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    Tuesday, March 31, 2009

    Mac vs PC for Music Technology...

    This is going to be an Mac vs PC comparison with a difference. I will focus on the differences between the two system within a music technology environment. Both have certain advantages and disadvantages and regardless of my opinion, which OS you choose is inevitably your decision. I own a MacBook pro running Leopard 10.5.6 as well as a home built desktop machine running Vista SP2. The specifications of these two machines are pretty much the same, so this is really about the operating system.


    A digital audio workstation (DAW) requires multiple channels of audio both in and out of the machine. It also requires a lot of processing power and RAM to add effects to channels and tracks. Most professional recording studios today use Macs, they have become the de-facto standard alongside the popular DAW software ProTools. To find out why, we need to start at the very basics of the operating system. The two screenshots below show a Vista desktop and a Leopard desktop.


    Vista Desktop

    Leopard Desktop


    We can see the two systems have the same basic features, Both have a file system with folders set up for all kinds of different multimedia. Both can run a multitude of DAW software, and both can record and process audio. The one fundamental difference is that Apple have always built their machines to work with multimedia, from the hardware to the software. Every single step has been optimised for digital media manipulation. The way the unix operating system is run in leopard means that if one application crashes, the whole system doesn't crash. For a studio engineer this potentially saves a lot of time, and you know what they say; time is money!
    Users will argue that windows accepts more hardware, that if you buy an external sound card it is more likely to work on Windows than on a Mac. Whilst this may have been the case many years ago, it certainly is not now. Apples slogan "it just works" really does mean that today most external sound cards will work on a Mac even easier than they will on a PC, many do not even require additional drivers due to apples core audio drivers.
    Windows has the advantage of having a larger user base, this means that there are potentially more VST plugins for DAW software running on a windows machine, but is this necessarily a good thing? The VST's that are available for Mac are generally more polished and of a better quality than some available for the PC, perhaps because it is assumed that Macs are for professionals. This is not to say that all the software for Windows is of a lower quality than its Mac counterparts. Take Cubase and ProTools for example, both these pieces of software boast Mac and PC compatibility. This suggests that there is a significant market still for DAW software running on windows.
    Macs have always been marketed as easy to use computers; the mouse only has one button because of Apples design philosophy that everything a user could ever possibly want to do, should only be a mouse click away. The menu for each program on a Mac appears in the same bar across the top of the screen, this follows the fundamental design principles that controls should be consistent in their placement. The applications that you use everyday are contained within a system wide dock, viewable from any application (No need to navigate the start menu like in Windows). All these things may seem like minor tweaks, but there are enough 'minor tweaks' in Leopard to make it seem much more intuitive than a windows system.
    Then there is the issue of cost, the Mac/PC price difference is something that has been debated for years, and is not something I'm going to discuss. However, it is possible to buy a PC with fairly decent specifications cheaper than an equivalent Mac. But, in the time I have owned my mac, i have had to reinstall windows twice on my desktop machine. I have not had a single problem on my mac.
    So my conclusion is this, it is perfectly possible to record, and produce music on a windows machine using pretty much the same basic software. However if you want a solid system that will not crash, will consistently boot quickly, and will generally run circles around a windows machine, get a Mac!