Mac vs. PC

Sep 1, 2012 9:00 AM, Mix, By Michael Cooper

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Every time I upgrade to the latest and greatest computer, I’m tempted to think, “That’s all I’ll ever need for pro audio.” But my DAW’s new daddy is barely out of the box before a new technology is launched and I’m forced to consider whether I need to upgrade yet again. Do I really need Thunderbolt, quad-channel memory or (fill in the blank)?

That depends. Someone who tracks only acoustic and electric instruments needs a lot less muscle than a film composer or high-definition video editor. It makes no sense to buy more computer than you’ll need. On the other hand, as music-production studios branch out into adjunct fields of operation to broaden their revenue streams, it might be professional suicide to assume an outdated or bush-league computer is going to be up to executing new tasks.

In this article, we’ll examine what practical advantages new technologies for Macs and PCs are bringing to pro audio. We’ll scrutinize the guts of off-the-shelf computers offered by big-box manufacturers like Apple and Dell. We’ll also look at how boutique, turbo-charged PCs made by Rain Computers—rigs purpose-built for content creation—are meeting the needs of pros who require extraordinarily high bandwidth and stability. But first, we’ll take a whirlwind tour of the new Mac OS X 10.8 (code-name Mountain Lion) and Windows 8.


Judging from information available at press time, there are no earth-shattering new developments related to pro audio in Mountain Lion or Windows 8. Most of the new features seem geared toward providing a more streamlined and user-friendly experience. For example, Windows 8 includes several new taskbar options to improve multi-monitor support. In Mountain Lion, you can back up your project files in Time Machine to multiple locations. And if you want to share with your fans an excerpt of your band’s last gig that you shot with your camcorder, QuickTime X will let you trim the AVCHD-formatted video.

Which platform, Mac or PC, is superior? Some would argue the Mac OS still presents a slightly more user-friendly look and feel to the complete novice, but Windows 8 has made the differences practically non-existent. If you’re fairly knowledgeable about and experienced with computers, both platforms offer equal power. They use essentially the same hardware components. The only clear differentiators are that Macs are virtually immune to viruses and Apple, according to the August 2012 issue of Consumer Reports, offers significantly better tech support compared to the big-box PC vendors, though Rain and other boutiques are known for their high-quality response and service. “It’s really a very level playing field,” says Tim Dolbear, North America Product Specialist Samplitude and Sequoia at Magix. “People need to stop worrying so much about [the differences] and just make music. I think the Mac/PC debate is over at this point.”

A more salient consideration might be whether or not your DAW supports the 64-bit memory addressing that modern operating systems offer. If not, you may have trouble loading virtual instruments that use large sample libraries.

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