Alien Technology

I have been to an alien world and seen advanced technology that makes PCs look foolish and pathetic. It was an amazing journey and I am still trying to believe that I really saw what I think I saw. Of course I’m talking about opening up my Apple PowerMac G4 and installing some hardware. I’ve been building my own PCs for years and years, but part of the reason I moved to Macs was to stop wasting my time on that stuff. You can spend hours and hours putting a PC together, and what do you have at the end? It’s just a PC. I can spend zero time putting a Mac together, and what do I get at the end? A personal computer that is at least as good as any PC, but I also get a bunch of hours to spend doing something meaningful, rather than futzing with hardware. What follows is my analysis of some things that are wrong with wintel PC boxes, now that I have compared them to the blissfully simple Apple boxes.

Wintel PCs tend to be utilitarian, one-size-fits-most boxes. Their cables are all pretty much a general-purpose length that is neither too long nor too short for anything. The drive bays are usually predictable and generous, allowing plenty of room to put whatever you want in them.

The problem with the functional PC approach is that none of it is elegant or easy. The cables are too long in an effort to not be too short. There are too many cables to deal with, and none of them are routed conveniently for you inside the case. If you’ve ever built a PC from scratch, you’ve got to know what I mean here.

Contrast this to Apple. In my G4 I added a new “SuperDrive” (Apple’s term for a drive that can read and write DVDs as well as CDs) and an additional internal hard disk. Apple does so many things right inside this case, I have to enumerate them:

  1. There are exactly as many cables as I need. This system uses all on-board controllers: an ATA-33 controller for the DVD/CD drives, an ATA-66 controller for future expansion, and an ATA-100 controller for two hard drives. It can really only take 6 internal devices, so it has 6 power outlets. It also has the data cables for the expansions (except the ATA-66).

  2. A place for everything, and everything in its place.g4 mac case open Didn’t you have a teacher say this to you in school? By golly, the guys at Apple were awake that day. There is exactly one logical place for everything. Optical drives go in the drive bays, hard drives go in the hard drive area, etc. Instead of having open ovals in the drive bays, the way PCs often do, they have simple screw holes. Take a look at a typical PC drive bay to see what I mean about the ovals. These open ovals let you slide the drive back and forth and tighten the screws anywhere to fit your particular need. Apple just provides screw holes. “Put the screws here.” No need to experiment or slide back and forth until the drive is in the right place. They built the case. They know what the right place is. When you’re dealing with something that pokes out the front of your case, like a CD or DVD drive, it is arguable that there is exactly one right place. You want it to sit flush and you might need (in the case of a Mac) for it to interact properly with the shiny mirrored doors. The location of screws on the sides of DVD or CD drives is standard. The shape of the drive bay is standard. The case manufacturer can figure out what the right place is for a DVD drive and just give you the holes for it. Why should PCs have this needless flexibility? It can only help you put the drive in the wrong place.

  3. The cables are configured in the logical way. Not only are the cables already there, and locations designated for all the peripherals, but the cables are routed properly, too. They are just long enough to accomodate 2 drives in the designated places. They have connectors in exactly the right spots if you put the drives in the designated places. There’s no wasted cable. PCs usually have a rats’ nest of Y-shaped power doohickeys or additional floppy-drive style power adapters that no one uses any more. That’s all needless flexibility that really gets in your way.

So the bottom line is that I did the whole thing in about 15 minutes. Anyone experienced in performing hardware upgrades on PCs will be unimpressed by that. So what? The simple fact was it was effortless and idiot-proof. There was simply no way to do it wrong, and Apple rolled out the red carpet in a hundred ways to make it easy to do.