Moving from Mac to PC

Making the switch to the darkside

Late last year (2014) I decided to buy myself a new computer. At the time I only had a 2010 MacBook Pro and the work that I was doing was a bit too heavy for the little machine. The MacBook Pro had served me well, it was basically the machine that I used to learn both After Effects and Cinema 4D, and it had taken me through all my time at university where I did most of my assignments on it. Unfortunately the laptop had started to experience random crashes because of a buggy GPU, so it was time to upgrade to something more powerful.

I researched a whole lot into what kind of machine to get. I'm doing a lot of work with Cinema 4D, and I had been hearing a lot of buzz about this new amazing render engine called Octane Renderer, and I really wanted to try it out. You need kind of specific hardware for good performance with Octane because it runs off the graphic card (GPU). Specifically the GPU needs to be NVIDIA card with Cuda cores. At the moment Mac Pro uses ATI graphic cards, so I was quick to rule out a purchase of the shiny trashcan, also the iMac was probably a bit too low-end for my liking. I also though the prices on Apple computers was ridiculous. So I decided to look into buying a PC and running Windows.

First thing I realized was that the PC market is huge, its enormous! There is so many different options around. There are companies that build finished machines that are ready to go (like HP and Dell), but you also have the option to select your own hardware and putting it all together yourself. I kind of liked the idea of building the machine myself, it would be a project in itself and I would get a good sense of achievement when I got it all to work. I hadn't built a machine for over 12 years so there was a lot of new hardware and technology to learn and read about. There is of course a lot of websites out there that is of great help, I found Linus Techtips and Tom's Hardware very useful when deciding what to get. I also used to see if all the different hardware was compatible with each other.

I had a budget of about $3000 (Australian dollars). Because I wanted to run Octane Renderer well I knew that I had to get a good graphic card, and I really wanted two graphic cards in a SLI configuration to get even better performance. At the time of purchase it was the GeForce GTX Titan that was the king of the hill, but it was a bit too expensive for me. I ended up getting two 780Ti cards (one from Gigabyte and one from Windforce), I got the Windforce card used off Ebay so I ended up saving about $300 on that. 

The hardest thing for me to pick out was the motherboard, there is so many different options out there. In the end I decided to save a few bucks and get a motherboard that was on sale from a local shop. It was a Gigabyte GA UD3 x79. It is a pretty decent motherboard, but I wish I had put some more research into the motherboard as I have already maxed out the memory slots (maximum 32GB of ram). But other than that I am very happy with the motherboard, there is plenty of USB2/3 ports, and enough SATA 3.0 ports to run all my harddrives. The CPU I ended up getting was the 6 core Intel CORE i7 4930K 3.40GHz, having 6 cores was important for me as I will get good performance in both Cinema 4D and After Effects. When it comes to harddrives I have one 500GB SSD drive that I am using to run Windows 7 and all applications. On top of that I have four 3TB harddrives in a Raid10 setup that I use for storage, this gives me 6TB of storage as well as the safety of Raid10 if something where to happen with one of the drives. I also use external drives for additional backup and I use Google Drive to back up my current projects, and all my experiments. I am thinking about getting another SSD drive and use it purely as a cache drive, some people have said that is a good idea and will give you a bit faster performance. But at the moment the performance I am getting from this machine is good enough for my use. 

Software is also very important, I have to admit that I was a bit scared about switching from Mac to Windows after 5/6 years of being a Mac user. That being said, I don't like the direction that Apple is heading with OSX. I don't like how an iPhone or iPad almost is a necessity now, and I don't like all the fluff that they are putting into their OS (like Facebook integration and all the apps that it comes with that I've never used). Because of that the decision to make the switch was easier for me. I am currently running Windows 7, and it is doing wonders for me. I haven't even thought about upgrading to Windows 8.1, but if Windows 10 is getting good reviews I might think about upgrading sometime in the future. I really like how Windows 7 is more customizable, and you can do a lot of adjustments to make it fit your liking and usage. It is also similar to Windows XP that I used a lot back in the days.

After Effects and Cinema 4D is used on a daily basis and is running very smoothly, but I have also installed other software that have helped my move from Mac to PC. My biggest issue in the beginning of my PC life was that the keyboard keys for Ctrl (Command) has switched place, and because of this all the keyboard shortcuts in various software was different to what I was used to. I found a little program called SharpKeys that helped me remap the keyboard keys so it feels a bit more natural for me. The program edits the registry, so you just have to set it up once and after it is done you can delete the program again. Something I used all the time on my Mac was the Command+Spacebar keyboard shortcut to open Spotlight to search for and open applications. Windows has a similar function, you can click the Windows key and search for files and applications, but my fingers just hasn't got used to doing it this way. Launchy is a great program that runs in the background that fixes this issue and gives me exactly the same functionality on Windows. Mac has a great function built in for taking and saving screenshots of either the full screen or a portion of the screen. You can save a screenshot on Windows as well by clicking the PrtScn key on the keyboard and pasting the image into Photoshop and saving it. But this really takes too long. I found another program that runs in the background that I've set up to use the exact same keyboard shortcuts as on Mac. The program is called Lightscreen, it is really lightweight and free and is absolutely recommended if you take a lot of screenshots of your screen. Another tiny utility that I think is an absolute must is WizMouse. It is really annoying in Windows 7 how you can't scroll a window without clicking it first and making it the active window. WizMouse fixes this issue. 

That is basically my software setup, you don't need a lot of software to make the switch from Mac to PC much easier. I use other small software like MacDrive, so I can read and write files to and from Mac formatted external harddrives. Filedrop is a handy little app that makes it really easy to share single or multiple files over WIFI, kind of like AirDrop on Mac. You can share files between PCs, Macs, iPhones, Android phones etc. I use Open Broadcaster Software to do screen recordings, but there is probably more advanced and better programs out there that can do this. I also have Speccy installed so I can monitor my systems temperatures.

All in all I am very happy about making the switch to the PC world, and I think this setup will be perfect for me long into the future. It doesn't feel like I've moved over to the darkside at all. It really isn't as hard as many people think to switch over, and you really are getting a lot more bang for your buck in the PC world. I think a lot of creative people think they HAVE to be using Mac, just because everyone else is using Mac. To be fair, Macs probably look a bit better from a design and aesthetics point of view, but you can get all the same functionality from a PC. Also, PCs and Macs can work perfectly well together in a studio setup. Let me know what you think about my setup, and if you have any questions at all you can get in contact with me on Twitter



Written 26th July, 2015 in Ramblings

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