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Apple vs. PC laptops

I feel like starting a religious war. Also, rcp wrote me asking for advice, and to offer her more unbiased advice, I figure that posting this would be a chance for a Mac user to respond instead. I've posted rcp's original e-mail and my response. Feel free to rebut my response as politely or angrily as you wish.

i am considering getting a laptop. actually no, i am going to get a new laptop. but being usual me, i cannot decide. i am used to pcs, but they are more expensive and are huge. macs are nice, i like the interface, but software (free) is not as easy to come by. and i am a bit hesitant to enter to realm of non-windows.

i'm basically going to be using it for grad school, some data analysis, and my usual conquest to steal music from people if i can.

right now, it is between a new mac and an ibm. do you have an opinion one way or another?

Here is my reply (slightly edited):

First, to clear up some assumptions:
1) PCs are not more expensive. Apple is still slightly more expensive, though it's hard to compare side-by-side. Also, if you end up buying a cheap iBook, one of the first things you have to go and do is buy more memory for it. You will hate it if you don't.

2) PC laptops are actually lighter; a Dell Inspiron 600m with a 14" screen weighs the same (ed. 4.98lbs) as the 4.6lb 12" Powerbook, which is the lightest laptop Apple sells.

Now, to qualify that: IBMs are huge. They still manufacture them in the same cases they did 10 years ago. Even their small laptops feel bulky due to the big black case.

If I were to choose between an IBM and an Apple, I would go with Apple, because I think the Thinkpad line sucks. It's essentially the same laptop they sold when I was in high school; if you put a ten year old Thinkpad next to a brand new one, it would be difficult to tell them apart at a distance.

If I were to choose between Apple and PC, then the answer becomes more nuanced.

If I were buying a computer to drive my iPod, digital camera, and cell phone, and guitar, I would get an Apple. The iLife application suite is a great package of "free" software. You can get better if you buy separate software, but as free software goes, it can't be beat.

If I were to get a laptop for school use, I would get a PC. They're lighter, MUCH higher performance, and more likely to work with school software. It's hard to emphasize how much faster a PC will be. The iBooks especially are cripplingly slow, and I would rather have a PC that could run MS Office quickly for my schoolwork.

If I were to choose a PC for school use, I would probably go with Dell. Sony is too expensive, and I don't think highly of Gateway/HP/Toshiba laptops. Dell has a broad enough product offering that you can pretty much find the type of laptop you want, whether it be one with a large widescreen, or one that is extremely light.

The Mac users I know, including the people who have switched, adore their Apples, but in many ways its an emotional attachment, not one based on the economics of price-to-performance. Don Norman talks about this in his book, Emotional Design. Also, there is the simplicity that comes from having iLife and having things "just work" when they plug them in overcomes any slowness issues; the simplicity does come at a cost: the reason why Apple works so well with other devices is that there really aren't that many devices that work with an Apple; you also can't easily replace the internals of your machine. Then again, we're talking about laptops, so neither is as much of an issue.

There's also a subset of Apple users who are using it because they come from the Linux camp and enjoy having a bash shell on their laptop.

Emotional doesn't mean wrong, but it's a different metric. It's good to be fond of your machine; at the very least means that its not causing you stress, and its certainly not an adversary (like Windows can be). It also means that somewhere in the design they got it right.

My metrics are weight (I won't buy a laptop that weighs more than 3 lbs. because of my back) and performance. On both of those metrics, Apple laptops lose bigtime.

Comments (13)

I love and use my mac... It really has become my computer. It isn't the fastest (its a 1ghz ti book with a gig of ram) it isn't the lightest... but for the first time I can use a notebook with out hooking up a monitor to it to do real work. This machine replace 3 machines or most of 3 machines. I previously had (I still have them I just very rarely use them) 2 dual xeon workstation machines with 3+ GB of memory each and a bunch of other goodies (scsi, raid, Gb network cards) I rarely use them I also had two notebooks, my old Toshiba Tecra 8100 and my Dell Inspirion 8100. The Ti powerbook replaces both laptops (they are gone) and I almost NEVER use my xeon workstations anymore. My powerbook runs: work, excel, openoffice, powerpoint, RealPlayer, WindowsMedia Player, QuickTime, Flash, Emacs, Iphoto and Itunes, and Ecto for my bloging needs.

On a side note, I recently had to back my powerbook down to 512MB of ram. It was painfull. The spead was about a quarter of what I was used to. Everything was slow. However I must couch that. I normally have my email, calender, itunes, emacs, X11, Acrobat reader, Fire fox with at least two windows with 10 tabs each, and a handfull of utilites that make my mac more usable for me... (Deskfinity and Virtual Desktop by CodeTek, QuickSilver, Console, Stickies, and Activity Monitor)


In the end, it's really a personal choice. It's hard for me to speak from a completely unbiased perspective since I am surrounded by Apple users, but for the most part I agree with your unbiased assessment. You're never going to find a machine that does all the things you want it to do, and I think that this is a mistake that a lot of people run into. The key is prioritizing. What's important to you?

Another small thing to note--something that wasn't mentioned above--deals with graphic design. One small caveat here is that if you're serious about graphic design, then maybe a laptop isn't the best option. That being said, I design on a PC at work and an Apple at home, and I prefer the Apple. Most of this probably has to do with my familiarity with my mac, but there's another issue that's often overlooked. Printer-vendors normally use macs to handle all their printing, so when you send them a job in a PC format, usually one of two things is happening. Either (a) they're converting the files to an Apple, which can cause problems, or (b) they're using older PCs, which can slow your job down. Again, probably not an issue, and if it is, you should probably look into a G5 desktop, but just thought I'd throw it out there.

I love my little Powerbook. It rules the pants off everything else. Go Apple!


to clarify, i'm mainly going to be using my laptop for thesis writing, some statistical analysis software, microsoft office, and some light website maintenance. no graphic work or intense design applications. just me and my 802.11b and hours in a cafe writing about pregnant women.

my metrics for what i want, in increasing order of importance:
cost efficiency (the most bang for the buck)
weight/portability (nothing over 6 lbs)


I'm fairly certain that macs are more expensive than PCs. Since you're more familiar with PCs, that might be a better fit, particularly since you're not going to do a lot of intense number crunching with it.

Still, I'm always tempted to recommend the mac. Yes, I'm a fanboy and no matter how much I try to separate myself from this, my opinion is ultimately marred by this bias. If you plan on running your peripherals off of it (digital camera, ipod, phone, etc.), then iLife is really great, and will come loaded on your computer for free. The 12in. ibook is really small as well, and my girlfriend has no problem carting it around at all.

And that's the end of my pitch. Really, the bottom line is that no matter what you choose, I'm sure you'll be really happy with it.


thanks for all your opinions. i appreciate your help.

A little late to the game, but -- I've used Macs for 18 years now. Sometimes they've been faster than PCs, sometimes they've been slower. It's really application-dependent. Right now, they are generally slower except for media processing, unless you go for the dual G5. However, the software is the difference for me. I would rather use a Mac interface at a slower speed than a Windows (or KDE, etc.) interface on a faster machine.

There's the affective component, a la Don Norman, which derives in part from the Constructionist learning notions about falling in love with ideas, being affectively engaged in cognitive tasks (Papert, Duckworth). But there's also a real efficiency component, too. iLife, iChat, Mail, Safari, and the wonderful development tools and frameworks make it really easy to do what I want. Nothing hits the sweet spot for rapid development between ease and flexibility better than the Cocoa frameworks. I've used C#/.NET and Java; neither matches Cocoa's depth or elegance.

Statistical software on the Mac can be rough around the edges, though. SPSS 11 is there, but it's very slow. (I get the impression that the analysis engine is quite optimized, because it's cross-platform, but the display engine is slow as hell.) There's also JMP, which is supposed to be good, and a shareware tool called Aabel. R has been ported to Mac OS X (or you can compile it yourself) but R is inadequate for large datasets and too complicated for most routine analyses.

Finally, I will second the recommendation about RAM. Get at least 1GB. You will be much happier. Mac OS X chews through it and slows to a crawl if it runs out. A lot of the display technology is still three years out for Windows -- so while Microsoft may be late to the game with next-gen windowing/compositing/drawing, Apple might have been a smidgen early given current hardware.


hello, I'm new to the computer world, I'm currently borrowing a dell inspiron 5100 whilst I check out macs. My choice would be the 12" powerbook, until I found out that the pc I am using has 2.66 ghz to the powerbook's 1.33ghz. I like the speed of the pc and am wondering how much slower the mac will be.


These other guys could probably tell you better, but it's my understanding that the speeds aren't really comparable like that, due to the differences in the chips. I just bought the very computer you were thinking of getting, loaded it up with RAM, and am very happy with it.

Jeff Fuller:

Well..several things. I have worked on pc's for years at work and have an hp pavilion at home which is an older pentium 3 machine and at work a totally stacked Dell Pentium 4 machine. Recently(April) I bought a 12 inch ibook g4 800 processor 384 ram (upgraded from 128 built in..the new ones are better now anyway). Needless to say, I think it is obvious that most users are pretty light users in the pc or mac world pics, music, websurfing, word and spreadsheet use. Apple rocks with all this simply. Also, the ease of the wireless airport configuration could almost be done by a 5 year old. Mac is really simple, fun, and recreational and does all the basics..for this the ibooks are great. Now..graphic designers should stick to the G5/Apple world as that is the trend with printing companies and major design firms. Users tapping into an office environment or taking a laptop to work on windows server network might want to stick with a pc. I think the proof of the pudding is coming with the new virtual pc 7 from microsoft which should give fast processor and high memory level mac users the best of both worlds but I will have to see it to believe it. I think the Apple trend is a little more serious than everyone wants to admit..most young people under 35 are going mac, the ipod draws you into the mac world, and I think the real proof comes in the form of Microsofts continued dedication to Mac with dedicated website and ever so slowly increasingly available applications for MAC. Mac has tapped into the needs of the common user. Windows XP Home wishes it could be as seemless and simple as OS X. But business to business is dominated by PC networking and exchange servers. If Apple can market a great network server and educate people (like me), and have it be as simple as OS X they may eventually give the pc world a run for their money in that area especially with MS VPC 7 on the way.


i have a question i'm going to start studing multimedia desing and tv and allmost all people say that i should get a mac i'm thinking to buy an ibook but i'm still no sure i have use pc win windows and linux and i can say that a pc runing windows so the ideal computer for graphic desing and multimedia work is a ibook apple or a pc ?

Keith C:

Well, recently compared PC and Mac laptops for a client. What I found was the Mac was heavier, runs hotter, has shorter battery life, and the screen is dimmer and only comes in matte. The lightest mac significantly heavier than the client could comfortably tote.

She ended up getting a small Sony - 5 hours, brilliant screen, could be put in handbag, etc. No contest here.


Wow this forum is really out of date. First off, Apple is now using the same hardware architecture as windows laptops, so now you really can compare the speed differences as apples to apples. And if you look at the benchmarks, you will see that a Macbook/Macbook Pro are just as fast if not faster than other brands with similar specs. And Apple computers can run Windows now, so the problem of switching platforms is solved.
Yes Apple laptops run hotter than other laptops of similar specs, but you have to think of the tradeoffs. An Apple laptop is thinner and lighter these days than other laptops in its class. The lack of computer "hum" coming from Apple's laptops is due to the lack of fans used in the computer. Apple laptops use the shell of the computer as a heatsink to help dissolve heat that case fans would normally deal with, and thus they make it quieter because there are fewer fans.
Lastly, if you look at what hardware options the average Apple laptop offers, such as integrated bluetooth and a fully discrete, also known as seperate card, graphics solution (compared to onboard graphics which are slow running graphically intensive apps), the closest windows solution is at least a couple hundred dollars more expensive.
Apple has a decent offering these days, and I suggest you do some research yourself instead of asking someone else to give you their unbiased opinion, because it will always be biased. Go google some reviews and benchmarks...


lol, the last poster starts off saying
"Wow this forum is really out of date"

of course it is... he replied in 2007 to a 2004 thread...

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