What type of Computer should I Get?
As a Digital Arts Professional and Instructor, I’m often asked questions like, “Hey what kind of computer do you think I should buy and why?” or “PC or Mac”
So rather than answer each of these questions individually a bunch of different times I’ve put together the following document that I hope addresses these and similar questions for both students and other adults with a wide variety of interests and needs.
Please note that this Document was last updated January, 2017
How Much Do You Need vs. Budget
Buying a computer is a significant investment. First, and most importantly, before you rush out and buy an expensive new computer with all kinds of high-end extras, you need to ask yourself the following questions
- What am I going to use the computer for? What are my needs?
- What is my budget?
Whether you are you are buying a computer for personal use at home or have to decide on a professional business tool for work, these will be the two most important questions you need to ask.
Answering those questions thoughtfully and honestly will immediately put you on the right path in choosing the computer system that is right for you.
Keep in mind that the average lifespan of a computer is typically 3-5 years for business/professional use, and 5 years plus for personal use.
So what are you going to use the computer for?
The Average Person/ Casual User -
Most people do not need a supercomputer. If you are the kind of person who primarily uses the computer to browse the web, send email, write papers (word processing) make spread- sheets, or create presentations in PowerPoint, and also will maybe use it to stream/watch movies or tv, then the truth is that you really don’t need that robust of a machine. Almost any computer available today can do all of those things and reasonably well.
You should go to BestBuy or Fry’s and check out a number of different modest to moderately priced laptops, and find one that is comfortable for you, and that has all of the features and ports that you need or want. Then after figuring out what you like, go online and buy it there for much less than it is in store (unless they are having some big sale or promotion).
I would recommend a laptop over a desktop for this kind of user, but if you prefer the bigger desktop, and don’t plan on taking the computer with you, or moving around with it in your home or apartment then desktops are still very much available and are usually much cheaper than a laptop so you can get more for your money.
The PC Gamer -
If you consider yourself a gamer, who prefers to play games on a PC as much or more than you do a console like the PS4 or XBox, then you are going to need a little more robust of a machine. You are looking for what is commonly called a gaming rig.
A good gaming rig will feature a quality video card (one designed for games), lots of RAM, and a decently sized harddrive, and power supply (many of the better video cards require larger power supplies).
The Digital Professional -
If you are a professional Digital Artist, or work with lots of Digital Media (Audio and/or Video) or are seriously considering becoming one, then you have to ask yourself a few more questions, or at the very least, be much more specific in your answers to the first two questions.
The needs of the Digital Professional will vary from not much more than that of the Average Person, to those of a Creative Content Professional, or Engineer. These are the kinds of people who will actually have a need for a supercomputer. This person will want a workstation, or at the very least, a high end laptop with real graphics capability.
Some Definitions -
- A PC refers to a Personal Computer that runs a windows based Operating System.
- A Desktop PC is a bigger machine, with a box (the actual computer) that is connected to an external monitor and keyboard.
- A Laptop PC is smaller, portable, and the monitor and keyboard are physically part of the computer.
- A workstation PC is a type of desktop. A bigger, faster, stronger, much more capable and powerful version of the desktop. They are primarily used by engineers (in the widest interpretation of the term), analysts, digital artists, designers, content creation professionals, developers and anyone that requires data manipulation with strong visual elements.
- A Gaming PC or Gaming Rig, is the consumer alter-ego of the workstation PC and, as its name implies, is used mostly for gaming. However, their sheer performance and value-for-money ratio have made – for some – a compelling alternative to their workstation siblings.
But there's more to that: workstations are built with reliability in mind, because they address a very different audience; one that earns a living working on a computer. These people need a machine they know is going to work and handle a lot.
Quite different to a gamer. Which is why all workstations worthy of the name will come with an array of technologies that will enable it to remain in working order as long as possible. These include:
- ECC RAM: A more expensive memory type that corrects any mistakes before they affect your computer.
- RAID: The ability to backup data transparently, at OS level, by using a secondary hard disk drive or SSD.
- Warranty: Most of them come with onsite next business day warranty for three years or more by default. That can be upgrade to a longer period with even shorter intervention times.
- Redundant PSUs: Inherited from servers, they allow another power supply unit to take over immediately should the main one fail.
- Manageability: Most workstations will offer tool-free access to the components with their cases being designed to suit 24x7 workflows (that means extra fans).
The other big differences include:
- The CPU: Intel's Xeon is the preferred processor for workstations. Xeons support features like multiple sockets, ECC memory and way more of it, far more cores and cache memory – essential for heavy workloads and number crunching.
- The graphics card: Forget about the AMD Radeon or Nvidia Geforce. When it comes to professional graphics and mission-critical reliability, optimisation and certification are more important than sheer performance and pricing. You simply won't get that on consumer grade graphics cards.
- The OS: Windows 10 Home on a workstation? Don't count on it. It's Windows 10 Professional or Windows 7 Professional all the way. That's because the latter version comes with business features that have limited value for home users.
- The type of motherboard: Some offer the ability to run more than one processor with 16 or more memory slots available, space for multiple graphics cards, dual Gigabit LAN ports, Thunderbolt and even legacy ports. That means that they are often far bigger than your mainstream model.
The bottom line means that a workstation PC can (and will) cost more than an equivalent gaming PC. The sky is essentially the limit for top-of-the-range models.
Mac vs PC
The question of which is better, Mac or PC, is almost as polarizing and passionate as any debate in science or religion. Usually ending with about the same results, where everyone’s opinions are more or less the same as when they started.
Never-the-less, however frustrating, or potentially contentious this question is, this is a question of technology, and since both the technology and the demand for specific types of technology are constantly evolving, the question is an important one to ask and ask repeatedly. For the answer is one that will determine the answers to a number of other important questions in several key areas in any environment where technology plays a significant role.
So then which is better or best and why?
Well that depends, and goes back to those first two questions of what and why?
In the end, regardless of the OS, platform, or brand, a computer is a tool. Which computer is best then becomes a question of what is the best tool for the needs of the job.
In recent years, PC’s and Mac been very comparable machines for the most part with any performance differences being measured in milliseconds.
That said there are a couple of significant issues to consider.
Mac is a name brand, and in many ways a Designer Name Brand, and comes with a designer name brand price. For the last 10 years or so a Mac will typically cost ⅓ as much more than a comparable PC.
Additionally, where PCs are designed to be upgraded and or customized to fit the needs of the user. Macs are not, and any attempt to upgrade or service a Mac by anyone other Mac (or authorized tech) will invalidate your warranty. This limits the potential lifespan of the Mac vs the PC.
Finally there are a number of applications that will only work on either a Mac or a PC. In the world of graphics, PCs are more compatible with more of the high end professional software currently being favored used by the various industries.
Taken together, the conclusion is that a Mac will cost you more for less.