Should I invest in a Mac?
December 27, 2005 10:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm a longtime PC user who is considering purchasing a Mac laptop for personal use. I'm relatively unfamiliar with Macs, and need advice!

I'm a 20-year-old student in the Twin Cities, double-majoring in psychology and english, with plans on immediately pursuing a doctorate in developmental psychology upon graduation. I'm somewhat of a computer nerd, and I'm considering purchasing a Mac for personal- and school-related usage. I currently use an inconviently-sized and relatively sluggish Sony Vaio PCG-K25, which will probably need to be upgraded within the next year or so anyways. It's large (11 lbs), has practically no battery life (less than an hour on a full charge), and is becoming relatively slow, even after reformatting.

The primary uses for my computer include:
- Organization/Task Management (kGTD appeals greatly to me, and is one of the biggest reasons I am considering buying a Mac)
- Web browsing/instant messaging/e-mail
- Listening to, organizing music (I am the proud owner of a 5G 60gb iPod)
- Web design (Photoshop and TopStyle are my programs of choice on PC)
- Internet poker (large drawback: Pokerstars doesn't have a Mac version)

I'm also unsure of which model would suit me best. Portability and battery life are both issues with me, so I likely would get a 12" model, whether I go with the iBook or Powerbook. I'm not sure if my computing uses, and their subsequent needs of computing power, would justify spending the additional cost. I would need at least a 60gb hard drive, and would prefer at least 1gb of RAM. iLife would be a necesity, and iWork would be practically useless to me.

Given my needs, an iBook would cost $1,149, and a Powerbook would cost $1,549. I plan on taking out a loan to pay for it, so cost isn't a huge issue; I'd just like to get my money's worth if I'm to spend an additional $400. I could pay for it with cash, but the loan serves two purposes: it minimizes my initial cost and it also will help build myself credit, which is important to me.

My questions to you all are these:
- What benefits would buying a Mac present to me? Would they outweigh the drawbacks?
- If you believe I should indeed buy one, which model would you recommend?

Any other comments or suggestions based on personal experience would be highly appreciated. Thanks everyone, and merry Christmahannahkwanza!
posted by charmston to Computers & Internet (34 answers total)
Or you could get a new PC for $500 AND donate your old one can get a $250 tax write off.

Check out the macs at your university's computer lab. Try to use them. If you end up liking it better, sell the new PC you bought and get a mac.

Don't just get a mac based on what you've heard.
posted by k8t at 10:21 AM on December 27, 2005

Although if you do get a mac, get an iBook. Powerbooks are for business and power users.
posted by k8t at 10:22 AM on December 27, 2005

Get an iBook. The price difference between an iBook and a PowerBook would not be worth it for your needs.

iLife comes with every Mac, so you don't need to worry about buying it.

To my knowledge, there isn't a CSS/HTML editor on the Mac comparable to TopSite. I may be wrong about that though.

Whatever you do, see if you can hold out a couple more weeks. New iBook (and maybe PowerBook) models are expected to be announced on January 10.
posted by jjg at 10:26 AM on December 27, 2005

What jjg said: wait a few weeks before you make up your mind.

Of course, then you'll need to make that difficult decision between the bleeding-edge first-generation hardware, or tried-and-true (and nearly indestructible) of the current stuff (which is sure to be discounted after the new stuff ships.
posted by baltimore at 10:37 AM on December 27, 2005

I've recently found that Poker does quite well on my PowerBook. Some of this info looks promising too.

I always had PCs but made the leap, without much testing about three yrs ago, and haven't looked back. Not a single regret. has a section called switcher. Take a look.

Best of luck.
posted by UncleHornHead at 10:41 AM on December 27, 2005

You will love your new mac, after the initial period of adjustment. One of the main benefits is: NO virus scanning or spyware maintenance.

Your intention to upgrade your RAM to at least 1 gig is spot on, especially if you want to use Photoshop.

I've heard great things about Quicksilver, from Mac users who are into GTD.

I disagree that powerbooks are for "power users." But the iBook is a great machine, geared towards students. You could wait for the new models, or buy an older model for less money.

Good luck, and welcome to the Mac world.
posted by shifafa at 10:48 AM on December 27, 2005

Also, I highly recomend that you check out the mac offerings from either your campus computer store or Apple's education store (, click education). Apple offers pretty good discounts for students that will cut the price down by a couple hundred dollars. And yes, you really want to wait a few weeks...
posted by zachlipton at 10:51 AM on December 27, 2005

There are scads of refurbed or slightly used iBooks out there on the market - you might consider a slightly used one which can be upgraded for less money than a new one. I was really surprised at the levels of 3rd party support available for these lovable little 'puters.

Usual suspects - Ebay, Craigslist, etc...also some of the Mac repair places online sell refurbs with limited warranties.
posted by TeamBilly at 10:52 AM on December 27, 2005

Take a look at StyleMaster for CSS editing. I use PCs all day at work and am always happy to get back to my Powerbook at home. It seems as if some of the more popular GTD sites and hacks are geared toward Mac users. I love the Mac developer community and it's the one reason I would say the switch is worth it.

Wait for the January Mac show, but don't necessarily buy the new stuff. I usually buy the hardware that was just replaced by the new stuff. The price drops considerably.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 10:57 AM on December 27, 2005

Seconding PokerRoom for online poker on the Mac, I've never had an issue using it over the last 2-3 years.
posted by Remy at 10:58 AM on December 27, 2005

Get a Mac. Don't think twice, it's alright. But yes, definitely wait 'till after January 10th. In the current generation, the 12" Powerbook & the 12" iBook are almost the same computer, mostly because there just aren't more powerful chips available for the Powerbook. Presumably they'll be doing something more to differentiate those in the upcoming models.
Traditionally, when Apple has updated its chips (6100 > G3 > G4 > G5, etc.), they've unveiled totally new redesigns of their computers. If Apple does introduce the first Intel-based Macs at Macworld, I'd expect to see a revolutionary new design. I wouldn't even think of getting a laptop before then. (Even if you want to buy the G4 models, their price should drop like a stone when the new ones come out.)
posted by designbot at 11:06 AM on December 27, 2005

Do IBooks still lack a backspace delete key? One reason I resisted Macs over the years
posted by A189Nut at 11:10 AM on December 27, 2005

Try out a Mac before buying one. For all the Mac cultists out there, there are many people that find Apple's lack of two button mousing, contextual menus, gaming software, and general flexibility to be limiting.

Also consider the rampant problems with Mac laptop logic boards and the regular upgrade costs of the OS alone.

You might be better served by a good Windows laptop with it's powerful and familiar environment rather than adopting the 'Mac workstyle'.
posted by Argyle at 11:17 AM on December 27, 2005

A189Nut - No, but the home and end keys won't deliver the functionality that PC users expect.
posted by SpecialK at 11:30 AM on December 27, 2005

Argyle: You know that if you plug in a normal two-buttoned (or five-buttoned) mouse, the right mouse button works just fine, with context menus? And that using the control modifier key on laptops is hardly an inconvenience?

There are problems with Mac laptop logic boards, but in general Apple users are very satisfied with their computers, as this 2004 survey indicates (more satisfied than anyone else, in fact). Perhaps this is just because they are cultists though.

Regular upgrade costs: well, it is true that a new version of OS X is release maybe every 15 months or so. You don't have to buy it, but many people find it worthwhile for the new features introduced.

Not sure what you mean by 'general flexibility'. Macs do have fewer expansion capabilities than PCs, for sure, but I strongly suspect that this is only a factor for a very small minority of users. You'd be surprised the amount of stuff that works well over Firewire these days.

You are right on the games though; don't buy a Mac if you want to play a lot of new games on it. This might be fixed when Intel Macs are released and you can do dual-boot, but don't count on it.
posted by adrianhon at 11:36 AM on December 27, 2005

Do IBooks still lack a backspace delete key? One reason I resisted Macs over the years

Apple's desktop keyboards have forward-delete keys, but on the current laptops, you have to press fn-delete to get the same functionality.

Try out a Mac before buying one. For all the Mac cultists out there, there are many people that find Apple's lack of two button mousing, contextual menus, gaming software, and general flexibility to be limiting.

Any two (or more) button mouse will work with any Mac, out of the box. I wouldn't be surprised if the new laptops get multiple buttons built-in, given Apple's recent release of the Mighty Mouse. Contextual menus are accessible in almost every application, even without a second button, by control-clicking. Games are the Mac's weak point. Most big games come out about a year or so later for the Mac, or not at all. Some, however, like Worlds of Warcraft, do have a simultaneous release. General flexibility? I don't know what this means.
posted by designbot at 11:36 AM on December 27, 2005

1) Wait until after Steve's Macworld keynote speach on the morning of the 10th to see if any new laptops are announced or if price drops are announced.
2) As for the Apple Store goes, while the "Education Store" (bottom on right-hand side) is a good option, the "Refirbished Store" (near bottom under "Special Deals" on the left-hand side) is an even better deal if you can find what you're looking for and can live without the BTO option.
3) I would highly recommend getting a PowerBook over an iBook for what you want to do and would highly recommend getting a 15" laptop over a smaller iBook/PowerBook or a larger PowerBook. 17" is huge and in my mind not even a laptop, 12" is great for note taking and lugging to school, but not big enough for Photoshop.
4) I think you could go for as little as 512 MB of RAM, but upgrading to 1 GB wouldn't hurt.

I LOVE my new 12" PowerBook that I bought a month ago at the Refirbished Store. Works great, does everything I need it to, and is super small and lightweight so I'll actually take it to classes. HOWEVER, the screen just is too small for me to do what I used to do on my 15" PowerBook, run BBEdit in one window, Photoshop too, Firefox, all the while with an iChat window open. The way I like to do web design, and the way I use Phototshop, the 12" screen size and the max 1024 x 768 screen resolution, simply doesn't allow for it.
posted by pwb503 at 11:37 AM on December 27, 2005

I wanted to go Mac, tried it for a year, didn't work out, switched back. Main problem was the build quality of the iBooks. In one year my 12" iBook G4 was sent four times: twice for "logic board" repairs and twice when the hard disk went out. Customer service was average, however they do try to exhort an additional $250 out of you for "Apple Care" when your year comes up, in a veiled way saying, "pay this or it will be -really- expensive to fix." Apple would not give me a new or refurbished unit after it had been in four times, they said it'd need to go in three times for the same problem before they'd do that. When I received the unit back the fourth time I sold it on eBay for a $300 hit and considered it a lesson learned. A $499 Dell laptop will most likely work, it has for me. While I do miss the nice interface, it wasn't worth the financial and productivity hit when it would break, which it did a lot.
posted by sled at 11:41 AM on December 27, 2005

And let it be known that I've just switched, too...

To address Argyle's comments:
I use a two-button mouse regularly. In fact, I use my Microsoft Natural 6-button + scroll wireless mouse and natural keyboard without any issues whatsoever. Mac has supported that forever. You also get used to hitting control or apple with your other hand pretty quickly... it seems to make sense.
Once you use a two-button mouse or option-click, you'll find that there's contextual menus all over the place.
Last time I checked, there were a large number of games for Mac. The Sims is played regularly by my sister, WoW supports Mac, and so do many of FPS games we play at LAN parties. Ports of games like Alien vs. Predator 2, No One Lives Forever 2, SOF2, and Quake 3 are available from MacPlay or the publisher. There's a bunch of Mac-only productivity software that I'm really enjoying, including OmniGraffle and OmniOultliner.

As far as flexibility goes, not sure what you're talking about there. But OSX is built on a BSD kernel, and I can run anything I can compile on it that was written for a BSD variant. I run MySQL, PHP, and Apache on my desktop, and I can switch to XWindows and a full BSD OS if I want to.

As for hardware defects ... that's why you have applecare. Usually you walk into an apple store with a blown up one and go "Fix it." Of course, I've never seen one blow up like that...
posted by SpecialK at 11:44 AM on December 27, 2005

I switched about 6 months ago xp to powerbook. There're a bunch of threads about the switching process in askme. The powerbook has a dvd burner so for your music needs could be helpful. I never use mine though. Check out the external monitor capacities for the two, if you are into graphics, as I believe there are differences ibook to pb that way - if, for example, you ever wanted a dual monitor setup.

Overall, for portability alone, the 12" is going to be hard to beat. The pb is a little more rugged. Or, get the ibook and put the price difference into the 3 year applecare. Anyway, I wouldn't hesitate to make the switch, based on your needs (though can't comment on the pokering).

You may need a song and dance to get your music off your windows formatted ipod to your new mac.
posted by Rumple at 11:53 AM on December 27, 2005

I use a powerbook and find the quality of the keyboard alone to be worth the price increase over the ibook.

I would wait just a couple of weeks, though, just to see what Jobs trots out at MacWorld SF.
posted by jmgorman at 11:59 AM on December 27, 2005

For what you describe, as others say, the iMac should serve you very well. I'm primarily a Mac user and have been for well over a decade now. I happily recommend them for most uses. As stated above, games are better on the PC.

One other thing to consider: I'm not sure if developmental psychology requires a lot of statistical analysis, but statistical analysis is much better on a PC in my experience. Before you make the leap, you may want to talk to your department chairs to find out what kinds of software they recommend for your course work because it may not be possible on a Mac.
posted by willnot at 11:59 AM on December 27, 2005

Get an iBook. Trust me, it's every bit as rugged as the Powerbook, minus some A/V stuff you don't need. But, yes, as everyone says, wait until Macworld.

BTW, the Dirty Little Secret with OS X on Intel is that the core OS has ALWAYS run faster on Intel than on PPC, and that the only real question is how well Rosetta can translate Altivec (all the PowerPC-specific graphics tools) in real-time. Apparently quite, quite well, from what I've been hearing.
posted by mkultra at 12:21 PM on December 27, 2005

sled, you obviously got a lemon. I don't think it's indicative of Apple's computers. I've had two iMacs, a Powerbook, two silver G4s, and two iBooks and only ever had one machine have to go into the shop (and it hadn't broken, Apple issued a warning that something needed to be replaced in my model so I took it in and got it fixed before the problem arose).

On the other hand, before I switched to Apple (about 4 years back), the research I did on laptops had Dell in first place for defective units (I believe it was 21%).

Back on topic, I prefer the 12" to the 15". I've had both and I've had both in iBooks and Powerbooks. The 12" iBook is my preferred machine for portabiliy and durability.

Also, I wouldn't get the 15" machine. I'd get the 12 and a cheap external monitor for when I need more space. (However, I believe one of the differences b/t the iBook and PB is that the PB can have dual desktops and the iBook can't--though double check on this, Apple may have changed this.)

I also wouldn't bother with an internal DVD burner if it's more than $100 more. I'd buy an external burner. It'll be faster and you can sell it when you want to upgrade. You can also do direct copies of media rather than going to your hard drive first.

You may need a song and dance to get your music off your windows formatted ipod to your new mac.

I don't think so. Just spend $15 or so on a program that will allow you to remove the songs, or, hook up your current machine directly to your Mac via a firewire cable or ethernet cable, copy the songs over, and you're set. In addition, if you leave your iPod formatted for windows, it'll work on both OSes. If you reformat as Mac, it will no longer work on Windows.
posted by dobbs at 12:24 PM on December 27, 2005

I understand the call of the mac. I have been using Windows-based machines for years--since 3.11. The machines worked well for me and all of my software was PC-based.

But, every time that I went to the mall, I would drag my wife to the Apple store to look at--okay, to caress the macs. They are beautiful. The operating system, the software, the machine itself--it's _all_ clean, glossy, and... well... beautiful--nothing like XP.

So, two months ago, when my PC laptop died, I bought the iBook. Since I primarily used a desktop PC at work, and would be using the laptop for primarily writing, I figured that the iBook would be great. And, when I brought home the shiny black and white box, I was in heaven.

* * *

Two weeks ago, I sold the iBook on eBAY (search for user richardhay). I ended up ordering a loaded 4.5 pound wide-screen Compaq that just arrived. The problem wasn't the Mac, but was rather me. I simply could not get used to a new operating system. I missed the control button, the task bar, and some programs that I use to do web things (such as CrimsonEdit and LeechFTP). I tried mac programs, but I couldn't make the switch.

I was never comfortable writing on the Mac. I can't really explain it, but I was just always thinking about the machine and me using the machine than about what I was writing. The glitz and shine got in my way, as did the smoothness. I couldn't access programs as fast or as easily as I could on the mac, and I couldn't flip between Word and Firefox as quickly as I could on a PC.

I know that all of these are *really* minor and could quite possibly have been overcome. But, as a long time PC user, I just couldn't become comfortable with the system I idolized. It pained me to sell it, but I am happier now.

(I did end up downloading and installing Stardocks ObjectDock which emulates that cool magnified menu at the bottom of macs.

I hope that this helps! Feel free to ask any specific questions if I can help any more...
posted by richardhay at 12:32 PM on December 27, 2005

I couldn't access programs as fast or as easily as I could on the mac, and I couldn't flip between Word and Firefox as quickly as I could on a PC.

Did you try Quicksilver or simply pressing Command-Tab? I can't imagine getting much quicker than that.
posted by designbot at 1:02 PM on December 27, 2005

I am (erm, WAS) a hardcore PC user, to the point of having been a .Net programmer for a short while (thank goodness those days are over), and bought myself an iBook over the summer when my piece of junk Compaq Presario died (read: when the extended warranty ran out and they stopped fixing it for free). Anyway, I've been VERY happy with the iBook, and use it for pretty much everything you mentioned except the poker. Getting used to the new OS was not difficult at all, my biggest problem is that I don't feel like I'm using all the tools that are available to me in the most productive way. I feel like every once in a while, someone will mention an app that sounds really awesome, and I'll download it and start using it and be all "how did i ever survive without this?", but by then, there's something even newer and cooler. But I suppose all technology works that way. So anyway, yes, you can get a lot more bang for your buck in terms of size/memory/features if you buy a PC over the basic iBook. But I still like my iBook better.
posted by echo0720 at 1:04 PM on December 27, 2005

Oh, and on reliability: I've personally owned six Macs (back to the Mac Classic, and a //c before that), not including the ones I've used at work. The only problem in any of them was that the iBook was part of the "defective logic board" lot, which was turned-around by Apple, no questions asked, in 2 days. I just got my first Windows machine, a Dell laptop, about 2 months ago. It's had to be replaced already.
posted by mkultra at 1:23 PM on December 27, 2005

I have worked in multiple businesses that were 50/50 or 60/40 Mac and PC.

The Macs were ALWAYS much more expensive to have fixed.

The PCs broke/died slightly more often... and this is from many of the major brands.

But like I said before, try out a mac before buying one. Hello!?!?!
posted by k8t at 1:33 PM on December 27, 2005

Um, I'm a Mac user and as much as I'd love to tell you get one, there's something to think about first. The current crop of iBooks/Powerbooks, are just a bit long in the tooth and aren't real performers in Photoshop land. Yes, you can wait for the new crop which will be, presumably, faster. BUT, the current verson of Photoshop is not optimised to run natively on the MacIntel, so it'll be running in emulation and therefore, presumably, slower.

If I were in your shoes, I'd sit on my current laptop and wait and see what the landscape looks like in a few months, at least until you can see some performance numbers for the new Macs and what problems have cropped up. Buying first generation hardware is always a bit risky, but in your case, since you'll be transitioning platforms as well, isn't something I'd recommend.
posted by doctor_negative at 6:43 PM on December 27, 2005

This is not about the Mac vs. PC debate:

Here's a nice little secret that will save you some -- If you're a student (and you are), sign up for an Apple Developer Connection Student membership. It costs $99/year, and with each membership (not each year) you get a student discount off one system. The discount is usually larger than a student discount -- and your powerbook in question would then be $1249 + 99 = 1350 (versus 1549) with the student developer discount.

It worked for me -- I got my powerbook while OSX was still on 10.3; when Tiger shipped, however, I got a free copy of it by virtue of being having the student developer membership. (and plus, you get a nice tshirt!)

The catch is -- you only get one discount per membership, hence, one discount per person. So if you're planning to buy that quad-G5 powermac anytime soon.. wait. If not, I say -- use the discount.
posted by provolot at 9:27 PM on December 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

Don't just get a mac based on what you've heard.

Actually, do exactly that. I wouldn't blame you for trying one out, but you're probably not going to have a month of using the mac to decide if you want a mac. So check out the threads here. Listen to mac users whom you respect. Check out the satisfaction surveys (which goes along with "what you've heard"). I started running into people I respected that made the switch, and it gave me confidence that I was doing the right thing. You'd be an idiot not to listen to other people.

As far as which model, unless you really need the extra power, the iBooks are great machines. No way are you getting as good a deal with a 12 inch pb (not that they're not beautiful).

The pb is a little more rugged.

Nonsense. I've dropped my iBook from 5 feet onto concrete with no visable damage. YMMV, but you'll find many people who consider the iBook more rugged than the PB.

Lastly, ignore anyone who brings up the one button mouse thing. They obviously don't know what they're talking about.
posted by justgary at 10:29 PM on December 27, 2005

What Windows users intend with Home or End keys most of the time (as in text editing) is achieved with uparrow and downarrow on Mac. Add Command to scroll to top or bottom of document.
posted by joeclark at 6:19 AM on December 28, 2005

As someone said above, check with your school first--I've been using Macs since 1984, and the only real problems I've had have been when I'm in work environments were the IT support staff were aggresively anti-Mac. If you end up needing to work extensively with a piece of software that's only available on Windows, you'll be grinding your teeth.

Most of the interface differences between Mac and Windows are things you'll get over in a few months. I move constantly between Windows, Mac, Linux, and Unix, and I've not found it a big deal to adjust. I've walked a few colleagues through the Windows to Mac switch, and they've all been immensely happy with the change (not due to my expertise, but due to OS X; as one of them said, "Things just work!"). But you will need to prepare yourself for some inconvenience for the first two months as you get used to the differences. (Be sure to skim through the manual, or buy a third-party OS X manual. There are, as with most operating systems, tons of shortcuts and other useful features that you probably won't discover on your own. You can get by without this additional reading, but I think you'll find it's worth it.)

As for specific machines and the apps you're using (especially Photoshop and Web development), I'd consider getting a 12" PowerBook (after the January rollout and corresponding price drop on older machines), then add a cheap ($250) 17" LCD monitor (not the Apple LCDs--they're very spendy). This will give you a very portable setup for taking to class and the library, but also give you a simple two-monitor setup with an extensive amount of screen real estate when you're at home. I had a 15" PowerBook a few years ago, but bought a 12" this time around, and it's substantially lighter and smaller. There's a tradeoff, obviously, in screen size, but since most of my work is done in the office or at home, the 17" monitor more than compensates. The PowerBooks have dual-monitor support out of the box; the iBooks can be hacked to do it, but that's an iffy proposition.
posted by johndan at 12:27 PM on December 28, 2005

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