Mac vs. PC: The Webcomics Edition

Ah, yes. The age-old debate. Apple vs. Windows.  Mac vs. PC.  Expensive vs. Affordable.  Pretty vs. Utilitarian.  If you’re involved with webcomics at all, you have probably read a funny webcomic with a definite bias, or witnessed a flame war in a techie forum, or even started weighing the pros and cons yourself before upgrading to your next computer. The nature of webcomics, being that you NEED a computer to post, read, and even create webcomic, puts you right in the middle of the debate.

I consider myself pretty tech-saavy. I also consider myself pretty level-headed when it comes to this debate. Yes, I was trained in art school solely on Macs, so for a while I had a pretty heavy bias towards Apple products. PC and windows were inferior, and to be a designer and use a PC was flat-out blasphemy. However, things have changed. The gap between Windows and Mac OS in terms of speed, capability and power has diminished. It’s no longer laughable to create artwork or video on a PC! Especially with the emergence of Windows 7, we basically have a level playing field. Now it comes down to personal preference for the general OS, and what you can afford. So, here I am once again to help you weigh the Pros and Cons of each platform, and how they relate to making webcomics, in this 2-parter article. I have both a Windows-7-runingn Tablet PC as well as Power Mac G5, so I see the differences pretty clearly. Lets’ begin with the old heavyweight champion, The Macintosh line of desktops and laptops:

  • Security. Apple computers are far more secure, simply because hackers are not going to create virus’ for such a small percentage of personal computers. Less time trying to figure out what virus/Trojan/worm has infected your computer, more time making comics. Just from my own personal experience… times my PC got infected (and ate up day(s) of my time fixing) = 3, in 2 years. Times my Mac did = 0, in 6 years.
  • The price of Power. Yes, even though the gap has diminished, apples still give you more bang for your buck, when you compare apples to apples (ha! pun intended! Goodness I’m funny. But I digress). Between the likes of oh, say, the Macbook line, and HP’s Envy model… which are more comparable when it comes to quality and specs… apple still manages to win out, being cheaper than the PC equivalent. Think of the Mac line as the upper crust of the PC world, not a line that expands from cheapo to luxury computers. Simply put, apples are slightly better at cranking out those webcomics. They have less of a chance of freezing up, 2 seconds before you were gonna save that file…. no really, you swear!
  • Better stuff out of the box. Mac’s offer higher-quality freebie software than Windows does. This mainly includes apple-made photo, video & music editing and organizing software. Windows Media Center tries it’s best, but Apple has this covered. Whether you are sorting through your convention pictures library or listening to the latest Webcomic Alliance Podcast (*hint hint*), apple is your best bet.
  • Apple is there to fix your problems. A definite pro for apple is their top-notch service. A computer is a computer, and will have it’s fair share of issues.. PC or Mac. Whether over the phone at 1am (an hour AFTER your latest comic was due to post), or at the genius bar in your neighborhood apple store, you’ll most likely have that computer up and chugging again… before your readers get too rowdy waiting for the next update.

  • Cost of Quality. Lets face it, macs are expensive. There’s not really a watered down version of a mac that can compare to the prices of the bare-bones PC varieties. All those sales you see at Best Buy on Black Friday are going to be for PC’s, not Macs. Apple and only apple controls those prices. If you simply do not have the chunk of cash to pay for a mac (which is true of many of us starving artists), or the nerve to buy a 4-year-old used machine, then a PC it is.
  • Keeping up with the Updates. A big beef of mine with apple is how fast your computer becomes obsolete. My poor G5, as great as it’s been for me these past 6 years, has reached it’s limit. No “Snow Leopard OS” for me. The updates, and if you feel the necessity, the new computer every 5 years, adds up to MORE money spent. And with webcomics being a type of field that needs to keep up with technology, apple sure makes that hard for those of us living on ramen noodles and coffee.
  • Lack of third-party programs. Just like there are less apple-hackers to hijack your computer, there are also less programmers for those small (read: FREE) applications we webcomic creators need. Want to record your screen to stream live on ustream.com? Shell out some cash for that ONE application that’ll work. Convert those quicktime movies to something that’ll play on your wordpress site? Uh-huh, pay up, partner.
  • Lack of a (affordable) Tablet Apple product. Honestly, this is what made me consider a Windows machine. I wanted to have a portable computer, that I could draw directly on with the sensitivity of a wacom tablet. Apple did not make anything like it (even the iPad isn’t in the same universe as a good Tablet PC, for this specific use). Sure, there are “Modbooks” made by a third party, but GUH.. look at the price tag! My Windows Tablet cost me less than HALF of that price. And if Apple ever does come out with a Tablet like the Gateway I currently use, you can bet I’ll never be able to afford it.
  • Lack of games made for the Mac Platform. Wanted to pass the time shooting up the baddies in your favorite MMO game? Nope, sorry, not made for Mac. Oh wait, that kinda goes AGAINST the theme of webcomic creation, doesn’t it? Get back to work, slacker!

Stay tuned for the second installment of Mac Vs. PC: Webcomics Edition, coming soon to the Alliance! In the meantime, what did I forget folks? What pros or cons have you encountered with your mac? Would you stick with your mac, or shoot for a PC next time around?

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22 Comments

  1. This is going to be a debatable article, I can tell.

    Now that Apple functions on an Intel architecture, a lot of the arguments against Macs being better quality are sort of bunk. I will agree that as a standalone kit computer, it is much better than an HP, Gateway, Acer or Compaq that you can pick up in a box store retailer. But you can build a way better machine than a stock Apple for a fraction of the price.

    The best thing an Apple has going for it nowadays is the OS. Everyone claims that a Mac is so good because of its parts – that used to be the case when it ran on the old PowerPC structure. It ran programs like Photoshop and Illustrator much better than its PC ported versions. But now that there are 64bit versions of Photoshop, you can’t even tell the difference. With both manufacturers basically using the same parts, Macs should have dropped in price – but they don’t. And once the public figures it out, Apple will be behind the curve in sales again like they were in the early 90s.

    For a lot of people who aren’t designers – having a Mac is the cool, chic option. But it is what is under the hood that is the most important thing. It’s like buying a Ferrari that has a Dodge engine in it. Sure it looks awesome, but its not that spectacular upon examination.

    I think we designer types tend to stick with the Mac because its been engrained in our heads that it is ‘industry standard.’ That was the case about 5-10 years ago. Now, you can do everything you need to regardless of platform.

    Before you counter, I’ll tell you that I am a dual platform guy. Each side has its benefits and each side has its drawbacks. In the end, it is about comfort level and user experience. My comments are only to point out a few misconceptions about Macs, and that the dreaded PC isn’t that bad for designing anymore. Even more so now with things like PostScript support, software that works natively with Windows, and lightning fast processors that are the brains behind BOTH machines.

    • all great points Drezz. The purpose behind WA is a community of sharing points, tips, advice… and those of us who run it do not think we know it all. We don’t. This article is as much as I know. I felt I had enough knowledge to get the conversation started, as I have a G5 apple and a Gateway Tablet PC that ran both vista and now windows 7.

      I totally agree that the degree of difference between macs and PCs when it comes to performance with design applications has diminished, if not disappeared. Depends on the PC you’re using, of course.. as macs are pretty standard only have a few select models. Adding more RAM always helps, no matter the manufacturer. Added more RAM in both my mac and PC… both started out with 2 GB, and that just ain’t gonna cut it.

      so, debate away. Give references, links, whatever you wish you help those people who are deciding what platform they “should” buy next.

  2. Sure thing, Dawn – I wasn’t trying to discredit your article. I was just stating that knowing how fanatical some users can be, we need to lay it all out there so people can make educated opinions on what will work best for them.

    My biggest beef with Apple has always been the components they use. Since the switch to Intel, Apple has decided to amp up their computing quality and use Xeon processors. The more you inspect the rig, you’ll notice that they still continue to use mid range RAM, graphics cards and other components like hard drives, optical drives etc.

    For 2500, you can build a PC rig that would beat the Apple in many aspects – quality of parts, graphics, and operating speeds. For sheer computing power, the Mac would obviously win, since its processor was designed for severs and number crunching.

    My advice would be to save the 2500, and seriously talk to someone who can build you a fine machine based on your current needs which aren’t overpowered in some areas, and under quality in others.

  3. Nice article Dawn! While Apple is on the upgrade heavy side of things these days, some of their older machines are still able to chug along. My 8.5×14 scanner (while it claims to work with OSX)only works with native OS9, so thus my ten year old iMac still has a job scanning in my comics and doing a quick edit in Photoshop 5LE before being transported to my four year old Mac Mini (who is actually showing it’s age). And my first Mac, a Performa 6200CD, deemed one of the worst designed Macs by Low End Mac, still runs like new in my brothers Bat Cave (so called based on his arrangement of five or six old CRT monitors covering his desk). It was five years old when I got it from a friend and ran faster than my brand new Compaq laptop. But the whole point of this was to agree that newer Macs seem to not have the shelf life they once did, but I am happy surrounding myself with “vintage” machines.

    • interesting, Vince.. your take on old obsolete macs. That was the reason I took the plunge and replaced my G3 with the G5… NOTHING worked with the G3 anymore. and OSX killed any kind of speed it had. That’s one of my biggest beefs with apple. Kinda cool that you took the other side of that.

      • We still have a G4 server at work. It’s technically obsolete, but it works fine as a simple file server. We also have two PowerPCs and a newer Intel G5 and a MacBook Pro.

        I think Apple has sort of slowed down with the steep upgrades since OSX hit. Apple used to have this agenda of making things obsolete with each passing year – now their tech can still hand around for a bit.

  4. Hi Dawn,
    I am on the cusp of changing from my six-year old eMac (not iMac – _e_Mac) to a PC, and the primary reason is the one cited above: money. I can’t afford a new iMac (or even a slightly used one), whereas I *could* afford a PC. If it weren’t for that one problem, I’d stay with Macs. The only thing I would hypothetically *think* about doing is building a Hackintosh, a homemade PC running the Mac operating system. Here’s a link on Lifehacker about that: http://lifehacker.com/5672051/how-to-build-a-hackintosh-mac-and-install-os-x-in-eight-easy-steps

    Looking forward to part two!

    • eesh, yeah.. haven’t many good things about the eMacs. Well, the good thing is (as stated above) PCs have caught up to macs in terms of performance and running design software.. and Windows 7 gets 2 big thumbs up from me, at least. I would take Drezz’s advice and see if you have find someone who can customize your PC to have the options you need, and dial back on the ones you don’t, to save you money.

      My husband bought a HP model he’s happy with, and got to fully customize it and have it shipped to him. Another word of advice… don’t fret about how much RAM comes with it… you can buy RAM cheap and it’s not too hard to install yourself! I have used: http://www.newegg.com/ and http://www.crucial.com/

      And of course I’ll suggest my old stand-by— a Tablet PC! I have this Gateway (now retired) http://www.amazon.com/Gateway-Convertable-DVD-RAM-Wireless-BlueTooth/dp/B001QT6RMY … and I’m thrilled with it. SO much better than the wacom tablet.

      best wishes with computer shopping!

      • Dawn: How much more/less responsive to pressure and stylus speed(i.e. how much lag time is there between when you draw and when it shows up on screen) is your tablet versus, say, a Wacom Bamboo, which I have? I ask this because I’ve noticed that with my Bamboo, there is *sometimes* a lag when drawing like I described.

        Ken: I use Photoshop CS primarily. Not Photoshop CS5, or CS4 – just plain CS. That’s how old my computer is. Lately, I’ve been running Manga Studio Debut 4 (got it for $10 on Cyber Monday)so that I could get a more natural feel to the brush lines, but mainly Photoshop. The Photoshop would be tough to replace, but the MSD4 came with install discs for both Mac and PC, so I’m good there. Might be able to make do with MSD4 and an install of Photoshop Elements, since all I’m using PS for now is for lettering, coloring and web prep. Short answer to your question: Not sure. Probably would cost the same, but this thing is so slow that it feels like there’s a little hamster on a wheel inside it providing its computing power.

        • Hi again Rob! My Tablet PC has no lag, you draw on the screen and it feels like drawing normally. That would drive me crazy if there was a lag. When I only had 2GB of RAM (it came with only 2), sometimes Illustrator would pause… but with 4 GB now it’s lag-free. The pen-pressure sensitivity is similar to my wacom tablet (which appears to be retired.. it was kind of like the bamboo). The Tablet is wacom-enabled, so the technology is similar. I do remember the wacom tablet having lag issues here and here, yup.

          I have linked to this article I wrote many times before on this site, but it gives the basics of using a Tablet PC and my evolution as a cartoonist. It’ll probably be a good read for you: http://www.zfcomics.com/blog/tips-tricks/tips-and-tricks-my-comic-ing-evolution/

          Also be sure to check out my “Digital Techniques” video series here (http://www.webcomicalliance.com/tutorials/digital-techniques-video-tutorial-1/). It just started but as it goes on you’ll see my process up close & personal.

          P.S. I use CS2 currently on my mac and pc. The addition of live trace and live paint was big for me.

    • Don’t bother with a Hackintosh right now. It’s more of a hobby build and is actually a bit more difficult than LifeHacker lets on. Plus, they’re still tinkering with components that are comparable to what an Apple uses, so the results may not be as expected. You have to buy the exact items listed in the build, and within a year, they’ll be obsolete.

      Your best bet is to get a PC rig that you can upgrade a part at a time.

  5. Hi Dawn, thanks for a great article. In the second installment, I’m sure you’ll mention your tablet PC, which I’m becoming familiar with from your other articles. It sounds like a great setup, but I’m somewhat averse to Windows and the cost and proprietary nature of Photoshop and Illustrator, so I have been excited to discover recently that Mo Duffy, a senior interaction designer at Red Hat (a distributor of Linux), is doing design work on a tablet PC running entirely free and open source software. This blog post shows her drawing a cartoon in Inkscape (an alternative to Illustrator), for example: http://mairin.wordpress.com/2009/11/08/fedora-12-rocks-on-tablets

    Mo mentions in the comments that as with your setup, there is no perceptible lag when drawing on the screen, and on another blog she echos your sentiment on portability, saying, “The tablet uses Wacom hardware and has a built-in pen which is very convenient. I love my x61 because it’s far more portable than a Cintiq and extremely light.” — http://mairin.duffy.usesthis.com

    Of course, I have little investment in either Inkscape and Illustrator, so to me it makes sense to follow Mo’s lead and try the free alternative on a tablet PC first and then fall back to Windows 7 and Illustrator if need be.

    • This is very helpful and informative, Phillip! I’m sure anyone whom is looking to upgrade their computer will consider this option as well! Thanks so much for sharing and contributing to this community ;0)

    • ack! The second link is broken, Philip.

      Hopefully, in a few years, I can get a tablet PC when this current kit dies or stops working so fresh…or I win the lottery and can move out of this cardboard box…;)

  6. I was always wanting to buy a Mac to do my work on. I’ve been using PC’s forever to work on (the last Apple I had, in fact I still have it, is the Apple II…can’t very well do anything with that as far as my webcomic…lol…and don’t have any cassettes to run on it either). What has always kept me from taking the plunge besides the initial upfront cost of getting the machine, was the software to work on once I had the Mac. I’ve invested quite a bit of coin on PS & Illustrator and to buy those titles yet again (because of my familiarity with them, although Adobe, like Apple, likes to update the software every year and I am running CS3 of both PS & Illustrator as well as CS4 of Flash(which I have yet to master like I was doing with Flash MX))…I don’t have the income to chase the technology trail. While my current kit isn’t as portable as a Tablet PC (Dell Studio 17 & Wacom Intuos 6×8 Tablet) I can still technically take both with me wherever I may need to go (my backpack can fit both nicely and securely), just not as wirefree as a tablet pc. If I was making tons of cash, I would actually jump to a Cintiq…but I am not(heh, I’m making zero cash actually…lol)

    It all really does come down, as people are saying, to what you are comfortable with and what you can afford. PC’s today are not the PC’s of yesterday and with enough practice, you can create equally stunning pieces on both platforms.

  7. Pingback: Webcomic Alliance - Mac vs. PC: The Webcomics Edition (Part 2)

  8. I run CS2 on a Mac Mini that’s nearly 6 years old. No problems since I bought it. I recently bought a new MacBookPro and put that vary same CS 2 on it. There’s a piece of software built in to Snow Leopard called Rosetta that let’s you do that. I also have Manga Studio 3, and a few other PowerPC applications that run with out any issues on the MBP. My old laptop was a PowerBook 1400cs from 1996 which was upgraded to the point where it can’t be upgraded anymore, it runs PS-5 on it and I can still make comics with it if needed. The only problem I was running in to was the need for more modern webbrowsing. I’ve found quite a bit of free software to use on my new MBP, but it just didn’t do what I wanted. On the PC side, I built my own and was a certified tech for them. I just got tired of fixing them. I like things that just work, my time is worth the extra alledged expense. Now on to part 2.

  9. Great article and what a great can of worms to dive into!

    I can’t really contribute anything due to my being on a Windows platform forever. Not that I don’t like Macs or Apple in general (I use an iPhone and iPad, after all) it’s just that I never felt the need to switch.

    I haven’t had a virus problem in years, my PC machines and laptops work well, and I can go all Han Solo and tweak my Millenium Falcon PC machine all I want, risks and all.

    Well, I love my PC. I recognize that I could fall in love with a Mac, but I just never needed to.

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