Our studio has grown to a point where our IT demands are quite heavy. We not only need powerful machines, but we are finding that building and servicing those machines is becoming quite costly. So, I wanted to do another Mac vs PC test to see if we could purchase pre-built Apple computers that can compete in terms of performance and price with our custom PCs which have been built by our own internal IT guru Joseph Wu.

This article documents the results.

Testing Approach

It is within Adobe Lightroom that our studio spends the majority of time, thus, Lightroom is, and will be, the focus of our testing. For a studio processing millions of images each year, image-to-image speed is absolutely paramount, so we optimize to suit.

While we are testing for a larger/higher output studio than most, our testing methodology is based on budget, and we wanted to see how two similarly priced machines fair against one another.

Prices listed are continually fluctuating and subject to change, but dollar amounts represented here were accurate at the time of purchase/build.

CUSTOM PC SPECS

Intel i7-5960X @ 3.00Ghz overclocked to 4.5Ghz ($1025)
ASUS ROG RAMPAGE V EXTREME($480)
RAM 64GB ($350)
EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti ($630)
Samsung 850 EVO 1TB ($300)
Corsair 450D Case ($125)
Corsair AX860 Power Supply ($140)
Corsair Hydro H110 Water Cooler ($120)
Windows 10 Pro ($100/$200)
EIZO 27″ FlexScan IPS Display 2560×1440 ($1000)
FINAL PRICE $4,370 (Amazon No Sales Tax *Where applicable)

*This custom PC was built by Joseph Wu almost a year ago, and it still flies. Note that Joseph did safely overclock the CPU to 4.5Ghz, the speed we run most computers in the studio. This speed and chip set configuration has been tested for long-term stability. Higher clock speeds are possible, but at the sacrifice of the system stability. Lightroom’s primary need/bottleneck is clock speed, hence faster clock speed = faster Lightroom.

mac-vs-PC-imac-5k-flexscan-build-post-processing-lightroom-photography-slrlounge-3

Apple iMac SPECS

27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display
Intel i7 Quad-Core 4.00Ghz
32GB 1867Mhz DDR3 SDRAM
1TB Flash Storage
AMD Radeon R9 M395X w/ 4GB Video Memory
FINAL PRICE $4,431 (Apple Tax required)

mac-vs-PC-imac-5k-flexscan-build-post-processing-lightroom-photography-slrlounge-8

Image Testing Methodology

For the following series of tests, 1,121 identical RAW images from the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 5DS were used on both machines. All image settings were held equal between machines for control, and all tests were run 2-3 times to ensure accuracy.

mac-vs-PC-imac-5k-flexscan-build-post-processing-lightroom-photography-slrlounge-7

Lightroom Import

Time required to import 1,121 images directly from the internal SSD drive on each machine.
Custom PC – 12.51 Seconds
Apple iMac – 26.81 Seconds
RESULTS: CUSTOM PC approx. 114% quicker than Apple iMac

Lightroom Smart Previews

Time required to generate 1,121 Smart Previews for the imported images, both machines used 2048px and the same “Medium” quality settings for their Smart Preview settings in the Catalog Preferences.
Custom PC – 19 Minutes 22 Seconds
Apple iMAC – 26 Minutes 01 Seconds
RESULTS: CUSTOM PC approx. 26% quicker than Apple iMac

Lightroom Develop Module Image to Image Time

All catalogs/previews deleted. Images re-imported without any form of previews. This test measured the amount of time it took to scroll through 114 RAW images within the Develop Module as we wait for each image to fully load on screen.
Custom PC – 114 Images in 1 Minute and 10.3 Seconds
Apple iMac – 114 Images in 1 Minute and 58.1 Seconds
RESULTS: Custom PC approx. 81% quicker than Apple iMac

mac-vs-PC-imac-5k-flexscan-build-post-processing-lightroom-photography-slrlounge-2

Lightroom Panorama Merge

5 Images shot full raw on a 5DS (50 Megapixels) were identically processed on both machines via the LR Preset System > 11g. HDR Natural Color, then merged into a single panorama DNG directly from Lightroom.
Custom PC – 12 Seconds to Preview, 59.32 Seconds to complete the merged DNG
Apple iMac – 28.5 Seconds to Preview, 1 Minute 31 Seconds to complete the merged DNG
PREVIEW RESULTS: Custom PC approx. 57.9% quicker than Apple iMAC
MERGE RESULTS: Custom PC approx. 35% quicker than Apple iMac

If you’re looking to learn how to create images like this in LR and optimize it and your workflow in record time, our Lightroom Crash Course is the training you need.

mac-vs-PC-imac-5k-flexscan-build-post-processing-lightroom-photography-slrlounge

[REWIND: What is an IPS Monitor? A Practical Guide to Understanding Display Technology]

Performance Conclusion

While we really appreciate Apple’s approach to their hardware quality and design, we can’t justify the price to performance difference at this time.

Speaking conservatively, a 25% difference in performance would turn an 8 hour wedding edit into 10 hours. Spread across 30 weddings a year (for a typical studio), this is a 60 hour time difference in the time spent editing weddings. For a studio like ours shooting nearly 400+ weddings, a 25% difference would require 800 more hours of editing or nearly 20 weeks of productivity.

In this Mac vs. PC test, our results showed that the Apple iMac was behind by 35% or more across the board, making the PC the clear victor.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot of debate on what these tests actually mean, I wanted to share my thoughts.

I love Apple, especially while Steve Jobs was at the helm. They were innovative, their products screamed quality, and they were a step ahead of the game. Now, they have lost much of that step. Apple is simply adding new products and updating product lines often times without much thought it seems. This can be seen in the horrid pen solution found in the iPad Pro where charging it requires you to have a spear sticking out of your iPad.

Still, I am a huge fan of Apple. For single/small photographer studios who are not processing large volumes of images Apple is still the best solution. It’s simple, reliable and fast enough.

However, for a large studio where performance and efficiency are paramount, Apple’s product line can’t quite handle the job, at least not for a similar price to performance ratio. I will most likely do another test with a Mac Pro against my same machine. I can guess that the Mac Pro will fair much better, but it will do it at 2x the price.

When operating 20-30 machines in a studio, paying 2x the price isn’t really that feasible. Hence for a larger studio, I will say that a well built custom PC is going to be the best solution.

To those arguing efficiency and reliability in having to maintain the PCs, I would say that if users were to do the following, they wouldn’t have said issues.

1. If you are building a custom PC do your research and use only the best components
2. Stop downloading freeware, crap files, torrents, movies, software, porn and any other illegal content and much of your problems will disappear.

The honest truth is, I have spent just as much time in a Apple store at the Genius Counter getting my Apple machines repaired as I have maintaining my well built PCs.

Next Test

As mentioned, I have to do these tests for our studio anyway. I will continue publishing results for anyone that is interested. Our goals are as always to maximize performance while creating reliable systems.

Here’s the next test against our Custom PC. We opted for 6-cores versus 12 because LR isn’t designed to utilize more cores, but rather higher clock speeds.

Capture

Updated Thoughts