My experiences on the dark side (PCs)


So, I've now had a PC for about a year, and I thought It might be interesting to talk a bit about my experiences with it, and with how it plays with my prior Mac-based setup.

I've been a mac-head since my first beloved mac, a Performa 630. After a disastrous Umax clone, a plucky little blueberry RevB iMac, an unkillable G4 Sawtooth, a dear but trouble-plagued 12" powerbook and a fabulous MBP I found myself pretty ubermacish and zealot like. Then a few things happened.

Back before my MBP I had to write a dissertation which ended up looking at the OS market, and coming out of it I felt a lot less able to be so avidly pro-mac and anti-Windows. Mac is better, yes, but not that much in my opinion. In fact these days I feel that converting PC-activists or those that have used PCs for a very long time is fruitless. The benefit of the slightly better OS is outweighed by the mental anguish of the switch, and everything that is different will annoy them. The switch is better for those who use but don't really pay attention to their computing I think.

I also got quite ill for a few months and was stuck at home a lot, and found computer games therapeutic (they distracted me from my discomfort in a less passive way than TV and books). I was gaming via bootcamp on an MBP that did OK, but just OK with it.

My venerable G4 Sawtooth which I just decommissioned after almost a decade of pretty much continuous use was starting to show its age as a second machine/fileserver to run my growing HD farm. So I wanted a new desktop, but Mac of course offer me nothing as a mid range, somewhat expandable desktop. At least I wanted something with plenty of ports, or the ability to add them via PCI cards as I did with my Sawtooth, and the ability to add hard drives to it. At first I looked into getting a newer desktop Macs, but the prices were too high! I was looking at close on 400 quid for a MDD/quicksilver G4 desktop, as G5 desktop prices remained very high. That much for a not that fast and famously noisy machine seemed unreasonable.

So it seemed a PC was the solution (well, an x86 based machine that coudl run Windows and/or Linux anyway. By that stage I was being forced to use an XP box and *nix shell acount at work, and had also been issued a Siemens PC laptop (which was a stupendously terrible machine I admit) plus I was running bootcamp and parallels.

So I took the plunge, to pick up a fairly cheap desktop running windows for occasional gaming, and to act as a hub for my home electronics sprawl. I ordered all the parts then very nervously put it all together. Inevitably it wouldn't turn on the first three times, but having never fitted anything more complex than RAM or a PCI card before I wasn't exactly expert. I was in fact convinced I was going to fry the cpu somehow, or break it when i closed the vice thing around it, or tried to persuade my massive cooler to pit on top of it, or break the motherboard when trying to screw it to the case. But I persisted and managed to happily install a copy of Vista Home Premium 64bit.

A bit about Vista. yes I know its an OS X knockoff. And I know that driver support, especially for 64 bit versions, was terrible for some time (it was a year before my copy of MacDrive would work, but more of that later). But Vista is.... actually OK. Once the drivers for all my bits showed up, and they have now, its better than XP, and even if you feel its more bloated with xp, the cheap price of 4gb of Ram seems to counteract it. I have generally found Vista equal or better than xp speedwise.

Also they have improved a lot over prior versions now. UAC (User Access Control) is irritating, with its constant requests to make sure you want to do something, but it helps stop bad malware etc. If it really irritates you you can always virus scan, unplug from the net then disable UAC while you do your major software installation session, then re-enable it after. Vista also networks better for me than XP, not quite the ease of OS X but perfectly OK for home network use. Things are generally just closer to where you would expect them to be as well, Microsoft did learn some things about usability it seems. Granted its not nearly as pretty as my mac running OSX - but its well under half the price of an entry level MacPro too flashy for my needs, and I could have got it cheaper than that as I went for an pretty OK graphics card. Not only cheaper but I, shock horror, had choice as to what components I wanted! I went for a very quiet hard drive, I chose to spend less on my mother board, in general I just had choice about what went in my computer, thats a luxury mac users don't get, though of course I understand there are good reasons for this. Many will always buy prebuilt machines, but you could still achieve a very good mid-range desktop PC for a fraction of MacPro prices.

The next stage was less good I admit. Being a newcomer to the world of Windows, I didn't realise than installing the driver disks that came with my mother board and graphics card was a bad idea. I figured it came in the box, it must work. Oh no. My PC owning friends (yes, I have friends who support the Yankees as well, you can't write someone off for one mistake!) explained I needed to grab the newer drivers online. Not the very newest ones though, as I was offered all sorts of beta drivers, I was told to go for WHQL stamped graphics drivers for instance, which are apparently certified as working by Microsoft. This stage was not so much fun I guess. I set up an iMac for an elderly friend recently and it was a joy. So easy and my friend loved it and took to it like a duck to water. I guess with PC you pay less but need to put more in in effort and headaches. Swings and roundabout I guess.

So I end up with a set up PC sitting next to my old Sawtooth, and the difference was extreme. For a start, having selected my components carefully, my PC is incredibly quiet, and caused me to get rid of one old external hard drive just as it was so loud. It worked fine with my cheap acer monitor of course, though I did need to pick up a PC keyboard for it.

At first i went on a minor gaming phase, as it was the forbidden fruit denied Mac gamers - brand new games at great resolutions. I got over it of course but it was a lot of fun! Then I got on with sorting out the rest of it. I have 3 high capacity drives in it, and have put a fair number of software gadgets on it, so it is remotely accessible as a fileserver, acts as a download box for large files as things are faster over the fixed ethernet than the wireless I use on my MCP, and it runs my external hard drives now via MacDrive.

On this note, I should talk about my networking experiences. First, I would strongly suggest those running a PC and Mac, or indeed any two machines side my side to get hold of Synergy, a fabulous bit of free software that allows one keyboard and mouse to run several machines via the local network. It also allows the clipboard to be shared, though only with text and other really common file formats (plus under a certain size, copy/paste for big files). It made things a lot easier.

So these days my media collection is controlled via the PC and stored on a variety of NTFS formatted internal drives and HFS+ formatted external drives accessed via MacDrive, a piece of software which lets PCs mount mac disks. MacDrive didn't work for some time but the current version supports all Vista 64 bit as well as 32 bit editions, and 64bit was a must for me as I wanted to take advantage of the low prices and go for 4gb of RAM. I am slowly collating my various file collections on to their own drives as they had all been spread all over the place before.

For now my most common networking situation is needed to get a file off the HD stack onto the Mac. I have found the easiest way to do this is via SMBing from the PC to a public folder on the Mac, though there are lots of other ways, I just quite like the no-login option of the public folder. To do this I just enter \\ into the address bar of Windows explorer and send things over the ethernet network. This works great! The only wrinkle is that the mac I normally on wireless but I connect to ethernet to do the transfer. This can confuse the PC as Vista is still looking via the wireless network for the Mac is you use a saved network folder in Windows explorer (same is true of using the Network directory in Vista, it scans the network but it takes quite a while to switch from using wireless to ethernet). If you ask it to find the public folder it takes ages and fails, but entering the IP makes it look it up again. If you leave the wireless on, it seems it transfers via wireless as it saw that first, despite me setting the Mac to always prefer ethernet connections in System Preferences. Still it is easy to do. This all works backwards of course, I tend to copy things top the publci folder on the Mac then grab them from the PC though, as I find the networkign works a lot better

I am also considering setting up media streaming in my flat, but would want to grab an 802.11n router first I think. I May try using Xbox media center, a great little frontrow-like media app developed my a bunch of those fabulous Linux geeks that make us all so much great and free software. That or a VLC streaming server, but the multiplatform nature of both of those programs makes it a real possibility I think. In the end I hope to say just have VLC hooked up to a remote media source.

If you've managed to plug through all my ramblings then I guess I owe you some conclusions. I couldn't afford the Mac desktop I would have loved as a second machine (I travel enough the the laptop remain my primary computer). The PC was affordable for me, and I had enough technical background to go the home-build route and deal with the technical issues that arose, maybe this is less true of the less techy among us, but not that much I think. For those on a budget a PC really should be considered.

Also Windows is not as bad as it used to be. Yes we can still keep a bit of our our smug superiority (most mac users are subject to this at one time or another :) ) but less than in the past. I can't even hate Bill Gates now he is creditably spending all his money trying to make the work a better place. If you are also a gamer, an affordable second machine to do that makes a PC very attractive, it genuinely is a lot better for that, even with some firms now publishing simultaneously on both Mac and PC. I also have a machine I can upgrade for a while, quite cheaply too. I deliberately chose an over-spec power supply to leave power headroom for extras though (don't expect to ever be able to upgrade a Dell easily!). Short of a MacPro I see no way to get this on a Mac, sadly.

I chose a PC as its useful for me to be able to run Windows programs, but for those just looking for a file/media server, Linux is a real option. You still need more technical knowledge but projects like Ubuntu are changing that.

Overall, I think I did the right thing, the PC did the job i bought it for for a very fair price. I am also better technically as a result, on both Mac and PC sides. In what remains a PC dominated world, some knowledge of the platform is a good idea I think. Going the home-build route I also opted for high quality components whenever possible, so I hope It will give me a good number of years of service, don't expect this to be true of very budget pre-built PCs. One Intel employee I worked for told me the quality of the power supply has a large impact on component lifespan so I made sure to get a good one.

Now better informed, I feel I can speak up for the quality of Apple again in a more informed way, rather than falling into the holy wars approach of any part of the Windows Heresy being evil. PC users also listen to me more, though of course their zealots consider me unclean for my Maccish ways :) .

It may all fall apart in an orgy of data-loss after a viral infection but for now I am using both sides of the Force, and and am happy with my dual nationality in the world of computing.


U.S.D.A. Prime
Great write-up of your experiences!

I have to use both as well... actually, I have to use a non-GUI'ed server flavor of Linux at work, too, so I can both feel your pain and empathize with your successes.

All in all, thanks for sharing the notion I've been trying to put forth for so long -- the computer "war" cannot be boiled down to an absolute "which is better?" because the answer depends on a lot of factors that vary from user to user: setup, other computers, preferences, intentions, equipment, etc. Most of the time it's simply, "whatever platform(s) work better for you and your specific needs."
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I use Windows XP more often at work now (a hospital), due to the fact that pens and papers have been finally thrown away and everything is computerised.

Windows XP is adequately fit for purpose and does the job with little fuss these days, especially now that IT have got their arse into gear. Sometimes I even enjoy the XP experience. However, its nice to come home to a Mac ("once you've had a Mac, you never look back").


Oh my goodness. Talk about a fall from grace (see last post).

I have intermediate uveitis (probably due to sympathetic opthalmia from an assault 6/12 ago).

I have difficulty focusing. At work they have provided me with a Dell laptop. With a resolution of 1260 x 720 the screen looks fine - but I can't read the text that well.

IT have complete control of display parameters (apparently to stop medical secretaries using desktop images of kittens). IT reduced the resolution for me to 800x600 so I could read the text. Sadly the graphics became, quite frankly, crap beyond belief.

I accept that had this laptop been a higher quality product this might not have happened (at the end of the day we're talking about corporate health care PC hardware, i.e. not for hedge fund managers).

Still pretty sh*te though.


I commend you for posting your experiences on this topic. As much as I hate microshaft, they do have some decent equipment out there. It is interesting that my pc friends still call me and ask questions regarding their pc set up. I must be fairly sharp because I can still direct most to the correct place for them to solve their own dillema's. It is true that the Mac crowd shares a great bit of knowledge with our pc breatheren. Too bad they regard us as heathen dogs of the internet. Just like most of society they fear what they dont understand.
Respectfully, Rickster.....


I commend you for posting your experiences on this topic. As much as I hate microshaft, they do have some decent equipment out there. It is interesting that my pc friends still call me and ask questions regarding their pc set up. I must be fairly sharp because I can still direct most to the correct place for them to solve their own dillema's. It is true that the Mac crowd shares a great bit of knowledge with our pc breatheren. Too bad they regard us as heathen dogs of the internet. Just like most of society they fear what they dont understand.
Respectfully, Rickster.....
Acknowledged Rickster. Let's face it, our hospital are not going to buy high end laptops.