The Switch

Making the hardware leap, safely, from Mac to Windows



Sweat beads off the forehead of the steely CREATIVE PROFESSIONAL and splashes on the keys of his 4 year old Mac Pro tower setup. He white-knuckles his Apple Mouse as he stares down dozens of browser tabs open to sites “Apple’s announces new MacPro update”, “Should you switch platforms”, “Has Apple abandoned the Creative Professional?” etc…

He leans back, longingly looks at his beloved Mac Pro, then leans forward to type “How to buy a PC workstation”.

If you’ve found yourself in this scene, tired of waiting, needing powerful new hardware to run apps like Adobe Creative Suite 6, but confused about the stunning number of choices, you’re not alone. On the Apple Mac Pro site, it’s very simple, two choices. You can purchase a single CPU, quad or six core system, around $5k fully loaded, or a 12-core dual CPU system $10 to $12k fully loaded. That’s it – but with the punch to be the stomach that’s it 2 year old CPU tech – even after Apple’s “upgrade” – and no Thunderbolt, no SATA 6GB, no USB3, no graphics i.e. “old is new”.

On the PC side, it’s a dizzying array of choices – “Hackintoshes”, DIY boxes and dozens of hardware manufacturers. But the vast majority of Mac owners will be happiest with a certified workstation with next-day, US warranty, 24/7 support like Hewlett Packard’s well reviewed new Z620. Unlike Apple, HP offers a full line of current processor choices for workstations from Core i3 all the way to the new Sandy-Bridge Xeon’s – none of them available in any Mac Pro.

If you’re looking for a close match to Apple’s single CPU offering, a HP Z210 configured with a single Core i7 or single Xeon will give you latest generation CPU performance – with 20 to 40% the CPU performance and full range of GPU’s to choose from for maximum performance in Adobe CS6 applications at considerable savings.

For the dual processor match closet to Apple, the Z620 is much faster, quieter and configurable than Apple’s Mac Pro line. Plus, several 20% off coupons are available right from HP – at workstation prices that’s big savings. If you need unlimited power, the new HP Z820 offers staggering options like 256 GB of RAM and 6 internal drives. If you shoot or post with Red Camera footage, HP has a sexy version of the Z820 – the “RED Edition” with custom design touches, built-in REDMAG reader and RED ROCKET acceleration with certified RED workflow support – nearly double the CPU performance of the fastest Mac Pro. One thing to keep in mind though is that RED systems is available only through 2 resellers, Tekserve and ProMax.

For any configuration, a few simple principles apply:

  1. Research the CPU and GPU configuration that will get your favorite apps the best performance
  2. Make sure to get plenty of RAM. RAM starvation is the biggest performance block for high performance apps.
  3. Consider a SSD drive first for caching and large files, not for a boot drive. Most creative pros spend far more caching to drives (such as in AE CS6), vs. booting. Get a second SSD for a boot drive if budget allows.
  4. Don’t scrimp on warranty, monitor, power supply or battery backup. HP’s premium warranty with on-site service is a no-brainer for critical production machines. Multiple high-resolution monitors should be standard workstation gear. Finally, get the best power supply and battery backup budget allows for you unit.


The Creative Professional opens a “8K Feature Film Project” in Adobe Premiere CS6 on his new HP Z620 workstation as a DEMANDING CLIENT glares over his shoulder. The Pro applies several layers of color-corrections, hits play and the workstation plays in real-time. The Client smiles. The Pro leans back – a good day.



FTC Disclosure: The creation of this article was partially subsidized by HP.


Stephen vanVuuren