Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Which are you? Which am I??!?

My PC, a 2 year old bottom-of-the-line Averatec is on life support. As in, I gotta start planning its funeral quite soon. I can’t say that our life together has been blissful, or that I’m even sad to see it go. And if you wanna know the truth (shhhh), I may have even had a hand in its demise. I’m quite abusive to my technological partner, and I don’t mind saying so. I’m ready to drop it like its hot (which sometimes the sub-par fan lets it get VERY hot).

About six months ago, one of the Function keys stopped working. As in it is always depressed (ie, ON. I’m the one thats depressed over it.) After the usual fixes of toggling Num Lock and all the other ‘Locks’ as well as pulling off the Chicklet-key covers to clean, it was clear it was just FUBAR. So, I put an Advil on the other, functional Fn key and covered it with duct tape. Ouila! I now had a fully-functioning and ridiculously ugly computer.

This is only one of a looong line of nasty dirty fixes that i’ve had to torture my poor Averatec with. You get what you pay for, and I didn’t pay much, so I can’t really feel entitled to complain about the quality of said compy. However, now that I’m in the market for a computer (and I spend a fair amount of time on one) I’m back to the ‘weighing out the pros and cons’ of the different species out there.

Thing is, I’m poor. Yes, yes, I’m not afraid to admit that I’m fiscally challenged. What do you expect, I’m a student? So I really gotta hear Apple’s virtues trumpeted from the highest mountain in order to rationalize splurging which amounts to more than a month’s income on a white box. But, I wanna give Apple fans a chance to win over a potential new (and perhaps, quite vocal) customer.

What do you like about your Mac?


  1. #1 caerbannog
    March 19, 2007

    As a Unix geek, I like the Unix underpinnings. My non-technical wife likes the super user-friendly interface. Also, not having to worry about viruses/malware is a plus.

    On the down-side is the price. There ain’t no bargains in Mac-world. From a purely financial standpoint, you are better off getting a super-discount Windows box that you keep hidden behind a well-secured hardware router/firewall, and using some of the savings to pay for the latest and greatest virus protection.

  2. #2 dzd
    March 19, 2007

    There’s one big advantage that current Macs have that you can’t really get anywhere else–they’re basically three computers in one. You have the OS X software (most of which makes your average Windows application look like it was coded by a five-year-old), you have a fully functional UNIX environment, and (with Parallels, VMWare, or Crossover) a fully functional Windows environment to run the apps you really can’t get rid of. All at the same time.

  3. #3 factician
    March 19, 2007

    I’m always surprised to hear my Windows-using friends are getting a new computer. I mean, these poor guys are upgrading every two years (or less!). One buddy I talked to last night got his new computer the same time I got mine (a year ago), and he’s already shopping for an upgrade because his is crashing all the time.

    Though Macs are more expensive in upfront costs, you get what you pay for. I have a titanium PowerBook G4 that I use at home that is 5 1/2 years old, and still capable of doing everything I need it to (web surfing, photoshopping, video-conferencing). It is starting to seem a little slow. I also have a year old MacBook Pro at work that I use, and will likely be good to go for another 4 years or so. Sure, Macs can cost a lot, but you more than make up for it in longevity and reliability.

  4. #4 J-Dog
    March 19, 2007

    I have always been reluctant to switch, or even consider switching because of the “Most programs are on Windows NOT Apple”.

    I would do some serious checking, since a new pc/apple/”tech partner” will cost a chunck of change.

    And what about your U of M Science Sibs?

    Maybe some Grant Dollars to purchase a new one?

    At least call / email Michael Dell – There are a lot of Dell ads on currently advertising that they are “educational friendly”.

    I say: “Well Michael, Shelley wants her new PC, and she wants it now. When can she expect delivery?”

  5. #5 Shelley Batts
    March 19, 2007

    Hmmm, J-Dog, you got Mr. Dell’s digits? Maybe he’ll give me one for free if I give it a (cough) “favorable review.”

  6. #6 Badger3k
    March 19, 2007

    I’d be carefull of Dell – other than shady business practices, they have a very uneven track record. Some friends who bought them have no problems, but others have had their computers go on the fritz and get no support whatsoever from Dell – they basically got a $5-600 paperweight. So, buyer beware (as in all things). (edit – disclosure – I live within 30 miles of Dell in TX, and have friends who have had the misfortune of working there. Lot of horror stories of Dell practices.)

    I guess a new mac is more expensive than a cheap windows pc, but you don’t get all the security flaws and problems with Vista, even though the intel macs can run windows. I like the mac for it’s ease of use – never had any problems with it. Buying a new mac (and they have inexpensive macs, such as the mini (last I heard around $500, but you need a screen), and it will run windows and macintosh software, so you get two computers for the price of one (I’d put windows98 on it, not Vista – my sister-in-law spent three hours on the phone trying to reinstall Vista after it killed their brand new laptop – preinstalled with Vista).

    For disclosures sake, I have a windows (me) laptop that I use as a last resort, and an older 21″ imac (the lamp). I’ve basically used macs since 1985.

  7. #7 NJ
    March 19, 2007

    ‘m always surprised to hear my Windows-using friends are getting a new computer. I mean, these poor guys are upgrading every two years (or less!).

    I just swapped out my wife’s old Mac for an Apple refurb mini; it was still running up-to-date system and software, but just slowly enough to be annoying. It’s a 350 mHz G4 with PCI graphics, discontinued in December of 1999. My 400 mHz G4 Powerbook will be next.

    If you spring for a Dell, what are the odds that you’ll be able to update and use it for 5-6 years? Besides, once you configure a bargain basement Wintel machine with the stuff you’ll need, it will match a Mac in price.

    Get a Mac, partition the HD, and set it up for dual boot. You’ll be able to fall back on it running Windows when you need it to.

  8. #8 Allen
    March 19, 2007

    I switch between Macs and PCs about every 5 years. My PC laptop was (I thought) on its last legs, I took the plunge and bought a MacBook Pro last month. Pulled the hard drive out of the PC laptop and put it in an external case ($30), made a Windows partition on the MacBook using Bootcamp (free) and I now have two machines. One side is Mac, the other side is XP and has all of my Windows only apps.

    You will need an XP SP2 disk. Got mine free from the IT guys at work who just happend to have one from a machine that had been demo’ed.

    All said, I got 2 Intel dual-core laptop machines for a total of $2,000. At least that’s how I’m rationalizing it for now.

  9. #9 Boosterz
    March 19, 2007

    Go to This is where dell sells all of their refurb/returns/scratch and dent merchandise. Look for the returns or refurbs. The amount of systems that flow through there is insane. With a little patience, you can get a REALLY good deal. I would recommend looking for a laptop with a dedicated graphics card(256M vid mem), at least 1G of memory, min of 100g hard drive, dvd/cd burner, and wireless(they pretty much all have wireless anymore). I’ve seen them on there with similar specs for below 700 before. It depends on the volume on the site.

    Don’t get too drawn into the windows/linux/mac OS feeding frenzy. Just find you a nice laptop off the outlet, make sure it has winxp for now(don’t touch vista) and if you want to mess around with different OS’s on down the road, you can use a live cd or VMware to play with them and not strand yourself with an unfamiliar OS.

    As far as dell being “shady”, I work in a 100% dell shop. We have dell workstations(up to 300 at one time), dell servers(about 20), as well as higher end dell products(Dell EMCs, vault storage, etc). In the 5 years that I’ve been working in this office, I have only ever had one serious problem with dell, and it was on an order they screwed up, not on tech support. We have standard tech support on most of our workstations(next day parts/service basically) but on our servers and higher end devices we paid a little extra and got gold support. Basically with gold support we have >>4hr<< turn around on any kind of failure. Within 4 hours of calling them and reporting a failure, I have the part and/or a tech to install it here in my office. Another REALLY nice warranty that dell sells is their Complete Care warranty. It's an accidental damage warranty and it is a MUST for a laptop. Basically, if you drop it, spill something on it, run it over or drop it out of a helicopter(I talked to a dell tech that actually had that happen) then it get's fixed or replaced free. Can't beat that for an extra 250 bucks. So long story short, go to the outlet, wait till you see a good laptop for a bargin price, add it to your cart(need to register an account), then as you are checking out, add an extended warranty and the complete care warranty. I usually do 3 years on the warranty and the same on the complete care. Just figure on adding about 300 bucks and some change to the cost of the laptop you find.

  10. #10 Boosterz
    March 19, 2007

    Hmm, part of a paragraph got cut off.

    Gold support gives you 4hr turn around on parts service. I’ve used it repeatedly and never been disappointed. For you, I wouldn’t bother with it, but I WOULD get the dell Complete Care warranty. It’s the accidental damage warranty and it’s a MUST for a laptop. Bust the display, drop it off the table, spill something on it, drop it out of a helicopter(talked to a dell tech that took that call) and dell fixes it/replaces it for free. Can’t beat that for an extra 250 bucks.

  11. #11 Dave Regan
    March 19, 2007

    I would say that if money is a problem you should go for a PC instead of a Mac since, pound for pound, Macs are A LOT more pricey than a PC. Plus, if you get a cheap Windows laptop from a manufacturer and install Ubuntu (or other linux distro) you can often get your money back for the windows license you won’t be using. Hacking another $80ish off of the price. You may even be able to return your MS office license if you wish (not sure how common this is though)and use open office instead. These days you can get a lower end, new Windows laptop for around $600 (I just checked DELL and they have one for $599). I think that this is the way to get the most functionality for your buck.

  12. #12 Rich
    March 19, 2007

    I’ve now been using Macs for a little over two years, having switched from AmigaOS. I use Windows all day at work and now find it a pretty unpleasant experience. The thing that I really love about OS X is that there are so few distractions from whatever I choose to focus on. (This is especially true when using Megazoomer.) Also, there seems to be a lot more innovation in OS X software than in Windows software. For example, I couldn’t now live without Quicksilver (which seems to me nothing less than a revolution in human-computer interaction), TextMate is nicer than any Windows editor I’ve ever found, NetNewsWire is a brilliant RSS reader, Shiira is a lovely web browser, and Adium is much better even than Gaim for IM. All of these are either free or cheap. There’s also excellent support for LaTeX if you use that to write papers, and Omnigraffle for drawing diagrams.

    If you most use Microsoft Office – as I occasionally have to – then you might even agree with me that the OS X version is better than the Windows one, but that’s a much closer call.

    There’s also a lot to be said for things just working!

  13. #13 Steve
    March 19, 2007

    First, get a laptop and not a desktop. Most laptops are fast enough for most apps and they’re super convenient. Thinkpads are best, but more exp. I’ve had 3 and have dropped them on concrete with no problems. Just don’t get a Dell, bad, bad, bad!

  14. #14 Shelley Batts
    March 19, 2007

    Yeah, a laptop is a must. This is the first one i’ve had, but i’m NEVER going back. Blogging in bed? Can I hear a w00t w00t!!

  15. #15 df
    March 19, 2007

    I just switched to Mac. My last 3 laptops have been Dell products and the two before that were from Toshiba – all running Windows. I hadn’t used an Apple computer since ~1990, but after I went to the Apple store and tried out the Macbooks I decided to give them a try. Yes, they are much more expensive, but so far I feel that it is worth every penny. As another commenter mentioned already, I can run Windows and Linux on it with either Bootcamp or Parallels (I prefer Parallels) – so I feel like I have 3 laptops in 1.

    You can buy a refurbished Macbook through Apple at a fairly sizable discount – recently they were offering the basic Macbook for $799. Apple also has a student discount program (that I didn’t learn about until after I had already purchased mine).

    Whatever you decide to do, I recommend buying the extended warranty. I know that those are normally a sucker bet and should be avoided at all costs. But I have found over the years that laptops experience problems at a higher rate than other technologies. Maybe I’m hard on them or maybe I’ve just been “lucky” but I haven’t regretted spending the extra money on a longer and/or better warranty for a laptop yet. (I would be curious what your other readers’ experiences and opinions are regarding laptop warranties.)

  16. #16 Boosterz
    March 19, 2007

    Actually you can’t get money back from an OEM license on a pc or laptop. They are bound to the machine when they are installed and are non-transferable. Typically it’s also impossible to get a PC/laptop from a vendor WITHOUT an OS installed(some flavor of windows with very few exceptions). Trying to save money by skipping on OS simply isn’t going to work unless you plan on building a PC yourself.

    Thinkpads are just more expensive with no benefits. Plus thinkpads aren’t even IBM machines anymore. IBM bailed out of the PC market so they sold off their PC division to the chinese company that did all their manufacturing. Now Thinkpads = Lenovos. Our parent company is forcing all the sub companies to switch to Lenovos now(I have now freaking clue why). I hate the clunky things. They cost more, don’t do anything extra, and are loaded down with a lot of crap that is useless(Think Vantage). ThinkVantage is more of a marketing ploy then really useful. I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials where the laptop starts melting/disintegrating on the table, then someone pushes the little blue button and it springs back from oblivion. In real life it’s not that simple. 😉

  17. #17 J-Dog
    March 19, 2007

    Shelley – “Blogging In Bed” w00t, w00t –
    Ahem… Just rmember to turn the camera off…or, maybe not – sure to increase those vital Traffic Flow numbers, and expand the scope of science to a whole new user type!

  18. #18 Boosterz
    March 19, 2007

    Ok, I’m stepping up my attack. 🙂
    I just did a casual run through the dell outlet:
    AMD turion dual core proc(1.6Ghz)
    1G 533Mhrz RAM
    120G SATA HD
    ATI Radeon Express 1150 (256M ram)
    8x dvd burner
    It has XP media center 2005(basically it’s XP home with a bunch of extra wizards installed)
    price: $679(take that basic macbook) 😉
    You could get the complete care warranty on top of it and with shipping and tax it would be about a grand.

    Plus that was just a quicky search. You can probably do better if you eyeball the inventory for a while and snipe you a good one when it comes up. Then you can do like I’m going to do with mine and dual boot it with Ubuntu. 🙂

  19. #19 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 19, 2007

    So, I put an Advil on the other, functional Fn key and covered it with duct tape.

    You used an Advil rather than a Chiclet to repair the keyboard? You probably voided your warranty right there.

    I don’t have any advice for you, I don’t do laptops. I’m also a Linux guy, and I’ve heard it’s not quite as smooth on laptops as on the desk. Having a Linux laptop would give you major geek points though.

  20. #20 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 19, 2007

    This would put you right off the geek point scale:
    build your own laptop from mini-ITX parts.

  21. #21 PeterC
    March 19, 2007

    I have a Tablet PC (also on its last legs since I broke the spindle) and I sometimes run Linux on it using a Knoppix DVD so I have access to a Unix environment(Knoppix is free you just pay for the CD or DVD you burn it on.) When I first got the computer the drive was split into two so I could have installed the MAC OS on that. Of course I had to have the drive changed and it came back as one logical drive.
    I think your real problem though is quality for cost. Which manufacturer makes the cheapest high quality computer that will survive you. Is there a premium on owning a Mac? If they cost more then aim for something cheaper but that has the same get up and go.

  22. #22 G, Shelley
    March 19, 2007

    Couldn’t you just buy a new keyboard?

  23. #23 John C. Welch
    March 19, 2007

    This may not be what a lot of people think of when they ask “why apple”, but then again, i’m an IT guy, so I don’t think like most.

    Look, anything works great when everything is fine. Windows, Linux, OS X. Doesn’t matter. However, it’s when things go wrong that you find out what’s up.

    This morning, out of all the Macs that I updated to 10.4.9 starting on Friday, (yay automation), I had one that didn’t do so well. The update died before it complete. Come in this morning, no boot, can’t even get into Single User mode.

    The answer was really simple. First, boot from the original install DVD. Is the drive fine? Yes. Great.

    The next step was dead simple. Reinstall the OS. Now, in a lot of cases, this is a real pain in the ass, esp. with Windows, because of registry issues, etc. On the Mac? Nah. See, Apple has this spiffy feature called “reinstall preserving user data and network settings.”.

    It’s a clean OS install, (even moves the previous OS into a folder called “Previous Systems”), but it takes your user data and network info, and migrates that into the new system. Does a good job of migrating common application data too. (Since there’s no Registry silliness, this is nothing more than a file copy. Makes it easier to deal with individual bad settings too.)

    So, sat down at her desk at 8:30.

    By 9:00, it’s obvious the OS is fubar’d. Boot from original media.

    By 11, the new install, all updates, and one third party printer driver have been reinstalled.

    Total lost time? 2.5hrs.
    Total lost data? None. In fact, once I finished up the printer driver install, she couldn’t tell it was a new OS install.

    I’ve been doing IT for almost 20 years, but with Mac OS X, I have completely eliminated the OS from my backups. There’s no point in it any more. It’s far more repairable than Windows, and if you can’t fix it? It’s a DAMNED site easier to reinstall.

    In other words, it fails FAR more gracefully than Windows. It handles problems with fewer fatal errors, and, while not nonexistent, the malware problems on a Mac are insignificant compared to Windows. For that, the Mac wins, and wins big.

    It’s little things too. Setting up wireless networks is far less painful on a Mac. Need multipoint text/voice/video chats? FAR simpler on a Mac, esp. with a laptop, since you have the camera built in. There’s a dozen things in the UI that MIcrosoft just drops the ball on, and Apple doesn’t. But then, Apple assumes that you are using the computer for Applications, not to fuck about with the OS. If you WANT to futz with the OS, oh hell yeah you can. But it’s never as much of a requirement.

    As well, for someone in the sciences, (I did a few years of IT at an atmospheric sciences company. Definitely not the same as bioscience, but not COMPLETELY different either), well, lets see…you get Unix/X11 so you can have your MatLab/IDL/whatever happiness, along with whatever open source tools are out there. You get a far better printing subsystem, so when you need your figures to look their best, well, native PDF generation as part of the OS doesn’t suck, nor does system-wide color management. While Microsoft Office on the Mac is not as big as it is on the Windows side, it’s certainly not a sharp stick in the eye. Unix’s memory and resource management is far better than Windows. Case in point…you put 2GB of RAM in your system, Windows reserves half. So non-OS stuff? yeah, only gets access to half the installed RAM, then you’re in the swap.

    Need to make a presentation? There’s a reason Gore used Keynote for “An Inconvenient Truth” and it wasn’t because it was free or cheap. Keynote isn’t as big as PowerPoint, but it is *gorgeous*. And i’m a hardcore PPT fan.

    Pages doesn’t suck either for creating paper. Again, I have much love for Word, but Pages is pretty damned sweet. Now, the bibliographic tools situation on the Mac is not as nice as it is on Windows, but it’s not crap either.

    Are there individual areas that Windows is going to be better in? Sure. But if you look across the board, particularly in the sciences, Apple and Mac OS X hit more of the important things you need or want with higher quality than Windows. It’s a better system.

    On a personal level? the only time Windows runs in my house is for Games. Period.

  24. #24 Boosterz
    March 19, 2007

    If you are working in a business environment and you aren’t using drive images, something is wrong. One of my dells has some kind of software problem(spyware, bug, windows flakes out, etc) I check to make sure my user is storing all their files on the fileserver, then I drop in the image CD I made for that model. Presto, 10-20 minutes later my user is back in action like nothing happened. I’d have to be crazy to be running around doing normal OS reinstalls. Average of 20minutes versus 2.5 hours. No contest. 🙂

    I thought you mac guys might like this too 😉

  25. #25 PZ Myers
    March 19, 2007

    Jebus. Every traffic whore on Scienceblogs is posting about religion nowadays.

  26. #26 Shelley Batts
    March 19, 2007

    I suppose we’ve learned from the best, PZ.

    And why is this in a computer thread?

  27. #27 PZ Myers
    March 19, 2007

    Seriously, though, Macs are cheap, when you consider that everything that is extra on a pc comes with the Mac, and that they last nearly forever. I’ve used nothing but Mac laptops since, oh, about 1994 or 95. I usually get a new model every 3 years, and hand down the old one to the kids. We found my clunky old first laptop in a closet a while back, a bit the worse for wear with a cracked hinge and one of the ports wrenched out, and we turned it on…it still worked! Except that the screen was an itty-bitty 640×480 porthole, it was too slow to do anything fancy on the web, and the battery had degraded to about a 10 minute charge life, it was still a reasonably functional machine, and it was also running one of the better, older versions of MS Word, from before it became a Frankenstein’s monster of kludged together crap.

    Anyway, Macs generally have a slightly higher entry cost, but they pay for that extra with lower maintenance and a longer lifetime.

  28. #28 KeithB
    March 19, 2007

    The Apple store on line has an “educational” section, where you can register and get an educational discount online.

    Mac also has “migration assistant” so that when you upgrade to the next one in 4-5 years, you just hook the two computers together with FireWire and suck the brains out of the old one. Woot! Good to go.

    If you are into any of the iLife things: Photo’s, Movies, Creating DVD’s, or making music (GarageBand) it is alxo a big plus to get world-class software for free.

    Apple has a great user support site where some kind folks (not Apple affiliated) can help with any issues.

    It just works. (It does, it really does!)

  29. #29 Davis
    March 19, 2007

    And why is this in a computer thread?

    Have you ever seen an internet Mac vs. PC argument? They tend to be worse than the recent god furor here on SB.

  30. #30 Shelley Batts
    March 19, 2007

    Really? Hmm. Ok, went over my head then. 🙂

    Thing is, I always just kinda figured that apples were all agreed-upon to be better but PCs were cheaper. Which is why I started the thread….I’m ignorant as to *why* there are better, although I have learned a lot by reading everyone’s comments (thanks guys.)

  31. #31 MaxPolun
    March 19, 2007

    The reasons macs are better for most people than windows is that the are easy to use and are secure by default. The reason they cost more is pretty much just that they are all higher-end models, well… they do cost a bit more than an equivalent pc if (and only if) you get windows for free.

    On the other hand linux is easy to install if you are any good with computers (at least some distros, specifically ubuntu, though I’m sure there are others just as easy) and is free, secure and full of functionality, especially for scientific stuff (which often lacks a good windows port) and development tools. It does need to be installed and occasionally some consulting internet faqs to get more obscure hardware working if you are unfamiliar with it.

    As for windows: unless you are a gamer, there is no reason to use it (anything else can be emulated in either linux or macs)

  32. #32 Rich
    March 19, 2007

    Shelley said:

    Thing is, I always just kinda figured that apples were all agreed-upon to be better but PCs were cheaper.

    I think this is a little misleading. The truth is that Apple don’t have any computers that compete at the very low end of the market. In the mid range, Macs and PCs are quite comparably priced (perhaps the PCs have a bit of an edge in raw power/dollar, but they aren’t as nicely designed). When comparing machines with similar specifications, the advantage tilts towards Apple as you look towards the high end of the market. By the time you read quad-core Mac Pros, the Apple computers are cheaper than Dells by quite a large margin, and much nicer as well.

  33. #33 Rich
    March 19, 2007

    My final comment[1]! In my experience most Windows users tolerate their computers but most OS X users love them. If I’m going to spend all that money on a computer, I’m pretty sure I’d rather end up with something that I love using.

    [1] For today, not ever.

  34. #34 Michael
    March 19, 2007

    Yeah, get a MacBook (non-Pro). You’ll love it and there won’t be a single thing you can’t do with it. I do scientific computing, “office” computing, play games, run X-windows, compile C and fortran, run Photoshop, record music, keep my photo library, do my finances, have a bunch of cool widgets, use Skype, IRC and sshfs. It has a single keychain to consolidate passwords and stuff, it’s secure, fast and Apple has great support.

    Must I go on?

  35. #35 decrepitoldfool
    March 19, 2007

    I am a PC support guy of 15 years experience, but lately had a chance to use a Mac for a month. I was impressed with its stability and it comes with some wicked-cool software that works very well.

    We have one department head who regularly crashes his desktop PC. I found out he uses a Mac at home. He says; “I bought it because I don’t have any support person at home I can call. It works exactly as well now as it did the day I bought it.”

    So I’m buying an Apple for my son who was just accepted into a mathematics PhD program and has requested one (this will be his second). Me, I’ll keep using my ThinkPad.

    I would say definitely get the apple-care dealie, though. Can’t use generic PC parts in an Apple.

    Good luck.

  36. #36 Silver
    March 19, 2007

    I think it entirely comes down to what you need a computer for. If you *have* to use specific software that only runs on a particular platform, go with that platform. Otherwise it comes down to personal preference.

    ‘Better’, of course, being subjective. It’ll depend on how you interact with your machine, and your mannerisms. ‘Better’ could simply mean that you spend more time doing things *with* your computer rather than *to* it. ‘Better’ may also mean that aside from the obvious precautions, you don’t have to worry about malware. ‘Better’ may also mean that you find the interface more aesthetically pleasing than Windows. It can also have thousands of other definitions or a combination thereof.

    There will be learning curve in switching platforms. If you do switch to a Mac prepare to be frustrated for the first few weeks as you learn the Mac’s way of doing things, and unlearn Window’s way. If you have a lot of muscle memory built up in short cuts, for example, these may not necessarily exist across the board.

    Personally, I prefer Macs particularly for their unix underpinnings.

  37. #37 Charlie (Colorado)
    March 19, 2007

    Shelley, I just converted a couple of years ago — and I’ve been using computers since (*sigh*) before you were born, by a good bit. I converted because I spend all my time hacking at computers for work, I wanted a computer that I could just trust for daily stuff. Unless you have an inner geek I haven’t noticed, I doubt you want to spend a lot of time screwing around with your computers either.

    If you’re looking for better prices, I’d look here at refurbished computers. Get one with the service contract.

  38. #38 Charlie (Colorado)
    March 19, 2007

    Jebus. Every traffic whore on Scienceblogs is posting about religion nowadays.

    It’s okay, PZ, I got it.

    Next we’ll indoctrinate her about EMACS vs vi.

  39. #39 Jeremy Bruno
    March 19, 2007

    I agree with Silver; it’s definitely a preference thing. I like Macs because they tend to be more cooperative than PCs. Compatibility used to be an issue, but not so much any more, especially with the new Intel Macs…

    Don’t expect to be playing many new computer games, though.

  40. #40 bioephemera
    March 19, 2007

    I love my Mac too. The main problem with Macs is external: you have to be self-reliant, and ignore minor inconveniences from the PC-oriented world, who will not bother to accommodate you and your Mac. It’s a little like being left-handed.

    When my power converter blew two weeks ago, I had to drive 6 hours to the nearest Apple Store (I couldn’t survive the weekend waiting for an overnight shipment, and places like Walmart don’t carry Mac parts). When I insisted my employer buy me a Mac, IT subsequently refused to do any troubleshooting on my user account – even when the problem was on their servers, and had nothing to do with my desktop at all. I just applied to law schools and none of the online interfaces were Firefox-friendly – although if my machine was new enough to run Bootcamp that would not be a problem. Etc.

    But hard as it is for my friends to believe, I don’t care that I have to drive 6 hours to buy a power cable. For me the emotional tradeoff of a machine that almost never crashes, has an attractive aesthetic, and uses interfaces I find utterly intuitive is worth it ten times over. Working on my Mac doesn’t ratchet me up; it relaxes me.

    It does sound kind of cultish, but it’s not about religion, it’s about user comfort and ergonomics. I think creative, high-strung types value these Mac traits most, while people who use computers in a strictly business context are completely indifferent to them. If you would describe yourself as a “creative type,” you should at least try a Mac out.

  41. #41 cbutterb
    March 19, 2007

    and it was also running one of the better, older versions of MS Word, from before it became a Frankenstein’s monster of kludged together crap.

    I’m glad someone else is as annoyed at this as I am. I still use Word and Excel 97 (for Windows), and I love them (insofar as one loves Microsoft products, that is). Each one loads in about half a second and does everything I need it to. Even the little paperclip guy is occasionally useful.

  42. #42 John Wilkins
    March 19, 2007

    I have used macs for about 20 years. Throughout that time, when I managed an installation of 20 Macs and two Windows boxen, guess which took 90% of the maintenance time – and I am just talking about software/OS, not hardware – they took 95% of the hardware support time.

    Macs tend to work – there are some models that are less than stellar (early iMacs for example), and I wouldn’t necessarily get a bottom of the range model if I had a choice, but basically so long as you get lots of RAM, they are a better choice.

    I see the options thus:

    1. Windows if you must have a cheap PC, and have access to support locally. Without support, or if you can’t track down serious problems yourself, you are screwed.

    2. Macs if you don’t want to spend much time troubleshooting and like a glossy UI. However, it’s a time investment to switch, because all your instincts will be “wrong”. If Macs go, they go for serious reasons and it will be back to the shop, not a local fix.

    3. Linux if you are a techhead and like tweaking both hardware and OS. It’s way cheaper than either, because nearly all software is Open Source.

    If you need to get a feeling for waht some considered criticisms of the Mac UI are (and it pains me to say I agree with nearly all of this, though Windows is much worse) go here. But if you want command line control, Macs have Unix under the hood.

  43. #43 Davis
    March 19, 2007

    So I’m buying an Apple for my son who was just accepted into a mathematics PhD program and has requested one (this will be his second).

    For us math folk, there’s a pro-Mac argument that’s probably not relevant to Shelley: the Unix/BSD underpinnings of OS X (plus the native PDF support) make installing and using LaTeX much, much easier than on Windows. And if you’re doing math, you’re eventually going to be writing a lot of LaTeX.

    My home desktop is a PC, but my laptop is a Mac. I give my Mac a significant portion of the credit for successful completion of my thesis — LaTeXing on the PC annoyed the heck out of me.

  44. #44 Boosterz
    March 19, 2007

    Argh, mac fan-boys as far as the eye can see! 😉

    Maybe I’m looking at this slanted because I’m a career techie. To me it’s a simple choice. Here’s my reasoning.

    PCs have historically ate Mac’s lunches for them in hardware comparisons. This has forced apple to finally cave in and start using PC hardware. Apple’s dirty little secret is that there is basically NO difference hardware wise between an apple and a PC. What most people don’t know is that the only thing keeping pc owners from installing OSX on their rigs is a little chip that apple is installing in their machines. OSX looks for this module and if it does not see it, it refuses to work. The only REAL difference in the hardware anymore is that the apples use a lot more cutesy plastic and probably over heat like a fiends cuz it’s bent into some funky(yet stylish) shape.

    The MAIN reason people get apples is because they get hung up on this windows versus OS X dichotomy. What they don’t understand is that it’s a FALSE dichotomy. I can buy a PC and run pretty much any OS on it I want including OS X.(that TPM module can be worked around 🙂 ).

    Basically, Apple is a company with only 2 products, OSX and iTunes. I don’t really consider apple computers to be separate products for them, because they are just PCs with security chips jammed in them and OSX installed on them. Despite all of apple’s cute advertising, the reality remains that all they are selling are VENDOR LOCKED PCs. Vendor locked PCs I might add, that Apple usually sells for MORE then regular PCs with equal hardware.

    So to me it seems rather simple and straight forward, why would I buy an apple when I can just buy or build a PC that is cheaper plus it’s not going to lock me into what I can and can’t do with it? That’s why I have my dell lappy. It has XP pro on it now, but later on down the road it’s going to be dual booting with Ubuntu. And if things go well, it may well end up with just Ubuntu on it. Or I may pick another linux distro. Or I maybe I’ll pick some other OS. But the point is, I’LL decide what I use. Not some damn chip stuck in my computer. And I’m sure as hell not going to pay a premium for the privilege of getting stuck with only 2 choices.

  45. #45 Boosterz
    March 19, 2007

    Dang, left out a link. I was going to hyperlink apple’s dirty little secret. 😉

  46. #46 jvarisco
    March 19, 2007

    The MacBook + Education discount is a pretty good deal. You might be able to get a free printer/ipod with it too.

    One thing that’s interesting: all the PC fans here seem to be total tech geeks. Translation: if you don’t know all the details to do tech support for yourself, macs are the better bet. Sure, if you can custom-build your own pc it’s probably nice. But most of us don’t know that much.

    Mac support is also very good. You can either take it to them or mail it and they will fix it asap for free. The warranty is three years (with applecare), but if it’s registered through a school they will generally do it for free regardless (not officially, but I’ve had it happen). In nearly 10 years of having macs (four separate ones) I have had one problem, and it was fixed within the week. My current G5 has been on nearly constantly for 2.5 years, and has worked perfectly the entire time.

  47. #47 Michele
    March 19, 2007

    8 years ago, I bought my first Mac. Prior to that I was using a Windows pc at home and at work. I didn’t find it difficult to switch to the Mac. I now find using a Windows computer frustrating because it doesn’t seem as intuitive as a Mac.

    I am on my second PowerBook. My first one lasted nearly 5 years. I have not had any problems with either of my machines. I am not very techy oriented (by choice) so the Mac works great for me. I don’t have to know much to use it and updating it has been easy enough. I LOVE my Mac!

    I did have a Dell too but it never worked well from the day I received it. After months and months of going back & forth with Dell customer service, I gave up and hired someone to come and fix it. It still didn’t quite work but I lived it with it until I could buy another computer.

  48. #48 JYB
    March 20, 2007

    I have WinXP at home, Ubuntu and an iBook for work so I at least can say I use all three. I have to say that OSX is wonderful. As the others have said, if you like Unix, it’s there. If you want ease of use, it’s there. You can actually set up users that are users in something other than name. And there’s all this stuff on OSX that you didn’t even know you needed until you used it (Expose anyone?).

  49. #49 CET
    March 20, 2007

    Re: The initial problem

    What are the specs on your old machine?

    It’s probably still usable given an OS reinstall (XP or linux/BSD) and reasonable upkeep. I’ve seen 2nd string PCs work fine (and at speed) for 4+ years, it’s just a question of handling.

    Re: Mac v. PC

    It comes down to the OS. I would put in some time on an OSX machine and decide whether or not you like the interface. Some people love it, some can’t stand it.

  50. #50 Chris
    March 20, 2007

    Obviously, I’m late to the party here, but I’ll throw in my two cents anyway. I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve used all three OSes (Win/Mac/Linux) fairly extensively.

    I like Macs. They’re pretty, they’re fairly easy to use and administer, and all the nice things people say about them are true. The problem is, they’re hideously overpriced.

    As a fellow grad student on a budget, I’d stay away from Macs unless I had some extra fellowship money sitting around that I didn’t know how to spend. Honestly, for most of your day-to-day tasks, you’ll be using the same software anyway. Firefox works the same on both platforms, Office is the same, etc. Most of the Mac programs that people ooh and aaah about have good PC replacements as well. iPhoto is really no better or worse than Picasa, for example.

    Get a nice PC, and then spend the money you saved on beer. After all, grad school is enough to drive anyone to drinking…

  51. #51 bigTom
    March 20, 2007

    Well the other possibility is Linux. As much as I dislike Dell, they are supposedly selling some pre-packaged Linux boxes. If you have a hacker friend, you could purchase a generic no-OS machine and get them to help you install Linux. That is the cheapest solution, and lots of free Open Source software is available for you. You might need a little hand-holding from a geek friend -especially for installing some apps, but you should be about as virus proof as the Apple.

  52. #52 Kristjan Wager
    March 20, 2007

    As for windows: unless you are a gamer, there is no reason to use it (anything else can be emulated in either linux or macs)

    Well, or unless you code .NET (and no, you can’t emulate it properly in Linux).

    One comment to what many people have said above. They keep talking about saving money on not having to buy Win XP, and on being able to run Win XP on a Mac. People are aware that they need a licence for that as well, right?

    OS X is nice, but to be honest, I ‘ve seen much better graphic interfaces as add-ons to Linux. They are really impressive.

  53. #53 darius
    March 20, 2007

    Boosterz brings up a good point, which I think most people not in the industry are aware of (especially when they talk about how long their Mac has lasted): Mac is now using PC hardware. Plain and simple.

    Previously, the difference between Macs and PCs were that Macs were more expensive, had all or mostly proprietary hardware, had fewer applications available (but there were some specialized applications only available for Mac), and were easier to repair.

    Now, the difference is that Macs are more expensive, have a chip that enables OSX to run, and have proprietary plastic to ensure the Mac branding is still there. Most software is available for Mac or PC (or other software with the same function), and since the components for a Mac are the same as components for a PC, the main difference for repair is going to be that PC techs are more plentiful.

    I also read a comment or two talking about how often PC people upgrade. First off, people with PCs who upgrade because their computers aren’t running properly (viruses, too many apps, etc.) aren’t doing it right. That’s like moving to a new house because you never learned to take the garbage out.

    Second, people with PCs who upgrade because they want a faster system are generally doing it for one of two reasons: (1) they buy into the fallacy that you need to upgrade to the latest version of Windows as soon as it’s out or the fallacy that upgrading from 2.0GHz to 3.0GHz will really let them do basic stuff (word processing, spreadsheets, internet) any faster or (2) they are tech geeks and/or hardcore gamers who want/need to upgrade because of new apps (usually games). I have all the PCs (and mostly original parts) I’ve had since 1998, and they’re still functional. Sure, my main machine is newer (built it in 2004, upgraded the video card a little over a year ago) but that’s mainly because of option (2) above.

    As far as laptops, Dell with CompleteCare is a pretty decent option. I dunno about dropping it out of a helicopter, since part of the CompleteCare warranty is that they need to have all the parts of the broken unit, but any warranty where you can break something physically and it’s covered is all right by me. Really, it’s more like insurance than a warranty. The refurbished systems Boosterz linked to are mostly systems that people ordered and then changed their minds on, so yeah, you can find some nice deals there and upgrade the warranty and get a pretty decent machine.

  54. #54 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 20, 2007

    Next we’ll indoctrinate her about EMACS vs vi.

    Restated as: Do I hate myself, or do I hate myself with a passion?

    There are much better alternatives than either.

  55. #55 Lazarou
    March 20, 2007

    A friend of mine was a die-hard Mac supporter as he is in the wedding video business and needed editing capabilities. However PCs have now caught up with Macs on that front so the Mac no longer has any real advantage. With Apple rapidly morphing into the new Micro$oft I can’t see any reason at all to buy one. The upgrade question is applicable – a PC shell can be upgraded as new hardware becomes available. I add/replace major bits and pieces every year or so but I couldn’t do that with a Mac.

    In the office we still have a G4 Mac for design work but it’s (lovingly) referred to as the Etch-A-Sketch… 🙂

  56. #56 Blatherskite
    March 20, 2007

    Mac is my personal choice for nearly 20 years. Stable, damn easy to set-up and use, and definitely NOT expensive when you take everything into account.

    I have never had any real problems getting software for my needs.

    I haven’t tried the free Ubuntu operating system and software bundle yet, but it looks good and I am seriously considering it.

    My brother-in-law is a hardcore computer geek, who knows most hardware, and software systems and languages backwards. His choice for his home computer is an Intel Mac. He HATES Windows.

  57. #57 Skrud
    March 20, 2007

    My first Mac (a PowerBook) will be turning 2 years old in about a month, and I’m as in love with it as I was when I first took it out of the box. What I love about it most is the software. Not just the operating system itself, but various other Mac-exclusive software.

    I think iWork (comprising Pages and Keynote) are leaps and bounds ahead of Word and PowerPoint, for example. (As a TA, I regularly have to make presentations in front of a number of students and Keynote lets me whip them up much more quickly than powerpoint would). It’s also priced (at ~$50) well within my price range.

    I’m a Software Engineering student, so I take full advantage of the UNIX underpinnings and do a lot of my work in the Terminal — although most of the my other Mac-using friends don’t even know it’s there.

    My system has never crashed on me (although occasionally some third-party programs have crashed), and I feel completely safe storing my information in it.

    I love the integration between iCal, Address Book, and Mail. All three of them share information with each other so you never have to keep track of multiple contact listings and calendars and scheduling apps. You can also import Google Calendar stuff into iCal and keep track of things that way. If your cell phone has Bluetooth, you can sync your Address Book and calendar events with your phone (this is an invaluable feature. Imagine never having to update your contacts list because you met someone on the road so you just put their number in your phone!)

    Also, you’re studying Biology. And from what I hear, Macs have tons of software for biologists.

  58. #58 steve
    March 20, 2007

    When it comes to PCs, you get what you pay for. A cheap laptop will inevitably make you cry. You can get a lower end IBM for about $900.00. One thing you must keep in mind: look for the hard drive spin rate — many laptops use 4,700 and that’s painfully slow. Oh course, I’m terribly impatient anyways.

  59. #59 bsci
    March 20, 2007

    I switched from PC to Mac when I bought my first laptop 1.5 years ago.
    I find the niceness of the OS and other good features roughly balances the annoyances of not everyone writing programs that work on Mac.

    As for cost, I made a list of my priorities. I wanted a small enough laptop that it would be easy to carry everywhere (12″). I also wanted a DVD writer and a relatively large hard drive (my research involves large data sets). When I looked at the education prices push a Mac promotion, there was less than a $100 difference between the Mac and PC I would have gotten and the Mac had some better hardware features. (~$1200 each).

    I think the real cost difference is that Windows takes backwards compatability much more seriously. Some people are still happily using Windows 2000. Every 1-3 years Mac adds a decimal to its OS and asks for $100 for an upgrade. Older versions rapidly become obsolete. I have a pre-Intel Mac and I’m just waiting for all companies to stop making good new software for it. Of course you’ll have a high paying job as a postdoc by that point. 🙂

  60. #60 drkmg
    March 20, 2007

    PC vs. Mac, Boxers vs. Briefs, Sunni vs. Shia, Letterman vs. Leno…….. it’s all the same argument.

  61. #61 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    March 21, 2007

    What timing! The Register weighs in with Ten reasons why you should buy a Mac.

  62. #62 pough
    March 21, 2007

    1. Figure out what you need to do.
    2. See which computer system does it better/cheaper.

    You’ll find advantages and disadvantaged with all OSs. You’ll find computers that fail and computers that last forever from all companies. I’ve been running the same PC for about 6 or 7 years.

    The main thing is that some stuff won’t run on a Mac and some won’t run on a PC. Find out what’s mission critical and go from there.

  63. #63 pough
    March 21, 2007

    Oops. Typo: disadvantages.

    Oh, and John Hodgman is way cooler than that little greasy man who, incidentally, plays an awesome loser in Dodgeball.

  64. #64 Heidi
    March 22, 2007

    I’ve used Macs since the mid-80’s, and use/abuse PCs constantly too, so I’ve got one foot in each door. Macs are hands-down better for video, music, movies, email, home life etc. Every Mac ships with software that you can use to make and burn movies, edit songs, etc. You’ll spend big $$ getting PC software to do the same stuff, and you won’t be able to FIND PC software that does it as elegantly. The lack of viruses and the built in features are worth every penny. You’ll also find that, although you can’t get a Mac equipped as “bare bones” cheap as you can some PCs, they are much cheaper when you compare computers that have similar features. Ie – to get a PC with a CD burner, video editing software, virus protection, bluetooth, etc. you’d spend much MORE than you would for a Mac with those features.

    That said, MS Office is infinitely better on a PC. Your average Joe User won’t notice too big of a difference, but if you are a power user (and, as a scientist, you are probably well on your way to being one if you aren’t already one), the differences are enough to be annoying. SAS for Windows is also nicer than SAS on Mac.

    Good luck!

  65. #65 Jerry
    March 23, 2007

    Just a few comments…

    Your university probably has educational discounts with SOMEONE. Iowa State has discounts with Gateway and Dell as well as Apple. These don’t always amount to anything substantial but they’re worth looking into.

    I have yet to buy the ease of use arguments of Macs vs PCs. In every day use they might be easier, but I’ve stepped on just as many annoying bugs with Macs as with PCs. Iowa State uses only Windows but I have worked for Mac only schools before and do outreach stuff with Mac only schools today. When stuff breaks, it stinks on both platforms. Apple does have a few nice tools but really, those exist on PCs too except other companies make them.

    And as for performance… Code is basically code. A 5 year old PC can run Office and IE/Firefox just as well as a 5 year old Mac. This is an illusion that somehow your PC just slows itself down year after year. Spyware and Malware will slow you down, but it’s not impossible to avoid. Use your firefox, have updated AV and don’t follow annoying ads. This is certainly all I do and I’m malware free. And trust me, I’ve used a 4 year old ibook and it’s age very much shows.

    All that aside, I do actually like Macbooks but their cost is a problem. I can count the times I’ve wanted to make a movie or edit a song on one hand. The regular Macbooks aren’t too bad but better PCs can be had at a lower price. Macbook Pros are waaay out there. In the end though, unless you want all the frilly apps that come with a Mac, just get a PC.

  66. #66 Cat's Staff
    March 24, 2007

    Up front…I have used and administrated Windows setups, I currently have 3 Macs and a Linux(Ubuntu) computer in the room with me…I can use all kinds of computers, but when I want to get something done, I use a Mac.

    I know a few people who have switched lately (to Mac). There is a little learning curve, and there will be a week or two of awkwardness, but it will be worth it.

    Some case studies… 2 neighbors bought new computers a few months ago – 1 bought a windows laptop, because her employer gave her a discount (~$100). It has been in for repair a few times, the settings for the wireless card keep getting screwed up and I have to go over and re-set it up. I have been over there fixing all kinds of little problems. The other neighbor bought an iMac. She has it set up in the middle of her living room so she can play on it while watching TV (her old Windows computer was buried in back of a storage room. The only times I was over there was when she had to set up the wi-fi with her new cable modem and I wanted to make sure it was done securely, and when she dropped the wireless keyboard and accidently activated the VoiceOver feature for the visually impaired by hitting the Apple-F5 keys at the same time (I would be freaked out too if the computer was talking to me all time and I didn’t know why). Usually people talk about how Macs cost less in the long run, but after just a few months and can tell you that the ~$100 discount was not worth it.

  67. #67 robster
    March 27, 2007

    Just my two bytes worth…

    Go with whatever is the primary system in your lab. Working with FACS data every day, all day? Go Mac. Lab all windows? Go PC (intel chip over AMD, fewer problems, higher price). Need Unix? Dual boot. Most Unix geeks can be payed in beer to set it up if you can’t yourself. Be careful, though. Even though they can be tamed, perhaps even eating seeds from your hands, they may become dependent on your attention, losing their position within the ecosystem.

    If you want to work with macs, they have a history of poor repair service without sending them in for repair. Because of this, mac owners (without a corporate backup) form cabals around people with repair skills. I don’t know how things are now.

    On the other hand, there are always repair shops for PCs nearby. I’m buddies with the best computer tech company in my city, and send them business whenever I can, in return, they give me friend rates, and let me use their repair shop with advice for some jobs. They quit building PCs for people a few years ago, and started selling HP. The overstocks, returns, refurbs cost less than they could sell them new, and as the HP repair hub for the region, they still get business. Server setups and corporate setups were their big income anyway. Here is the HP outlet. We have three HP refurbs going now, between home and work.

    If you go Dell, the consumer entry models are kind of sketchy, from my point of view. Refurbs are definitely safer, especially if they are a step up from the base model.

    We are an all pc household, as I have been using PCs forever (DOS3! Know your roots!), have built and rebuilt a few machines, and keep my PCs running with minimal updates for 4-6 years. My desktops range in age from 13 years (just retired), to two or three years old (expect it to be good for another four), so bollocks to the macs users that talk up the age of their machines. My laptop is three years old, still runs beautifully, and I’ll probably add some memory so that I can load neverwinter nights 2. I expect another three years minimum for my hp laptop.

    I don’t like macs because I dealt with OS8 (I think), which was the mac version of windows ME. I have lost more data on macs in the span of a couple of months than I have in years of PC use. If I tried one today, maybe things would be different, but once burned… Even so, I don’t get into the religious debate between camps. The mac ads are full of lies and failure, though, and only serve to cost them more of the business market. Seriously, which of those guys would a fortune 500 be more likely to hire?

    If you go PC laptop, I would make one item a must (may work with mac, don’t know). Get a network router with a built in print server. Think blogging from bed is good? Try printing articles and papers from anywhere. Receipts for online purchases, etc. I am probably going to upgrade mine to a dual printer setup soon. One for color, one for laser BW. w00t indeed.

    Closing with the old joke… “Using Windows is like juggling with razor blades using a Mac is like shaving with a bowling pin.”

  68. #68 ilker
    March 27, 2007

    It’s great that I found your blog now before you jumped on the Mac wagon. This post might be helpful.

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