I don’t remember the year exactly, but I’m pretty sure it was in the mid 2000s when I started recommending to friends and readers that they go all-in on Apple Macs as their main computers.
These were Steve Jobs years, right at the cusp of the first iPhone and a reinvention of the company’s computers. These were the years when the first iMacs, with their white plastic frames, debuted and when Apple was introducing its MacBook and MacBook Pro computers.
Windows PCs were still stronger sellers, but the operating system Windows itself was aging badly. Windows XP debuted in 2001 and it wouldn’t be until 2009 that Microsoft would bring out a worthy successor, Windows 7. In that stretch in between, Microsoft would roll out Windows Vista, which was considered bloated, slow and not great in terms of compatibility. Apple’s highly successful “I’m a Mac / I’m a PC” ad campaign ran from 2006 to 2009 and it worked largely because of the problems with Windows (or at least the perceived problems) from this time period.
For me, it was very simple. The Mac machines I was using, including ones I used for work, simply performed better. The experiences I had owning a MacBook, compared to, say a Toshiba laptop, were completely different. The Toshiba Windows machine was clunky and ended up needing lots of repairs. The MacBook I had at the time had sleek, streamlined software and didn’t require me to mess around with drivers and updates constantly.
My work Mac, one of those big metal tower Power Mac G5s of the time, was beastly and consistent. I got a lot of work done on it. My home desktop, a Windows machine that had been through lots of upgrades and was built for gaming, was fast, but needed constant tweaking to keep running smoothly.
To me, the perception became solid through experience: Windows machines were problems and needed constant attention. Macs worked and did what they were supposed to do, had more elegant software and tended to last longer. They were more expensive, but they lasted longer and were more reliable, was my reasoning.
Lots of people I advised on this argued that Macs were overpriced for what they offered. That argument became harder to justify when Apple began introducing less-expensive systems like the Mac Mini and the MacBook Airs, perfectly good computers in the $500 to $1,000 range. And the debut of the iPhone and iPad created a halo effect around Macs. If you owned all Apple products, it was more likely everything would work better in tandem than mixing together PCs, iPhones and other brands of tech. I told people that even if they ran into a problem with a Mac, they could always take it to an Apple Store and get some expert help, an option that usually involves phone calls or online help in the PC world.
That was my thinking for a really long time. At work, we switched to Windows machines earlier this decade, and I complained loudly and bitterly, but I got used to it. I was a PC-at-work, Mac-at-home guy. I lived a dual life.
Waiting for the perfect MacBook Pro
So why did I just buy my first Windows PC desktop in about 15 years?
Sometimes you make a big purchase to make a statement about who you are and where you’re going. When I bought my last new computer, a beefy 2011 MacBook Pro, I spent a lot of money to firmly be a Mac Person, someone who was buying into that ecosystem for many years to come. I invested even more money upgrading the machine later on with a faster solid-storage drive and more memory.
When I bought a PC desktop recently (yes, a desktop; I’ll explain shortly) it was less about who I am than what I need right now. Over the past few years, I’d waited patiently for Apple to debut just the right MacBook Pro to push me into upgrading to something new. It had to be moderately priced, be equal to the new generation of gaming laptops competitors were putting out, and have enough features and power to push me off my current, perfectly fine vintage machine.
I waited and I waited. That machine never came. Instead, Apple introduced a Touch Bar feature that raised the price of its top MacBook Pros by several hundred dollars, continued to make laptops that are increasingly impossible to upgrade yourself, and actually introduced products that were in some cases slower than their predecessors.
I got frustrated. I got tired of waiting. When Apple rolled out new MacBooks in early June, it was the last straw. I followed my brother’s lead and started shopping for a gaming PC. I’d used Windows 10 enough at work and on a separate portion of my MacBook Pro to know that it’s pretty inoffensive; it’s speedy and generally stays out of the way and continues to improve. I figured I would just keep using my 2011 Mac laptop for work and other projects and keep a gaming desktop at home for video games such as “Overwatch,” which I’ve been playing constantly for a solid year, and more intensive tasks such as video editing.
I found an Alienware desktop system for sale online at a steep discount. (Alienware is a subsidiary of Round Rock-based Dell Technologies, and its products are designed for gaming.) Even with tax included, it would be cheaper than most of Apple’s least expensive laptops, offer a lot more graphics and processing power, and offer plenty of longevity in the form of upgrade headroom. I made the purchase.
Then the 2011 MacBook Pro died days after the PC order was placed, as if in protest of such a betrayal. Apple wouldn’t service such an old machine (to Apple, six years is an entire lifetime), but two shops in Austin gave me different verdicts. One said they couldn’t do anything since their parts supplier was Apple. Another shop said they could replace the machine’s guts and bring it back to life... for $950.
I spent a long weekend weighing my options. I was warned not to throw so much money into such an old machine. But I didn’t want to spent $2,000 or more to get a machine that was comparable to my old one. I considered canceling the desktop order and doing that anyway. I considered paying the $950 just to return to the status quo, even if it meant the old laptop could die again at any time with no warranty.
In the end, I found a slightly newer 2012 MacBook Pro with only one minor dent on its front left edge for under $600 on Craigslist. I had one of the repair shops do a brain transplant, transferring my data drives to the other laptop and ensuring everything worked properly. The used laptop had twice the memory of my 2011 machine and was slightly faster. It was a very minor upgrade and a major inconvenience, but for the price of a new, fully loaded MacBook Pro, I had both a new Alienware desktop machine and a working laptop that picked up right where the broken one left off. I’ll keep using the laptop for writing and light work projects and for anything mobile and the desktop for gaming, data storage and multimedia.
Most purchasing decisions shouldn’t be this complicated. But by necessity, I had to determine pretty quickly what my needs were and how all the parts would fit together.
I learned that owning the latest, most powerful Mac is not nearly as important as having the tools I need where I can use them and where they make the most sense. The Alienware is the fastest computer I’ve ever used. It tears through games at the highest settings without even warming up much. And it’s not even one of the more expensive or bleeding-edge Alienware systems I could have bought. I made a sensible purchase and now have a very upgradable system that boots up in less than four seconds.
And I’m finding Windows has come a long way since the Windows Vista days when it seemed the operating system was working against you at every turn. Windows still has baffling alerts that pop up when you don’t want them and way, way too many system options scattered throughout its user interface that should be accessible in one place. But the gap I used to think existed between buying a new Mac and a new PC has largely disappeared, at least for me.
I would never count Apple out. They’re not the world’s largest tech company because they don’t know how to sell computers. But slowly I’ve watched Apple push so far into the mainstream that they have stopped in many ways building hardware that many of its longtime evangelists want or can afford. That may change. Apple seems to have gotten the signal that in focusing so hard on phones and tablets, its Mac division has suffered.
I’m happy with the decisions I made -- even if it means I’m no longer exclusively a Mac Guy.