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Should I buy a PC or Mac for university?



Yes, we’re wading in these waters this week: the classic PC or Mac debate that created countless funny ads from Apple and John Hodgman a decade ago. (I’m sure Microsoft would ask to disagree with Apple’s interpretation, but I think it would all wanted agrees that Zune should never have been anything.)

This week’s question to Lifehacker’s technical advice column comes from a reader trying to decide between the two heavyweights for their next major computer purchase. Adding a little twist to the decision is that she wants to buy this computer for school – something I’m surprised is not already happening, but I guess everyone starts when they start. As Kimiko write:

“Which is better for the university: PC or Mac? Many people say PC because most universities use PC-compatible software that is cheaper to license, while Macs are often not compatible or open. Thanks for the input. ”

PC or Mac? It depends, but let̵
7;s get into it

Let’s talk terms first. A Mac is also a PC – this is of course an abbreviation for “Personal Computer”. I think the nomenclature we are going to use for this conversation is Windows vs Mac, but even that is a bit misleading. After all, a Mac can run the Windows operating system; a regular non-Apple laptop running Windows can not run macOS though. At least it can not without a lot of hackintosh headaches, but I do not get into that right now.

So my first reaction to your question is that if you know you need a computer that can handle both Macs and Windows apps, you need to go with something from Apple. Full stop. It’s the easiest way to ensure compatibility with, well, everything and setting up Boot Camp to run Windows on your Mac – while sometimes fussy – is not very difficult to do. Switching between the two operating systems is as easy as holding down a button while your Mac starts up.

However, the problem with a Mac is that you have to pay the Apple fee. Even with an education discount – please not skip the education discount if you are a student, teacher or parent who wants to get Apple equipment for yourself or your child – you are still looking at an expensive laptop. A non-Windows laptop that runs just as fast will undoubtedly cost you less. It does not look as good, but you will save money on an equally fast system. You just will not be able to run macOS.

Also keep in mind that Apple MacBooks – and I guess you’re looking for a laptop, not a Mac desktop – will be more expensive to upgrade when you specify them. Unfortunately, Apple is not as forgiving of DIY upgrades with its laptops as they are desktops.

There is no guarantee that you will be able to upgrade your non-Apple laptop should the need arise. And there is no guarantee that buying a supported Windows-only laptop will not cost you a penny either. In general, however, you can find good laptops with Windows – ultrabooks, budget laptops, gaming laptops, etc. – that allow you to upgrade them later with a better or larger hard drive and more memory. And if this is something you want to use for the next four years, there are good options to have.

I’m not sure I have a good answer to your software related question. It’s been a while since I’d walked the halls of academia – as a student or employee – but I remember there were pretty generous discounts and / or free access to software for both macOS and Windows. What I recommend doing is checking out what the university’s IT department (or anyone) is offering right now. If all the software you need is only available for Windows, for example, it may affect your purchasing decision a bit. If the critical master’s software only works on a Mac, then go.

However, there is also technical support angle. To be blunt, Apple’s technical support options are generally much better, faster, and easier to handle than most other computer manufacturers. I mean, you can not just go down to the Toshiba store – when the pandemic ends, of course – and get help with your system or approve a longer repair process there.

With other laptop manufacturers, you need to call, go through technical support and send the system back yourself (ideally after waiting for the manufacturer to send you a box and label for RMA), etc. And do not get me started about the nightmares of troubleshooting a Windows system, and all crapware laptop manufacturers like to dump on their devices, and …

Don’t forget Google, though

If you’ve already bought into Apple’s ecosystem – for example, you’re a proud iPhone owner – then a MacBook is a no-brainer for all the useful syncing options you want to take advantage of. I’m not saying you should sit there for hours typing text with your friends using the Mac Messages app, but you do not get that kind of support on a Windows system. Similarly, if you are an Android user, your Windows 10 phone app may become your new best friend. It’s a little more annoying to live a dual platform life with Android and macOS.

We also forget the third guest at the dinner party: Google and Chrome OS. If you can even get a Chromebook right now (they are in short supply), it may be a viable option if you just need a laptop that can handle the basics: notes, emails, documents, spreadsheets, and so on. If you need special software – such as the Adobe suite, special software or a powerful audio editing app – good luck. But if you need something light and inexpensive to use for your studies, a Chromebook may be a decent option.

For what it’s worth, I have both a MacBook and a Windows laptop, and I use them interchangeably. It does not help your decision, I bet, but I would not really have a problem sticking to one or the other in the long run. I’ve actually done it – taken my MacBook on longer vacations, or grabbed my Windows laptop when I knew I was going somewhere I wanted to play.

That speaks to the best advice I can probably give you right now: Find out the most important things you need to do with your next laptop, find out which platform best supports them, and stay tuned. At its core, only Windows laptops are as good as MacBooks; it all depends you much more than the hardware.


Do you have a technical question that keeps you up at night? Tired of troubleshooting Windows or Mac? Looking for advice on apps, browser extensions or tools to perform a specific task? Let us know! Tell us in the comments below or email [email protected].


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