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Talkin' Smack: Obsolete My Eye

Why the Mac will continue to dominate the creative market By Dave Nagel
There's a fallacious line of reasoning that says that the faster a machine is, the better. We've been witness, of late, to new benchmark studies showing that current-generation AMD and Intel chips are faster than the current-generation chips found in Macintosh computers in real-world software tests running After Effects and Photoshop, not just clock speed. And this has led some to conclude that Windows-based PCs are, therefore, better machines and that the Mac is now obsolete. Wrong.

Now, I'm no Apple apologist. Apple, like all companies, can make some incredibly ridiculous moves. (The .Mac initiative is a good recent example.) And I'm not going to sit here and defend everything the company does. In fact, I've written several articles chastising Jobs & Co. for some of their blunders in the past.

I'm also not a big fan of Motorola. They make the G4 chip that ships in Macintosh computers. Personally, I don't care what chip my Mac runs on, as long as I get some decent performance out of it, which the G4 does provide, even if it's not the same performance as an Intel or AMD chip--at present. To me, a Mac would still be a Mac even if it were running on an AMD processor, just as a Mac is still a Mac even though it's integrated several PC technologies, like PCI, AGP, USB, ATA/IDE and PC100 SDRAM. So, as far as I'm concerned, Motorola could go out of business tomorrow, and it wouldn't affect me in the least. I simply do not equate that company with my computer platform.

But regardless of my feelings about Apple and Motorola, I am, to the core, a Macintosh devotee--and with good reasons.

The issue of which processor can render which file more quickly is an incredibly minor one, especially if you're only talking about a very small difference and that much of this difference has to do with a particular program's inability to use multiple processors efficiently on the Mac, as is the case with After Effects and Photoshop. (Our own "Apples to Apples" benchmarks clearly show this.) This is obviously a situation that can be rectified through better programming.

But even if it were not a software issue and purely a processor issue, it still wouldn't matter. Macs and PCs have leapfrogged each other in processor performance from the very beginning. First the Mac was faster, then the PC. The PC was faster for a long time, and then the Mac caught up and surpassed Intel with the PowerPC processor. Then Intel caught up again until the G4 Macs came out. And for quite some time, even though the G4 ran at lower clock speeds, it was still faster in real-world tests than Pentiums. Recently AMD and Intel have both passed up the G4--though nowhere near enough to judge the Mac "obsolete," as some have. So guess what's coming next?

Yes, that's right, the Mac will pass the PC once again, and then we on the Mac platform will be squawking about how fast our systems are, though the difference, as has always been the case, will no doubt be negligible.

Clearly, no matter which system you invest in, something faster is just around the corner, whether it's on your same platform or another. Computers are still very much in their infancy, and these incremental speed increases will continue for decades until the differences are no longer meaningful. As it stands, processor speeds are already irrelevant for consumers running spreadsheets, viewing movies, e-mailing relatives and whatever else consumers do with their computers. In fact, it's beyond me why consumers ever upgrade their systems at all. There's no difference between running Microsoft Word 3 on an 8 MHz Mac SE and running Word 200x on a Pentium 4.

We, as professionals in the visual arts, put more demand on our systems and are always trying to squeeze as much juice as possible out of them. But the answer to rendering speed is so simple, it's beyond me why we even talk about it. Slap together a cheap render farm, and there's no longer an issue.

What is the issue--and I keep trying to hammer this home in all my reviews of hardware and software--is workflow and functionality. And here there simply is no question that the Mac outperforms the PC--not just in the way the operating system looks, as so many like to talk about, but in what it does and how well it works for you.

The Mac is a tool engineered to facilitate its human operators, not to get in the way; a piece of equipment geared for the creative process; and a machine manufactured to work without fail. And, for the most part, the Mac does live up to this promise, although individual developers can and do come along to muck it up a bit. (I personally have no doubts as to why a simple text editor like Microsoft Word can cause a kernel panic in the near-infallible Mac OS X.)

What does a 20-minute difference in render speed mean when you lose 20 minutes of productivity recovering from a Windows crash? If a program crashes on Mac OS X, you don't reboot. You just relaunch the program, and everything works without a hitch. What about setting up the machine? Networking? Installing third-party software and hardware? Not a problem on the Mac. What about color management? Windows produces nothing even remotely resembling accurate color. ColorSync on the Mac makes color calibration a simple (and accurate) process. And what about workflow? There is nobody in the world who could convince me or any other person who has worked on a Mac that Windows has a superior workflow. Take any two of the same programs, and you will get the job done faster on the front end on the Mac.

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