On PC vs Mac
I’ve been using computers for nearly two decades (started very young) and the PC vs Mac debate has continued to rage on. If I may opine on the notion of Macs being for art and music production…
This is mostly just marketing. The fact is that a Mac is just a box of ICs, caps and platters like any personal computer is. There is nothing fundamentally different about the architecture of a Mac versus a PC. As much as they touted their ‘superior’ hardware, it’s hardly convincing in hindsight now that they’re throwing Intel chips into their machines, but I digress. They have a different software frontend than PCs, that’s all. Mac reinvented themselves after (badly) losing both the personal and enterprise computing markets, and started this cutting-edge, ‘alternative’, artsy campaign. In plain English, a regular old Mac runs editing programs well because Mac does not make low-end machines. In the world of PCs, vendors offer an enormous spectrum of quality, from $300 budget machines to $10,000 and beyond custom jobs. Mac just makes machines in about the middle to the mid-high range of that spectrum, and then claims that their machines are superior by comparing them to the low-end PCs. If you budgeted out the cost of a Mac G5 to use for parts for a PC, I’d reckon you could design a rig that would run circles around it.
That being said, Macs do serve a valid purpose, which is to give digital artists a performing machine without requiring them to know much about computers. This is a large percent of the population, so they are filling a need. So, for the tweaker and gearhead, a Mac would NOT be the way to go for a high performing machine. For the demanding user who wants a fairly high performing machine without much hassle (and is willing to pay the premium for that), a Mac is a good choice. When you get a Mac, you are stuck with it until you upgrade. It is virtually unheard of to upgrade them by component. This is a stark contrast to PCs, many of which are in a constant state of upgrade and modification and are thus designed to be completely modular.
Also, do NOT buy the hype that Macs are more stable than PCs and never crash. Most Mac zealots who make this claim probably never tax their system beyond the load of browing the web, writing email or streaming media. When it comes down to CPU-intensive tasks (i.e. the ones that really count), I’ve seen Macs squeal like pigs just like their zealots claim PCs do. And in my experience, I saw a lot more of that spinning flower in OS.X than the hourglass in Windows when working with sequencers or audio editors. Once again:Macs are no different than PCs.
If you’re trying to get a production rig going, definitely go for a Core 2 Duo CPU; it’s leaving all competition in the dust at the moment, it’s a great overclocker (you can buy the $100 1.8GHz E4300 and crank up the FSB so it runs stable at 3 GHz/core with stock cooling), and audio will undoubtedly be one of the first software industries to use true multithreaded programming. Make sure to get a lot of RAM too; speed is not as important as amount for audio, so don’t go crazy looking for ultra low latency sticks. A lot of motherboards come with onboard RAID controllers, which can provide fault tolerance for a hard drive, so look for that in the board. Last but not least, make sure to get a beefy regulated power supply. Power issues are starting to become more common, especially as more devices adopt USB, since USB devices often pull their DC power right off the USB bus (hence, your power supply ends up powering all of your MIDI controllers in addition to the stuff inside your box). What sound card you get depends heavily on your setup. Note that the above advice applies regardless of which computing platform you decide on.
Hope that helps!