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Computer for a Physics Major.

  1. May 22, 2007 #1
    I'll ask the infamous question: Mac or PC?

    I know very little about computers, but I've heard Macs are used more often for high level computing.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 22, 2007 #2


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    In my opinion, since the Mac is now an intel-based computer, the distinction between the Mac and the PC mainly boils down to software [and support]. (It's interesting that the Mac's ability to boot Windows made it attractive to some die-hard PC friends of mine.)

    For me, I'm a PC person... especially since I use a TabletPC. If the Mac rumors of a Tablet ever materialize, I might consider it.
  4. May 22, 2007 #3


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    If your don't windows, but are nervous about whether a mac is for you or not, then I'd say just go with the mac since as rob said, they can now boot Windows.
  5. May 22, 2007 #4
    At this point, almost all of the major software packages that would be of interest to a physicist run on both Macs and PCs.

    Buy the biggest, fastest machine you can reasonably afford, and you should be fine either way.
  6. May 22, 2007 #5


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    One thing to consider is what computer platform is supported by your university. Keep in mind that some universities have site-licenses on software that you may be able to install on your computer.

    Generally, Macs are not as well-supported by PCs by universities.
    It seems linux support is even less.
  7. May 22, 2007 #6


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    unless you are a stanford? i hear it is a mac campus.

    i have always had a mac, since 1987 or so. In my opinion they have always been markedly superior machines from the users standpoint, both ease of use and what they can do, especially with graphics.

    But that difference is less than in olden days, and in my insistence on keeping one, I have had to put up with the greater difficulty getting support, and some lack of compatibility issues.

    So I feel it is a matter of do you want the "best, coolest" machine or the one everyone else has? but in a world where connectivity and compatibility is more important everyday, I think compatibility alone is a strong argument for a PC, ........but I hate them.

    And as observed above, a modern mac is essentially both a PC and a mac. That "solves" the compatibility issue, but it only makes it harder to have it maintained, since presumably the technical staff has to know more.

    so as robphy implies, available support is probably key.
  8. May 23, 2007 #7
    I bought a small iBook a while ago and since then I've never gone back.

    I've got a G5, macbook pro and a cinema display now, and I'm very happy.

    But I guess I'm someone who likes to open a terminal and see a UNIX shell.

    Windows now angers me :)
  9. May 23, 2007 #8


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    I install http://www.cygwin.com/ on all of my PCs.
    I can get bash, perl, X, gcc, ssh, sshd, etc... running within XP.

    Certainly, it's an extra step that a Windows person has to go through.
    However, if you are sophisticated enough to want a UNIX shell, it's fairly simple to run the cygwin installer.
  10. May 23, 2007 #9
    If you're sophisticated to want a UNIX shell, you're sophisticated enough to run linux and ditch windows! Checkout www.ubuntu.com, it's a linux distribution that's very easy to install and start using :!!) Most of my tutors / lecturers run linux or use MACs, so although general university support isn't very good for these OSs, departmental support is good, and I haven't ever had any major problems with either
  11. May 23, 2007 #10


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    I disagree [although I'd like it if what you say is true].
    Being sophisticated enough to run and use a UNIX shell is one thing...
    ...installing and configuring linux, together with full hardware support, is another matter...even with the newer linux-OS offerings [see below]. (Part of the blame probably rests on the hardware folks functioning in a majority-Windows world.)

    Way back when, I used to use RedHat and Mandrake in a dual-boot OS alongside Windows. Eventually, I abandoned them (and reclaimed their partitions) after I gave up trying to configure my nVidia card and when I switched to Cygwin as my main shell when needed ... I got the hardware support and the scripting/programming/shell support that I wanted.

    With Knoppix and its hardware detection and support, things got a lot better. I just recently installed Kubuntu on my flash drive... and it works fine on my laptop... but doesn't support the pen on my TabletPC [yet].

    I use my TabletPC to lecture with, as a virtual whiteboard. Still no Mac tablet [yet] and Linux support for tabletPCs is so-so.

    I'm hoping I won't have to endure massive recompilations to get pen support on my TabletPC in Kubuntu. Of course, the pen works fine in WinXP-Tablet... Together with cygwin for my bash shell, I'm good to go.
  12. May 23, 2007 #11
    You're right I guess. Personally I've never had many hardware problems with linux, but maybe that's because I've tended to own mass produced (like Dell) laptops that are well supported because lots of people have them. I just found the near exponential decrease of speed with time after installation so annoying on windows (even if I took the time to defrag, clean up old files, unclog registry, remove adaware etc etc).

    Good luck finding your drivers!
  13. May 23, 2007 #12
    Everything about mac hardware just screams quality. Strictly speaking about hardware, you would be hard pressed to find a better made laptop or off the shelf desktop computer.

    That being said, IMHO, having worked in IT for 8 years now; for half the cost of a mac, you can do a custom build desktop with quality parts and have a very fast and reliable PC without overclocking.

    As far as laptops go, a high end Toshiba (my personal favorite) or a high end IBM is going to have similar quality to a Mac laptop at a similarly outrageous price. Avoid Sony laptops like the plague, great looking screens and legendary overheating problems.

    Picking your OS comes down to what you want to be able to do. Given hard drive sizes, there is no reason not to have a dual or triple boot system. If you need more storage space, get a usb HDD enclosure and stick a 500 GB drive in it. If you don’t know how to set up a multi boot system, it’s unlikely you could take advantage of the benefits anyway.
  14. May 24, 2007 #13
    honestly, Macs are overpriced (actually, most of the pre-made computers are overpriced, this includes Dell, alienware and a bunch of others)

    If you are going for a desktop, by all means, get the parts from online store and build it yourself, it is really easy (www.newegg.com is the best place to get computer parts in my opinion)

    Let me break it down to you why Macs are overpriced:
    for instance, from apple.com, this computer costs 1500:

    Let's see how much it is if you build your own:
    Processor: intel Core 2 Duo E6420- $190
    (I really doubt apple would give you a Core 2 Duo E6420 in their website... They probably just put a E4400 or something like that in there)

    Motherboard: I doubt the Mac ones are really really good, so I'll say around $100

    Memory: let's make it a little better, (2X1Gb) Kingston DDR2 667 - $70

    Seagate 320GB 7200 RPM - $80

    the X1600 from the Mac isn't even an XT or pro... I'll smack a X1650pro for - $90
    (a card that is at least two times better than that stupid X1600... )

    Samsung 20 inch 6ms response time - $250

    A decent Power supply around (not too fancy) - $60

    mouse, keyboard, speakers (I doubt the ones from the mac are really good) - $100

    network card, sound card, DVD burner, computer case, accessories- together around $250

    software - windows vista premium around $150

    Okay... that wasn't too much of a difference but the estimations was a little rough and the specs are slightly better in the estimations.

    but with a computer that you build yourself, you don't need to see a repair man when part of your computer breaks down, plus, when you want to upgrade, you don't need to buy a new mac, just get some new parts and smack them in, saving big $$ in the future.

    Anyway, I am biased against Mac, I myself would never buy a Mac and have never owned one... but my advise is buy parts from newegg, and build a computer yourself... honestly, its really really easy.

    comment: in the apple website, the upgrade prices are COMPLETELY and UTTERLY ridiculous.

    for instance:
    2.16GB Processor to 2.33GB [add $250]
    are they stupid or what? for 250 you can freaking buy another Core 2 duo 2.4GB E6600 ($225 from newegg)

    1Gb ram to 2Gb ram [add $175]???
    what is this?!! you don't even need 175 to get 2Gbs of DDR 667 ram! what a rip off!!! (only costs 80 bucks for 2Gb in the estimation)

    and harddrive
    500Gb [add $200!!!!]
    are they out of their minds?!!
    from newegg
    500Gb harddrive only sells for $119, what a rip off once again!
    Last edited: May 24, 2007
  15. May 24, 2007 #14
    sorry for the relatively long posts.... I also got a little off-topic too.. I guess I get a little annoyed seeing big companies ripping off consumers.
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