Mac vs. PC: Which will win the Lightroom speed test?


posted Monday, April 25, 2016 at 8:14 PM EDT


Mac or PC: It's a debate that has been raging for more years than we care to remember, and one that will likely never truly be settled. That doesn't stop the occasional brave soul from trying, however, and the latest to do just that is photographer Pye Jirsa of SLR Lounge. A self-professed Apple fan, Jirsa has just published the results of a head-to-head test comparing two similarly-priced Apple and Windows machines performing the exact same tasks in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

There are, it has to be said, some question marks over the methodology for the test, but that's pretty much impossible to avoid entirely. What seems fair and straightforward to fans of one platform will frequently strike fans of the other as rank favoritism, no matter how impartial the reviewer might try to be. But as someone who has used both platforms extensively -- and who has chosen a test that's directly relevant to the photographers who make up the core of our audience -- we nevertheless found the results of Jirsa's test rather interesting.

On both platforms, Jirsa and colleague Joseph Wu spent around US$4,400 for what, to most, would be considered a pretty high-end system. The result was a home-built, overclocked and water-cooled Windows 10 rig based around an octo-core Intel i7-5960X processor, 64GB of RAM and an Nvidia GTX 980 Ti graphics card, pitted against an Apple iMac with quad-core i7 processor, 32GB of RAM and an AMD R9 M395X graphics card.

Perhaps the biggest question mark for us is how much impact the choice of a high-res 27-inch Retina 5K display had on the test, given that it had precisely four times the resolution of the EIZO 27-inch monitor used on the PC, meaning that the Apple had to deal with flinging around four times as many pixels. That choice, though, is kind of down to Apple. If you want larger than a 21.5-inch screen, the Retina 5K unit is your only choice on the iMac. And while the Mac Pro can be bought without display, if you factor in the US$1,000 cost of the photography-oriented EIZO, that'd leave only US$3,400 for the Mac itself, while a base model already runs US$3,000.

Other areas that will likely be of concern for some will include the fact that sales tax is included for the Apple but not its PC rival, and that the home-built machine was significantly overclocked. But then in fairness, the PC system does lend itself rather well to overclocking if you know what you're doing, whereas the iMac's tighter thermal limits mean there's less room for gain here.

But enough of the provisos, how did these two machines fare in the head-to-head? Well, we don't want to give too much away here, but suffice it to say that the PC was a fair bit faster in this particular matchup, performing a variety of common tasks in Adobe Lightroom. How much faster, though? You'll want to hop on over to SLR Lounge for the full story!

And since Apple versus Windows debates have a tendency to degenerate into flame wars, we'll get this out of the way right now. Feel free to discuss and debate to your hearts' content in the comments section below, but please stick to the facts. Name-calling, personal attacks and adult language won't be tolerated, as always on our site. (Thanks!)