When it comes to photo editing, both PC and Mac platforms can be very powerful and capable, with each having its own list of pros and cons. Choosing one over the other can be a difficult choice because there are so many different aspects and variables to consider. Hardware, software, operating system, cost, design/aesthetics, simplicity, ease of use, stability, upgrade options, resale value, size, and weight are some of the factors one might look into on both PCs and Macs to make the ultimate choice.
And what makes it even tougher, is that some of these factors can carry very different weights. For example, cost and hardware are often the two major factors that influence purchasing decisions the most. So let’s take a look at a number of above-mentioned factors and see which platform is potentially a better choice for photography needs.
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Having been a PC user since my first 80286 machine many years ago, I have never been particularly attracted to other platforms. I built pretty much every machine I have used so far and I love the fact that I have the freedom to pick, choose, install or upgrade all of the components of my system.
I still enjoy the feeling I get after putting components together, firing up the machine and hearing that first post beep and the BIOS screen, showing me that everything is working correctly. Perhaps I love building things too much and fiddling with issues when they come up, but as a techie at heart, PCs have always been my “thing” in both my personal and past corporate life.
Over the years, I have enjoyed trying out many different hardware components and operating systems. I have had my fun days of running DOS, Slackware, FreeBSD, BeOS, Redhat, Fedora, Gentoo, Ubuntu, Windows 2000, XP, 7 to name a few, and not so fun days messing with Windows NT 3.51 and Windows ME. In my past corporate life, I have probably tried out pretty much every flavor of server hardware and operating systems as well, running large enterprise networks with huge datacenters. Such has been my life as a dedicated “PC guy”.
Along the way, I have seen my share of the Apple world as well, particularly when I had to troubleshoot everything I was thrown at in those IT help desk and call center days. At a later point in time, I picked up a few Apple products for personal use, but mostly in the music / mobile area: iPods, iPads, and iPhones (I have been using the iPhone since the third generation).
After so many years, my first Apple computer purchase for personal use was a few years ago, when I got a 27″ iMac Retina. I primarily bought it for presentations and photo reviews during workshops, as I did not want to drag a PC with a large monitor with me every time. It worked out great and I have no regrets. Since then, I have been trying to actively use the iMac for everyday tasks, including post-processing.
For the most part, however, I have been able to successfully dodge most of the Apple world, keeping myself away from the hardcore fanboyism that seems to have always been very strong in the Apple community. If a decade ago one could practically get into a fight when talking about PCs vs Macs, it seems like things have not really changed for the better today – any time this topic comes up, people seem to lose it very fast. I understand loyalty, love, devotion, support, and dedication for a particular brand, but in all honesty, none of those really matter to me when it comes to choosing tools anymore. I pick what works for me and move on.
The Unboxing Experience
Before we dive into the really important points, let me first talk about something many of us would consider ridiculous – the unboxing experience. Traditionally, PCs and PC components have never exciting to unwrap and unbox, as that was never really the focus of manufacturers. Computer parts would be shipped in ugly, brown carton boxes and if you were lucky to find a neatly printed manual among disposable plastic-wrapped pieces, you would be happy.
Apple has always been about delivering the experience, and it starts with the packaging. The darn box that contains an Apple product is beautiful to start with! Then as you start unboxing the contents, you realize that everything has been thought-out design-wise not only from the product but also from the packaging standpoint. And this experience is mirrored on every product – whether you are opening an iPhone case or a big iMac box. Everything is beautifully and tightly organized, and even simple things like the protective plastic look so strangely beautiful. Simple, elegant, brilliant. And it sure as hell works!
The idea of starting the excitement from the moment one opens the box has been such a huge marketing success for Apple, that everyone has been trying to copy that ever since! Apple really paved the way to make the packaging look sexy, and today, so many other products now have similarly beautiful and shiny boxes, colorful manuals, neatly stacked box contents and the simple, yet elegant design. And whenever we see such packaging, the first thing that comes to our mind is “quality”. Yup, through its products, Apple has placed a subliminal message into our brains, which makes us perceive a product higher when it is packaged beautifully.
Who would have thought that packaging would have played such a key role in assessing product quality?
This one is a win for Apple.
All right, now that we have gone through the process of product unboxing, let’s talk about something that really matters – computer hardware. Which platform has better hardware, PC or Mac?
Back in the day, when Apple used to run on IBM’s PowerPC processors, there were significant hardware differences between the two, but once Apple switched to Intel, those differences pretty much vanished.
In 2020, Apple switched its hardware stack again to Apple Silicon processors, starting with the M1 followed by the M2 series. This introduced a new and marked difference between Windows PCs and Apple computers. Although high-end PC hardware is still powerful, there is no Intel or AMD processor out there that can match Apple’s performance at the same price and power draw. So although you can find a high-end PC that can outperform an M2 Mac Mini, it will be significantly more expensive, use more power, and probably be louder and certainly bulkier as well.
On the other hand, PC architecture is a bit more flexible since there are a plethora of both Intel and AMD CPUs to choose from. In addition to the CPU, you have much more customizability concerning every other component as well such as RAM, graphics card, and power supply.
Simply put, running PC architecture means much more freedom of choice. You are not tied to one manufacturer like you are with Apple, which means you can upgrade and change components at will.
PC hardware is available more quickly after it is produced as well. If nVidia releases a new graphics card, you do not have to wait for Toshiba to release a new hard drive to get the graphics card. With Macs, you have to wait for Apple to design an entirely new computer to upgrade, which takes much more time.
Although both PC and Mac hardware can be powerful and both have their pros and cons, I give Apple a slight edge due to its performance per dollar ratio of Apple Silicon.
Software Differences: Drivers and Integration
One key advantage of Apple is their excellent integration of hardware and software, which has played a huge role in the success of Apple products. Macs are often regarded as more stable than PCs mainly for this reason. And it is true: it is so much easier to take control of software and hardware integration when you only need to deal with few hardware suppliers and components. In short, dedicated hardware always wins.
With PCs, you are dealing with several CPU manufacturers, dozens of motherboard manufacturers that offer different models with different feature sets and the list goes on and on with all other components, which all have to be able to talk to each other nicely at the end of the day. Once you put it all together, then you deal with software, which is often the root cause of stability issues. Buggy drivers, buggy firmware and sometimes incompatible hardware can be pretty frustrating to deal with for an average user.
Apple products generally do not have such problems. Everything is carefully designed to work well. Once components are put together, drivers and firmware are optimized for that specific hardware, so one does not have to deal with third-party drivers or support. As a result, you end up with a more stable system and fewer hardware and software integration headaches to worry about in the long term.
As PC users, we are used to running periodic driver updates from different manufacturers. And when things break, which they sometimes do from time to time, our best method to eliminate issues is to do a fresh or “clean install”, wiping everything out and starting from scratch. Mac users rarely go through the same hassles, because updates are delivered in a single update package from a single company.
Does this make Macs better than PCs? Generally yes, but there is an exception: specific hardware from Microsoft. As you may already know, Microsoft has its Microsoft Surface and Surface Book lines of laptops. With these, Microsoft competes more closely with Apple, since Microsoft is following exactly the same methodology of successfully coupling hardware and software together.
Just like Apple, Microsoft can optimize its drivers and operating system to work well with carefully-chosen hardware, delivering rock-solid stability. And it certainly works – my Surface Pro is one of the most stable PCs I have used to date.
This one is a big win for Apple.
Operating System Differences
What about the underlying software that talks directly to computer hardware, the Operating System? On PCs we have the choice to run any OS, including Windows OS, Linux, FreeBSD, and even MacOS, while Macs are designed to natively only run Mac OS.
On Apple computers, you can install other operating systems like Windows and Linux on Intel Macs, and on some Macs, Linux works very well for example. However, generally it is much more of a struggle to get other operating systems working on Macs, especially the new Apple Silicon Macs.
That in itself can be considered to be an advantage for PCs – the freedom to choose any operating system without any concerns. However, most people rarely ever experiment with anything other than Windows and Mac OS, so the ability to run other operating systems natively on hardware won’t matter for most users. Thus, at the end of the day, it is basically the battle of Windows vs Mac OS. So which system is better and more stable?
This is one area where Apple fans will defend their territory big time. And I don’t blame them – for some people, switching from a PC to a Mac made sense and alleviated much pain. Dealing with driver and stability issues can surely get frustrating and exhausting rather quickly and when you don’t experience the same concerns on a Mac, you surely get the impression that Mac OS is better.
However, that’s not the case – the fault herein does not lie with the operating system per se, but rather with the hardware and software integration I have talked about earlier. If you can get solid hardware with well-tested drivers, Microsoft Windows is a very stable and reliable operating system. I personally have not seen a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) for years on any of my machines. If you have good hardware, you should never be seeing errors!
True, Microsoft has had its share of bad days. Few people liked Vista and Windows 8 did not get much love either. However, let’s not confuse functional and feature differences with stability issues. I was on a beta-testing team when Microsoft launched Windows 2000 and since the day the OS got a complete overhaul, with the underlying kernel running on NT code, Microsoft Windows has been a solid and reliable operating system.
All the instability issues we have seen have been the result of poor software and hardware integration, which Microsoft started to tackle later on with signed drivers. Still, it is nearly impossible to get every hardware vendor to integrate well with all components of software – the biggest challenge for any OS maker. So if your experience with Windows OS has been bad, you most likely had some serious hardware or software compatibility issues.
As I have already pointed out above, Macs are going to have less overall stability issues due to better hardware and software integration and compatibility issues (except when compared to Microsoft’s PCs). However, that only applies to the operating system layer and the basic, OS-provided applications – the same does not apply to third party applications. I have seen many cases of all kinds of software crashes on my Mac that I have been using. Badly-written applications randomly crashing, (Adobe Premiere Pro CC, Photoshop CC, Lightroom CC, and other third-party apps) and Adobe compatibility issues to name a few.
At the same time, Windows and MacOS work differently, and each has their strengths that will appeal to personal preference. Windows has better integration with their office suite of products and support for some Windows-only applications. MacOS is Unix-certified and in some ways has a more consistent interface with its keyboard shortcuts and has a global menu bar for applications.
Simply put, although Windows and Mac are both stable, they are different in the way they work and look, and they each have different features that could be very important to you.
I call this one a tie.
Viruses and Trojans
What about virus and malware outbreaks? We hear about this one a lot too, with Apple fans arguing that Apple machines suffer from much less software and hardware exploit issues. This one I have to agree on – and the main reason is popularity. With Apple having a much smaller market share than PC, which is generally less than 15% of the total market, hackers are always going to target machines that are in the abundance.
Simply put, there are far more PCs out there to target compared to Macs. For mass-hacking and denial-of-service attacks, the more machines in the inventory, the better. So naturally, PCs are better targets, as they have the volume. But that’s changing quickly. With the rise of Apple machines and gadgets, more and more hackers are targeting Macs.
I would say this one is a win for Apple for now.
Security is another area where I don’t consider one OS to be superior to the other. Both require elevated privileges for installing software, both prohibit easy launching of downloaded files, and operating system files are protected from modifications.
Of course, operating system security is actually a very complex topic simply because operating systems are so complex. People write complex technical papers for academic research about this topic, and very few have tried to tackle this topic directly.
In fact, it is precisely because operating systems are so complex that asking whether one is more secure than another these days is not really the right question. Instead, you should be following best practices to minimize your chance of being attacked. Windows may have more viruses because of its popularity and MacOS is perceived as more secure by some, paradoxically making such people more likely to be attacked.
I would call this one a tie.
Design and Aesthetics
I don’t think there is a need to say much here, as we all know which one is going to win. Apple makes beautiful products and sadly, I cannot think of a single PC that is as aesthetically as pleasing as a Mac. When was the last time you saw a truly beautiful PC? There are some slick cases out there, but that’s about it. Once you add all the ugly wiring, the thought of “beautiful and simple” quickly vanishes. PC manufacturers have tried every possible design and the result is sadly one ugliness after another.
The only exceptions are some PC laptops and tablets like Microsoft’s Surface, or Dell’s XPS line with carbon fiber casing. These can be beautiful, simple and sleek to use. But in all honesty, none still beat the aesthetics of Apple products. In fact, I have both a Dell XPS laptop and a Macbook M1 Air and the Macbook looks so much nicer than the Dell both in terms of hardware and software.
This one is a huge win for Apple.
Ergonomics and Ease of Use
Another area Apple is very strong at is ergonomics. The idea of a simplistic design also equally applies to navigation and use of both hardware and software components. After using the iMac, I have to say, nobody has the trackpad in the PC world figured out when compared to Apple. In fact, all PC trackpads suck badly. Every laptop trackpad I have used to date has been junk – very frustrating to use, even on the latest, most expensive machines.
To truly appreciate navigational ergonomics, give the Magic Trackpad a try. It takes a bit of time to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, you will never want to use anything else. And this trackpad experience is mirrored across all Apple products. It just works! Apple invented multi-touch and hand gestures, so it is no wonder why they are so good at it.
As for ease of use, that’s another stronghold of Apple. When Apple released the iPhone with a single button, people laughed. When Apple released the iPad, people laughed again. But those two products have been extremely successful because of their simplicity of operation. Today, every phone maker is copying the same idea – now we even have buttonless phones!
Another big win for Apple.
Upfront Cost and Performance
Before Apple Silicon, it was much cheaper to build a fast PC for much cheaper than the cost of a comparable Mac. In fact, this cost difference was often called ‘The Apple Tax’. Now however, the difference is much less clear.
With Apple’s M1 and M2 processers, Apple computers deliver very good performance for the price. In fact, this performance over price ratio is much better than with Windows PCs, assuming you are at the base model. The M2 Mac Mini starts at $599, and there is simply no way to get a PC that will come close to its performance at that price, even if you build your own.
On the other hand, the cost for Macs goes up very quickly if you get a model with upgraded storage and Ram. You can get a pretty decent internal SSD like the Samsung 2TB 980 PRO PCIe for less than $200, whereas upgrading to the 2TB SSD on a Mac Mini will cost $800!
However, even the M2 Mac Mini with the M2 Pro chip, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD costs $2200, which is definitely not much more than the cost of building a custom PC to approach it, and such a PC will more power.
This used to be a win for PCs, but now it is a tie for upgrades and a win for Apple on base models.
Another area where Apple struggles is upgrade options. Once you buy a machine, it is easier to get it replaced, than to upgrade its components.
PC users can buy components and reuse them in their future builds with ease, saving money in the long term. It is far cheaper to upgrade a motherboard with a CPU, than to buy a brand new machine.
Some Macs make it extremely difficult, or nearly impossible to switch out components. Although older Macs had some upgradeable components, the newer Apple Silicon Macs are almost impossible for the average person to ugprade.
That being said, computers do not need upgrading as frequently as they once did, and I’m saying this as someone who started out with a 486 running DOS and Windows 3.1. If you buy a reasonably specced machine, whether it be PC or Mac, chances are it will last many years before you even think of an upgrade.
However, things can still happen like failed components, and when that does happen, it is much easier to fix yourself with a PC.
So, if upgradeability is your main concern, this is a huge win for PC.
When it comes to resale value, Apple always wins hands down. Whether you have just built a PC, or have been using one for a year or two, good luck trying to sell it – PCs have practically no resale value! I cannot remember the last time I sold a PC I built, as nobody really wants them.
The majority of the PCs out there are either thrown away or recycled for that reason. I personally end up recycling too, or sometimes use them as “museum components” (hard drive plates and magnets are particularly fun to play with). I am done with accumulating a stash of hard drives, RAM and CPUs – that just ends up going to junk / recycling anyway.
Apple products always have a higher resale value and this applies to all Apple products, not just Macs. People sell used MacBooks, iMacs, Mac Pros and Mac Minis all the time and they fetch surprisingly good prices on the used market.
My moderately used Surface Pro 3 that was worth $2K at the time I bought it, is selling dirt cheap today after a year of use – less than half of what I paid for it. And that’s a very solid product with a very high quality and desirability. I would not even think about trying to sell my used PC desktop. I would probably make more money selling individual components, than trying to sell the whole thing and even then it usually would not be worth the effort.
So if resale value on Apple products is better, doesn’t that make them a better choice for long-term investment? Isn’t it worth paying the price premium upfront? Well, if you are the type who does not mind selling computer gear before upgrades, then yes, it is worth it. If you are the type to keep computers until they fail and have no resale value, then not really.
This is a win for Apple, if you have the track record of selling used gear.
Photoshop and Lightroom Performance
As I have stated earlier, Macs don’t have any particular advantage for running post-processing software like Adobe CC. Buggy releases are equally bad on both platforms. If a piece of software has memory leaks, there is a big chance that those memory leaks will be mirrored on both Mac OS and Windows. Occasionally, there are platform-specific issues and compatibility issues.
For example, the infamous menu bug that we have seen on pretty much every iteration of Lightroom is mostly a PC problem. Adobe still cannot figure out a way to fix it, although the development team did come up with a few tricks to try to address the issue. On the latest version of Lightroom, if the software detects malfunctioning menus, it throws an error and asks to restart Lightroom. This particular bug does not exist on MacOS.
There are some other bugs that are present on Mac OS and not necessarily present on Windows. In some cases, it could be an operating system library conflict. When Apple pushed El Capitan, it presented a lot of problems with Adobe software. It took a few updates for Adobe to make their software usable again. These problems were obviously non-existent on the Windows platform.
In short, the operating system itself does not impact performance when running applications like Photoshop and Lightroom on both Mac OS and Windows operating systems.
This one is a tie.
Display Quality and Calibration Accuracy
While Apple releases very impressive, high-resolution displays for Macs and puts quite a bit of marketing pitch in showcasing their displays as photography-friendly, most Apple monitors are not best suited for accurate color reproduction and calibration. While things have definitely gotten better during the past few years, they still lag a little bit when compared to professional monitors. So if you work with colors every day and you need the best accuracy, you will have to invest in a high-quality monitor that can be properly hardware-calibrated.
On top of that, pretty much every Apple monitor has a reflective surface, making them painful to work with in bright environments.
This all does not mean that these screens cannot be calibrated – while Apple does a decent job at color reproduction from the factory, you should still invest in a good colorimeter like the X-Rite i1Display Pro and calibrate every display for best results.
So keep this in mind when looking at Apple monitors. While those screens certainly look beautiful, they are not necessarily the best ones to work with for photography.
This one is a disadvantage for iMacs and Apple laptops. For everything else, you will need to buy external monitors, just like you buy for PCs, so there are similar considerations for both.
For years, Apple refused to provide proper 10-bit support on Mac OS at the operating system level, making them unusable for color-critical work. On PCs, video card manufacturers like NVIDIA have been providing 10-bit support for years, as long as you purchase the right pro-level card, like the NVIDIA QUADRO series cards.
Starting from the El Capitan release though, Apple finally integrated 10-bit support into the operating system and now every Mac running the latest OS can finally output colors in 10-bits.
Used to be a disadvantage for Mac, but now is a tie.
Some Quick Recommendations
Although choosing a computing platform is highly personal, here are some quick guidelines.
You should choose a PC if:
- You want upgradeability and the freedom to choose your own hardware
- You want to run more than one OS
- You want a lot of storage and RAM without paying a premium
- There are programs you use that are Windows-only
You should choose a Mac if:
- You want amazing performance with low power consumption
- You want excellent hardware and software integration
- You prefer a UNIX environment and the look of MacOS
In this article, I have only touched some of the factors when considering a Mac vs a PC. There are many other areas I could expand into, especially with regard to differences in the operating systems. But I am not sure if there is any value in expanding this discussion even further, as we have already covered a lot.
At the end of the day, the choice of a system does not really matter. Both Macs and PCs are good enough to be used for a variety of uses, including post-processing. I provided my arguments and you can feel free to weigh each one and see which are more important for you.
For me personally, the PC makes more sense to use for post-processing, which has been and will continue to be my platform of choice. I am very familiar with it, I pick and choose what I need and I don’t have to spend a ton of money to get the speed and the components I need. But for others who are not as tech-savvy, or perhaps have bad PC experience, the Mac might be the way to go. It is simpler to use, it is more intuitive, well-designed and will probably have less problems in the long run.
Would love to hear your thoughts and your preferences – please share in the comments section below!