Well, it is year end, and we are in that position of either spend it, or give it to Uncle Sam – so we are spending baby!
With today’s large image files, my old Pentium computer just isn’t cutting it anymore, so we made the logical decision to get Janine a new computer – yeah that’s right, Janine. Since she does all the important parts of the office work, it is fitting I get her computer hand me downs, and she gets the screaming machine. Actually, Janine does a lot of the image adjustment work.
Anyway, I have been anguishing over this decision for the last couple of weeks as I researched and read countless forums, reviews etc., so I thought I would share my thought process as it may be beneficial to other photographers in a similar situation – I know I found similar write-ups valuable. Janine thinks I’m an over-researcher 🙂 , and she is right. Warning, this may get long!
Mac vs. PC
First I had to make the Mac vs. PC decision. I have used PCs since the very beginning, but it seems like I know a lot of photographers who have switched to Macs in the past year, so I figured I better take a close look at this decision. It makes sense, Macs now have Intel processors, and with an extra piece of software you can now run all your old PC software. They look nice, and everyone raves how easy and reliable they are. As I worked my way around the Mac Pro website I felt right at home – the hardware looked very familiar, it is the same stuff you find in a PCs these days. But then came the surprise; the Mac Pro cost about $1,500 more then a similar spec’d high end PC, and this doesn’t include the cost of changing software.
The base systems for both cost about the same, but Apple is really proud of their add-ons. When you add 8 GB of ram and raid capability the cost difference is really magnified. My friends like to tell me how easy Macs are, but then in the next breath say that the only cost effect way to buy a Mac is to get a bare bones system and add the extras yourself. To me, that didn’t sound easy.
So it seems to me the real difference between the two these days is the operating system, and I think by all accounts the Mac’s is far superior. I had to ask myself is the operating system worth an extra $1,500? Now many of my friends complain about blue screens and locked up computers with their PCs – if that was my experience, for an extra $1,500 I would switch as well. But really, our PCs have been very stable and reliable, I really don’t have a complaint. Couple this with the added hassle of changing and learning new software, and I decided to stick with a PC.
I think one of the reason PCs get such a bad wrap is because the market is flooded with really inexpensive computers full of cheap components – think Dell Dimension. I was only going to consider a systems with top notch components, and North American tech support. I looked long and hard at the Dell Precisions. The Precsion costs a lot more then the Dimension because it is made with better components and does have dedicated North American support, but Dell’s reputation isn’t that great right now.
The more time I spent researching the top PC companies, one name kept coming up over and over, and that was the Medford, Oregon based company Falcon Northwest. When it came to customer support and performance, they seemed to be consistently ranked well ahead of everyone else. I hadn’t heard of them, but I understand they have been very popular with the young gamers looking for very high-end machines. In fact you can get them with all kinds of custom paint jobs – something I might have thought was really cool when I was younger. Falcon Northwest seems to be expanding their marketing efforts to other high demand users such as digital darkrooms.
There were two things I really liked about Falcon Northwest. First was their warranty. Three years on parts and labor, and the first year even includes overnight service – basically if they can’t fix the problem over the phone, they will have an overnight carrier pick up the system at their expense, fix it, and then overnight it back to you! They obviously have a lot of confidence in their components and testing! The Mac had a 90 day warranty – three years was another add-on at an additional $250.
The other thing I really liked about Falcon Northwest – every time I had a question as I contemplated my purchase, I picked up the phone and called. My call was always answered within two rings by a very knowledgeable human being. No voice mail, not even a receptionist – a lot of companies can learn from this.
What version of Windows?
None of these choices are easy anymore. Windows XP was very tempting – it has been rock solid for us, and I liked the idea of sticking with a known quantity. It is interesting to note that Falcon Northwest, Dell and most others now offer XP as an option.
Due to all the complaints, Vista didn’t have much appeal, except for the 64 bit version. Certainly going forward, 64 bit is the future. The new Mac operating system is 64 bit, and I’m sure all future Microsoft offerings will be as well. They should have made Vista in only the 64 bit flavor. A 64 bit operating system has a lot of appeal. For one, I would be able use more the 4 GB of ram – valuable with big photo files. In addition, it is just a matter of time before Photoshop and other software is offered in 64 bit versions – this should offer additional performance benefits.
The big drawback, the lack of 64 bit drivers. Not only the lack of drivers, but if it isn’t an actual Windows approved driver, it won’t install, period. There isn’t an “install anyway” option you get with the other MS operating systems. From what I have read, many, if not most PC problems are due to poorly written drivers. It sounds like MS is tired of getting the blame for other people’s poor software, and this is a way to exert more control. It is interesting, with Vista 64 anyway, Microsoft is closing the door to the barn ever so slightly, while Apple seems to be opening it. Time will tell, but I wonder if Apple will begin experiencing PC type problems – things like viruses for example.
I checked my printers, fax, network storage and was able to find 64 bit drivers for everything except my Nikon scanner which we can keep attached to the older (my) computer. By the way, Nikon came out with Vista drivers last week, so hopefully a 64 bit version isn’t far off. So given that, I made the choice to go with 64 bit. Truthfully, this decision has me the most concerned – as time goes on, I think I will be glad.
This was the relatively easy part. Thanks to 64 bit, I could go with 8 GBs of ram, this will be great for those large panoramics. I went with a mid-speed quad-core Intel processor, PhotoShop with its multi thread capabilities should really shine here. I also went for two mirrored (raid 1) 500 GB hard drives. Losing a system drive is a giant pain, I really like having the redundancy.
So there you have it for what it is worth. I should point out, if it isn’t already evident, I’m certainly not a computer expert – I know some readers here can run circles around me with their knowledge. I should have this bad boy in a few weeks – I will report back with my experience then.