Are you a Mac or a PC?

Mandi Farah's picture

Since the 1990s, hardcore PC and Mac users have been waging an epic food fight over which system is better. In the old days, PC users poked fun at the under-powered processors and buggy software that Mac users had to endure. Mac users needed only to counter with “Windows 98.” Today, the argument is more philosophical: who’s good, who’s evil, who’s more brainwashed. No side is ever going to win this war, of course, and the rhetoric does little to actually help an average user decide on a new computer and get some work done.

That’s unfortunate because in many ways this is shaping up to be a golden year for buying computers. Ultrabooks (the PC world’s answer to the MacBook Air) are getting better all the time. Models such as the Asus Zenbook and Dell XPS are a credit to the breed. Laptops and desktops are being outfitted with the latest Intel Ivy Bridge chips. And Windows 8, designed specifically for laptop-tablet combinations, has been turning a lot of heads.

In the other corner, Apple just turbocharged the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Ivy Bridge processors. The flagship 15-inch MacBook Pro also received a retina display, previously available only on the latest generation iPad. iMacs should get a makeover soon. Just think how much more exciting your new iMac would be if it included a retina display. It could happen.

But those are minor skirmishes. Let’s take a closer look at PC vs. Mac and see who’s winning the battle (if not the war) in a few categories. Depending on your needs, it might help you make a decision on what type of computer is better for you.

To make things simple, I’ve decided to take one of the most popular laptops from each side of the argument and compare them. The two contenders are the Apple MacBook Pro and the HP Pavillion DM4. Both computers have the same graphics (Intel HD 3000), the same RAM (4 GB DDR3), run on the same processor (Intel Core i5, at 2.3 GHz) and similar battery lives (around 7 hours). The MacBook Pro runs on Mac OS 10.7 Lion, has 320GB of hard drive storage, has a 13-inch screen, and costs $1,200. The Pavillion, in contrast, can run on either Windows 7 or 8, has 500GB of hard drive storage, has a 14-inch screen, and costs $750. Just looking at these specifications, it looks like the Pavillion has already trumped the MacBook Pro, but before making a final decision, let’s take a look at a few more competitions:

 

  • Processor Speed

Mac:  6429

PC:  6524

Winner: PC (by 95)

  • Graphics Speed

We are going to measure this in frames per second (fps), a unit used in measuring the frame rate in a moving image.

 

Mac: 12.64 fps

PC: 9.7 fps

Winner: Mac (by 2.94 fps)

  • Gaming

Mac: 31.6 fps

PC: 32.8 fps

Winner: PC (by 1.2 fps)

  • Six-App Simulations Launch

For this test, each computer simultaneously launched Microsoft Office (Word and Excel), Adobe Photoshop, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome and HandBrake to see which laptop opened all of the applications the fastest.

 

Mac: 10.5 seconds

PC: 11.5 seconds

Winner: Mac (by 1.0 second)

  • Video Conversion

Mac: 196 seconds

PC: 220 seconds

Winner: Mac (by 24 seconds)

  • YouTube HD CPU Usage

The computers both played an HD YouTube video to see how severely Flash video strained each system’s processor.

 

Mac: 59%

PC: 5%

Winner: PC (by 54%)

 

Out of the six competitions, the score is tied 3-3, and some of the tests had close scores. However, depending on an individual’s interests, these competitions could have either enlightened a path to a dream machine, or just made the whole world more confusing. Therefore, we must consider more aspects before purchasing a laptop. I’ve perused the internet in search of different professionals’ opinions on the topic. After sorting through a few, I chose the ones that seemed most relevant to TSA members’ needs. Each of them were given both the MacBook Pro and the Pavillion to try out.

 

  • Business Traveler

The Mac’s navigation is cleaner and more organized. However, it doesn’t automatically maximize apps, which adds an extra step. I prefer the PC’s separate left/right click buttons, and without guidance I never would have known about OS X’s finger gestures. Both machines, however, would suit my needs.”

  • Teacher

“The PC has a bigger screen at the same weight. Navigation in both OSs is easy if you know what to do, but neither is intuitive. Aero Peek in Windows is great, as are Jump List shortcuts in the Start menu. I’ve been a Mac user forever, but I think I’ll switch to a PC for my next computer.”

  • Animator

“Windows feels clunky—it reminds me of my old computer, but at least I know where stuff is. Mac hardware and software feel more modern, but I don’t see the point of some of the gestures.”

  • Gamer

“Both Web browsers are terrible—download a new one. Seems like there’s more to set up with a PC. The HP’s hardware feels cheaper, but I like the roundness and slick feeling; the Mac finish is gritty, and edges are sharp. Both are fine for multimedia, but for gaming, PC wins.”

 

Now that you have read everything there is to know about the Apple MacBook Pro and the HP Pavillion DM4, let’s take a step back and look at some broader qualities of Macs and PCs. First, let’s talk hardware.

 

Mac:

Apple’s hardware is attractively designed and well-built, but options are limited and expensive. Macs also have certain hardware limitations: no Blu-ray drives, no HDMI ports in laptops, and no removable batteries. Many of Apple’s laptops have flash storage, which is fast but limited in capacity.

 

Mac Starting Price:

 

Laptop: $1,000

Desktop: $600

 

PC:

Microsoft lets anyone make Windows PCs, which means there are plenty of options in specifications, designs and prices. A vast array of ports and accessories is available. Hardware quality runs from top notch to poor; hardware prices, from sky-high to bargain-basement.

 

PC Starting Price:

Laptop: $250

Desktop: $200

 

The next important general topic to consider is the available and included software for each type of computer. Mac OS X Lion comes with a whole bunch of applications, such as iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, Safari, and Mail. Serious document-editing apps, however, are not included. Windows 7, on the other hand, only includes a few apps. Microsoft fills in those gaps by offering free downloads for email, photo management, and movie editing. Most PC makers will also bundle Microsoft Office for free.

As far as software that is available for purchase, the most popular apps are available on both operating systems. While there are no Mac versions of Windows apps, there are usually quality alternatives. Gamers, however, will most likely be disappointed in Mac OS’s rather anemic game selection. Windows has lots of available software, but no central app store. You will always be able to find the app you need, from vintage to cutting-edge, but it might take some effort.

Well, now the age-old war is finally over (for you, at least). In the tests, raw performance was almost identical. Support for third-party software is close to equivalent. While Macs feel faster by a hair, PCs are cheaper by a mile. PCs come with a bundle of free software, but Macs are less likely to get viruses (they are not however, immune to them, that is actually a myth). The point is, as tools, these machines are both hugely—and equally—capable. And make no mistake: In 2013, tools are what they are. Smartphones and tablets have stolen our attention and affection away from laptops and desktops, and they show no signs of giving them back. Besides, Google, Facebook, and Twitter, where we spend so much of our time, are apolitical. So, if you love Macs, stay put. Likewise for PC partisans—Apple’s touch-inspired software and sleek hardware are neat, not essential. For everyone else, the choice is simple: Save your money and buy a PC. It’ll get the job done. And if you’re interested in the real future of computing, take that extra cash and pick up a tablet (or one of those cool new Windows 8 hybrids).

 

-Mandi Farah, PA-TSA Sergeant-At-Arms