Ed: Adrian Anders has long been a behind-the-scenes contributor here on CDM, hunting down the best and strangest free and cheap Windows software and tools. Here, Adrian makes a passionate plea for going to the PC side and building a truly affordable computer studio. To get us started, he also has some suggested tweaks for squeezing the most performance out of your budget PC, most of which I’ll certainly endorse (even if I can’t bear to take my computers off the network). I expect some of this should stir up some debate, so feel free to discuss in comments. And yes, if the photo made you wonder, Adrian’s Korg MicroKontrol is evil. -PK

Howdy, folks! I was prompted by Peter to come out from under my bridge — ha! troll joke … funny! — to talk about PC music making. Now, I’m not some music production mogul that can afford the $$$ to purchase, nor do I have enough industry connections to get for free, all the latest toys. But, assuming that I have enough time, I still want to make great computer-based music. I believe that many of my fellow aspiring producers are in a similar position as mine and want to make a big sound with a small monetary investment. That’s why I created SONC: it’s a help guide for those producers who want to make pro-sounding music without resorting to a diet consisting entirely of ramen. Think of it as Low End Theory with more beeps.

Now, I would like to start out this first column by stating the obvious: PCs are cheap(er), and Macs are $pensive(er?). Of course this is all relative, but consider the fact that you could either:

A.) Buy an Intel Core Duo Mac mini for $800, or

B.) Roll your own WinXP 64-Bit 2.66 GHz Pentium D computer with 250 GB of space, a gig of RAM, and all the other fixings (minus a monitor and audio card) for about $600.

You can build this for even less if you do things like cannibalize parts from other PCs, install Linux instead of Windows, and bargain shop properly with Pricewatch.com instead of going to certain eggy online computer stores that are new. (You know…) Should you need help with building your first computer, PC Mechanic has a good online tutorial. It includes the pros and cons of building your own PC and what you should be aware of before starting in on the project.

Even without a proper a/b comparison (which would require a Macintel desktop), you can see that by simply building a PC you can definitely get more bang for your buck over Macs (talking strictly hardware here). It might not be as cool-looking as your friend’s Mac, and maybe won’t have stuff out of the box like bluetooth and airport express. But on the other hand, a proper desktop DAW doesn’t usually need all of these little gadgets and tools to do the job it was designed for. Ed: Expect this one may start some controversy, so please chime in on comments. I can see pretty strong arguments for either system. -PK

Which brings us to the second half of this discussion: streamlining/optimizing your DAW. Here are five tips that I’ve found to be very useful for those making music on a WinXP PC (or any platform for that matter):

1. Only install what is necessary for music production and a few basic utilities, nothing more. Programs like games, media-center stuff, instant messaging, file sharing, etc. can put unnecessary strain on your computer. Beyond the chance of spyware/adware clogging up your system, some programs have processes that run in the background at startup and turning them off becomes yet one more chore to do before starting in on music making (not good for productivity). There is also the outside chance of system instability and compatibility issues with your music software when installing extraneous programs.

2. Always keep your DAW off the net or any network beyond what is needed for music production. Firstly, there are security issues, which I admit are more prevalent for Windows than Linux or OS X. I do believe that a Windows XP computer can be reasonably protected on the net so that your average script kiddie would have a fairly difficult time breaking in. That being said, with antivirus, spyware/adware protection, firewalls, and other security measures running in the background, the performance of your DAW would be noticeably decreased if you were to safely put it onto the net. That’s why it’s better to just have your main DAW off the net, with a (slower and/or older) second PC used for web-surfing, games, etc. Furthermore, if you remember to properly screen the files that are brought over to the DAW, you can even avoid installing an antivirus program, as well, which is better for the DAW’s overall performance.

3. Use a second drive or partition for audio storage/projects. It’s better for file organization, performance, fragmentation, and security. Most professionals agree that it’s just better practice to have your audio away from your program and system files. Rather than go into all the technical lingo, I’ll just refer you to this great Sound On Sound article from May of 2005.

4. Whenever possible, use your soundcard’s ASIO drivers over the standard OS ones. Although this applies more directly to Win XP than OS X users, in general, Steinberg ASIO drivers have lower latency (less delay). Ed: This isn’t an issue at all for Mac users, because the OS Core Audio drivers for all OS X-compatible devices are low-latency. ASIO is almost always preferable to other driver choices on Windows. -PK If you’re a PC user and your soundcard does not support ASIO natively, the fabulous ASIO4ALL should help bridge some of the gaps in your card’s performance. However, considering that decent ASIO-supporting cards can be picked up for less than $100 on clearance (and not much more than that when they’re off), there is little reason for bedroom producers to run anything other than ASIO drivers with their DAW setup. Ed: Note that this includes bypassing “class-compliant” drivers on USB devices. For instance, Edirol ships their low-end interfaces with a switch that lets them run without drivers. You’ll want to switch them into the low-latency mode so they opt for ASIO instead.

5. Tweak your DAW’s OS for optimum performance. Pretty much every modern OS can be altered in little ways that can noticeably improve a DAW’s performance. In the case of WinXP, an absolute must is a little utility program called TweakUI, which can be downloaded for free off the PowerToys page on the Microsoft site. You should keep in mind when customizing your UI that anything pretty or animated has got to go. It’s going to make your desktop fugly (even for a WinXP system) but it will help improve your overall DAW performance. Ed: This should be less of an issue with Vista, which will run Aero graphics off the GPU on your graphics card. Then we’ll just turn off the eye candy because it’s annoying. -PK

A great website for further tweaking (tuning) tips is Musicxp.net. They go into far greater detail on their tuning tips page than I could in a single article. In addition, many of their registry hacks they mention can be safely done using TweakUI, thus minimizing the leetness required.

That’s it for this first installment of Straight Out of No-Cash. Next week I will have a buyer’s guide for budget host sequencers, as well as some software bargain-hunting tips that are 100% warez free. See you then!

  • One thing this article neglects to mention is that you can make a great starter system with most computers released in the last couple of years. You don't need the latest and greatest to get going – and faster computers will only become cheaper over time.

    And after spending the last 5 years tutoring computer musicians for a living, unless you're very computer savvy, will not use downloaded software or get on the internet, and have plenty of time to keep your machine running… get a mac for music. I have both machines in my studio – and I use the PC to run NI software and other soft-synths, for which the PC's superior performance beats out the mac's stability and reliability. Yes, I've heard of many pro PC users who have super-stable systems, but i'm basing my recommendation purely on the # of calls and emails I get per week from frustrated beginners who pay me to come over and help them.

    Logic Express or Garage Band – or Cubase SE, Tracktion, or a used Mbox with PT 6.x – are great starters. The Mbox has the advantage of being a decent audio interface too.

    If you must use a PC, and you're on a budget, get a used system, that you can demo running AS A SYSTEM. Plenty of decent machines on CL most weeks. And get a branded system, that at least was tested on some level with all of it's components.

    Putting together a stable, solid, non-problematic PC system is not always easy for beginning computer users. Not to say it's impossible, but realize you'll have to spend some time troubleshooting and that there potentially will be conflicts you cannot work around without significant effort.

  • Adrian Anders

    Good points Gustavo. It's very true that there is a reliability/price trade-off when you build and maintain your own machine, but I've found that in the long run it makes you a more capable user as you learn to diagnose and solve your own problems.

    Branded systems are cool, but there is no guarantee that they will run smoothly, Apple users can attest to that. How many times has Apple recalled their hardware because of some unforeseen flaw? Not dissing Apple, just trying to show that even the most heavily tested systems can have serious manufacturing defects.

    At least with components, when something goes wrong, you can deal with it yourself much faster. All it takes is one trip to a local computer store or a purchase from NewEgg. Alot faster than having to deal with "Customer Service" from the pre-built crowd.

    Of course, I mentioned that cannibalizing parts can save you money. If you can find a decent computer for sale for less than $600, go for it. However, considering how fast parts tend to drop, even used pre-built systems tend to be priced above a much faster homebuilt one. No kidding, I've seen computers advertised for $200 more than what I quoted and have only half the power and space. Of course they usually have CRT monitors, but considering those are practically free now, they really aren't part of the equation.


  • Sean

    That MACs are more stable is a myth. I have seen plenty of MACs crash in time.

    Also basing your information on the number of queries you recieve is dubious. It is obvious there are more PC's in this world and also I think it is true to say it is easier/cheaper and more common to get started with computer music production on PCs rather than MAC. These 2 considerations would nessecarily entail more PC based questions.

    The MBox is a terrible interface with very poor ASIO drivers. It's performance on PC's is or at least should be criminally poor. Still using USB 1 so you can't use any other USB ports on the same USB hub, has many conflicts with a wide range of PC products and extremely poor zero latency monitoring methodology. Also you pay for $300 for Pro-Tools software and are still limited to 32 tracks….Cubase SE 48 tracks for $99…..


  • Adrian Anders

    Yea, I never intended on a OSX Vs. XP OS debate for this article. Both have their faults and merits. I tried to keep the VFM strictly related to hardware, which has homebuilt PCs at a clear advantage.

    As for Pro-tools LE, I don't care for it much myself, too much of a closed system for my tastes. I could see people liking it however, so I've stopped with the knee-jerk bashing of it. I do think that the so-called "update" that was Pro Tools 7 was rather poor. It's funny how PT users got all hyped about better instrument and MIDI integration, something that should have been there years ago. Pro Tools LE – Okay (not bad, not that great), Digidesign's update schedule – piss-poor!


  • sdbrown

    That "great Sound On Sound article" you link to is woefully underinformed, probably giving a lot of PC-phobic producers some hot air to back up demands of their computer tech friends. If you just run defragmentation utilities occasionally, then it won't matter if all your data is on one big partition. If a disk is split into multiple partitions, it's not like the disk heads can be reading both the OS partition AND the "audio" partition. In addition, I was completely shocked that there was no mention of RAID1 (or RAID5 for that matter), where not only is your data backed up by a live mirror, but you can, in fact, be streaming data off one disk while writes are being made to the second, and the RAID controller will handle the synchronization.

    About the only worthwhile thing said in the article was to keep your data on one disk and your OS and applications on another.

  • Adrian Anders

    >About the only worthwhile thing said in the article was to keep your data on one disk and your OS and applications on another.

    Which was the only point I was trying to make. Everything else I agree is most likely speculation. However it did sound right to me with my moderate knowledge of computers, and SOS is usually correct about their recommendations, so I thought it was pertinent to include it here.


  • On the mac v pc thing. I work on Macs when I work in studio, (I'm a graphic designer) and my custom built PC at home.

    Cost wise, bang-for-buck wise you cannot go past a properly configured and maintained pc. If you aren't able to maintain the machine properly and you have the cash to burn, sure get a mac.

    Stability wise, it's much of a muchness. If you maintain and keep an eye on performance and stability the PC is just as stable as the mac. I've worked cross platform for the last 5 years, and I *personally* have had a much more stable user experience on PCs working with design software. The mac myth is that it's rock solid. That's just not true these days, and I'd love to know exactly why apple has slipped with the quality of the testing of updates. Maybe the money is being spent elsewhere.

    Back onto the related topic of building an audio system for less. You can build a totally respectable machine for a pittance these days. Depending entirely on what you want the machine to be capable of you can certainly work to fairly small amounts of money. Reason runs (not fast, or with heaps of instruments) on a p133. You wouldn't of course ideally want to do this, but it's all possible on a machine that you can pick up for virtually nothing.

    Here in Australia, you can pickup a 1ghz refurbished pc with a respectable amount of ram and hdd that would make a rather lovely bespoke doorstop, or perhaps a basic workstation for under $180 bucks.

    Obviously there's the compulsion to have the best gear humanly possible, but modest means doesn't mean necessarily modest music production capability. The right attitude and investment in time means that a really rather decent computer based music setup can be workable for next to nothing.

  • inasilentway

    As far as software goes, I would highly recommend PC music software newcomers look to Tracktion. It's very full-feautured and easy to use, and only costs $150. I used it as my first DAW until I switched over to a Mac and Logic Express, and it was a great learning tool.

    PC vs. Mac: at this point, there's so many fantastic options software-wise for each that it's a moot point. Macs do cost more, but they do have advantages, especially not having to run anti-everything software to use the net and having plug-and-play drivers. And with the Intel Macs, you're getting the ability to run two (or three) operating systems, so the point is even mooter.

  • Did not mean to spark off a mac vs. PC thread. Those end up going nowhere fast – after any pro-mac comment, there's always an individual that has to point out the fallacy of it. 🙂

    The point I was trying to make in my comments above was that one of the most important factors in putting together a system to do music production is that the system does not get in the way of your inspiration. Writing music is not like working in Word, or coding (both things that I do a lot of). And dealing with computer issues when you're trying to do something creative is extremely frustrating. And it's hard to learn when you're frustrated.

    One thing that I do have issue with is everyone's dismissal of PT based on paper spec, and what other apps are able to do.

    I am an expert user with Logic (and most other DAWs out there – best way to learn is to teach). But I find myself being really productive with my music projects when I use protools. It really has one of the best systems for editing audio. Learn the keys, and you don't need to touch the keyboard. And it's simple – two screens. DP drives me crazy with all of it's inconsistent and numerous screens.

    Try using PT on the clock, and you'll understand why it's popular. Not to say you can't do the same stufff in other apps, but if you have to edit a lot of takes, do seamless yet complex edits, and get it done fast, it's hard to beat. It is not the best MIDI sequencer, or the best at working with time-stretched loops, or rex files, and it won't load VST plugins. But there's plenty of apps that will – and PT will happily import the audio. 🙂

    There are some new players on the field that are worth checking out – Ableton has sacrificed some of its simplicity for adding a lot of DAW like features. But it's still missing some crucial DAW features like crossfades between regions.

    Tracktion is great, I love it's simple interface, but I tend to steer people towards apps that have a bigger user base, so they can find support resources online.

    Regardless, the thing to remember is the goal is to create music, be creative, enjoy yourself, express yourself, etc – and the technology is completely secondary. People have been making amazing music for years without having access to what we have access to today.

    Strangely enough, when I want to work on my own music, I reach for my hardware, and find that I just don't enjoy the virtual world of plugins and software very much anymore. After being in front of a computer all day for work, it's hard to want to be creative in front of a computer as well. 🙂

  • Mies van der Robot

    This article would have been much more useful if it had simply set aside the Mac vs. PC issue (even if it's focused strictly on hardware) and just stuck to the tips on getting maximum bang for buck out of your PC.

    The oft-repeated truism "Macs are more expensive than PCs" is not entirely true. It depends on your price point and what your requirements are. 17-inch iMac G5s are now going on eBay for as low as $600, and should provide relatively comparable performance to your $600 64-bit Pentium with any typical "starter" DAW, while also including a monitor to boot. The newly-introduced Macbook is also an excellent value for laptop music production – far more so than any Apple laptop in recent years.

    Above all, I just don't hold with the initial assumption that people should choose an OS based solely on which gives the most bang for the buck in hardware. They should also choose the OS that supports the software they want to run, and offers them the sort of interaction with the core system functions that suits their personal computing style. A tweaker might love Linux, for example, whereas someone who views the OS as little more than an application launcher would probably prefer OSX or (to a slightly lesser degree due to maintenance requirements) Windows.

    There's still a lot of software out there that is OS-specific (e.g. Metasynth, Logic on OSX, Fruityloops, Acid, Glitch, and the Tweakbench plugs on Windows, to name just a few). All these factors need to be balanced when choosing a platform, and the "low end" philosophy can be applied to any platform.

    In fact, when you take into account the wealth of formerly-expensive abandoned OS9 applications that have been released to the public for free in the aftermath of the transition to OSX, a PowerPC Mac with OS9 and all the free OS9 software you can scoop up may prove to be the better low-end value after applications are added to the equation, regardless of which is the better hardware value.

    But with the cornucopia of great freeware for every platform, any of them can be a low-end powerhouse for $0 other than your initial hardware investment. Despite my disagreement with some of your first principles, I welcome your "low end, high power" mindset, and I hope we'll see sister columns covering the same mentality for Mac and Linux.

  • me

    "strictly related to hardware, which has homebuilt PCs at a clear advantage."

    hah! what a bunch of worthless rhetoric

    can i give you one example where maybe, just maybe,

    a homebuilt PC might not be such a great option?

    How about when your homebuilt PC craps out & u dont know why?

    How much time is a musician expected to spend trouble shooting

    a fairly dodgy computer pulled together from cash saving bits &

    pieces? sounds like false economy to me on a large scale

    Give me a mac mini, or whatever, any day

    I like to spend my time making music, not troubleshooting

    & I bet you cant honestly say that homebuilt PC is safe in the

    hands of the average sure (ie not someone who ahs time to burn

    on PC geekery)..

    Time is one commodity you cant get any more of

    & if you actually think about how much you value

    your free creative time, i seriously question the wisdom

    of spending time building such a machine

    i mean $800 vs $600?? are you serious?

    even at minimum wage this option is for people who

    want to spend more time being a PC hardware geek

    than a musician!

    false economy

  • Mike

    To the above poster, you're wrong. PC components are so ridiculously cheap now that "if something craps out and you don't know why", you can guarantee getting a PC fixed is cheaper than getting a mac fixed.

  • me: The big advantage of rolling your own PC is that you have the freedom to upgrade all of the components whenever you please. This may not matter for many people, but I have several PCs that have received motherboard/CPU swaps and additional drives. This just isn't possible with a Mac Mini or iMac, and Apple hasn't yet announced its new series of "pro" desktops.

    I built one of my music PCs using rebated parts and "special offers." It took about 3 months to put everything together, but the hardware cost was under $300 and it now hosts three Creamware Scope boards controlled by MIDIoverLAN.

  • Adrian Anders

    @james: Nice, I would love to see some pics bro!

  • me

    "To the above poster, you’re wrong. PC components are so ridiculously cheap now that “if something craps out and you don’t know why�, you can guarantee getting a PC fixed is cheaper than getting a mac fixed."

    um, cheaper than free?

    ever heard of applecare?

  • Adrian Anders

    Applecare ain't free after the first year buddy, and as with all manufacturing warrenties it's pretty much worthless.

  • Ron

    I need some advice. I have a very simple need…to record my song lyric ideas with some simple guitar. I own a Behringer B-1 mic, some Sony studio headphoens and a Yamaha AE guitar. I am not a musician but a songwriter (wannabe) and just need an easy way to record, file and refine lyrics. I am thinking of buying a Mobile-PRE USB? Any ideas on how to do this cheaper? Better but relatively inexpensive? Please answer me to ron_passmore@yahoo.com also…thanx a million..

  • Mollymauk

    I think this guide is good, and look forward to the next installment, but there's one big issue that jumped out at me. You're talking about a budget setup and your very first bit of advice is to buy an entire new computer. I realize this is fairly important if you consider points 1. and 2. important but 1. newish computers have plenty of headroom processor-wise, some background tasks will not kill you (buy some ram), and 2. if you have a hardware firewall in your router and you stay away from IE and Outlook security is not much of an issue. If you're really going cheap just buy a halfway decent soundcard (I get very low latency on my Audiophile 2496 even with a ton of crap in my taskbar) and stay tuned for the next installment

  • Adrian Anders

    You're right Mollymauk, you can stick with your current computer. However, I threw in the whole cost of building your own to help spur those who were thinking about getting a new rig anyway, and to encourage users to take my second piece of advice (namely keeping your DAW off the net). Sure you CAN put your DAW out on the net, but I don't think you SHOULD do it (which was what I was saying). As you say, there is headroom for background tasks, but I'm the type that wants to squeeze every last bit of speed out of his machine. It becomes especially important when you start running several SE instruments and effects to have very few other tasks running in the background. If you were to run something like Reason standalone, without using some of the really complicated Combinator patches you will of course have plenty of extra speed to spare on background crap. However for the rest of us, who are either plug-in fetishists or Reason power-users, we need every spare cycle to make the most out of our DAWs.

    That's just how I see it anyway.


  • Adrian Anders

    Oh by the by, if you haven't been to the forums to hear about my laptop's burning saga, basically the computer that I use to write stuff on (and surf and play games on) went all crap on me. So I should let you all know that the next installment will be delayed until I get my lappy back from Toshiba.

    I will keep you all posted.

  • sdbrown

    Applecare ain’t free after the first year buddy, and as with all manufacturing warrenties it’s pretty much worthless.

    Total and utter bullshit. My girlfriend's iBook is about 2.5 years old and under AppleCare. The logic board just went kaput and the screen broke so it couldn't close anymore. Total cost of repairs with AppleCare: $0.

  • Ralph

    "The logic board just went kaput.."

    Ahh..that'll be the famous Apple reliabilty then?

    ..kidding, just kidding!

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  • Todd

    I have an IBM ThinkPad Pentium III, running Win 98. I downloaded shareware "Audacity" onto it, and bought a good mic. All I want is to lay down guitar track, possible keyboard (midi?) and a dummy vocal track at a very modest cost. What's next? an audio interface? sound card? Are laptops okay to use? I heard USB is taxing and that I need FireWire….I'm confused. Thanks.


  • dan

    good article adrian, and it's nice to see some considered feedback comments too… although for beginners there's no real compelling reason to go either for PC or Mac, that's always going to be a contentious topic! for the Windows XP PC musician, there are a few tweaks that can improve the performance of your rig, the main ones being to set processor scheduling to prioritise background services (this is good for ASIO), disable visual effects and power managment. for more info on these (and other XP tweaks for your DAW) try the Podcomplex PC Guide . Of course, if you can, it is a good idea to have a dedicated hard drive for your OS and another for your audio…but any system you buy today will run programs such as Reason fine straight out of the box. I would always point any beginner to Reason as the perfect starting point for making music on a computer…

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  • Emanuel Salamat

    If my pc is on and I then put on my keyboard (Trinity – USBconnection), the pc goes off. I have to turn off the power source to the pc for a while before it will boot up again. Any ideas what is the cause? have been living with that probs for some time and take to switching on my Trinity before booting up my pc as a matter of convenience. Help!!!!

  • MattC

    Ok I'm refering back to the poster "me":

    Stop trying to pretend that you know what your talking about. I have PT on my windows at home and I haven't had any trouble. Im not talking about bang for your buck either. I am talking about performance. It isn't that hard to get another computer for recreational use. Just make sure there is no internet connection on your PC and your good to go.

    I have been in a band for 5 years and have recorded 4 albums (only one of which is a demo). I've seen the differences in Mac and PC. PC isn't any worse or better than Mac is. The programs are just different. Mac has always tried to be the easy to use computer, and PC just looks at performance and quality. If you can't figure a PC out and you don't feel like taking the time to, go ahead and get a Mac or go home. But if you want to become serious with recording, I suggest a PC. If you are just a musician trying to lay a few tracks down with good quality, get a Mac if you want.

  • JC

    Hey…I'm a guitarist looking to make some pretty basic recordings and am caught up in the whole big mac v pc debate.

    My main query though is what do you need to get software instruments with a midi controller on a pc? I know with garageband on mac they are all built in and i would like to use many of these, but was wondering about the pc alternative mainly down to cost! I live in Uk and Apple charge even higher prices here compared to US!

  • Chris B

    Originally posted by MattC

    "But if you want to become serious with recording, I suggest a PC. If you are just a musician trying to lay a few tracks down with good quality, get a Mac if you want."

    Ok this would be why 99% of the worlds professional studios are running Macs exclusively.



  • Peitres Anderton

    I think the issue with regards to price is really total cost of ownership (TCO). Here the biggest cost usually isn't the initial outlay for the system but the costs relating to maintence and downtime.

    The questions you need to ask yourself is how much time do you want to spend maintaning and fixing your computer, how much downtime can you afford, what system is going to be cheapest to fix?

    You might be willing to spend time fixing and maintaning yourself, and learning how to do so. Or you might have tech savy friends who can help out cheaply or freely. Or you might need to rely on paid for professional tech support.

    These are the things to keep in mind. From my experience as a computer tech, Mac issues are rarer but usually more expensive to fix (unless you know what you're doing or have a friend).

    Mac hardware issues most often require taking it to an Apple Service Centre (depending on your mac skills), so how good/fast/cheap your local Apple repair place is, is an issue. If it's under warranty, then cost isn't a problem. The same is true for brand name PCs. Once out of warranty, many hardware problems in Mac land (or with PC laptops) you are better off buying a new machine.

    With Laptops and Apples, if you buy new then get an extended warranty. Repairs after warranty easily reach 80%+ cost of a new machine. And for 2nd hand machines (out of warranty) don't pay more than 50% cost of a new machine, whatever the specs.

    Hardware repairs for a Desktop PC, home built or brand name, are usually only the cost of replacing the faulty component and labour. Parts and labour are plentiful and cheap. There's a PC store on every corner in the western world.

    Software issues are far more common on PCs, but you are more likely to get free or cheap help, or find answers on the web. Mac software support is often harder to find, and more expensive, but Macs don't seem to get the driver conflicts, software incompatibilities, viruses and malware that PCs get far as often.

    So, you might consider how much you already know about computers, who you know who can help, and the price/quality of any paid for support you might need.

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