Okay– for some context, I love Apple products, have owned a variety of them and have exclusively used them for work and play for nearly a decade.
In December 2016, after careful consideration, (I can't stress enough how much I hemmed and hawed over this decision) and with the help of my computer savvy husband, I built my first Windows PC. I entered this decision with a lot of uncertainty but have found that I'm happier with my new computer and adopted OS than I originally expected I'd be. So happy that I later decided to buy a Windows laptop as well, going with the Microsoft Surface Book 2. If you're a creative professional thinking of building or buying a PC, maybe my perspective as a long-standing Mac user will make you better equipped to make your decision.
The good (I got options)
Why'd I do it? Mostly to take advantage of the high level of flexibility and choice a Windows machine could provide me. You can run Windows easily on a Mac, making it the go-to platform for a lot of developers. But, hardware constraints and general closeness of the Apple ecosystem makes harnessing the full power of your system in a way that's useful and practical to a 3D and VFX artist difficult. I like to try new technologies and mediums, and whether I want to develop in VR or get acquainted with a new render engine those possibilities are available to me.
This is a game-changer. This harnesses the speed of your GPU allowing for nearly real-time rendering, it's pretty magical. It's reignited my interest in the 3D medium allowing me to do R&D efficiently utilizing render engines like Octane or Redshift. This can only be achieved with a CUDA enabled Nvidia graphics card, not the typical AMD cards modern day Macs ship with.
You can achieve this on a Mac with an eGPU setup but you'll lose up to 20% of your GPU's power through TB3 vs PCIE. For example, your 1080 TI will give you the power equivalent more or less to a 1070 in an eGPU setup. Wasteful!
Also, these setups can be unstable as Mac does not support Nvidia GPUs directly. I've heard enough horror stories to keep me away.
If all of that makes no difference to you, check out this eGPU community for information on how to get a Nvidia card and an external GPU enclosure working with your Mac.
I can swap parts as I please due to the modular build of my PC. And in the short while I've owned it, already have. Removing the side panels is a breeze and nothing is soldered on. Even the iMac Pro no longer gives you the ability to easily upgrade memory like you once could on previous builds. You'll either have to get all the memory you need at purchase or remove the screen and void the warranty on your very expensive computer.
The iMac Pro is a decent value given the internals and the beautiful monitor it ships with. Still, you could build a better-valued PC with the exact parts you want. Personally, there isn't tons of good in me owning a computer with an AMD graphics card, I'd better utilize a Nvidia one. And, outside of the extended capabilities provided to me with CUDA, my Nvidia GPU still outperforms any GPU a Mac ships with. See for yourself here.
(Surprisingly) Windows 10 isn’t bad
I was surprised by Windows 10. The last time I used Windows was Windows 7 and that was an awful experience.
Windows 10 is much improved. I actually like it, not more than MacOS, but this has to do more with personal preference and a knowledge I've developed of MacOS after years of use rather one being objectively better than the other.
This does not apply to custom built PCs, something goes wrong there, you'll have to figure it out. Also, I can only speak to my experience at the Microsoft Store. In my experience, the Microsoft Store's customer service far surpasses that of the Apple Store. I recently had an Apple store bought USB-C adapter (or USB-C port on my Mac Book Pro, not entirely sure which of the two were the culprit) ruin multiple devices, including a hard drive and my Wacom peripherals. I had to pay for data recovery for my drive, the whole situation was a mess. After bringing my laptop and dongle into the Apple Store, they provided me with a new dongle, new external hard drive and later replaced my Wacom tablet also (honestly, the least they could do) but made me wait 2 weeks for my laptop to be repaired.
In comparison, my Surface Book was having some issues where the pen wasn't registering properly on the screen. I brought it into the Microsoft Store for help. Once they discovered the issue was hardware related they immediately replaced my unit in store. The entire process took less than 30 minutes, mostly because I needed to copy some local files over to an external drive. If you're a creative professional, chances are you use your computer everyday and being without it for 2 weeks is not ideal.
You'll need to tinker
When something happened to my iMac, I took it to the Apple Store. Something happens to my custom built PC, I have to figure it out. The internet is incredibly helpful and most issues may be resolved after a quick Google. But, if you aren't down to possibly fix nasty driver issues, or any other random problems that may pop up with custom built PC, this is not for you.
And if you decided to build a water cooled PC, you'll need to perform semi-annual maintenance on your system! And it's messy.
If all of this is too much for you or you don't want to bother, consider buying from one of the many PC manufacturers. I have had a great experience with Microsoft Store, though know you won't get the same value you would if you built the computer yourself.
Unfortunately, buying pre-built won't stop you from needing to figure some things out. For example, anyone using a Wacom with a PC will want to do this. And if you own a Surface Pro or Surface book you'll want to do this. These are issues I've not had on any of my Mac computers. There's some truth to the old adage, Mac just works. One could argue this is what you pay for when you pay that Mac premium.
No neon lights, please
Finding a case and peripherals that fit my aesthetic was difficult. After some research I discovered the Ncase M1 along with other boutique cases but they are the minority.
I did say Windows was good but it isn't MacOS. I still personally prefer Mac but the margins are close.
Admittedly I still own a MacBook Pro and use it often, I've found a good balance in having both systems. If you find the need to get a PC but can’t fully let go of your Mac there are some apps that helped me find some harmony between the two OS’s.
Dropbox has been pivotal in incorporating a PC into my current setup. It provides a quick and easy way to share files between systems with no fuss. All of my working files sync instantly.
Synergy I used this for awhile, it's now been replaced by Logitech Flow but is still a great piece of software if you don't want to ditch all your current peripherals.
Logitech Flow works nearly seamlessly (occasionally there's some connection issues). And the Craft Keyboard and MX Master 2s mouse are great outside of capabilities of Flow. I swap my mouse and keyboard between systems frequently and both peripherals offer a quick change method with the click of a button.
While I still own both, there are some apps that have allowed me to make my Windows experience more Mac-like.
Seer fills my preview needs when on my PC. I find preview with space bar to be one of the most useful Mac features, this brings the functionality to Windows and offers a free version.
Lightshot makes screenshots on Windows a straightforward process. The default way is painful if you're used to Mac.
TouchpadSwipe allows me to take advantage of the incredible touchpad on my Surface Book 2 and brings two finger swipe back and forth to my web browser. I use Chrome but it works on Firefox too.
AfterCodecs for After Effects allows me to render Prores on my Windows computer. Previously I'd have to render a file out, bring it over to my Mac and render again...
iOS Project Builder for Windows for Unity3D allows me to build iOS projects on Windows and it works! Same as with Prores, I'd previously have to create builds on my Mac, while I'm creating the content on my Windows PC.
These apps bring nearly every Mac only feature I personally needed to the PC. In theory I could ditch my Mac all together. Maybe, one day, I will.
But, until then, I'm keeping my Mac... And my PC
Should you build or buy a Windows computer?
That's a personal decision one must arrive to on their own based on their own personal needs and wants. For me, I'm loving Windows more every day and frequently use it as my main machine. While in the middle of a production I may go days without touching my Mac, opting only to plug it in again for non-3D personal work where render speeds aren't a concern.
My current setup gives me the best of both worlds, the power I need as well as the access to MacOS, with both my custom built PC and MacBook Pro, all still cheaper than the cost of the cheapest iMac Pro. In a perfect world, I'd have one computer that is powerful enough to do my work quickly while also providing me MacOS, but for my needs, this is still too much of a task to undertake with Apple not offering official support for Nvidia GPUs.
I am curious to see what next year's Mac Pro update has to offer and I'll probably get it if the feature list includes a truly modular system and a stable, plug and play experience with Nvidia GPUs (a girl can dream). But, for once, I am not ruled by Apple's sporadic and unreliable update cycle for pro machines. It's liberating.