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Could a Mac be useful for a physics student?

  1. Nov 19, 2016 #1
    Hey there! As the title implies, I'm looking for a new computer, and I'm thinking of going with a MAC this time. See, I'm in my first Semester of Physics (here we don't take courses per se, we get into a specific branch of a University and we attend the lectures mandated by said branch, we can't choose what we want). I've been using a custom built PC that I got about a year and a half prior, but since I'm not really one to build rigs, I gathered the cash and gave them to my tech guy to build one for me. Thing is, the PC is faulty. I don't know whether he did a bad job or whether the parts were not in good condition, but at this point I've sent it to three different technicians, about 7 times in total, and yesterday, another problem came up, which is ironic, since it was being "fixed" for 2 weeks now, and I only got it just yesterday.
    In general, the transistor is faulty from what I've gathered, and the machine keeps getting short-circuited. That, plus now I can't copy or create new files, while I can't download, install or even run various programs, due to "Fault 0x80070570". I called the tech shop that had him for repairing the past 2 weeks, and they told me to call them on Monday, but they didn't sound hopeful...

    So, I've set that aside, copied what little files I somehow managed (I can copy files from my PC to a USB stick, but the reverse can't happen) and I'm working with my old laptop now. Thing is, that's a bit faulty as well (the battery had some problems and it ended up almost frying my C), and while now it's good for an internet browsing or a watching a flick, it can't download programs such as Visual Studio, which I need for my programming class. I'm running a barely-functional version of Emerald/Crimson Editor with an "in-built" compiler they gave to us from the Programming Lab, but I don't have any alternatives.

    On top of that, this semester and the next have mandatory programming courses, and while I'm trying to catch up, the teachers are... well, they're just not that good. They just gave us some books (I bought some a while back as well), and in 4 weeks they somehow managed to breeze through the 600pg syllabus of the course. So, now they're calling us to create our own programs, when most folks haven't even made it past the first 50pg which detail the basics (I mean, it's 6 courses, with 600pg syllabuses each, and we just got these books). Hell, I can't even get the editor and compiler to fully work, since my PC is technically dead and my laptop has so outdated software that the free compilers aren't compatible.
    Anyway, that was a basic introduction, but as you've probably gathered, I need a new computer. I searched around and saw that other people asked similar questions on this board, so I decided to give it a shot (I've only used the "Homework Assistance" sub-forum thus far). I could get another PC and risk the same faults, but as someone who's had an Iphone since 2011 (no, I don't change them every year, I got the 3GS and then the 5S), I'm thinking of going for a MAC. For all the hard time people give Apple-products, I've found them extremey reliable, as I've never had a problem with them. I gave my 3GS to my mum, and it still works just fine. Sure, you can't play "high end games" on them, but first of all I don't have the time, and second, I was always more of a console guy anyway.

    So, my question to you is: If I got a Mac, could I run the various programs that are usually needed in such classes? Programming is only for this semester, and I'm probably going to choose Theoretical Physics for my final year, but in case my Math or Quantum Mechanics/Physics and whatnot classes require something like Mathematica, or another education-centric program, will I be able to run them? I know PCs are better for customization, but I just want a sturdy computer that will run the programs I'll need, while not breaking down after a year. I don't care about "the bestest graphics card" or Steam Sales and whatnot, I just want a machine that will be able to do some programming for certain classes, while not being always fearful of whether or not it'll suddenly break down. I've essentially paid for a Mac at this point...
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 19, 2016 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    Personal computers didn't exist when I was an undergraduate, but I've used Macs during most of my teaching career, since 1985. Certainly major software like Mathematica or Matlab will come in a MacOS version. Just check their web sites. Stuff written for Linux can usually be compiled from the source code to run on MacOS, although you may have to tweak the makefiles or other configuration files. The GNU compilers for C++, Fortran, etc. are available in packages that can be installed directly on MacOS and run from the command line in the Terminal application. Apple has its own development suite, Xcode, which you can (I hope) still download for free. And if you come across something that runs only under Windows, you can install Windows under virtualization software such as Parallels Desktop. For that matter, you can also install a Linux distribution that way. On the Mac that I'm using right now, I can fire up Windows 7 or Ubuntu Linux if necessary.
  4. Nov 23, 2016 #3
    I checked around a bit as well, and I found about what you're talking about. I'll certainly think about it, but this time I'm going to do some more thorugh examination before I buy a computer.

    Thanks for all the info and help!
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