# Which laptop will be better for a physics major: Macbook vs. Sony

## Which laptop should I get?

Poll closed Jun 17, 2009.

38.9%

27.8%
3. ### There is a better option

33.3%
1. May 18, 2009

### Alta

I am going to buy a laptop very soon. I think that I have narrowed it down to two laptops:

Apple MacBook 13.3" 4.5lb.
Processor:Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile 2.4GHz
RAM:4GB DDR3
Hard Drive: 250GB 5400rpm

Sony VAIO 13.1" 3.4lb.
Processor:Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile 2.4GHz
RAM:4GB DDR3
Hard Drive: 320GB 7200rpm

I have chosen these two because they are both right at my price range (they cost about the same) and because they both have a reputation of running cooly (which is very important to me) and fast for the amount of money being paid. Everyone I talk to that have used both mac and pc say to go for a mac. But none of them are not really physics people. I am a current physics undergrad and will be a physics grad next year. The programs that I use most often are Matlab, Excel, PowerPoint, Word, Cygwin, and a free SSH/FTP program.

So my question is which is better for me? I do not know too much about computers and I have never used a mac before. Is there anything like Cygwin for a mac or at least free C++ compilers? Does anyone know how well Matlab runs on the macbook?

It is somewhat likely that I will be going into some type of computational physics in grad school and definitely a chance of me doing more computational physics this summer. Which one of these machines could better handle a calculation in Matlab or C++ that could last ten minutes to a couple of hours without overheating?

2. May 18, 2009

### junglebeast

The most important reason to choose 1 operating system over another is the software you will use. It doesn't do you any good to have a nice user interface if you cannot run critical software. For this reason, I can only recommend a Windows OS, because if you are using Windows then you are not restricted in what software is available to you -- if there is software to do something, it will exist for windows, and it only might exist for Max or Linux. If that is a main-stream application, the probability that it will exist for Mac or Linux is high; but many times, we want things that aren't so mainstream, and the probability becomes lower.

The same goes for different flavors of Windows. Almost everything works in XP 32-bit. But when you look to Vista, 64-bit, windows 7, etc, you have progressively lower chances of things working. When I switched to 64-bit Vista earlier this year, I had to abandon a lot of software that I had come to rely on, which simply do not exist for Vista 64-bit.

That said, for the programs you have listed: "Matlab, Excel, PowerPoint, Word, Cygwin, and a free SSH/FTP program." you will have no problem finding these or equivalents on any modern operating system. But I doubt that this is all you will ever use your computer for. If you use your computer a lot, you will almost undoubtedly end up finding software that you need windows for, and that usually means that you have to dual-boot (doing so requires you to partition your hard drive for this), or run windows in a virtual machine. Note that the latter is going to reduce processing and power efficiency.

I personally feel that the Apple user interface is so overly-simplified that it is a nightmare to use. This funny video sums up my opinion of most Apple products:
http://www.hulu.com/watch/51092/onion-news-network-apple-introduces-revolutionary-new-laptop-with-no-keyboard [Broken]

Of course, that's just my opinion.

SONY products have a reputation for poor quality manufacturing. Apple has a better reputation for warranteed services. Apple computers tend to look prettier and may be slimmer. If I were in your position, I would probably go with Lenovo or Dell.

Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
3. May 18, 2009

### Topher925

Your going to want to check your references. VAIOs are well know for overheating and premature failure along with poor quality standards. For example: http://esupport.sony.com/US/perl/news-item.pl?template_id=1&news_id=272

I haven't taken apart a Mac in a while so I'm not sure about how cool they run but if your looking for a good power to money ratio, don't look at Macs.

If your serious about getting a nice computer then don't buy garbage that uses poor components, do your research. Many custom computer shops (www.cyberpowerpc.com) make laptops with quality components and state what parts they use on their websites so you know what your getting.

If you want to go the proprietary route Asus, Samsung, and Sager are your safest bets for a cool running quality computer. I have experience with most brands and I've found Samsung and Asus to be not only the coolest but also the quietest. I haven't used a Sager in a while but the last one I used ran very cool but also had 3 fans in it.

4. May 18, 2009

### Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
No, don't get a Dell for a laptop! They're okay for desktops, but the laptops are horrid...and heavy. Macs can run windows now, and if you might need to use windows software and choose a Mac, definitely plan ahead to put windows on it too. I have a PC laptop, a Dell no less, and right now, it's being used to hold up my new Macbook. I decided to keep the PC around rather than installing windows on the Macbook, since I already have the PC and usually only need to use it once a year or so to run one application that doesn't keep up with Mac upgrades.

Though, there are two things I'm not thrilled about with the new Macbook (I also got the 13", which is really a comfortable size for traveling with, and I have a larger external monitor I use in the office). The first is that there are only 2 USB ports, squished in between the ethernet connection and the display port. I'm in the process of setting up a wireless mouse and keyboard so I can free up a USB port when using it on the desk connected to the larger monitor. The other thing that doesn't thrill me is the trackpad doesn't have a button on it...the actual trackpad itself clicks, but that means it's also sensitive to motion all the way down to the corner you touch to click. Since it also integrates some nice features that allow you to scroll and zoom with movements of two fingers, I've found myself accidentally zooming in or out on things several times while just trying to click and drag. I think that's something that I'll eventually get used to, and I do like being able to scroll just by using two fingers instead of clicking and dragging, so it's a trade off of features I think.

I can't compare to the Sony laptops, since I have no experience with them. I can only compare it to the Dell clunkers.

Just beware, once you go Mac, you never go back! :tongue2:

5. May 18, 2009

### Gokul43201

Staff Emeritus
You can run Matlab, the Office suite, compile C++ and do most anything else that you are familiar with on your Windows system just as well, if not better, on a Mac.

I am a physics postdoc. I used Windows during my Undergrad, Linux for most of Grad school and now I work entirely out of my Macbook (and haven't yet found the need for a Windows emulator or dual boot). Heck, even AutoCAD is planning a Mac OSX release soon!

6. May 18, 2009

### humanino

Same here.

I was sitting at our weekly meeting this morning. More than 80% of our physicists work on Mac. If you will work in the high energy physics community, you may have to install quite a lot of software, and you may benefit from other experienced colleagues. Besides, you may also want your computer to run 95% overnight on your computation, not 35% on your computation and 65% touching itself to make sure it's still running.

7. May 18, 2009

### junglebeast

Macs can run windows now, but you pay a lot of extra money for a Mac, and one of the few benefits you get for that money is good service -- service for which you will no longer be eligible to receive after installing Windows.

Installing Windows onto a Mac is not a bad option. You get the attractiveness of the Mac (if you are attracted to shiny white objects), along with the practicality of Windows. However, they still don't have 2 mouse buttons, which is annoying in windows.

Don't get me wrong, I think Dell sucks. I would never purchase a Dell PC in a million years, because when it comes to PC's you can build a far more powerful and cheaper PC by doing it yourself (or if you can't do it yourself, get help from someone who can ).

Although there are do-it-yourself laptop kits, these are not practical because they will be larger, heavier, and not be able to benefit from the extremely high efficiency processors which are soldered directly into the motherboard. For these reasons it makes sense to go with a pre-made laptop. I heard that IBM/Lenovo are still the most reliable, but Dell's are a lot cheaper and still have a decent reliability record.

When purchasing a Laptop, I personally am interested in not just maximizing computing power but maximizing portability. My first laptop was big and heavy, and as a consequence I did not find it convenient to bring it around with me. Also, the battery lasted only about 1.5 hours making it not actually very portable. With my second laptop, I actually thought about these things -- I looked at power consumption levels and specifically selected a model with a lower power processor and monitor. With my new laptop I can sometimes work for more than 7 hours on a single charge of the 4-cell battery. I'm jealous of the new Atom processors, though.

There are a lot of new technologies that have recently come out (or will very soon) that will be tremendously beneficial to laptops.

1) 45nm fab tech in the Atom processor allows it to use very low power for decent performance

2) SSD's slowly becoming main stream. A SSD drive uses slightly less power, but most importantly it is very shock resistant, unlike mechanical HDD's, which can be a problem in laptops which are often bounced around. Unfortunately there are a lot of crap SSD's out there because its an evolving technology so you have to know your stuff to get a good one.

3) Now that we have low power processors, by far the biggest power consuming feature is LCD monitors. This will change when OLED screens start being mainstream. I'm not sure, are there any OLED laptops out already yet? I know they have tons of working prototypes. In addition, these will have much higher contrast ratios and be more visible outdoors.

Get a laptop with all 3 of these features, and I wouldn't be surprised if you could last 20 hours on a single 4-cell battery charge.

Last edited: May 18, 2009
8. May 18, 2009

### Moonbear

Staff Emeritus
It sounds to me like you haven't used a Mac in a very long time, or really haven't taken time to research the features actually available. Macs have had multiple mouse buttons for several years now. I don't know what makes you think Windows is practical, though, unless you like telling an OS to do something and have it ignore you anyway.

If you really compare what you get in a Mac with what you get in a PC, you'd find that to get the whole package, you'd spend just as much on a PC notebook...or more.

In terms of portability, which to me is the entire point of getting a notebook, Macs are also more durable than those cheap plastic PC cases. I've seen someone drop a Powerbook (the old G4 ones) hard enough to put a dent in the case, and it didn't hurt anything other than the appearances of the case. The titanium cases aren't just for looks, they are tough suckers. When considering the cost of a computer, I also factor in lost time and tech support when you have to fix problems. When I first moved here, I had a Mac, and I didn't even know the IT staff, because I never needed to call them to fix anything. After I got a PC, I started to learn who a lot of them were, because I'm forever having problems with the PC. It's not very portable if I need to lug along all the CDs with the drivers on them to reinstall whenever it decides to get stupid and forget it has a driver for something. So, I switched back to a Mac. Several other people in my department have been switching over to Macs, and our running joke is that now they understand why IT hates Macs...if everyone used a Mac, they might not have as much job security down at the help desk.

9. May 18, 2009

### junglebeast

Have you considered bringing some of those laptops from your parallel universe into this universe and selling them?

Maybe you forgot to enable speech recognition. For most tasks it is more practical to use the keyboard and mouse rather than speaking to your computer, though.

10. May 18, 2009

### Topher925

r u nutz? If your going to be running windows, then the only reason to buy a Mac as junglebeast stated is that you like shiny white things. Otherwise your just paying for a slower and lower quality computer. Don't believe me? Lets compare Apple's all mighty MacBook Air to Samsung's X360-34G.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834100041
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834131018

Price:
Sam - $1350 (Can easily be found for$900)
Mac - $1800 (Can be found for$1500)

Weight:
Mac - 3lbs
Sam - 2.8lbs

Proc:
Mac - First Gen C2D 1.6Ghz
Sam - Latest Gen SU9300 1.2Ghz

Memory:
Mac - 2GB DDR3
Sam - 3GB DDR3

HDD:
Mac - 120HB 4200rpm
Sam - 120GB 5400rpm (SDD optional)

You can check out the rest of the specs for yourself. And this is just a numbers game, this doesn't even consider the slowness and over heating issues of the Mac and the cool and quiet running of the Samsung. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see which is the better deal.

11. May 18, 2009

### moose

Sony's, although more expensive than Dells and HPs, are of excellent quality. However, there are no quality issues with Macs either, so it's really just whatever you prefer.

12. May 18, 2009

### Werg22

Mac OS is built on top of UNIX, you have access to a UNIX terminal, so of course it has a cygwin "equivalent" (cygwin emulates UNIX, Mac OS is UNIX). The latest iteration of Mac OS and Windows Vista are evenly-matched when it comes to memory usage, but Win XP is better than both on that front. For computational and scientific work, this is what matters most - simply put, you can squeeze more juice out of a PC equipped with Win XP than the equivalent computer equipped with Max OS (or Vista for that matter). For that reason alone, I'd go with the PC. Plus, if you need the UNIX architecture, you can install a Linux partition on your hard drive for free. Most scientific software packages run on Linux too (because they are built on it!).

Mac OS is good for watching movies, uploading and editing pictures, listening to music and such. :tongue:

13. May 18, 2009

### cristo

Staff Emeritus
Why would you do a comparison with the macbook air, unless you want a very biased comparison?!

14. May 18, 2009

### Gokul43201

Staff Emeritus
...or you could just compare the Samsung with a simple (and not-so-almighty, but not such a featherweight) Macbook.

Weight:
Mac - 5lbs
Sam - 2.8lbs

Proc:
Mac - 2.0Ghz C2D
Sam - 1.2Ghz C2D

Memory:
Mac - 4GB DDR2
Sam - 3GB DDR3

HDD:
Mac - 120HB 5400rpm
Sam - 120GB 5400rpm

Graphics:
Mac - NVIDIA GeForce 9400M
Sam - Intel GMA 4500MHD

List Price:
Mac - $1099.00 Sam -$1899.99

Mac - http://store.apple.com/us/configure/MB881LL/A [Broken]
Sam - http://www.samsung.com/us/consumer/...ting&subtype=notebook&model_cd=NP-X360-AA01US

The only question to ask is: will you have trouble carrying a 5lb laptop?

Edit: I left out the no-brainer part of the comparison, but I guess I ought to throw that in too.

OS:
Mac - OSX
Sam - Windows Vista

Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
15. May 18, 2009

### Werg22

The Samsung's physical memory is clocked at 1066 MHz and uses triple channeling while the Mac's is clocked at 667 MHZ and only uses dual channeling. Although the Macbook wins in processor speed and physical memory size, I suspect the Samsung will still perform better in computationally heavy tasks because of its better memory architecture and speed. A better match is:

http://store.apple.com/ca/product/FB466LL/A" [Broken]

Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
16. May 18, 2009

### Flat

http://tech.yahoo.com/ps/toshiba-satellite-m305d-s4830/1995858268 [Broken]

That is the laptop I currently have. I love it.

Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
17. May 18, 2009

### Topher925

You could but you would be comparing apples to carrots since they are both different types of machines. The Mac Air and X360 are ultraportables, the MacBook is not. If you want to compare a Samsung to the MacBook you should choose something like the R610-62G.

Weight:
Mac - 5lbs
Sam - 6lbs

Proc:
Mac - 2.0Ghz C2D
Sam - 2.0Ghz C2D

Memory:
Mac - 4GB DDR2
Sam - 4GB DDR2

HDD:
Mac - 120GB 5400rpm
Sam - 250GB 5400rpm

Graphics:
Mac - NVIDIA GeForce 9400M (Shared 256MB)
Sam - NVIDIA GeForce 9200M GS (512MB Not Shared)

List Price:
Mac - $1099.00 Sam -$899.99 (Can be found on amazon for \$750 )

18. May 19, 2009

### redargon

OP: Do you need portability?

If not, I would consider a desktop. you can fit a whole lot more computing power into a desktop for a better price. Added benefits are increased upgradeability and component choice and you can use the box later to put freezer blocks in to cool your apartment (see the product claims thread for more info :tongue:)

I have a desktop at work and a desktop at home and a laptop. My laptop is collecting dust at the moment because I have a 8GB memory stick and a 1TB external hdd. So anything I need from work (smaller files) goes on my mem stick. I take it home and work on it there. If I need to rake larger stuff home, then the external hdd does the trick.

I would only ever go laptop if I had the time between home and work to do work on the laptop, but I have to drive home, so no chance there.

19. May 19, 2009

### signerror

Matlab, Mathematica, etc. are all multi-platform. So is the MS Office suite (and there are free alternatives, you know). You don't need Cygwin on Macs; unlike Windows, OS X is a POSIX system, built on a modified FreeBSD userland. It has all the same shells and utilities as linux. Including ssh, of course.

No need; the POSIX API is built in. It's a unix.

You have GNU's g++ (part of the GCC collection), which is quite popular (it dominates the linux market: e.g., gcc is the only compiler capable of compiling the linux kernel). Linux has a wider selection, with the Intel and Sun compilers (because, Sun only supports Linux and Solaris; and Intel only offers its compiler for free for the Linux platform).

Get a laptop cooler and you'll be fine. Although I'd go for a desktop in your position.

20. May 19, 2009

### Alta

Portability is important. This is pretty much going to be my primary computer and not going to have a desktop also.

Heat is my biggest concern though. My current laptop gets hot with little use. And extremely hot with alot of use.