NSFW: Giving up the Mac for a PC

NSFW is a weekly op-ed column in which I talk about whatever's on my mind. Sometimes it'll have something to do with the technology we cover here on iMore; sometimes it'll be whatever pops into my head. Your questions, comments and observations are welcome.

My 14 year old son is defecting for the Dark Side. About two weeks ago he told me that he wants a Windows PC for his birthday. As a near-lifetime Mac user, I have to say that I was disappointed. Sad even. But I knew this day was coming.

My kids all use Mac minis of various ages; the oldest is an '09-era machine that my 17 year old daughter uses (and complains about regularly, it seems); the newest is a '12-era model that my 19 year old son uses. The 14 year old's was right in the middle: We picked it up in '10. It's the last of the optical drive-equipped Mac minis. When they refreshed it again in 2011, Apple pulled the SuperDrive out of there all together.

The two boys both love gaming, and do most of their gaming on computers. We have Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but they've tired of console games, so we haven't jumped on the Xbox One and PS4 bandwagon. PC gaming suits them better, and their friends play games on PCs too.

The 19 year old is still safely ensconced in the Mac fold, but about a year ago the 14 year old came to me and asked if I would install Windows on his Mac using Boot Camp and a copy of Windows 7 we already had. I indulged him, hoping it would a quickly-passing phase.

He wanted to play games he just couldn't play on the Mac. It started with Smite — a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game, but it soon grew to others, including some MMORPGs, many action games and other fare he simply can't play on the Mac without resorting to Boot Camp (or less efficient virtualization software, which yields lower frame rates — more frustrating than it's worth). What's more, he discovered that Mac games he could play on his Mac mini actually ran better in Windows. League of Legends, for example. Defense of the Ancients 2. The list went on.

After a few weeks he never even bothered to reboot into the Mac partition - he used Windows full-time. So when he approached me about putting together a custom PC, I can't say that I was surprised.

I've been using Macs on and off since I was 15 years old — 30 years ago now. I've strayed occasionally: I dabbled with Commodore Amigas in the late 80s; I even went PC for a while in the early 1990s so I could play games that weren't available on the Mac (so I understand the 14 year old's motivation only too well). But I always came back to the Mac, and the Mac's always been central to whatever I've been doing professionally. My three kids have all been raised with Macs, of course.

But at the same time, I have to admit that the Mac isn't always the best solution for everything. Understanding my 14 year old's love of gaming, I can totally appreciate why his four-year-old Mac mini wasn't up to the task of serving him games anymore. I'm not going to replace that $600 computer with a more expensive model just to play games, however.

Fortunately the boy's been working an after-school job, and he saved up enough to buy himself the parts to put together the PC (though I'm doing the labor as his birthday present). All told, he's spent about $700 to put together a machine that isn't the fastest gaming computer on the block, but once it's together, it will be spectacularly faster than what he could get on the Mac side for the same money (because for that cash, he'd still be limited to a Mac mini).

What's more, the PC we're putting together is modular and expandable. If he wants to trade up to a faster video card in a couple of years, or a quad-core processor, he'll be able to swap stuff out (or call on me to help him swap stuff out) without any issue. RAM is replaceable, and upgradable. Something that Apple took away from us in the latest Mac mini refresh.

"What will you do with the Mac mini?" he asked me the other day, on the way to the bank to take out the money he needed to buy the PC parts.

In all likelihood, I'll recycle the Mac mini for his older sister, who's been asking for an upgrade. For his part, the 14 year old is pleased it'll continue to be useful. But for him, that usefulness has come to an end.

Even as dyed-in-the-wool a Mac enthusiast as I am, I have to admit that sometimes the Mac just isn't the right solution for every computing problem, or every user's needs. And this is one of those times.

I hope my son will find his way back to the Mac fold eventually, but it's one of those moments as a parent that I have to support his decision, even if I don't fully agree with it, and even though it pains me a bit to do it.

Now it's time to roll up my sleeves and start putting together this thing.