Ask LH: When Does It Make Sense To Buy Apple Hardware Instead Of A Standard PC?

Dear Lifehacker, I like Apple hardware, but it doesn’t come especially cheap and I’m not sure I want to use OS X. I know I can run Windows on Apple gear as well, but am I wasting money purchasing a Mac if I’m not using it as a Mac? When does it make sense to buy Apple hardware instead of a standard PC? Thanks, Apples to Oranges

Dear AtO,

People who buy Macs generally make the purchase not just for the hardware but for the Apple ecosystem. When you buy a Mac, Apple expects you to partake in its overall ecosystem (and some choices you make can lock you into it). However, you can buy a Mac and use it as a Windows PC instead. Apple hardware sometimes offers distinct advantages over its PC counterparts and can be worth the cost. Let’s take a look at when you should get a Mac even if you want to explore other operating systems.

You Want to Dual Boot on a Laptop

You can easily dual boot on a hackintosh, or even triple boot, but you’ll have a harder time accomplishing the same on a laptop. If you want to use OS X and Windows, but don’t want to commit to one or the other, buying a Mac laptop provides you with the option. Additionally, you get hardware with official drivers for both operating systems.

These benefits still apply on the desktop side of the equation, too. While we often recommend building a hackintosh to save yourself some money and get a more powerful, customisable computer, if you don’t want the hassle and do want the official support you should grab an iMac and use Boot Camp to run Windows.

You Want Good Customer Support

I’m often the first to admit I don’t like visiting the Genius Bar. In general, I avoid customer support at all costs. That said, I’d take Apple’s customer support over any other large computer manufacturer. With all Macs you get a year of solid support, extendable to three, and Apple tends to fix problems when it doesn’t have to have to. There are limits — you won’t be able to get a four-year-old iMac because you found a dead pixel, and Genius Bar horror stories certainly exist, but you’ll generally get a better support experience through Apple even if you don’t run its OS.

You Can Get A Good Price

Apple’s MacBook Airs fall at a comparable price point with other similar designs running Windows, and many still prefer Apple’s option over the standard PC competition. If it doesn’t cost you more (or much more), you really have nothing to lose. Remember, you can find cheaper Macs by getting a refurbished machine from Apple’s official store or waiting for a 10 per cent off sale on Macs at non-Apple retailers.

You Don’t Need An Optical Drive

While the current MacBook Pros (without Retina displays) still sport optical drives, no other Macs have them. If you need/want an optical drive, don’t buy a Mac. You’ll need to get an external and that’s no fun to lug around.

You Have Few (Non-Bluetooth) Peripherals

Macs have ports — just not a lot of them. Usually, you get a couple of USB ports and a few others you may or may not need. If you rarely plug in an external hard drive, audio interface, or any other common peripheral, you won’t mind. Macs were not designed for the type of person who wants to plug things in. You’ll need to stick with Bluetooth peripherals if you want to use more than a few things with your machine.

When You Shouldn’t Get a Mac

When it comes to desktop Macs, you don’t gain much for the cost. Unless you really want the design of an iMac or Mac Pro, you’ll almost always pay more for the same hardware. Additionally, with Microsoft pushing the touch screen everywhere you’ll miss out if you get a Mac and run Windows 8. On the laptop side, the old-fashioned MacBook Pros (again, without retina displays) cost quite a bit more than their Windows laptop counterparts.

If you like lots of ports and expandability you will hate having a Mac. You can’t swap batteries on laptops, you can barely upgrade the hardware, and upgrading at purchase time often costs far more than the individual parts actually do. If you care at all about hardware customisability, you should not buy a Mac.

Ultimately, Apple hardware makes sense when you want a PC with operating system flexibility, solid hardware design, and good support. If you care about upgrades or want the absolute cheapest machine possible, look elsewhere.


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