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October 01, 2008
Mac Beating PC
Mac Beating PC
I can't seem to get away from people drivelling on about how wonderful Macs are except of course when you come to people who work in the IT departments who hate Macs and refuse to have anything to do with them. This is a ridiculous polar binary of the "creatives" who simply MUST have Macs just to look cool and the ultra-utilitarians who seem to hate the fact that Macs have great industrial design and look far better than most PCs. Perhaps Sony Vaios are the exception but the trouble with Sony is they like to be quirky as well by having their own memory sticks instead of just using SD cards for example.
Last year I had my arm twisted from enthusiastic photographers to put in for a pile of Macs over PCs largely for Video Editing purposes using Final Cut Pro which is apparently currently the best value editing suite and seems to be the favourite of the moment in lots of schools and colleges. Problem is that it would have meant getting other software to run on Macs which would have been extra cost. The other little problem was that it would have cost significantly more than providing a pile of Dells which is of course what happened.
What to get at home?
The seemingly excessive cost of a Mac which is fast enough to run powerful software is definitely a big put off but then so is the ugliness of the average PC. We needed a much better computer than a Core-duo Toshiba lap-top to run Photoshop and 3D Graphics programmes effectively.The poor Toshiba has been well out of its depth when it came to running complex modelling. It frequently ground to a halt. It probably didn't help that its pretty small hard drive was jammed packed as well, mainly with programmes. Should we go for a Mac? Tempting! However before signing up on the the credit line it was important to do a little investigation. It's one thing to spend a few hundred on a bottom of the line Hewlett Packard which is fine for most needs and quite another to be looking at over £2k including a monitor. As individuals can't write this stuff off against tax regular replacement of equipment is a costly business.
The key issue was what is the industry standard software in the chosen area in this case Architecture. Apparently Microstation from Bentley is the standard in the UK. Microstation dosn't have a Mac Option. If you want a Mac you will ned to use Vectorworks.
As usual this stuff was getting complicated. It must be possible to get an adequate PC made up which can outperform a Mac at a significantly cheaper price but looked good enough to have in the home. Having established the of the parameters of our holy grail there was one left for responsible computer buyers. I wanted the machine to be as green as is possible and easily upgradeable. If you had seen the massive pile of computers down at our local waste collection you would realise just how polluting all this stuff is. We are often guilty of throwing out computers which have plenty of parts still working or not needing replacement such as cases and power supplies for example.
An initial look at the cases in the computer shop around the corner was not encouraging. The cases were ridiculous mock-gothic monstrosities for the dedicated games geek. Presumably used as identifers at gaming conventions. Eventually I took to the net to see if anybody actually made a PC case which was smart and functional.
I came up with several options in the end non of which was cheap. The Coolermaster Cosmos 1000 impressed me as the best option for our purposes. It looks pretty good (not like a Dell), it has enormous space for hard drive expansion so one can have a drive for programmes, one for work and one for back-up without having a rat's nest of cables and boxes all around the place. It is designed to promote passive cooling and also to be quiet. The incessant drone of computer fans can be quite wearing.
Click on the image for an early review of the case. Apparently the case is very well designed inside. you don't cut yourself on sharp bits of casing for example. Extra hard drives are easy to slot in. The case itself is quit soundproofed.
Keeping the CPU cool using passive means as far as possible was the next target. Initially I was going for a Coolermaster Gemini II but the shop has recommended a more expensive one with 8 rather than 6 heatpipes so I'm going for that one.
As far as the hard drives are concerned I have gone for Western Digital Green drives. Clearly using a little less electricity they will run slightly cooler and hopefully the whole case temperature will be reduced. I haven't ordered a particularly exotic Graphics card although it apparently will run 2 screens. For this computer's purposes it is the number crunching of the chip which is important so I have gone foe a reasonably affordable Intel Quad Core for around £230. There is a huge price hike to the next level the Extreme range which didn't seem to be cost-effective. I have also gone for Microsoft XP Professional as the operating systm which is 64 bit and can use a lot more Ram. I'm having 4Gb to start with which can be increased to 8 on the current motherboard.
Excluding screen the whole thing will weigh in at around £1,200 which is hardly cheap by today's standards but it is a lot cheaper than an equivalent Mac and should look good and be easily upgradeable for years to come.
The screen of course is another thing. Ideally Eizo, La Cie or NEC in the more upmarket range would be ideal, however that will have to wait.
I picked the machine up over the weekend and the technician at my local shop was very impressed with the Coolermaster set up. When a colleague had asked him whther he could tell whether the machine was on or off he guessed off which was incorrect! The case was bought with the intention of being as quiet as possible and obviously achieves this end. If you want a quiet elegant looking which has low energy requirements machine then this is probably the case and combination of parts to beat to beat. You can access current prices for these in the sidebar by looking at the relevant Amazon adverts.