Mac or PC? Which computer is best for composers?

While technology is racing along on paths to places unseen, it may seem daunting when the time comes to upgrade your computer.  So, here are my thoughts on the first basic question when it comes time for a composer to upgrade or get their first computer: Mac or PC?

Feature Mac PC
Compatibility: This is important to composers because of the number of programs we run and the peripherals we attach (hard drives, keyboards, audio interfaces, field recorders, etc.).  We need computers that work effortlessly with our devices and software. Almost always compatible with the latest hardware; some older software will not run without some tricks up your sleeve (eg. Logic Pro 8 on Macs with the Lion operating system or later).  With these few software exceptions, Macs hold the golden standard for ease of connectivity between audio interfaces, keyboards, and other external devices.  The integration of these peripherals with the software on the Mac is most oftentimes seamless; no drivers to install most of the time, and every piece of hardware and software working well independently and together. While many composers use MIDI keyboards and record on PCs, I have heard horror stories.  Many programs don’t run well on PCs, and some even have limited features on PCs.  There are usually more hoops through which to jump when working with PCs, from installing drivers to troubleshooting to getting basic tasks done.  I have been refused access to a PC with Finale because the person didn’t want to go through the trials and tribulations of setting up their keyboard with the computer; it was that much of a pain.
Speed: This is important to composers because most music creation programs (Finale, Logic, ProTools, Metasynth, anything with a sample library, etc.) are very resource intensive and require a lot of speed to run well. Macs are generally really fast if bought new, and have some processor and RAM upgrades you can request to be built in.  Upgrading RAM yourself is a common technique, although it does carry risks.  However, they are harder to customize/boost for speed after purchase.  They do hold their speed a lot longer than PCs in my experience. PCs are generally easy to upgrade and can come out of the box lightning fast.  However, their speed decreases markedly over time and doesn’t hold speed as consistently as a Mac in general.
Replacement time: This is important to composers because migrating projects to a new machine is temporally (and financially) consuming and a huge burden on productivity. In my experience, Macs have held their consistent speed and usability far longer than PCs, and need to be replaced far less frequently.  They seem to last forever (one teacher of mine was still on OS 9 in 2011).  The extra warranty is especially worth it on a Mac, because these warranties (AppleCare) are pretty comprehensive and last at least a few years. PCs are notorious for either malfunctioning completely or incompletely, making replacement and repair frequent events.  I haven’t had experience with warranties on PCs, so I will not comment on them.
Price and value: This is important because composers, like most musicians, are usually poor.  We need something that fits our budget. Macs cost more, but they last longer.  They are thus more of a long term investment; you will have to spend less on repairs/replacements, but pay more up front for these and other longevity-based benefits. PCs are cheaper, but this is true in the financial and value areas; their costs are kept low by them being lesser-quality products, so more time and money have to be invested to maintain them.
Ease of use: This is important because we need to get as much done possible in as little time possible, with as few interruptions/hassles as possible. Macs are much easier to use, in my opinion.  If your only experience with computers is PCs there is a slight learning curve, but things are consistent, universal, and simpler on Macs, which are qualities most PCs lack.  The integration between programs (eg. sharing files between programs, collaboration between other people, working between people with Macs and PCs, etc. ) and the way they are set up make them much easier to use. Most of the world is used to PCs, so many of us know that they can sometimes work like a computer should: efficiently and effectively.  However, we all know of the numerous moments where PCs can annoy us (eg. antivirus software that bogs speed down, enigmatic errors that happen in routine tasks, having the settings options in hard-to-find places, etc.).  In all of my experience they have been harder to use; they only real exception is uninstalling programs (PCs generally use an uninstaller, while Macs usually require you to delete the file(s) yourself).

Having done many musical activities on both types, I would suggest that you go with a Mac if you can afford it.  It’s an investment in money, but with the extra warranty bought it can prove to be a long lasting computer that works great on each use until you feel you need to upgrade (notice I didn’t say until your computer slows or breaks down and you have to upgrade).  My only problems that haven’t been fixed by a warranty were my use of the laptop’s optical drive so much that I can read, but can’t burn, CDs/DVDs.  But, that’s after countless uses on a 5 year old laptop, so that is to be expected from a formerly constant burner of CDs and DVDs (for assignments and composition projects when I was in school).

Happy composing (and computing)!


2 thoughts on “Mac or PC? Which computer is best for composers?


    Most of this is false, and today’s bigger composers use hybrid setups that are more PC based than Mac based. Han Zimmer, David Newman, Randy Newman, James Newton Howard, Harry Gregson-Williams, Danny Elfman, Michael Levine, Tom “Junkie XL” Holkenborg …. I could keep going on and on. All these composers use either all PC or hybrid Mac/PC setups.

    1. Indeed; do not write off PCs entirely. Larger composers can afford to soup up insanely complex machines that PCs are better suited for (in terms of customization), but for the working professional a Mac is the easiest to interface with and the most widely used. Thanks for voicing your thoughts!

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