A Month with a Mac: A Die-Hard PC User's Perspectiveby Anand Lal Shimpi on October 8, 2004 12:05 AM EST
- Posted in
The BasicsI had used Macs in the past, mostly at schools, and boy, did I ever hate the experience. I would always feel completely lost when using them and I would grow increasingly more frustrated as the machines were always slow, would crash often and for the life of me, I could never right click on anything. Going into this experiment, I knew that if I was going to give the platform a good chance, I needed to get the fastest system that Apple had to offer. At the time, this was a dual 2GHz G5 system configured as follows:
Dual 2GHz 0.13-micron G5 CPUs
512MB CAS3 DDR400 SDRAM
160GB SATA HDD
ATI Radeon 9600 (64MB)
The MSRP on the system when I bought it was $2999 ($2699 with a student discount). Since then, it has dropped to $2499 ($2299 with a student discount) with the dual 2.5GHz system taking its place at the $2999 pricepoint. Needless to say, at almost $3000, the G5 was one expensive system considering its specs. Many will attempt to justify the price of the G5 by comparing it to a workstation class PC, such as a dual Opteron or Xeon and then saying that the price differential isn't all that much - after all, it's not abnormal to spend $3000 on a workstation right? While that is true, generally speaking, a $3000 workstation will buy you much more than what Apple's top of the line G5 gives you from a hardware perspective.
The first thing I quickly realized was that justifying Apple's pricing wasn't something to do - just bite the bullet and try the experiment. It's all about supply and demand, Apple has around 2% of the computing market. Compare that to the rest of the pie that x86 makers get to share and you can quickly see why the economies of scale don't play in Apple's favor. If you look at the brief spec list above, however, you'll see that the memory, hard drive and video card are fairly mass produced components, but then you have to take into account that the chassis, processors, motherboard, power supplies and basically every other component in the system are not. Then, keep in mind that the video card has to be specially made for Apple and the memory is also the slowest DDR400 that you can find on the market today, so even the mass produced components aren't all that mass produced. The system is expensive; you can get much more PC for the same price, but the point of this experiment wasn't to discover what we already knew.
Ordering such an expensive system is a dangerously easy process through Apple's website (it's also dangerously easy to get a student discount. I was still in school when the order was placed, but it seems like Apple doesn't really require any proof one way or another). I ordered the system pretty much stock from Apple; I was going to do any and all upgrades on my own. Once your order is shipped, there's a 10% restocking fee if the box is opened should you decide to return it; it's not an unusual policy, but definitely not the most customer-friendly one.
Setup was a breeze, but so is any computer setup these days. There is a bit less cable clutter with a Mac, but it's nothing too significant, especially if you are using anything other than an iMac. Of course, all of the cables that come with the machine are white, which made using the millions of black power cables that I had laying around somehow "wrong". I had a setup of two Cinema Displays that I was going to be using with the G5, and since they were older displays, they both featured ADC connectors instead of the normal DVI connectors that I was used to. ADC is an interesting standard developed by Apple that basically allows power, USB and the video signal to be carried off of a single cable. The ADC interface cuts down significantly on cable clutter, since three cables are now merged into one; unfortunately, there is only a single ADC port on the video card, meaning that I had to use an ADC to DVI adaptor for the second display. The ADC to DVI adaptor is pretty expensive (around $150) as it has to provide an external power supply to power the monitor and USB ports. Apple has fixed this issue with the latest revision of their Cinema Displays, which are now all DVI. Unfortunately, you lose the cable clutter benefits with the new displays, since they abandon ADC.
The rest of the hardware is pretty simple, a stylish USB keyboard and the dreaded one-button mouse. Apple's mentality behind the one-button mouse is that it is less confusing to their users than two-button mice; rumor has it that John Carmack once asked Steve Jobs what would happen if they put more than one key on a keyboard in response to Apple's reasons for sticking with a single button mouse. Regardless of why they do it, for a power user, and especially for a Windows user, there was no way I was going to survive with a one-button mouse. Luckily, the mouse is USB and just about any PC compatible USB mouse will work on the platform. The same applies to the one-button Apple mouse, if you were wondering; it works just fine under Windows. I didn't bother hooking up Apple's mouse - I went straight for my optical Intellimouse. I had already met and hated the Apple mouse, so there was no reason to re-open old wounds if I was to remain as objective as possible.
The USB cables on the mouse and keyboard are purposefully short; they are meant to be plugged into your monitor - not the actual computer itself - in order to reduce cable clutter.
The system came with a recovery CD and some other manuals and booklets that I quickly cast aside; just because I'm using a Mac doesn't mean that I have to change my habits on reading manuals!
Unlike the older Macs that I remembered, you couldn't turn on the G5 using the keyboard - there was no keyboard power-on switch (which isn't a bad thing, as I remember turning friends' computers off all the time in the Mac labs). Touching the power button on either the Cinema Display or on the actual computer itself would turn on the system.
The classic Mac sound made its entrance as the system booted up. After filling out a couple of screens of information, I was dropped into Mac OS X - my new home away from home.