Contributing Writer, PCWorldDec 22, 2022 3:30 am PST
Image: Robert Strohmeyer/Foundry
After more than a decade of Mac-centric computing, I made a big switch last month, setting aside my MacBook Pro and moving to an Alienware Aurora R13 desktop as my primary day-to-day computer. While the proliferation of cloud-based services and cross-platform utilities has made switching easier than it’s ever been, it’s still a significant change to the way we live and work. Along the way, I hit a few snags and annoyances, but I also unlocked some awesome Windows capabilities that were out of reach on my Mac.
Why the switch from Mac to PC?
In a world where the bulk of my daily interactions happen through a digital interface, switching computing platforms changed just about everything in some way. Reflexive menu navigation and hotkey patterns ingrained in muscle memory over many years suddenly meant nothing, and I would need to learn new ones in their place. So, given the hassle of disrupting daily life in ways ranging from subtle to significant, making the leap to Windows had better yield some worthwhile benefits. What I’d hoped to gain in the process were:
More options in computing technology and manufacturers
More flexibility in software ecosystems
More customization possibilities
More upgrade options for hardware and software
A lot more gaming options
One month in, I have not been disappointed.
I should pause a moment to acknowledge that I’m not a “Mac guy” or a “Windows guy.” I’ve been in tech since the web first became a thing, and I’ve run everything from Unix and Linux to Windows and macOS. I was a Linux blogger for Maximum PC, an editor of Windows Magazine, and a contributor to MacAddict and Macworld. My company-issued work computers have been MacBook Pros for the past decade, and I’ve consolidated much of my daily life onto Apple’s messaging and media ecosystem more out of convenience than anything else.
So that’s me. Now, here are the five big advantages I’ve found in the switch to Windows.
1.The PC has more hardware options
There’s no getting around it: The PC ecosystem is just massively vast. While the Mac range offers a healthy variety of form factors and performance levels, it doesn’t even come close to the breadth of PC systems available for purchase off the shelf. And if you’re into desktops and don’t like what you see in the mind-bogglingly vast range of prebuilt machines, you can hand-select every single component yourself and build something custom from the chassis up.
Since Apple moved its Mac lines to the company’s own CPUs, buying a MacBook means selecting an M1 chip or an M2. That’s it, unless you want a Mac Mini with an Intel Core i5 or i7, or a $6,000 Mac Pro with a Xeon.
By contrast, the mainstream Windows PC range presents an abundance of CPU choices. Intel Core i3, i5, i7, and i9 CPU lines each offer multiple options, as does the copious AMD Ryzen family. If you’re not easily thwarted by decision-paralysis, the Windows world gives you a lot more room to customize.
More hardware choices also means more pricing options. The lowest end MacBook, the 2020 MacBook Air, runs $999. A comparably spec’d Windows laptop can be had for $350. It won’t be Apples to “apples,” of course, because Mac hardware is proprietary, but the performance will be similar. Meanwhile, high-end PCs offer incredible specs in a vast array of form factors for every specialized need, from gaming to intense Intel Xeon-powered graphics workstations. At pretty much every price point, you get more hardware for the dollar with a PC than with a Mac.
In my case, I went for two different PCs, both from Alienware. My daily-use desktop is the Alienware Aurora R13 with a 12th Gen Intel Core i7 3.61GHz CPU and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 GPU. For mobility, I chose an Alienware x15 R1 with a Core i7 and an RTX 3070. What can I say? I’ve always liked the peculiar styling of Alienware machines, and these had the specs I wanted in designs I dig. These are seriously capable systems, but not extravagantly high-end, and yet they both cost about as much as a midrange MacBook Pro.
2.The PC has a bigger, more flexible software ecosystem
Because Windows constitutes roughly 76 percent of the global computing market share, and developers around the world who’ve never even seen a Mac in person are cranking out apps constantly, the numbers game here is obvious. I don’t want to overblow this, because most of the really major productivity suites out there work on both platforms just fine. But if you want seemingly unlimited options for software in just about every category, Windows wins hands-down.
For me, this was much less of an issue with mainstream apps than with niche apps. Niche interests, like amateur radio and astronomy, for example, tend to be dominated by Windows-only apps built by independent developers. So, before switching to Windows as my daily driver, I generally had to either run a virtual machine on my Mac, connect to a Raspberry Pi box running the apps I needed, or keep a cheap, spare Windows laptop around for occasional use. But since switching to a PC full-time, those headaches have disappeared. (And I haven’t once needed to get my old MacBook to run anything.)
Switching from Apple’s built-in apps was a mixed experience. It used to be that if you had all your pictures in iPhoto, it was difficult to move all that stuff to Windows. In years past, I had seen significant degradation of my photo library on importing it into Windows. But Apple has made it surprisingly easy to pull your iCloud photos into Windows, edit them in Windows Photos, and even see the changes back in your iCloud library on a Mac.
For other media tasks, I found that Apple’s most challenging built-in app to replace is GarageBand, which is wildly better than any free equivalent I’ve found for Windows. Microsoft ClipChamp, however, is now a pretty solid replacement for iMovie.
While there is no Windows equivalent for iMessage when it comes to connecting your iPhone to the PC, Windows supports connectivity to any Android phone, giving you way more flexibility in what brands of devices you can use with your PC. I’ll discuss more about dealing with Apple’s isolated ecosystem of apps and devices later in this article.
3. The PC offers better customization
It feels weird to call Windows an “open” operating system, but compared to macOS, Windows is a big ol’ open playground of customization possibilities, both for hardware and software.
The Windows OS is also generally more customizable than macOS, although a great many utilities exist for both platforms. That said, Apple has a clear bias against encouraging users to tweak the look and feel of their OS, while Microsoft has long fostered a community of theme developers to help users personalize Windows to their tastes.
Apple’s system-on-a-chip approach to hardware, tightly integrated with macOS, has its own advantages: Apple has focused on building a unified hardware/software product that works incredibly well and yields great performance. Comparing that performance to a Windows PC is tricky, because the CPU and GPU benchmarks we use at PCWorld won’t run on a Mac. But the PCs’ big performance advantage across the board is the ability to tweak hardware performance.
A knowledgeable PC user can overclock CPUs and GPUs, shut down system processes, and tweak every element of the software and hardware to optimize performance. Most gaming PCs come preloaded with performance management software just for this purpose, making it easy even for relative novices to overclock.
4. The PC is packed with upgrade potential
The range of hardware upgrade options for Windows PCs is at least as vast as the array of off-the-shelf PCs available for sale. CPUs, GPUs, RAM, storage drives, USB controllers, capture cards, just about anything that can be put inside a computer is available as a fairly easy upgrade for a desktop PC.
While laptops are generally proprietary and much more difficult to to upgrade beyond swapping out RAM and storage, a few allow for CPU and GPU module upgrades that can be done by anyone with a screwdriver. One particularly interesting option: The Framework is designed for DIYers and tinkerers, letting you build your own laptop and customize it to your desires.
I’ve upgraded Mac hardware from time to time, of course: Older MacBooks used to be fairly easy to open up and add/replace RAM and storage. Newer models, however, are built as system-on-a-chip, and while upgrade modules exist from some third parties, they’re extremely expensive relative to PC upgrades, and basically amount to replacing all of the internal logic components at once.
In practice, it makes more sense just to buy a new Mac than to upgrade the components in an M1 or M2 machine. And because someone will bring it up: Yes, the $6,000+ Mac Pro is much more upgradeable, of course, but it’s in a totally different class of machine than anything even enthusiast Mac or Windows users are likely to buy. We’re really not talking about workstations here.
5. The PC is a true gaming machine
If you’re at all interested in gaming, there’s no denying Windows is the platform with the most choices. The biggest game studios develop for Windows first, then consoles or mobile. The biggest gaming titles tend not to be available for Mac at all.
Wanna play Call of Duty: Warzone II, Fortnite, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7, or just about any of the top 20 games of 2022? You can get all of them on Windows, most of them on Xbox or Playstation, and even the Nintendo Switch has quite a few. A couple run on Macs, but you’ll run out of options fast.
You can certainly try running an emulator or virtual machine on your Mac, and there are ways to stream your games from a PC, but these are all kludges and hacks, and yield poor results. If gaming is your thing, Windows is a must.
One big downside: Messaging
The biggest hassle I encountered switching from Mac to PC was untangling my text messaging from Apple Messages’ walled garden. At least for now, I have no interest in trading in my iPhone for an Android phone. If I did, of course, I’d be up and texting happily via Windows Phone Link, and could make calls from a connected phone as well, more or less the same way I could between my iPhone and my Mac. Sadly, no such connection exists between Apple Messages and Windows.
There is, however, a workaround to enable texting and calls between the iPhone and Windows, and that’s to switch over to a third-party SMS/calling app that works across platforms. The caveat, though, is that while these apps can send messages to and from your iPhone, they all get their own phone number. Some, like Google Voice, make it fairly easy to deal with this forwarding process, but none are as seamless as just having your native mobile number directly linked across devices. For that experience, a full switch to Windows means switching out your phone, too.
The best way to avoid this trap would be to avoid getting locked into a proprietary messaging platform in the first place. But, time machines still being a major engineering challenge, my best option may be to migrate my text messaging to Google Voice, and use forwarding to bridge the gap. I’d like to hope Apple will offer Messages on Windows the same way it has enabled the rest of iCloud. After all, Photos, Passwords, Contacts, and even iCloud Drive sync just fine. Pending that, though, I may be in the market for a new phone soon.
Don’t fear the switch!
Ultimately, it’s never been easier to switch back and forth between PCs and Macs. Having almost all our work and personal data in the cloud means you can be up and running on a new platform in minutes, and all your photos, files, and data will make their way onto the new machine within a few hours after that. So if you’re contemplating a switch, the biggest hurdle you might encounter is selecting a new computer to buy, and there are plenty of guides to help with that decision.
While some folks may worry about learning a new user interface, my experience is that macOS and Windows have become similar enough over time that everything from searching the drive to installing apps from an app store to managing multiple desktops has achieved fairly consistent workflow parity between the two systems. I did find that I’d lost the muscle memory for Windows hotkeys and had to spend some time googling the ones I wanted to use. This comes with time, though, and it’s only a problem if you’re a power user in the previous OS.
By contrast, switching mobile platforms remains a far bigger hassle. Apple and Google remain locked in a battle for dominance, and Apple in particular seems to constantly sabotage switchers with pointless limitations and lock-ins to discourage users from straying to competing platforms.
For my money, the Windows world continues to offer the greatest breadth of options in both hardware and software, and the look and feel of the OS has advanced nicely in the past decade. So while the leap has not been completely annoyance-free, the benefits certainly outweigh the problems.
Robert has been covering tech since the late 1990s, and served as Executive Editor of PCWorld from 2005 to 2010. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Wired, Macworld, Maximum PC, Forbes, Entrepreneur, and many others.