likely to miss out on USB 3.0 until after this point, when Apple finally updates its hardware to use whatever chipset Intel puts USB 3.0 into.

This means that Mac owners essentially double dip on hardware delays, waiting firstly on Intel's product development cycle and then on Apple's. Thanks to the diversity and competitive nature of the component market Windows users can go out and get their hands on new technology well before it appears on a Mac.

Zara Baxter: These days, Macs aren't months behind, except where stability and longevity are crucial to the overall product - such as for the Mac Pro. MacBook Pro systems have consistently come out with new Intel processors at the same time - and in some cases before - PC laptops of similar calibre.

On the other hand, you usually need to opt for the higher end products to get the latest stuff in your Mac. While our iMac in our latest Mac vs PC Labs feature story was a Core 2 Duo, you can get an i7 if you spend an extra few hundred dollars. It's also worth noting that waiting can be good: we commented in 2007 that Mac was yet to incorporate Blu-ray drives, and they still haven't - but that doesn't look like such a bad plan, all things considered.

8 - Life beyond 1st January

What we said in 2007: It isn't only children's sticky fingers that will take the gloss off the shiny new MacBook you got for Christmas - the new line-up of laptops announced at the annual MacWorld show every January will leave your cutting-edge gift looking so last year, almost immediately. Yes, consumer-friendly, cuddly-wuddly Apple decides to spring new products onto its customers just days after the peak buying period every single year, and there's little point in trying to second-guess what the company is about to launch, because it cloaks its announcements with an iron curtain the USSR would have been proud of. Thankfully, there's no such post-Christmas Microsoft jamboree.

John Gillooly: Steve Jobs hasn't done Macworld for a few years. But it doesn't necessarily mean that Apple has shifted philosophy. Its latest refresh of the Macbook Pro happened a month or so before Intel released a new range of mobile CPUs, but the sudden obsolescence has moved to the mobile space.

Just look at how the announcement of the technologically superior iPhone 4 soon after after the launch of the iPad sent Apple fans into a spending frenzy. While it isn't happening to the Mac right at the moment, it appears to be the way Apple rolls.

Zara Baxter: Apple no longer front the MacWorld show in January, so the 1st of January curse is far less likely these days. And you'll know the current Mac you buy will be available for a while. If in doubt, the best place to check is Mac Rumors' buying guide, which estimates the likelihood of your new Mac being a score or a dud.

The debate continues over points 9-16, on the next page. Click below to continue...

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