Mac to PC

A very old article (1995) on switching from Mac to PC. In 2007 I switched back. :-)

Converting from a Mac to a PC Clone

Why did I do it? Well, maybe after 10 years of a good operating system I was bored, and seeking a challenge. I wanted cheap A/V hardware & software and the best games. And I was curious -- I wanted to see what the rest of the world was like.


After 10 years as a home Macintosh owner, I sold my Macintosh and bought a PC. It was quite an adventure.

OK, some people have asked me to write about my experiences switching from a Mac to a PC. 

First a little history: 

I paid $3000 for a Mac 128 with an ImageWriter printer in 1984, as soon as it became available. Then I became frustrated with the development environment and gave it to my folks. 

In 1987, I saw the Mac II, and liked it so much I joined Apple. I promptly spent $2000 to get a loan-to-own Mac II. Over the years since then I've upgraded to various other Macs, most recently a Mac Quadra 800. 

My home computer hobbies are: 

  1. Working at home. 
  2. 3D Graphics / desktop video / animation. (I make about 1 short cartoon a year.) 
  3. Net surfing. 
  4. General productivity. (Taxes, word processing, spreadsheets.) 
  5. Games. 

Now, given these hobbies, you can see why I was drawn to the PC side of the fence. 

I took the plunge this summer (1994), and finally sold my Mac in October (1994). Here are my impressions: 

Points in the Mac's favor:

  • The Macintosh Finder is the greatest program in the world. Unfortunately, it's only a little better than the Windows 95 desktop. 
  • Hardware configuration for slotted Macs is still easier than Windows, but not as much as it used to be. For example, of the 7 cards on my Windows machine, only 1 has jumpers, and the defaults worked correctly. 
  • Everything on the Mac works with the Mac, because there is only one major OS on the Mac. On the PC I have to switch to DOS for games, to Windows for productivity and desktop video. 
  • PC doesn't have interface police -- but it does have interface criminals. Shareware PC software has some of the ugliest user interfaces I've ever seen. Some commercial PC software is bad too. Overall, programs look better and are easier to use on the Macintosh. 

Points in PC clone's favor:

  • Windows' on line help (basically hypertext manuals) is superb, mainly because every application implements it. I suppose Apple's help system might someday surpass this, but only after developers support it. 
  • PC hardware is still much cheaper than Mac hardware, especially at the high end. For example, an accelerated graphics card is $300 vs. $1000. Another example: The whole Ethernet card, including connectors, for the PC costs the same ($60) as just the connector for a Mac with "built in" Ethernet. 
  • Most of my favorite Mac programs (e.g. ClarisWorks, Photoshop) are available on Windows and work the same as the Mac. 
  • Most games come out on the PC first, and look better there, due to larger pixels and better sound. 
  • The Amiga 3d graphics / animation crowd has moved over to the PC, so there is a lot of good cheap 3D graphics and animation software available. Truespace is my favorite right now. 

Making the Switch

So, if you're thinking of switching over, here's what you've got to think about: 

Are you going to keep both computers? This makes sense in terms of easing the transition path, allowing you to experience the best of both worlds, etc.. Even if you plan to sell your Mac, you'll want to plan for a month or so of overlap to allow you to transfer over all your files and applications. 

Make sure you have enough desk space and power outlets for both computers. 

What should I Buy?

You should plan on spending roughly the same amount of money that you spent on your Macintosh. If you're willing to cannibalize your Macintosh, you may be able to reuse some of the parts, in particular: 

  • If you have a relatively recent Macintosh, chances are that it uses 72-pin SIMM RAM, This RAM can reused in your PC. Since Mac RAM does not have parity, you will have to disable the parity check on your PC motherboard. (e.g. disable the NMI interrupt.) If you do this, you will have to avoid peripherals that use the NMI interrupt. This means, for example, that you won't be able to use most non-standard sound cards. But if you save $800 on RAM, it's worth spending $100 extra to get a real SoundBlaster sound card. 
  • SCSI disk. If you buy a PC with as SCSI controller card, you can reuse your SCSI disk and CD-ROM drive. 
  • If you have a multi-sync monitor, then if you can find the right cable, you can reuse the monitor with your PC. If you have an older, non-multi-sync monitor, you can't. 
  • Many printers work with both Macs and PCs. Check if your printer has one of the wider 25-pin parallel ports that is used by PC printers. If it does, all you have to do is get the company to send you a Windows 95 compatible printer driver. Windows 95 comes with support for many printers, so perhaps you'll get lucky, and it will already support your printer. 

  • Unfortunately, if you have an Apple ink-jet printer, such as any of the StyleWriters, you will have to sell it and by a new printer. This is because these printers don't have the PC-compatible parallel port. In theory, it would be possible for someone to write a software driver to allow these printers to work with IBM PCs. But in practice, I don't think anyone's done this. Fortunately, a nice new PC-compatible ink jet printer costs as little as $150. 

Is it worth reusing parts from you Mac? Well, that depends upon your situation. When I switched, I moved over my SCSI hard disk and my RAM. Check what the used Mac market is like in your area -- you might get more by selling your old system whole than by cutting it up for parts. 

(These prices are from September 1995.) Plan on spending about $2500 to get a computer with: 

  • A Pentium processor, PCI bus, mini-tower, 8Mb of RAM.($1000 is a good price) 
  • A 1Mb or larger video card. ($200 is a good price.) 
  • Quad speed CD-ROM drive. ($200 is a good price.) 
  • A 500Mb or larger hard drive. (25 cents a meg is a good price.) 
  • A 17 inch screen. ($600 to $850 is a good price.) 
  • A color or black & white inkjet printer ($250 is a good price.) 
  • A 14,4 or 28.8 modem. ($90 - $150) 
  • A Sound blaster audio card and some cheap speakers ($100) 


There are two popular hard disk drive i/o bus formats available on the PC. One is called SCSI, and the other is called ESDI. If the PC doesn't say what i/o bus format it has, it probably has ESDI. ESDI is fine, but if you're coming from the Mac world, and you want to continue to use both Mac and PC hardware, you're probably better off choosing SCSI. This is because SCSI is what the Mac uses, and there are some situations where you're going to want to be able to hook hard disks up to either the Mac or the PC. 

Buying Software

The OS

Let's face it, one of the reasons for switching to the PC is to get away from the niche markets. So you'll probably want to stick with Windows 95, the most popular, Mac-like OS. However, there are other OSs available for the PC. Here are some of them: 

  • Windows NT. This is great for heavy duty software development, and for running servers, but it's overkill for the home, and for most personal computer users. Also, it has far less support in terms of device drivers than Windows 95. And, the current "finder" is quite poor compared to Windows 95. 
  • Linux. This is a unix clone for computer scientists. Good if you want to run unix at home. 
  • OS/2. This is from IBM. Some people like its style of UI. Others hate it. It does not have widespread support outside of "True Blue" IBM fans. In some ways it is the new "Amiga" -- a vocal minority fighting a quixotic battle. 
  • NextStep. This is a very nice Mac-like OS that is sold by Next, Inc. 
  • DOS. You can skip GUIs altogether and run raw DOS. But then, you wouldn't have bought a Mac in the first place if this was acceptable to you. This is probably not a good idea. 

The Applications

Most of the major Macintosh applications are available for the PC as well. Some examples are: 

  • Most Microsoft products, e.g. Word and Excel. 
  • Some Claris products, e.g. FileMaker and ClarisWorks. 
  • Most Adobe products, e.g. Illustrator, Photoshop, Premier. 
  • Tax preparation programs. Macintax is called TurboTax. 
  • Personal finance products, e.g. Quicken. 

Even better, many of these products will read and write the same file format on both machines. 

Moving your files

All Macintoshes that have high-density disk drives (essentially every mac made since 1989) can read and write IBM-PC compatible floppy disks. Just put a PC-formatted floppy disk into the Mac, and you can drag files onto it just like any other floppy disk. However, there are a few issues: 

Short file names. Unfortunately, until Apple updates its system software, the file names have to be chopped down to fit into the old eleven-letter 8.3 restriction of DOS. It's ironic that the two machines (the Mac and the PC) can both understand long file names, but when you move floppies between them, your file names have to be shortened. 

Special characters. There are some special characters on the Macintosh (for example the 'smart-quotes' left-and-right-quotation marks) that are different on the PC. When you transfer your files over the PC, you will have to manually search and replace the funny characters. (Someday, in the far future, it is possible that all computers will use the emerging "Unicode" standard character set. When that day comes, everyone will be able to read each other's text. But that won't happen for another 5 to 10 years, if at all.) 

If you have a lot of files to move, there are several ways to make it easier: 

  • If your PC has SCSI, borrow an external SCSI hard disk. Format the disk on the PC, then hook it to your Mac. The Mac will recognize it, and allow you to drag files to it. Then hook it back up to your PC. 
  • Put the Mac and the PC on the same Ethernet network. Then install TCP/IP software on both machines. Then turn on the FTP server on one machine, and run an FTP client on the other machine. This will allow you to transfer files between the two machines. 
  • If you have a third, larger machine that can act as a temporary store, upload your files from the Mac to the third machine, then download them to the PC. One way to do this is by mailing the files from one machine to the other, using Eudora or Netscape. 
  • Connect the two machines by serial port or modems. Then use a terminal program (there's one in ClarisWorks for the Mac, and one that comes free with Windows). Use a file protocol like Kermit. 
  • You can use a compression program to compress a directory of files into a single file. This is often easier to transfer than all the individual files. The catch is that you have to pick a compression program that's available on both the Mac and the PC. Some good choices are "ZIP", "TAR", and "Stuffit". You can find compressors and decompressors for each of these on many shareware sites. 
  • Utility programs. There are programs available on both the Mac and the PC that help you read and write files from the other system. 

Net Surfing

PC Net surfing is very similar to Mac net surfing. There are one or two freeware / shareware programs for each of the main Net protocols. 

PC and Mac Internet applications
Application area  Mac program  Equivalent PC program
TCP/IP & PPP  MacTCP, MacPPP  Trumpet Winsock
FTP  Fetch  WS_FTP
NetNews  Nuntius  Free Agent
http  Netscape  Netscape
mail  Eudora  Eudora
telnet  NCSA Telnet  qvtn16


So, What did I Buy?

Hardware Configuration

Hardware configuration is a fluid situation on the PC, since it's so cheap and easy to upgrade individual cards. My current hardware configuration is: 

  • Generic clone mini-tower case 
  • Generic clone Pentium II 300 AGP / PCI / ISA motherboard 
  • 128 Mb RAM 
  • 6 Gb SCSI hard disk 
  • Microsoft Mouseport Mouse 
  • Microsoft Natural keyboard. 
  • Optiquest V95 19" monitor. 
  • Diamond GL 1000 Video card.
  • Diamond Monster 3D card.
  • SoundBlaster AWE32 sound card. 
  • MITSUI 12 Speed ATAPI CD-ROM. 
  • Generic 56Kb Modem card. 
  • Epson Color Stylus printer. 
  • Canon Color Scanner IX-4015. 

Software Configuration

  • Windows 98 / Windows 2000
  • Office 2000 
  • Microsoft Visual C++ 6.0. 
  • Caligari Truespace 2.0 (3D graphics) 
  • Adobe Premiere 4.0 
  • Adobe Photoshop 3.0.4 
  • + lots of freeware/shareware off the net. 

Things I think I did right in my initial purchase

  1. I bought from a local dealer, who configured everything for me, and kept me from buying boards incompatible with my intended uses. The way buying a PC works is you have to decide on a price, and on what quality levels are important to you. It's easy to overspend if you buy top-of-the-line on everything, but on the other hand, it's easy to ruin a system by buying a cheap keyboard or a fuzzy monitor. My feeling is that the monitor is probably the piece of your system you will have the longest, so buy a nice one. I highly recommend the 17 inch Sony monitors. 
  2. I bought a 486Dx2/66 PCI motherboard at first. I then later traded it in on a Pentium. I had a slower system at first, but I saved money because of the price drop and performance increase over the 5 months. Of course, these days Pentiums are cheap. But the same general advice applies -- buy a relatively cheap PCI motherboard, and plan on upgrading it to a faster machine in a year or so. 
  3. I went with PCI and SCSI rather than VLB and IDE. (VLB is last year's high speed bus standard. IDE is the old hard disk I/O standard.) This made it cheaper for me to switch because I could reuse components from my Mac. 

Mistakes I made in my initial purchase

  1. Non-SCSI CD-ROM. I should have bought a SCSI CD-ROM. Soundblaster CD-ROMs are good for games, but many of the exotic OSs I want to run (OS/2, NextStep, NT) are much easier to install from SCSI CD-ROMs. 
  2. Cheap Keyboard. I should have bought a better keyboard. My original keyboard was a generic $10 keyboard, and it hurt my fingers to type on it. I went to Fry's and played with there range of keyboards. The all pretty much sucked except for the high-end IBM keyboards. 
  3. Incompatible video card. I bought a 2Mb Genoa Phantom 32 video card, which turned out to be semi-incompatible with Windows NT. 

Some things I'm thinking of changing now

  • Nothing. I'm completely full up.

Places I shop

Remember that pretty much all PCs use the same components from the same manufacturers. There is very little reason to pay more than the minimum for a system. But there is a wide variation in prices, even for the same component. It pays a lot to shop around. 

MS Electronics in Cupertino, CA is the local store I bought my system from. I chose it because it seemed to have good prices, and it is close to where I live. Its biggest flaw is that it is closed on Sunday. They will also buy back their old components when upgrading, which is simpler than me trying to resell the component. (Does this remind you of the car business? Hmmm.) 

NCA has good prices for hardware upgrades, and tends to feature the "hot" products. 

Fry's Electronics has a wide selection, and good hours, and good prices. But they have poor technical support. 

A 30 day return policy on hardware and CD-ROM software is standard in the PC industry. This is great, because I often find that the only way to tell if a board works correctly is to take it home and try it out.