Mac vs PC for a PhD student

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Hi PF!

I'm about to buy a new laptop, and am leaning towards a 15". I currently use a macbook pro 2013 for my main computer, though I also have a PC rebooted for Ubuntu (it's my lab's, not mine).

The new macbooks are very expensive, but very durable. To me, they feel very secure and well built, not flimsy like many PCs I've used. The screen clarity is also superb, better on mine than many new PCs I've seen. Does anyone else feel this way? What is your recommendation for a new laptop? Should I fork up money for a mac, or do you have a PC in mind (again, I'll reboot this as pure Ubuntu)?

Purpose: I'm a PhD student, though I work mostly with Mathematica and LaTeX, so don't need computational power (have the other laptop for that, also have access to more power if needed, but my work is not too computational).
 
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Getting a non apple notebook is a lot cheaper. Hell, you could even get a refurbished one, stick an SSD in it and off you go. As long as it has some compute power in it, you'll be able to work seemlessly. I have an Asus X556U laptop (overkill), running arch linux on it.

I wouldn't want to use macOS simply because the product it comes with is inexplicably expensive, therefore not worth it.
 
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Getting a non apple notebook is a lot cheaper. Hell, you could even get a refurbished one, stick an SSD in it and off you go. As long as it has some compute power in it, you'll be able to work seemlessly. I have an Asus X556U laptop (overkill), running arch linux on it.

I wouldn't want to use macOS simply because the product it comes with is inexplicably expensive, therefore not worth it.
Thanks, good to know. Do you know if PCs actually go on sale for black friday? I've only bought macs in the past, and they didn't.
 

Dr Transport

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Computers are usually on sale for the back to school tax-free days. I'd head towards a refurbished and stick either added memory or an SSD in it and work with Linux, I prefer Debian over Ubuntu.
 

Klystron

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I own and operate Windows PCs. My youngest sister "Ms. Mensa", born and raised in Cupertino, California, where Apple is headquartered, runs Macs and Apple gear exclusively. Apple products look great IMO but PCs fit my budget and seem more adaptable. Our older sister, while still friends with Steve Wozniak, also prefers PCs at work -- hospital administration and medical -- and at home.

I tried to remain agnostic during the PC vs. Mac squabbles of the past, but budget constraints and technical issues left me in the PC camp. My advice is to try every available platform and buy what suits your style, requirements and resources.

Buying new or refurbished equipment for your own use is a different discussion. I prefer buying the most powerful new unit I can afford at the time with an eye to future needs, then running it for a long time knowing the complete maintenance history of the device.
 
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phyzguy

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Here's my experience. I use Linux almost exclusively in my work. I bought a succession of PCs and installed Ubuntu on them like you said. But several of them failed and I kept needing to buy new ones. The I bought a MacBook. It is Unix based, so I can install any Unix code (I use Homebrew, but there are other ways). I've had the same computer now for five years, and it still works great. So I'm actually spending less than I did before. Also, doing non work related things like watching movies or playing games always works seamlessly, whereas I always needed to fiddle with something to get these things to run with a PC running Ubuntu.
 
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I own and operate Window PCs.
As do I, albeit they are Windows PCs.
budget constraints and technical issues left me in the PC camp.
My first computer was an Apple //e, purchased in about 1981. When I was teaching at a community college, the school provided me with a Macintosh, and then later a Mac Plus, around the mid 80s.

When I was looking to buy a computer of my own, in '86, it seemed that the Macs were about twice as much money as the comparable PC clones, so I opted for a PC clone running an 80386 process. Since then I've had nothing but x86 machines.
I prefer buying the most powerful new unit I can afford at the time with an eye to future needs, then running it for a long time knowing the complete maintenance history of the device.
This is good advice. Computers become more-or-less obsolete not long after you buy them, so if you get one, it makes sense to get the highest quality you can afford, so that it will still be able to run operating systems and software years from now. I did this with the HP Pavilion machine I am typing on, which I bought in 2013. It has been running constantly for the past six years, with no problems whatsoever. I recently bought a Dell machine, with a 10-core Xeon Scalable processor. I expect to be using that machine for many years.
 
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Thanks everyone, I take all your comments seriously. Thanks so much!
 
Looking at your needs (Mathematica and LaTeX), there is no need to spend a lot on laptop. MacBooks are best, no doubt, but buying it just for working with Mathematica and Latex doesn't seem logical as they are costly.
Instead, you can go with some $500-$700 laptop with which you can easily get your work done. Some of the options are Acer Aspire E 15 (Core-i5 model), ASUS VivoBook F510, VivoBook S15 and similar ones.

But, at the end, if you have budget and want to stick with MacBook, just go for it. You can choose moderate configuration of it for less cost.

Reference: Best Laptops For College Students
 

WWGD

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As do I, albeit they are Windows PCs.
My first computer was an Apple //e, purchased in about 1981. When I was teaching at a community college, the school provided me with a Macintosh, and then later a Mac Plus, around the mid 80s.

When I was looking to buy a computer of my own, in '86, it seemed that the Macs were about twice as much money as the comparable PC clones, so I opted for a PC clone running an 80386 process. Since then I've had nothing but x86 machines.
This is good advice. Computers become more-or-less obsolete not long after you buy them, so if you get one, it makes sense to get the highest quality you can afford, so that it will still be able to run operating systems and software years from now. I did this with the HP Pavilion machine I am typing on, which I bought in 2013. It has been running constantly for the past six years, with no problems whatsoever. I recently bought a Dell machine, with a 10-core Xeon Scalable processor. I expect to be using that machine for many years.
By 'machines' I assume desktops, not laptops?

EDIT2: Also, what if one's goal is to have a desktop for 'heavier' work ( Games, 3D Simulations, etc.) and a laptop for 'lighter' work and portability, e.g., just surfing the web and using Office software ( at a coffee shop)?

EDIT: I ended up in the ultimate rabbit hole in checking PC reviews: I went to Consumer Reports website only to read the ( legit, imo) criticism that they do not test material for more than a few weeks, so their advice says nothing about quality over the longer-run. Then I went over Amazon reviews only to read of claims that some were doctored. But then someone brought into question the site that claimed Amazon's reviews are doctored. Serenity now!!
 
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WWGD

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Some other issues to consider ( for PCs)?
Quality of support, availability of space for updates. Is there local support ( so you can send back if necessary, speak with someone in person and/or over the phone with someone you can understand) I hear some complaints by those using Win10 that periodic updates require increasing amounts of space.
 
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I like a friend's set up. He has a gaming PC running at his home while he carries around a Surface Pro and uses teamviewer anytime he needs more computational power. My budget's comparatively lower, so I use a mid range gaming laptop because I need both Windows and Linux for most of my work and tunnel into a supercomputer when I need more power. Though I am thinking of getting a chromebook and load ubuntu on it for lighter stuff which is about 80% of my computer usage - reading papers, typing and email.

A lot of the people I know have had issues with Macs because some niche softwares work solely on Windows and won't run on Mac without virtualization or dual-booting.
 
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By 'machines' I assume desktops, not laptops?
Yes, desktops. I don't care much for laptops -- I find them a bit more difficult to type on.
EDIT2: Also, what if one's goal is to have a desktop for 'heavier' work ( Games, 3D Simulations, etc.) and a laptop for 'lighter' work and portability, e.g., just surfing the web and using Office software ( at a coffee shop)?
Different strokes for different folks -- my lifestyle doesn't include hanging out at coffee shops. I visit my local Starbucks about once a month, solely to buy a pound of ground coffee.
 
Asking MAC vs PC leads to generalisations due to different build qualities. Apple produce high end hardware and charge a premium for it, PC's go from cheap varients all the way upto MAC style high end hardware. You cant really compare a MAC to a PC without comparing it to a similarly specified PC. Dell's XPS range are in the same catagory as the MAC's. Otherwise it's like comparing a Mercedes to a Ford Focus with most cheap PC laptops you find in the stores.

No laptop from either Apple or a PC is going to compare with a similarly priced desktop version. I would also go for a desktop and then if you need some mild mobile computing then a low budget laptop. You could get both for the cost a Apple laptop.
 

Svein

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Citing Jerry Pournelle (from the BYTE era): "With Macs everything is either dead easy or impossible".

I have a Mac Pro in my cupboard - it is in good shape and everything is fine - but I abhor the software!
  • Safari is the worst web browser I have ever tried
  • The windows manager - how to terminate an app? Command-Q anyone?
  • I have never found any use for most of the desktop apps
So - I tried to donate it to my daughter-in-law who has years of experiences with Mac. She carefully did not hear it and instead bought a Lenovo mini-laptop.

Well, it does not take up too much space...
 

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