Our poor old cofounder, Bob, had been working from an old MacBook dating back, roughly, to the Triassic era, for a while. It was time for a change. So, what did we buy him? A shiny new MacBook? An iMac? A Mac Pro, maybe?
Bob wanted something a bit easier to work from than a little laptop. He needed a large screen; a device that would let him sit back and relax a bit, rather than something that's fighting against his workflow in the way that portable devices seem to. Laptops were out, and I'm with him on this one. I only work from my laptop if I'm absolutely forced to. We also needed something that was powerful. While graphic design generally doesn't require beastly hardware, we didn't want our hardware to be found lacking when faced with 3D rendering, video work and music production. We're a very small company, so we do everything we can ourselves. At the minimum, we need to be able to run several Adobe Creative Cloud apps, Google services, et cetera, concurrently. We felt that investing in a powerful rig would allow us to avoid bottlenecks in our workflow when it came time to do something outside of our usual remit. We also needed something upgradeable. We didn't want to have to sink several thousand dollars into a new machine every couple of years because the GPU is soldered onto the motherboard. Finally, we didn't want to have to spend a fortune. After all, we're not landing fortune 500 branding projects. (Not to say that we're not open to them. wink) our mission is to make graphic design affordable for small businesses in the city of Chicago. We focus on the kinds of projects that provide value to the little guys. This kind of work, although we love it, isn't likely to make us rich! So to recap, we needed something that was:
- Comfortable to work on
With laptops, all-in-ones, and hideous gaming machines out of the mix, we whittled it down to two solid options:
- Mac Pro:
3.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor
12GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory
Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB VRAM each
256GB PCIe-based flash storage1
- Puget Systems Serenity:
4.0 GHz Quad-Core Intel i7 processor
32 GB DDR4 memory
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 with 8GB VRAM
500GB Samsung SSD + 2TB Western Digital HDD
Take a moment to recover. I know seeing a windows PC here is quite a shock. Designers use Macs, right? Well, while we felt that the two machines hit most of the marks, the Mac was a hard no. The Puget system sells for $2923.50, and the Mac sells for $2,999. This doesn't seem like a significant difference, until you look back up at the specs. The Puget was twice the machine for the same money. It had a faster processor, three-times the RAM, a drastically superior GPU, twice the flash storage and an extra storage drive to boot. In the end, however, we didn't buy the Puget either.
What we actually bought:
Looking over Puget's website gave me an idea. Surely, we could just build a PC ourselves? Neither myself nor Bob had built a PC from scratch before, but that didn't stop Terry Crews, so it didn't stop us. We put together a shopping list, and asked the reddit community, /r/pcmasterrace, for some advice. After some revision, this is what we decided to buy:
- Corsair Carbide Series 100R Silent Edition Quiet Mid Tower Case $59.99
- ASRock H170A-X1 LGA1151 ATX Motherboard $91.46
- Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB DDR4 DRAM Memory $175.99
- EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 FTW with 8GB GDDR5 VRAM $419.99
- Intel Boxed Core I7-6700 3.40 GHz Processor $304.89
- CRYORIG H7 Tower Cooler $34.99
- Samsung 850 PRO 512GB SSD $215.99
- WD Black 2TB HDD $118.65
- EVGA SuperNOVA 80+ PLATINUM 850W Power Supply $109.94
- Asus 24x DVD-RW $21.38
- Microsoft Windows 10 Pro $184.95
Total Cost: $1738.22 with free shipping on our Amazon Prime business account.
This machine would be vastly more powerful than the Mac Pro, and match the spec on the Puget, with the exception of their slightly improved processor speed due to overclocking. All we had to do was build it, for a $1185.28 discount on our cheapest prebuilt option.
We met at Bob's place on a Sunday afternoon. After hitting up Logan Square's Damn Fine Coffee Bar (@damnfinechicago) and Ground Control (groundcontrolchicago.com) for a quick coffee and some lunch, we got to work.
Building the beast was slow, due to the fact that neither of us had built a PC before. In fact, Bob had only ever used Macs (Just look at that hipster beard). We were afraid to break something, so we were cautious, pouring over the many instruction manuals that came with the components. After around four hours of work, it was built... and the damned thing wouldn't turn on. We re-convened a few days later and eventually found that we had simply failed to push the RAM into the motherboard hard enough, and like magic, we had a working PC. More powerful than a Mac Pro, for almost half the price. Voilà.
The machine has been up and running for a bit now, with no issues. Bob took to using Windows 10 for the first time like a duck to water, and he doesn't have to suffer the pains of working from an aging laptop any longer. This whole experience has left us to wonder why more people in our profession, designers, don't do this themselves? The sea of glowing Apples in coffee shops has become passé. We spend our lives designing interfaces, collateral and identities;
Why do more of us not design our own tools to fit our unique purposes and use-cases as well?