Mac vs HP: The laptop question
December 31, 2009 5:13 PM   Subscribe

Did I do the right thing buying a HP and not a Mac?

So a couple days ago I bought the HP Pavilion Entertainment PC (4GM RAM and the 2 Core Dual processor). It seems to be working fine, though immediately after buying it all my Mac-enthusiast friends chided me for not choosing differently, though they had a hard time articulating any explanations save for the aesthetics, etc.

I am a PhD student in linguistics, I work with large sound files and a variety of cross-platform programs, but otherwise don't do any artsy stuff (for which I hear the Macs are well-suited). I also have a PC desktop at home and one in my office, so this laptop is mainly for conferences, summers home with the fam, and weekends with my girlfriend.

If money was not an issue, would I have been better off with a MacBook(-pro)? I don't care about aesthetics. Is it worth the extra $1000 or so? The HP was only $550 or so.

Thanks guys. I have two weeks with Staples' return policy so it isn't too late. I trust your collective opinion more than any single individual I actually know.
posted by mateuslee to Computers & Internet (43 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
this is going to be a tought one, as apple fans are going to just say "yes, you did" and everyone else will chime in with their opinions on what pc would be an alternative to a mac anyhow after that and all you're gonna have is a mess.

ask yourself this : does the pc you bought do what you wanted it to do? do you understand how to use it for the goals you have?

if the answers there are "yes", then you bought the right pc.
posted by radiosilents at 5:21 PM on December 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


If you're happy with what you've got then there's nothing to worry about. Anyone who tries to tell you that Macs are quantitatively 'better' is probably wrong. Having said that, I love my mbp, whether its booted in OS X or Windows, it's still the nicest computing experience I've ever had. I understand the zealotry without being a convert just yet.
posted by muteh at 5:22 PM on December 31, 2009


Disclaimer: I use an old Apple iBook as my sole computer. I like it. But it's a computer. It's not part of my personal identity, unlike with many Mac owners. For this reason, Mac owners tend to be annoying people, hypnotized by Apple's marketing. Ignore them. Anyone who cares that much about your choice of computer is a mindless corporate tool. Not someone you should listen to.
posted by smorange at 5:28 PM on December 31, 2009 [7 favorites]


If money wasn't an issue, which would YOU rather own? IS money an issue? (I would imagine that 1000$ for a linguistics Phd student is a sizable chunk of change)

Personally, I think you made an excellent choice for a top notch computer that will do everything you want it to and much more. (Take some of that savings and do something nice for your girlfriend.)
posted by Auden at 5:29 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Meh, if you're a student and your HP does what you want at a price you like, then you're fine. Why buy more than what you need?

I've used and loved since I was 12, but I don't think that everyone must have one.
posted by runningwithscissors at 5:29 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


If the only even slightly atypical thing you do with a computer is work with sound files, you should use the platform that runs your favorite sound editing programs.

If the rest of the stuff you do is entirely standard (web surfing, document editing) it makes no difference.

(It's hard for me to enumerate all the ways that flavor's answer makes me twitch.)
posted by fritley at 5:30 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


if it does what it needs to do, you made the right decision... sort of..... the biggest issue/difference, IMHO, is vulnerability to exploitation... with my macs, there has never been an issue, with the pc's at work, they are screwed all the time. in other words.. Use protection....
posted by HuronBob at 5:30 PM on December 31, 2009


Do you want to learn a whole new system?
posted by smackfu at 5:30 PM on December 31, 2009


It's hard to say. You bring up a $1000 price difference. The difference there isn't just Mac vs. PCs. What you may find if you look at the specs, is Apple basically doesn't sell anything nearly as low end as you're able to buy from other companies. If you look at the highest end HPs, you'll find the price difference is a much different story. So a big part of this is "should I have bought a faster/higher-end laptop?". The Apple-tax isn't the biggest price difference you're looking at here.

Aside from build quality, AppleCare, and that kind of thing, the biggest difference here is going to end up being Windows vs. Mac OS X. Personally, you couldn't pay me to use Windows, and would therefore be disinclined to buy a PC, because that means I have to go back to Linux from OS X (I'm not going to fiddle with any hackintosh bullshit.) It's a good OS.
posted by floam at 5:38 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's not part of my personal identity, unlike with many Mac owners.

You know, that part is kind of true. I attribute it to the fact that installing things in folders isn't as computery as it is with Windows (although, maybe this has changed, I love/am referencing Windows 98). I have a Mac, and it was not worth the dollars, and I don't know *exactly* where I've installed my programs, and I don't use all the preinstalled programs (which obviously MADE it cost so much). And if I didn't hate the current Windows platform so much, I would have probably bought a PC.

All in all, you didn't make an inherently bad decision. Macs are fun for a while, but they're not really, really living up to the hype. Also, I know they are specifically for graphics programs, but I have the regular version ($1000) and I'm not so sure mine would personally live up to the challenge.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 5:39 PM on December 31, 2009


Wow, the "macs are for artists" idea is still going strong? You're fine unless you're completely clueless/against computers - which might be a reason to get a mac, but they're about the same. And yes, mac users are into integrating the idea of owning a mac into their personal branding.
posted by thylacine at 5:45 PM on December 31, 2009


I don't own a Mac, but the issue for me wouldn't be so much Mac vs. PC, but Mac vs. HP. HP is terrible; not as god-awful as it used to be, but terrible. The components are whatever they say they are, but it's mostly all the bloated software and "restore disks" that's just terrible. When you buy a HP (or many other pre-assembled PCs) you're basically paying more than the hardware alone is worth for the privilege of having a ton of crap you don't need and a bigger headache than is necessary when you want to change something. Any warranties and technical service tend to be worthless because for a lot of problems, you'd be better off having the freedom to do stuff without working through their weird software set-up or resorting to a restore disk.

I would be willing to pay the extra money for a Mac because you're actually getting quality on top of its raw components, but if I were going to get a new PC I would get the parts and put it together myself for a ton less money and headache than trying to use an HP. Putting together a PC isn't as hard as it sounds, but even if someone were technophobic they can generally get a much better, much cheaper computer at a place like IBuyPower.com. (Last I checked, IBuyPower was comparable in price to buying the individual components from NewEgg.)

In summary, yeah, overall I would say you'd have been better off spending the money on a Mac; I wouldn't use an HP if you paid me. If you'd gone through a different vendor or assembled the PC yourself, you'd have gotten a good deal for the money.

That being said, if your friends give you crap about it, shrug it off. They'll shut up soon enough, when your HP is no longer a new thing.
posted by Nattie at 5:45 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am a high priest in the Church of Macintosh. One of the first things I did upon moving in with my fiancee was to get rid of every damn PC she had and make us a completely Macintosh household. As long as the Mac stays at its current level of quality, I will use it and forswear all other systems. I will wake everyday to it and spend every moment that I can trashing other systems for their inelegant and shitty design and interface.

That said, if your HP works for, who really cares what anyone else likes.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:47 PM on December 31, 2009 [9 favorites]


I should clarify: while you have to go through Apple to get Macs fixed, it's an entirely different experience than trying to go through HP. There are Apple stores and whatnot that you can take it to, and generally people have a good experience. HP customer service is not nearly as high-quality or as convenient, and you'll have to go through them for things you could have fixed on your own if it weren't for their weird system.
posted by Nattie at 5:49 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is definitely not worth it for you for the Mac. If all of the computers you work with are PC, it's simply easier to not have to worry about cross-platform issues. You are used to Windows and you don't seem to have any reason why Windows would cause you problems (you're not trying to install all sorts of weird things or muss with your hardware). If it does what you want and you don't have any major complaints then there is no reason to switch.

I am perversely anticipating the day when Macs have a high enough market share to have the virus-makers care about them, but everyone should be careful about what they access and download. Avoid questionable websites and email attachments, install antivirus software.

Enjoy your laptop and think of those Mac-owning friends the same way you would think of friends doing religious evangelizing. They may believe that they are Right and everyone else is Wrong, but really you should do what seems right to you, not them.
posted by that girl at 5:50 PM on December 31, 2009


Do you want to learn a whole new system?

In practice this seems to be not that big of a deal. I've watched a number of people switch from PCs to Macs. There's basically three stories:
  • Stupid Windows user switches to Mac. Doesn't see what the fuss is about, Facebook works just the same, you click Applications down on the Dock and they start.
  • Windows power user switches to a Mac. Things are quite a bit different, but they're computer literate and can take anything that's thrown at them. They're up and running in Mac land good enough to do anything regular computer users do in a nanosecond, spends a while having fun as they figure out how the more tricky stuff works. It will be quite a long time (maybe never) before they know how every inch of every component actually functions, and the UNIX stuff might be beyond them, but they might discover they don't actually need to be a power user anymore.
  • Linux user switches to a Mac. These poor souls have been subjected to Gnome and KDE for years, so using the "dumbed down" user-visible stuff is a piece of cake. Spends a few weeks whining about shareware and people charging money for stupid crap. Wants his sloppy focus back. After he gets over that he realizes he's got a real UNIX that has a crapload of real software, real hardware and software support from vendors, and in fact the software he thought was dumbed down as actually pretty damn nice to use and well thought-out. Won't go back.
The people one tends to worry about (the computer novices) really seemed to have no trouble with anything.
posted by floam at 5:51 PM on December 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


Eh, if it does what you want, and money is an issue, I wouldn't worry about it.

Anyone who tries to tell you that Macs are quantitatively 'better' is probably wrong posted by muteh

Haha. So they could be right :)

Wow, the "macs are for artists" idea is still going strong? You're fine unless you're completely clueless/against computers - which might be a reason to get a mac, but they're about the same. And yes, mac users are into integrating the idea of owning a mac into their personal branding.

Wow, the 'mac users aren't just using computers they like, they're building a life style' idea is still going strong? If you want to stick your head in the sand and believe the ONLY reason artists use macs is because they're brainwashed, fine. But I hope no one actually asking this question takes you seriously.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 5:51 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also have a PC desktop at home and one in my office, so this laptop is mainly for conferences, summers home with the fam, and weekends with my girlfriend.

I strongly prefer the mac platform, but if you are adding to a fleet of two other PCs then you did the right thing by going with another PC. If you had bought a mac, you would either find yourself frustrated by its differences or by the PCs. Either way, you have a PhD to finish so use the most appropriate and familiar tool to get the job done.

As a Computer Science student, I built my own PCs from scratch and bought old unix workstations off of Usenet. Now that I've got a full time job that eats as much of my time as it possibly can, I prefer to have a mac at home because it just works. All the time.

but otherwise don't do any artsy stuff (for which I hear the Macs are well-suited)

Lots of visual artists use PhotoShop on Windows or GIMP on linux. Lots of musicians use Cubase or ProTools or other DAWs on Windows. OSX is a nice place for creative work, but the selling point for me was the command line unix prompt under the hood that just works out of the box. No crazy linux distributions, no recompiling kernels, it just works.

Incidentally, the latest version of iMovie is a total piece of crap. Don't buy a mac for video editing unless you plan on buying Final Cut.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:53 PM on December 31, 2009


Really, they're pretty much the same. If it works for you, great. Macs have some nice advantages that are worth the extra cost for some people, but three times the price, for something that's not even your main computer? No way.

Like floam said, that's an unusually large price difference, presumably because the HP is less powerful than Apple's cheapest offering. If you definitely needed something powerful, you'd be looking at a smaller price difference, and then it would be worth considering both in more detail. But if the HP is adequate for your needs, it'd be utterly silly to spend $1000 more on a Mac, mainly because it'd be silly to spend $1000 more on a higher-end computer of any sort.
posted by equalpants at 5:53 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have 3 Macs, and I use them for everything from design to animation to writing to Warcraft. For me the biggest incentive to use a Mac is the OS (I loathe Windows with the burning intensity of a nuclear furnace in hell), but I don't think there is really any functionality that my Macs fulfill that a PC wouldn't. Personally, I don't think HP makes a very good computer, but it's been 15 years since I've owned an HP, so my experience with them is pretty outdated.

I think that if your computer does what you need it to do, and using it doesn't drive you crazy, then you've spent your money well. It's much like buying a car - the used Jetta you just bought gets you from A to B and is fairly comfortable. Sure, the BMW you could have bought for a few thousand dollars more had heated leather seats and a better sound system, but in the end you still arrive safe and sound where you wanted to be.

Would the extra money be worth it? To me, unequivocably yes; but you have to answer that one for yourself.
posted by Pecinpah at 5:57 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm a Mac user, but I think your friends are being asshats for making you question your choice after the fact.

If your computer does what you need it to do, and you're happy with it, you bought the right one. And if you didn't second-guess yourself until your friends started giving you a hard time about it, then it sounds to me like you have the computer you need.
posted by misha at 5:58 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


By the way, if you'd like some actual evidence of laptop reliability, check this out. HP comes in last, but Apple isn't at the top, either.
posted by smorange at 6:09 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've had an hp pavilion laptop for two years now and it's still working fine!
(except I'm on my third power cord....so be gentle with it)
posted by kylej at 6:20 PM on December 31, 2009


As far as linguistics work, everybody I know who has a PC (which is very few compared to the number of Mac-using linguists I know) has been able to get along just fine. The main tools you'll use...Praat, Audacity, WaveSurfer, SIL fonts, LaTeX and countless other things are all available on both platforms, files are cross-compatible, and software alternatives are out there when necessary.

I'm also a graphic designer who has worked on PCs in the past. I don't enjoy it, but it's doable. You probably won't be getting into anything too artsy that can't be handled by your PC.

Also, use Dropbox. It's super useful, free, and will save your butt in case something happens to your laptop (something eventually will, no matter what you pay for it or what kind it is. Laptops are like little humans with short lifespans...they all eventually meet their maker).
posted by iamkimiam at 6:21 PM on December 31, 2009


As a phd student with a desktop as primary machine, you're better off with that $1000 than with a Mac. If anything, you might be better off with a cheap netbook, if you can tolerate writing/editing on the tiny keyboard.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:30 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]



Enjoy your laptop and think of those Mac-owning friends the same way you would think of friends doing religious evangelizing. They may believe that they are Right and everyone else is Wrong, but really you should do what seems right to you, not them.


I came in here to say basically this. To me, Mac folks are like the evangelical doorknockers that I see all the time here in the Bible Belt. They all think they're right, and are willing to expend enormous time and effort to tell everyone how right they are, but in the end, it's all the same BS. Your friends are jackasses for trying to evangelize and convert you to the Cult of St. Stephen of Cupertino, especially when, to the best of my knowledge, money isn't usually abundent for grad students.

For what it's worth, I use Ubuntu Linux for personal use and Windows for professional. My decision is based on three factors: First, I'm comfortable with both. Second, they "just work", and do what I need them to do. Finally, I have better things to do with my money than to overpay for hardware.
posted by deadmessenger at 6:43 PM on December 31, 2009


Ok, I'm just going to preface this with a HUGE YMMV

I can't say that a Mac is any better than a PC. But my mother and I both bought HP Pavilion Entertainment laptops a little over a year ago, and I can say without hesitation that it is the worst piece-of-shit computer I've ever had. They've both had massive failures within the year - hers HP recalled and replaced her harddrive. Mine had terrible sound issues. (the sound would crackle every 3 seconds if I had the wireless on) I knew it was a driver conflict, but of course Tech Support didn't believe me, had me send it back, and they just wiped my harddrive and sent it back without even fixing the problem. After wrangling with Tech Support for over a month I ended up being the ones telling THEM how to fix it.

I wouldn't get a Mac personally, but I'd go back and ditch the HP for another brand. (personally I've had a lot of luck with Sony Vaio...both of those I've had have lasted 8 years, but that's expensive too. Toshiba worked well, and Dad swears by his IBM Think Pad)

Sorry for the mini rant, but at this point, I won't miss an opportunity to hate on HP laptops.
posted by Caravantea at 6:54 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


If it does what you want it to do then by all means, use what you like. There's no reason for someone to buy a Mac if they're perfectly happy with a PC.

That said, I'm currently typing this on a PowerBook I bought in October 2003, to replace the HP laptop I bought in March 2002 after I got sick and tired of having to repair it all the damn time.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:15 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


A few points:

1) You can get a white MacBook for $1000, or about $900 with your academic discount. So the cost difference isn't as much as you might think.

2) HP laptops are not particularly well put-together, in my experience. They're very "consumer-y" machines, with a shorter "mean time to failure" on major components than other laptops out there. I'd consider going with another brand.

3) I love Macs; I grew up with them. But my primary computer these days is a Lenovo Thinkpad T500, which with Windows 7 is a superb and pragmatic tool for getting stuff done. My ThinkPad cost the same as a MacBook Pro would have, so it wasn't a cost issue for me. I simply got comfortable with Windows PCs over a few years spent working with them.

In sum: unless you're really a computer zealot, just get the tool that is most comfortable and familiar to you, and you won't go wrong. But you might want to rethink the HP; Pavilions are notoriously big, ugly, and liable to break in short order.
posted by killdevil at 7:21 PM on December 31, 2009


I bought a 17 inch macbook pro about a year ago. I also have a dell laptop with almost identical specs that cost about $1300 less. The dell laptop runs vista and the macbook dual boots the macbook pro into windows vista. The macbook is a new experience for me, generally.

Some observations on the macbook:

Pros:
* The build quality of the macbook pro is pretty nice. It feels solid and durable.
* As a programmer it's really nice to have a unix core, and it makes developing on a LAMP stack relatively easy.
* I can develop iphone apps.
* The apple logo. It glows!

Cons:
* The unix core isn't anything like a real linux or unix. it's difficult to get the latest version of certain libraries or apps. Often this makes using the latest version of software very painful.
* The available software for osx is very limited. There are a few nicely constructed applications for osx but not many.
* Usability issues abound in osx. It seems that apple chose design purity over pragmatism in many cases. For example, there are not page up / page down keys. The multi-touch pad, while interesting, is often very annoying. Application menus are strangely bound to the main desktop which becomes very annoying in multi-monitor situations.
* Lacking built-in features. Again design purity over pragmatism. I had to find a free app just so I could close the macbook pro's cover without it going to sleep. Similarly, I had to find another free app just so I could keep the macbook pro from automatically going to sleep.
* Performance! osx seems to be a huge memory hog. However, the real performace issues is in dual booting vista. It's awful. My comparable dell runs benchmarks much faster than vista on the macbook pro.
* Games: There are very few worthwhile games for the mac.
* Price: For $1300 more, I don't get much.

Overall, I'm not sure the macbook pro is worth it. I'm personally stuck with it, as I do iphone development, but I don't think I'd get another one, if I had a choice.
posted by TheOtherSide at 7:34 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


My wife and I have had 4 laptops, 3 which were Apple laptops (2 Powerbooks and a current MacBook Pro) and 1 which is a Dell.

The 1 Dell has outlived all the other Mac laptops COMBINED. Well, my MacBook Pro still works after a $300 repair this past fall, but the other 2 died catastrophically.

That being said, I love my 'Book, but my wife loves her Dell. Whatever works!
posted by newfers at 7:53 PM on December 31, 2009


I have never owned an HP but I've also never owned a mac. I have two Toshiba laptops. just saying, I use Photoshop; Vegas for video editing; Ableton for advanced music recording and editingl Audacity for more music recording; and all kinds of biofeedback and neurofeedback (EEG) software including BioExplorer and Thought Technology's Infiniti.

And everything works, and when it doesn't I take my machines into the Toshiba computer repair store where they are nice and prompt. i have three year warrantees on my laptops that I bought separately.

If the HP does what you want, don't worry about this Mac stuff.

The very fact that there are people who think of themselves in the context of "Personal Branding".......oh my god, I don't even want to think about this.
posted by DMelanogaster at 8:07 PM on December 31, 2009


If money was not an issue, would I have been better off with a MacBook(-pro)? I don't care about aesthetics. Is it worth the extra $1000 or so? The HP was only $550 or so.

A brand-new MacBook is $899 from my campus bookstore and comes with many more software and hardware features than Windows laptops, along with better build quality.

I am a PhD student in linguistics, I work with large sound files and a variety of cross-platform programs, but otherwise don't do any artsy stuff (for which I hear the Macs are well-suited).

Scientists use Macs for all kinds of non-artsy stuff, and the Apple operating system is generally better for audio work than Windows workstations. If you do computational linguistics, the development options are much better and more flexible in the UNIX world that OS X lives in.

If you want an honest opinion, you made the wrong decision, not so much because Macs are inherently better (although they are) but because you based your purchase decision on bad information.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:17 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am primarily a Mac user, with my personal machines (laptop and desktop) being Macs, but I use Windows computers regularly for my academic work. Basically, I use the computer at hand that runs the software I need - if I need to run NVivo or Morae, I'll use a Windows machine, if I have to write some quickie Python scripts I'll do it on a Mac, if I need to use Stata it doesn't matter.

In short, I wouldn't sweat your computer purchase from a Mac vs. Windows standpoint. I would only be concerned about whether the HP computer was a quality computer, and quality and cost of repair services should that be required..
posted by needled at 8:35 PM on December 31, 2009


I'm a web designer, have used both Macs and PCs -- a lot, for both of them. Both have their ups and downs. I'd be inclined to say in your case that you made the right decision, just because all the computers you use are now running on the same platform. You say you use a lot of platform-independent software at present. The way you've done things, if you wind up having to find a program down the track that *doesn't* come in any platform-independent form, you're still safe.
posted by springbound at 9:00 PM on December 31, 2009


I bought my first Mac about 5-6 years ago, not because I was doing anything artsy, but because I realized I was going to be my own IT department - and I'm not hugely techie, and I wanted things to be easy. I'm not a computer novice by any means, but I'm certainly no super-user.

I'm now on my second Mac (a MacBook Pro now) and I'm a happy user - because things have indeed been easy. (I've also found that, for me, the aesthetics matter more than I realized.)

And I've been delighted with the help I've received from the folks at The Apple Store when problems did occur.

But is what's right for me right for you? I don't know enough to say.
posted by jeri at 10:03 PM on December 31, 2009


Does it do what you want, without being too annoying to use? Then it's the right computer.

The whole 'Mac vs PC' thing comes down to this, particularly now that the hardware design is essentially the same (note, I said 'hardware design', not 'quality' or 'specifications', and certainly not 'style' or 'construction'). Essentially, with a PC you're trading a cheaper up-front cost for the expense of increased annoyance factor at using Windows; with a Mac you're paying a higher up-front cost for the lower annoyance factor of using OS X.

And by that, I mean everything you want to use, tweak, or configure in Windows is 'somewhere' - in OS X, everything is 'somewhere sensible'.

That said, you bought a HP? Their pro-level hardware is still OK afaik, but their consumer-level stuff has long been very average…
posted by Pinback at 10:10 PM on December 31, 2009


Like others, I think your mistake was to buy an HP from Staples. HP uses notoriously low quality parts and the computers themselves are just not well constructed. You can pick up a low end Lenovo Thinkpad SL right now for $500 online, which I would trust any day over an HP. You are correct that Apple does not offer anything new at this price point, however you can pick up a refurb white Macbook for $750, which still comes with the same warranty as a brand new computer. And a brand new one will run you a little under $1000 with educational discount, so the price difference is not as large as you claim. A $500 HP to a $1500 Macbook Pro are aimed at very different audiences. What you are generally paying for in a Mac is higher quality parts (big difference in the screen, better keyboard, memory, hard drive, motherboard, even a nicer power cord), a significantly better OS and a more consistent aesthetic throughout. Is this worth it to you? I do know that I see significantly more grad students (and professors) carrying Macs than PCs these days, and to me Apple and Linux are far better choices for a primary laptop OS than Windows, but nobody else can really make that decision for you.
posted by sophist at 10:14 PM on December 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


You're basically hearing the right things here, but if those who commented about the inherent superiority of Macs and Linux are maybe making you think twice, I have this counter to hopefully make you feel better about your purchase:

I have here a Mac Mini, a white box Windows XP machine, and a virtualized Ubuntu operating system. I preferentially use XP over the other two, and don't see anything fantastically superior about any of them. If I had to personally vote on superiority, I'd pick the XP machine for software and the Mac for hardware. But if I needed least expensive, full open source, and retained a burning desire to constantly low-level tinker and customize, then Linux wins. You should pick the one which bests fits your budget and needs.

This is from someone who is past the whole "power user" moniker into commercial programmer/developer land, and has owned and/or used a dozen different operating systems over the years. I don't love any of them, because every OS I ever used had major flaws in one area or another. Watch out for the rabid fanboys and those with OS baby duck imprinting; they can you feel bad about what you pick based on their personal preferences and think they're doing you a favor in the process. They are not.
posted by mdevore at 11:54 PM on December 31, 2009


every OS I ever used had major flaws in one area or another.

Hear hear. In the end, computers and their OSs are still primitive crap, that is bound to fail. They're marvelous when everything is working fine. They become a huge waste of time when anything goes wrong.

It's remarkable that so many posters above remark about Apple's built quality, whereas all the Apple desktops and laptops I owned broke down within a year with hardware failures. Apart from that, some design choices, like putting a WiFi antennae within an aluminium Faraday case, or disallowing the swapping of batteries, added to my biases against the brand.

Having said that, I had Toshiba and Sony laptops crap out on me as well far too soon. And no, that wasn't because of me. I have other machines that are still working flawlessly, after ten or fifteen years.

So, nowadays I usually try some keyboards and screens before buying a consumer model laptop. All in the knowledge I'd probably have to replace it after a year or two. And see, every laptop I bought in this manner still is working fine.
posted by ijsbrand at 4:05 AM on January 1, 2010


I own both a Macbook and few PCs (by PCs I mean windows computers)
Apple makes great hardware and sell it with their crappy MacOS (except for the unix like file system which I love).
If money isn't an option get a Macbook and install windows 7
But that extra $1000 is really not worth it since u can buy 3 windows laptops every year with that money
posted by WizKid at 8:49 AM on January 1, 2010


I own a Mac, and I'm also doing a Ph.D. (in anthropology). There are some very nice programs for academics on the Mac that don't seem to have good counterparts on Windows, and that might make OS X the better choice for anyone doing serious research or academic writing.

I use Devonthink, which is great for organizing notes and articles, and for helping me find the quote or reference that I can't quite remember. It has some nice search and indexing tools, and handles all kinds of file formats. It's a great tool if you need to manage lots of different files in a logical way.

Mellel is my main word processor. It's very functional and lightweight compared to Word, and seems to handle large documents more gracefully than word, or so I'm told. I'm also told it has very powerful formatting tools, but I haven't had the need to use these yet.

I spend a lot of time in Sente, which is a reference manager like Endnote. The greatest thing about it is that it indexes PDFs according to reference information, and has some simple notetaking tools built in. It also can capture (sometimes imperfectly) bibliographic information from JSTOR, Google Scholar, and others, and has some automatic search and indexing tools. It integrates well with Mellel, and is a wonderful tool for managing book and article information. This is the one app out of the three that I'd have trouble giving up. (Also, I think in general, working with PDFs tends to be smoother on the Mac compared to Windows.)

There are a few other packages that I know have fans in academia like Yojimbo or Bookends, but I don't have any direct experience with them.
posted by mariokrat at 4:12 PM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sure, you chose well, if you don’t value the pleasure of your computing experience and expect to enter non-ASCII symbols by holding down a key and typing a three- to five-digit code every time.

So yeah, great choice for a linguist.
posted by joeclark at 6:30 AM on January 2, 2010


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