Mac vs. PC
March 13, 2011 9:40 AM   Subscribe

Mac vs. PC! (Laptops)

I realize this is a hot topic and there is no real answer, BUT..I would like to hear some pros and cons of both. I've been a PC user all my life and I'm getting curious about Macs. Namely the Macbooks/Macbook Pros. (Really, the OS rather than specs though)

Bonuses: Why are Macbooks so popular among college students?

If I plan on keeping my computer on 24/7 am I better off with a desktop? I've done this with my laptop and my wifi shuts off intermittently and frequently and I'm not sure if it's damaged from overheating or just a defect. I plan on sending it back to Acer over the summer and claiming my warranty but I've heard horror stories, but I'll need something more reliable for school next fall..and a longer warranty/insurance.
posted by hotdiggitydog to Computers & Internet (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've done this with my laptop and my wifi shuts off intermittently and frequently and I'm not sure if it's damaged from overheating or just a defect.

For the record, I have been a mac user for a long time, and I have never had this problem. All my wifi issues have been due to router or ISP problems, not my actual laptop. In fact, I have had no major problems with any of the three mac laptops I've owned since 2000. One eventually succumbed to normal wear and tear after five years, the next worked perfectly until Mr. Narrative dropped it and broke the screen, and the current one (a regular macbook) has been a dream to use for the year that I've owned it so far.

That said, Odinsdream is right that this question has been asked quite a few times in one form or another.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:54 AM on March 13, 2011

Here are the two reasons that compel me to purchase Macs:

1. I've been using Apple/Mac computers since the IIe. I have never purchased or installed a virus program. I have never had a virus on my machines, my family's machines or any of the probably 200 Macs I've purchased over the years at work.

2. I have never spent a penny on repairs other than replacing (in all the machines mentioned above) a couple of hard drives that failed. The two or three problems I've had have always been taken care of by Apple (they just replaced the entire top deck and keyboard for a machine that was a year past the warrente because there was a missing key).

Yes, I pay more, but I purchase fewer machines in the long run, spend less on repairs and support.
posted by tomswift at 9:56 AM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've been a PC user all my life and I'm getting curious about Macs.

Here's the question you need to ask yourself: Are you curious enough to spend $800-$1,200 on a new laptop and OS?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:03 AM on March 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was a lifelong Windows user and recently made the switch to an Apple.

Yes, you pay more initially, but the build quality seems to be higher, you don't have to pay for antivirus software/firewalls, etc.

Security updates and other updates are painless, though admittedly Windows has gotten better in that regard.

There are not as many games available for Mac OS X as there are for Windows, if that matters for you. But you can run Windows in Parallels or with Bootcamp.
posted by dfriedman at 10:06 AM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why are Macbooks so popular among college students?

Refund Checks
posted by Rubbstone at 10:07 AM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, you pay more initially, but the build quality seems to be higher, you don't have to pay for antivirus software/firewalls, etc.

This is really dependent on the PC manufacturer. And free antivirus is fairly easy to come by (I use AVG free).

For what it's worth, I recently bought a new Gateway laptop, and I haven't had any problems with wifi. I don't think there's any reason to believe your problems are anything particular for PCs (though FWIW, my sister had a bitch of a time setting up a wireless network at my mom's house that worked with a Mac, but I don't know the specifics). Really, for the cost of a Mac, you could buy both a desktop PC and a laptop and get the best of both worlds--I have a desktop I leave on 24/7, as well as a laptop that I use at coffee shops/on the sofa/in bed.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:34 AM on March 13, 2011

BUT..I would like to hear some pros and cons of both. I've been a PC user all my life and I'm getting curious about Macs. Namely the Macbooks/Macbook Pros. (Really, the OS rather than specs though)

What do you want to know? Seriously, it's not clear what you're seeking here. If you're happy with the PC, stick with it. If you're not, try out something else.

OS wise, both of them are capable of getting the job done, so it just boils down to your personal taste.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:46 AM on March 13, 2011

My son had IMac in college and told me he would have been better off with laptop--and I assume he meant Mac laptop--for use in classes.
PC usually cost more than Macs...that may be a consideration. My daughter has PC laptop and seems content; so too my wife...I am on my IMac that I have had now for 6 years of very heavy use.
posted by Postroad at 10:49 AM on March 13, 2011

I think if you're not playing games you're probably fine with a laptop.

I switched in 2008, and have no regrets. The only app I really miss is Winamp, but I can live without it. I just never really liked the way Itunes handles music.

Personally, if you don't play games, I'd go with a laptop (and a Mac, in my opinion) - as the portability is bound to come in handy - even if it's simply a matter of being able to uses it in different rooms in the house - or to watch a movie in bed.
posted by backwards guitar at 10:56 AM on March 13, 2011

Yeah, I'm not totally clear on what you're asking here - it sounds a bit like you just want people to chat about what they like or don't about Macs and PCs.

I own a first-generation MacBook Pro. It was expensive. It's on its third hard drive and has had its RAM and OS upgraded, and I still really like it. I would buy one again. I like the design, I like the way the OS works, and it meets my not-advanced computing needs. I think a lot of the value that a Mac brings is in beautiful hardware design, and really a really wonderful OS. AppleCare is also really great - when something goes wrong, they treat you very well. And if something goes wrong just out of warranty (like a couple of weeks), they will often extend the warranty to keep their customers happy.

But Macs are more expensive. You have to decide whether you're just looking for basic functionality on MS Office and the internet, in which case a much cheaper computer will do you fine, or whether you're willing to pay a premium to enjoy opening up your computer. Macs can be pleasurable to use, and that's why students (who are getting their parents to buy their computers) are so drawn to them.

If you are interested in a MacBook Pro, I would encourage you to wait until OSX 10.7 Lion is released this summer. Apparently the current OS can't take full advantage of the recent hardware upgrade to the line.
posted by Dasein at 10:56 AM on March 13, 2011

I spend all day on a computer, looking at images. While the Macs were really appealing, I like the keyboard of my Sony Vaio and the display much more than I liked the Macbooks in a comparable price range. Sony's customer service is dreadful--Apple's is legendarily wonderful.
Plenty of schools supply their students with a laptop, and the laptops are almost always Macs.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:25 AM on March 13, 2011

Our household has both, and we've generally had no major problems with our pc's or our mac. The issues that we've ever had with our wireless are related to the signal or router, as they cause disruption to both of the laptops. I do like the way my husband's mac starts up really quickly and cleanly, but I don't like how it feels sharp on my wrist when I type due to how it's designed. He recently got annoyed at trying to put together a math paper in pages that would have been simpler to do in word. I went with a pc because several of the research programs that I use were designed primarily for use with pc, even though they can be made to work with macs, I'd rather not chance issues when it comes down to the data I need. So, we've had the macbook (3 years), a lenovo laptop (1 year), a dell laptop (4 years), and two gateway desktops (5 years + 6 years), with only one issue on any of them (the lenovo was shipped with a faulty motherboard, which was replaced within a couple of days).

I think you really do have to consider what you're going to be using it for, how much you have to spend, and then you can check ratings for overall feedback on the specific model and customer service. There really are pros and cons for either, regardless of how much either can be championed sometimes.
posted by bizzyb at 12:02 PM on March 13, 2011

If you can, go to an Apple store or Best Buy and play around with the Macs. Ask the employees questions. Especially at the Apple store, they'll hang out with you forever if you want. I did that before I bought my iPhone and when I did buy it, I was really confident that it was the right phone for me.

My wife bought a macbook air a few months ago. I'm still on windows machines. The trackpad gestures are so natural, that even though I've spend less than 2 or 3 hours using her computer since she bought it, I keep trying to use them on my pc. And sadly failing...

She had some annoyances w/ the mac. For example, until the OS upgrade coming this summer, there's no real good way to maximize a window. Then there were some differences in knowing where stuff was kept and how to access programs and stuff. It wasn't a seamless transition by any means, but it wasn't extraordinarily painful either. Now she's quite happy with it and loves it a ton. I intend to buy a Mac when my current old Windows laptop dies. That is, if the iPad 3 doesn't make toast.... :)

I've used Dells for work since forever and they're fine. I recently had a great support experience when my hard drive was dying (under warranty) and a guy came to my house to replace it the next day. A friend of mine swears by HP. He has a few of the large iMac-like touchscreen machines. They're ok. HP installs a lot of junk software on them. But, they've been running nicely for a few years with absolutely no problems.

Apple's warranty is great, especially if you buy AppleCare, but it still makes me nervous that they don't offer onsite tech support.

Also, it seems that Canon, at least for the printer we have, doesn't provide good quality printer drivers. The HP inkjet that came free with her computer works seamlessly however.

Also, Microsoft released Microsoft Security Essentials, which is free anti-spyware, virus, and works well with Windows' built in firewall. It doesn't seem to be a resource hog and I highly recommend it.
posted by reddot at 12:43 PM on March 13, 2011

Engineering majors (like me) tend to buy PC's because it's cheaper; and we always end up installing Linux on it anyway; or dual boot. Certain engineering programs are only available on PC; and open-source software usually come online for Linux first, then PC then Mac. If you are planning to use the laptop for anything more than word-processing, it's useful to research (or ask others) about software you should check for. Same for games.

Regarding quality, Mac offers good value for its price (except, perhaps, the Macbook Air). Software interface is more polished, but there are fewer of them (I may be biased) and less freedom (engineering-wise) working on a Mac. Certainly, Apple products has reach ubiquity so that you won't be stranded for any reasonable application.
posted by curiousZ at 1:06 PM on March 13, 2011

If you can afford to buy a macbook without a lot of hardship, get one. There's no question that they're better. If dropping the extra grand on a macbook is going to put a serious ding in your finances, though, you should probably just get a PC.
posted by empath at 1:25 PM on March 13, 2011

If you can, go to an Apple store or Best Buy and play around with the Macs.

Do not depend on Best Buy to help you with any accurate information on macs. You might get lucky, but you probably won't. It's entertaining as hell to listen to Best Buy employees give advice on anything (mp3 players, computers, printers). Listening in on mac 'advice' from Best Buy employees, in my limited research, shows good advice being given about 10 percent of the time. Often their advice is laughable if not dangerous or completely wrong, and often I've heard employees try and push the customer back to the PC side.

And free antivirus is fairly easy to come by (I use AVG free).

Doesn't matter. On the mac side there's no need for antivirus. At all. This is a feature, period (no matter the reasons).

Bonuses: Why are Macbooks so popular among college students?

I'm a huge fan of apple, I'd rather not use anything else, and I would certainly push any college student to the mac side. I think it's a smart choice. But, no doubt, a lot of the macs bought by college students today has a lot to do with being trendy and hip, and if you asked them why they went with a mac the answer would not impress.
posted by justgary at 2:19 PM on March 13, 2011

And free antivirus is fairly easy to come by (I use AVG free).

Doesn't matter. On the mac side there's no need for antivirus. At all. This is a feature, period (no matter the reasons).

Right. Sure. I used Linux for four years, and that was great stuff. But "if you get a PC, you'll have to spend money on an antivirus" (implied by what I responded to, though not directly stated) is still dead wrong.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:22 PM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

open-source software usually come online for Linux first, then PC then Mac

As OS X is UNIX, a lot of open-source software works with a recompile for a Mac, which is why OSS comes out for both Linux and OS X pretty quickly. If someone has time, they'll eventually port it for Windows.

If you do anything computer science-related, then a Linux or OS X computer is ideal. You can pretty much install whatever you want with a lot less hassle, running whatever shells and development environment you want, etc.

If you just want to do email, web browsing and light Office productivity work, and you don't want to deal with spyware and malware, then switching to OS X makes sense. Owning a Mac is less work.

If you do all of that and don't mind reinstalling Windows periodically to clean off inevitable spyware and malware that corrupts the system, then a Windows laptop will be a cheaper experience. It's a bit more work but the laptop will cost $100-200 less, if your spare time is free.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:43 PM on March 13, 2011

I have an Acer Aspire One (Win7) and a Mac Book Pro. I bought the Acer about a year ago for $300 at Costco, and the Mac Book Pro about 3 years ago for $2100. In my opinion the Acer is the better value, though I realize the MBP is capable of much more.

By value I mean the Acer allows me to easily browse the Web, read PDFs, listen to music, watch movies with VLC and get good battery life for less than I would spend on a TV and one seventh the cost of the MBP. The MBP is good for software development (but not games, as has been amply pointed out), does not need antivirus (as mentioned up thread) has a DVD drive, firewire for fast access to the external drive I use for Time Machine, some very nice creative software available (some free, some far from free) for authoring books, video, music, etc.

My daughter (today) decided to buy a MacBook and we had a long discussion along these lines. So much now is on the Web and in the Cloud and open source, that OS was not a major deciding factor but quality and dependability was. She concluded that a MB would not be a substantial increase in cost over a Windows laptop. She got iWork for $50 at time of purchase, and is sitting in the next room perfectly happy.

If her needs were different, or her budget much tighter or if she did not have me to rely on for pointers to open source software that I know works well on the Mac, then maybe she would have made a different decision. I told her (IMO) there are definite Apple Annoyances (when a Mac hangs it really hangs, the whole inability to Cut vs. Copy, single button mouse, etc.) but there are Win Annoyances too.

Note that although I have Ubuntu on one of my two tower PCs, I cannot give a Linux laptop perspective since I've never done that.

My 2 cents FWIW.
posted by forthright at 6:01 PM on March 13, 2011

I used PC's through college and switched to Mac after I graduated two years ago (I'd switched in mind earlier, but couldn't afford a new computer). I'll never go back because the Mac is generally less hassle-free. Viruses are a nonissue. Various built-in OS X apps/features make life a little easier: Keychain manages login/passwords, hard drive encryption, image icons show the actual image, iPhoto is great for managing my photos, Time Machine works for backups. I use an iPhone too, which I imagine integrates better with a Mac than a PC.

The one and only con with my switch has been speed. Cross-platform apps like Firefox seem to launch slower, Finder (OS X's file manager, like Windows Explorer) takes long to display folder contents, login and start up are slower than they were on my older PC. There's an overall clunky feel to using it. But I'd sacrifice speed for general smoother ease of use and never having to worry about viruses.
posted by mnemonic at 6:10 PM on March 13, 2011

I was a full-time Windows user for 12 years before switching to a Mac. The reason was my wife wanted to switch to Mac for various reasons, and I knew I would not be able to support her without learning the Mac as well. We both got refurbished 1st gen. MacBook Pros in early 2007. Another factor in my decision was that, at the time, there were no Linux drivers for the wireless card in my Dell laptop, and I wanted a Unix-y OS. I have never, for an instant, regretted that decision. Over the years I've managed to get MS Office cheaply, and I run Windows 7 in a Bootcamp partition for some software that requires Windows. OS X is somehow simply comfortable to me, in a way that Windows never was and never will be. (That's very subjective, I know.)

I rather enjoy the debate about the "need" or "ease of obtaining" anti-virus software for Windows. Not only do I hate having to install and maintain AV software on Windows, I hate the whole need for Windows updates and the way Microsoft goes about updating Windows. OS X certainly also requires updates, but they are far less frequent and far less intrusive that with Windows.

I think Security Essentials is great software, but it's not perfect...I just cleaned a friend's machine from malware he caught even with a fully updated and operational copy of Security Essentials running. The problem is that, with Windows, you HAVE to run this software, whether you have to pay for it or not. Having an operating system that doesn't require you to run it is better than one that does require it, no matter how cheap it is. Updating and maintaining that software is something you have to keep up with; it's a psychic burden, and drain on processor cycles, memory and hard drive space, even if it's not a financial burden.

My next machine will be an Apple, though it may be a year or two more before I can afford one; if I have to replace it sooner, it will be with a cheap netbook running Ubuntu, as an interim solution.
posted by lhauser at 6:57 PM on March 13, 2011

I have Windows, Linux, and Mac systems at work and run Macintoshes at home. We converted both of our parental households to Mac because we're firmly in "generation tech support" and it has been easier to support them on the same platform we use.

The Apple infrastructure is very strong: we've had good luck with Apple Genius Bar techs (not everyone has, though), and we've known people who've used their free classes to learn how to, for instance, transition from being an analog musician to digital recording and editing.

For me, the MacOS works in a way I understand. I spend more of my time working on my projects and less time working on my computer. There's still a learning curve (and possibly an unlearning curve), but MacOS allows me to succeed in doing what I want.

Which brings us to "why do you want a general purpose computer?" If there are specialized goals that you have, there may be other devices that you could also consider.

If you want to surf and browse and run cloud apps, netbooks or an iPad might be a solution that works well for you. They may not be as good of a solution if you want to hook up an enormous monitor and keyboard.

If you want to play the latest games, the XBoX is highly thought of and is where much of the focus in games is at the moment. (For certain types of games: if your gaming taste runs to hidden object or match three games, Windows and MacOS will do admirably)

If what you want to do is develop the next great iPhone app, you'll need a MacOS machine.

If what you want to do is use a specific piece of software, you'll need to investigate the hardware that runs that app.
posted by Mad_Carew at 7:29 PM on March 13, 2011

Buy Mac hardware, then use it to run either Windows or OS X, your choice. Change your mind weekly, daily or hourly.
posted by rokusan at 8:12 PM on March 13, 2011

| Regarding quality, Mac offers good value for its price (except, perhaps, the Macbook Air).

Actually, the new Macbook Air is much cheaper than the original model. If you (OP) do end up choosing mac, I would recommend either a MB Pro or MB Air; the regular Macbook is no better than the Air now.

(Unless, though I can't imagine it, you value a DVD drive over portability and SSD performance)
posted by mostly-sp3 at 9:53 PM on March 13, 2011

Mac will cost you more out of the box. But the upgrades are cheaper - Apple will make sure the last several years worth of computers will work with the new OS, and they charge less than Microsoft for new OS versions, usually (Snow Leopard was only kind of an upgrade, more of a bug fix for Leopard - so it went for like $30). Windows computers will cost you less, but when Windows 8 comes out be prepared to either buy a new computer because the drivers won't work, or spend a couple hundred on the new OS (Win 7 was only kind of an upgrade, more of a bug fix for Vista - and they made everyone pay full price for it).

Philosophy differences really. Apple makes sure it is polished and works. But it will work the way they expect it to. Photo apps expect you to use iPhoto, web apps expect Safari... so on and so forth. Not too painful to use other programs though. Microsoft makes sure it looks shiny, but spends less time on polish and can't ever possibly test it on all hardware combinations so it is often less stable. You can run Windows 87 different ways, but as always it only works best when you run nothing but Microsoft software. Difference on that end is that Apple software is not that bad, and Microsoft software tends to be kinda crappy. Bloated and cartoonish. And you'll spend a lot of time just trying to keep your computer safe from viruses and such.

My only experiences using Win 7 make me think they did a crappy job. Try an action, popup appears that says "You need an administrator password to do this." But it never asks me for a password, where on a Mac the popup would include a password prompt to authenticate and continue. Windows made me go into properties for the folder and muck with file permissions, something an end user should never have to do. Even running Explorer as admin didn't authenticate properly. On a Mac, if you have root privileges you can do any darn thing you want, for good or bad. Windows 7 seems to be trying to protect me from myself, when I knew darn well what I was doing. Frustrating to use an operating system that not only assumes you are a pirate, but also assumes you have no business messing with the file system. The incessant popups are annoying - user account control - trying to make sure you are not getting suckered by malware, but what it really is doing is training you to automatically hit "OK" at every popup, which will inevitably just make things worse. Macs only ask permission when it is truly needed. You can hose your own account but the machine is fine, because anything that would truly affect all users is blocked without admin password permission. You can't just hit OK, you have to type something. Keeps you from getting complacent.

tl;dr version: I see no real advantage in sticking with Windows except for the initial price. After that, it's all downhill. Half the Windows users in my lab are just waiting until they can replace their systems with Macs.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:58 PM on March 13, 2011

Your question vis-à-vis Mac vs. PC is far too vague, because you have not described what you need out of your laptop, besides leaving it on 24/7. What are your requirements? What will you do day-to-day? I have absolutely no intention of stepping into a directionless fan-boi-flame-war between Macs and PCs.

I'm only posting to address this:
If I plan on keeping my computer on 24/7 am I better off with a desktop?
If you do this with a laptop the battery life of your laptop will degrade much more rapidly over time than expected. This is because laptop batteries are typically of the lithium ion variety. After charging a battery to 100% laptops are able to source their power without passing current through the battery, however due to the elevated temperature of the surrounding laptop the capacity of the battery will decline. Here's a reference:
Another option to extend battery life is removing the pack from the laptop when running on the power grid...Heat buildup is always a concern and running a laptop in bed or on a pillow may contribute to this by restricting airflow. Not only will heat stress electronic components, elevated temperature causes the electrodes in the battery to react with the electrolyte and this will permanently lower the capacity.
If you intend to leave a laptop plugged in 24/7 you should discharge the battery until 40%, remove it from the laptop, and store the battery in a warm, dry place. Plug the battery back in once a month and fully discharge it. This will extend the life of your battery. Typically, a lithium ion battery has a lifetime measured in "cycles", i.e. how many times you fully exhaust its charge, and lithium ion batteries have a typical lifetime of 300-500 cycles. This applies to Macs and PC =).
posted by asymptotic at 6:29 AM on March 14, 2011

I'm a lifetime Linux and Windows user. Linux for most of my stuff, Windows for the games. I always avoided Mac hardware because I could get twice the machine for the money building a Linux or Windows desktop or laptop, and frankly never really saw the Mac's appeal. More money for less machine? Yeah, I'll get right on that.

We've been running into more and more customers with Mac environments, and since I needed to brush up on making our copiers and printers play nice with Macs, last year I bought my first Mac, a 13" MacBook Pro. I wanted something small enough that I'd still take it everywhere, like my netbook. (The MacBook Air was out, lacking an Ethernet port and optical drive.)

I have completely fallen in love.

While I do have Parallels and could put a whole bunch of Microsoft stuff on there, I've been trying to do everything as "Apple-y" as possible. And I really, really like it. Everything feels so much more intuitive and it just plain works. I eventually ditched Parallels and set it up to dual-boot with Windows 7, so that I can still use the proprietary service software I need from time to time in the course of my work.

I think my next desktop is also going to be a Mac, since I can still set it up to dual-boot to Windows for gaming. As my technicians' laptops need to be replaced, they will be replaced with Macs as well.
posted by xedrik at 8:50 AM on March 17, 2011

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