Apples and Oranges

Are Macs better than PCs?

I’m often asked in casual conversations, “Are Macs better than PCs?”. Sometimes it comes out more of a statement, “Macs are better than PC’s, right? The second one is more telling because it indicates a perception – or a bias. But why does this exist? That perception has been definitely crafted and created. But does it have merit?

Other comments I’ve heard is:  “A Mac is more secure than a PC” and “Macs don’t crash”.

This entire Mac’ versus ‘PC’ talk from a non-technical person is like me saying ‘Pizza’ is better than ‘Hamburgers’.

Just think about that for a minute. Are we talking deep dish, or thin crust? Are we saying McDonald’s versus BJ’s Brewhouse? Are we comparing a Michelin Star restaurant burger against microwave frozen pizza?

We can’t really make this comparison – wait for it – wait for it….’apples to apples’ unless we’re talking about 2 machines at least similarly configured. We can’t take a low end Mac and compare it against the highest end PC, or vice versa.

But before we begin, let’s put a nail in something right here, right now.

A Mac is a PC.

Wait, what? Hold on. – Mind blown.  That sumptuous gourmet pizza is really another greasy hamburger?  Yes. Er, No.  I would say we’re comparing hamburgers and hamburgers, but we’re definitely not comparing them from the same establishment.  Let’s ‘switch gears’ are modify our comparison to cars.  It’s safe to say that if we’re comparing cars, we’re comparing Mercedes vs a Ford.  Now I realize I’m all over the place here with my comparisons, but think about this comparison. If you buy a Mercedes, you automatically associate that with luxury and beauty, and finish……….and PRICE.  If I say Ford, you have no clue, by that name, WHAT I’ve got.  Consider the Ford Fiesta.  Now consider a top of the line Ford Expedition Platinum Edition.  You automatically know that the Mac is a Mercedes and a PC is a Ford without me having to tell you, don’t you?  But you know they are both cars – and likewise, both computers are just that, PCs.

Ok. Ok. I know that’s not really what we’re getting at here, but it does raise a great point.

A Mac is a PC.  It’s a personal computer.  And what’s more, is it’s even IBM compatible.  That’s an old term, but you can run Windows on that Mac, and you can run OS X on what you call a PC.  And really this can be done without any modification to either device.  There is one caveat to that.  Apple purposefully makes their OS not run on what you call a PC by use of a special chip and programming to keep it that way.  So they go out of their way to separate themselves.

So, right off the bat – PCs win, we’re done. After all that technology succeeded to the point that even Apple had to succumb to it’s influence and start using it.

BUT – Not so fast. Buckle up, buttercup – let’s go on a trip down ‘memory’ lane.

A Long Time Ago…

Apple used to make (or rather design) it’s own hardware, and in some ways they still do.  But what’s different about then and now is that they used to architect all the inner components of their computers.  They made them proprietary, that is to say they weren’t compatible or standardized with anything else in the industry.  Remember that term: “IBM compatible”?  This meant that there was a standard to follow.  Anyone could make a computer that would do what the original IBM could do as long as it fit a certain standard or specification.  This drove down cost.  Apple, may indeed have had a better product, but – who could afford to buy one?  So, even if they had a better product – PCs began to flood the market.  Soon (I’m just taking a wild guess here on this figure) – 90% or better of the market was PCs.  What happens when that kind of market penetration happens?  That’s a strong lure for innovation in that market.  Why?  Because you have the opportunity to get it in front of the most eyeballs.  If I’m going to make a desktop publishing application and I’m a start-up, wouldn’t it be in my interests to sell it to the most people?

Eventually, and I’m leaving behind a TON of history here, Apple decided to start using the exact same components as PCs to drive down their costs, and, gain access to some of the truly amazing technology being developed for it.  This means that Apple makes very, very, and I mean very, customized PCs.  They’re not the only ones to do this, there are other computer builders out there….Acer, HP and the like.  But Apple falls in a unique category – they are more like a boutique PC builder.  But they are so boutique, they are in a league of their own.  Here’s what sets them apart:

  1. They create their own Operating System (OS X), versus the venerable (or not) Microsoft Windows.
  2. They carefully select a series of standard components and ensure they work well together.  And not just well, but exceptionally well.  And, unlike other PC makers, they don’t have 14 gazillion product lines.  They have their 3 to 5 to choose from and that’s it.
  3. The craftsmanship that goes in to the design is second to none.  They put extreme thought in to the outer design and the user experience.  In a sense, it’s a ‘spare no expense’ type of architecture where every little detail is carefully considered.  Don’t get me wrong, many manufactures are attentive to detail.  They have to be, it’s a computer.  But Apple goes beyond that, they’re attentiveness goes beyond the small parts – but to the larger, overall experience.  They seek an elegance of design.

Now let’s marry 1 and 2 together, something NO one can do.  Who is going to make sure the OS and the hardware play nice in the regular Microsoft and PC maker world.  Well, everyone.  …and, no one.   Who’s responsible?  Microsoft?  Acer?  HP?  In the Mac world, Apple is.  In the PC world, who knows.  Apple is responsible top to bottom.  To be fair, things do work pretty well over here in PC land, but not always – and if you’re looking at history, it has some horrible low spots.

How Low Can It Go?

From personal experience, back in 2008 I bought my wife a new Acer Laptop.  The laptop started blue-screening (this means the computer completely crashed for the less technically inclined) – but only every now and then.  So I figured out what the hex code was and searched the internet – I find a basic article saying Windows detected a hardware issue and the system became unstable.  After more technical sleuthing reading event logs – I deduce that it was a ‘driver’ (software that controls a specific piece of hardware) causing the issue.  But now I need to associate ‘driver’ this with some component.   Then I discover the issue is with a chip by the company of O2Micro.  I then find that O2Micro makes the SD card slot in the laptop made by Acer.  Then I look in the event logs and find out that every time the computer goes in to a lower power state, the blue screen happens.  But it doesn’t do it all the time.  I finally realized; it’s only when an SD card is in the slot, does this happen.

So what have we got?

Windows crashes because Acer used some el cheapo SD Card reader in their laptop that doesn’t like power management, but only when a SD Card is present.  Sounds like a really bad joke.  Except the joke is what you’re living.  It’s wrong.  It’s stupid.  I digress.

Why didn’t I check Acer’s support page?  I did.  No driver updates.  Did I submit a ticket?  Sure did – I got a response back in broken English asking me to restore the computer to factory settings, which of course would have done NOTHING to fix this problem.  So you get what you pay for.  But you know, it’s not just Acer.  I used to be in desktop support (over 10 years ago) – and I’ve seen random brokenness in every PC vendor ever.  It comes with the territory.  In fact I bought my wife her second Acer years later, and their products have improved vastly.  But you can get the exact same experience from almost any PC maker.

But guess what.  When I didn’t have the money, that laptop cost $450 brand new.  And for the most part it worked great.  I simply could not afford a MacBook.

Back to the subject at hand: Macs vs PCs.

Or is it Macs vs Windows?

Notice in all the commercials the Mac guy is really cool and young, and the PC guy is really old and dorky?  In some weird way, this comparison is almost like a comparison between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  You’ve got ‘elegant and funky’ versus ‘corporate gray’.  It’s all marketing ‘fluff’.  Fluffy fluff fluffery.  Apple is really talking down to its customers as they sure aren’t talking to me.  After all, I’ve just proven that a Mac is a PC.  So really it’s a PC versus a PC.  A PC designed by Apple running OS X versus a PC designed by HP/Samsung/Acer/Lenovo running Microsoft Windows/Linux.

The difference is thus.  Do you want a PC and an OS designed by one company.  Or do you want a PC built by companies that specialize in hardware and your OS made by a company that specializes in software?  There is a certain freedom in the latter model.  I can choose any manufacturer I want, and truly I can even choose not to run Windows.  Apples main bet is that, although you cannot choose different hardware or software, you wouldn’t want to.  This brings us back to price.

Let’s go back to the analogy of vehicles for a second.  Again, let’s compare Ford and Mercedes.  What’s different about the car they manufacture?  Both build cars that get from point A to B.  And really, both take gas, both have wipers, both use oil.  They both have tires, they both have an engine.  Really what’s so different about these two cars.

In short, the experience.  I wouldn’t even doubt that at a low enough component, you might find that Mercedes and Ford actually use the exact same thing from the same supplier.  Say a rubber gasket or something.  Neither of them actually forges the steel they use.  They select their components to meet a target price point.

Up until this point, one might actually believe I admire Apple.  After all, I droned on and on about how luxurious they are, their craftsmanship, and attention to detail.  But I have I ever owned a Mac?  No.  I also don’t own a Mercedes (though someday….).

Mercedes vs Tanks…

What about they myth that they are more secure?  “How ’bout that Mr Smarty Pants?”  Remember, due to the price of entry to their product, just buying one puts you in an elite class.

Elite.  Hmmm.  That sounds like just the word Apple would use – don’t you feel speeeeeeeecial.

How about “minority”.  How do you feel now?

The world, especially the developing world, can’t have them.  Businesses don’t typically use them.  Cost wise, anyone on a budget doesn’t either.  So why don’t they get viruses?

Because it’s not worth it to make one for them.  If I’m going to hack, scam, cheat, whatever – I want to make do it where there’s people to rip off!  And the bigger the business or government the better!  Why would I waste it on the 10%?  If I’ve only got a success rate of 0.1%, what are the chances it will even spread if I target the 10%?

What’s more secure, a M1-A1 Abrams Tank or a Mercedes Benz?  Well of course the tank.  Which is safer?  That tank in a war zone (for which it was made), or an Mercedes taking the family to the lake?  Think carefully about that.  The placement of the items determines their safety.  That tank in Baghdad right after taking out Saddam, with all those IEDs and RPGs is not exactly my idea of taking a nap while riding shotgun on a Sunday drive.  I’d much rather be in that Mercedes back here where it’s apple pies are in the window sill of every home we pass on the way to the lake.

So it is with Macs.  You are in a Mercedes riding in fantasy land which is safer, but probably not any more secure than Windows.  All I can say, is Windows may a Ford and not a tank, but it’s certainly not in the fantasy world.  The world it’s in – is vastly more dangerous than the one Apple is in.

So Macs have a better experience and they’re safer.  Yes.  At more than double the cost.  At the prices they sell their products, I could buy 2 or even 3 Windows based machines and just throw them away when I run in to trouble.  But how much safer and better an experience is it?  Not that much if you know what to do to get the same effect from a Windows box.

That’s kind of a big statement though.  I happen to know, but for those of us who don’t, it might as well be impossible.  So, here’s how to get the most out of your Windows / PC experience.

The 10 commandments of PC purchasing

  1. The right hardware.  There are a lot of attractively priced products out there that are in the ballpark of $400 to $500 (I thinking laptops here).  Almost all of those are not worth it.  Every $100 you add to the base cost of one of these laptops will definitely be worth it, until you get to the $800 to $1000 range.  By now, we’re in range of the price of a MacBook Air.  But even though that’s the case, there’s so much more you get for you dollars at the PC price point.  You get more CPU, more RAM, more screen resolution, and more size.  You’ll notice most of the Macs are pretty small in physical size.
  2. You must have good Anti-Virus.  Not the crap that comes with a PC.  Think Kaspersky, ESET, or Bitdefender.  Buy them, and buy them for as long as you can, because this is a commitment.
  3. Choose laptops that have a screen resolution of at least 1080p HD (1920×1080 which is HD) – never ever pick a laptop with 1366×768.
  4. You will almost always have a better experience if the laptop you pick has the “Ultrabook” Trademark.
  5. Ensure the computer has, or upgrade it to use an SSD.
  6. Seek out PC makers that have “Microsoft Signature Edition” available as they will be free of the bloatware common on most PCs.
  7. You may need help with this one.  Create 2 accounts for your computer.  One account that is an Administrator and one that is a Standard User.  Always use the Standard User, and only use the Administrator when you need to make a change to your computer.  This will help protect you from Mal-Ware.
  8. Get a touch screen.  It’s worth it, you’ll see.
  9. Look for laptops with at least 8GB of RAM
  10. Look for laptops with a dedicated Video Card from Nvidia or AMD.

You don’t have to do all of this, but if you try to achieve most of this, you’ll do well.

And the winner is….

the PC, of course.  And if you can afford a Mac, it could be the best PC you’ve ever owned.


photo credit: <a href=”″>Apple and Orange</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>

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macs are better