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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    Apple don't actually have anything with mainstream desktop processors. The Mac Pro uses Xeon which makes them comparable to $3000 DELL Precision workstations. You also don't get on-site warranty repairs.
    I don't think it's fair to compare the MBP to $500 machines which have "the same hardware", because they don't. Often missing things like 1000 cycle batteries, IPS display technology, and the same finesse to the laptop chassis.
    When it comes to buying a computer there is so much choice out there, if you want an IPS display, suddenly you are looking at computers that cost as much as the MBP. So the real challenge is to buy the PC from the hundreds of different variants that is right for you.
    (If you buy a business machine from a company that services locally, even back to base warranty service will only take about 3 days)

      Apple don't actually have anything with mainstream desktop processors
      Uh, the Mac Pros are the exception, not the rule. Every other Mac has a standard i5 or i7.

      You have a point about the IPS display, and the 1000 cycle batteries, but I think you're stretching it. I was shopping for a new laptop just last month and was comparing the top specced MBP with a barebones custom build from Clevo. The MBP cost about $3300 and the Clevo cost $1300. They were as close as you can get to identical specifications i.e. same CPU, GPU, 16GB 1600MHz RAM, 512GB SSD. The Mac may have a better screen, battery and more streamlined body but I don't think it's worth the $2000 difference.

        I'll have to check out clevo, I've only compared them with ASUS, Dell, Samsung, Acer etc and (with laptops anyway) for a premium machine they were all much of a muchness.

      Well, a few things:

      - Apple hasn't announced the pricing yet for the new Mac Pro, as far as I know, but current estimates are in the 2500 GBP range. If true, that would put it in the $4000-4500 price range in Australia, so the comparison there to a $3000 Dell isn't really favourable. Certainly it's not comparable to a $500 basic desktop machine, though, I agree.

      - There's some concern about which generation CPU is in the new Mac Pro. Intel claims a 2x FLOPS improvement over its predecessor, but that would only put it in the Ivy Bridge generation and not the new Haswell generation. Other evidence (eg. chipset) suggests Ivy Bridge. So you're probably looking at an approx. $550 CPU. In terms of overall power, there seems to be a pretty hefty price premium on the Mac hardware over other big name PC brands.

      - Connecting that point to the original question, 6-core CPUs are a niche market right now, and for the foreseeable future for anything but heavy duty parallel-processing tasks (eg. 3D or video rendering, multiple VMs). Even to date, most software doesn't take advantage of high multicore architecture, and for gaming the dollar-to-benefit ratio is terrible. Even 4-core CPUs aren't being utilised.

      Apple does make some good quality hardware, but a price premium doesn't always mean a quality purchase. I wouldn't recommend the new Mac Pro hardware for anyone who wasn't working with highly parallelised software or needed a hybrid server environment. It's not because it's Apple, it's just because the hardware is very expensive and fulfils only very specific requirements that most people don't have.

        I'd like to correct a couple of things you said:

        The CPU is going to be a Xeon either in 6 core or 12 core variations. Scheduled for launch in Q3 this year. The CPU alone will probably be over $1000.

        The Mac Pro's have had the option for 12 cores for years. OSX has no trouble using all 12 cores. A lot of professional software scales to the amount of cores you have.

          Sorry for the late response, for some reason I'm not getting notification of replies to a lot of my posts.

          Intel's figures regarding the performance characteristics of the CPU point to an Ivy Bridge Xeon, not a Haswell Xeon. If Apple were using a Haswell Xeon, they'd be advertising a 4x increase over the previous generation Mac Pro, but they're only advertising a 2x increase. Also, Apple advertises the chipset as an 'E5 chipset', which doesn't exist but most likely means a C600 series chipset designed to work with the E5 CPU family. The C600 chipset is an Ivy Bridge chipset, not a Haswell one.

          On number of cores, there are no consumer- or business-level 12-core CPUs that I'm aware of. Core virtualisation (ie. Intel's hyperthreading) isn't the equivalent of additional cores so it's normally stated as the number of real cores, which is 6 for the Xeon in question. The '12' figure is usually listed as 'threads' rather than cores.

          Lastly, while a lot of software is capable of making use of multiple cores, few tasks actually make proper use of it. If you have a Mac Pro, you can test this out for yourself: turn off hyperthreading in the BIOS, then run a benchmark on your professional software. In the majority of cases, you'll find the performance change is under 10%, with the key exceptions being Adobe Premiere, Autodesk products like 3D Studio or Maya, and similar software. There are limits to how much an operation can be broken up into parallel tasks, and once that limit is reached, that's the limit of what multicore processing can offer.

            And again.. The Ivy Bridge Xeons come out in Q3 this year. They are based on the 2011 socket. There is a 12 core variant of said CPU. The Haswell based Xeon you keep bringing up launches at the end of 2014 with support for DDR4 memory.

            The chip Apple used in the Mac pro shown at WWDC is the Xeon E5-2697 v2. Scheduled for launch in Q3 2013.

              I stand corrected on the number of cores. 6 is excessive, 12 is absolute overkill, especially considering there's a significant clock speed reduction in the high core variants. On weakly parallelised tasks (ie. the majority of software), that's going to score a performance hit.

              Some Haswell Xeons are on the market now, however. There are a few E3 sequence models currently available, and at the announcement event they said they were planning on releasing the remaining Haswell chips over the next few quarters.

                E3 = 1150, E5 = 2011. You will not see a Haswell 2011 processor till the second half of next year. At which point an updated Mac Pro will no doubt come out.

                  As I said, Intel suggested at their announcement that they'd be in the next few quarters, so it remains to be seen if that's upheld. But you're arguing semantics, there's no requirement for the Mac Pro to have an E5 CPU, and particularly not twelve physical cores. Higher clock speed and fewer cores would produce a better benchmark result, which is fairly unimpressive considering its advertised power increase.

                I'm not arguing anything. I'm correcting what you said with actual facts about what is inside the Mac Pro. Sure there's no requirement for it to have an E5 CPU. But guess what? It does have an E5 CPU. That also means it uses the 2011 chipset. So this year it's either Ivy Bridge-E 2011, or Ivy Bridge Xeon 2011 for the Mac Pro. Both due out later this year when the Mac Pro launches.

                A higher clocked 4 core will produce a better benchmark.. So? How does that help the Pro market that uses highly multi threaded applications?

                You keep assuming that professional software isn't optimised for multiple cores. That's simply not true. Especially under OSX. As I stated previously, the Pro's have had 12 core options for years. Software is made for these Pro users.

                BTW the Haswell chips that are launching later this year are Socket 1150. These will never be in the Mac Pro.

                  Never mind, I'm not going to continue this.

                  Last edited 22/06/13 6:42 am

    You Want Good Customer Support
    You Can Get A Good Price


      Was looking at the price part thinking 'Ok so what meth were you taking while writing this???'

      Agree with the price, but can you suggest a vendor with better customer service?

    You're missing quite a few points from this article that people such as myself take into consideration. Here's a few to keep in mind:

    - The touchpad and keyboard are far superior to other laptops out there. Since a laptop for me is always portable having a good touchpad is essential. Nothing comes close to Mac touchpads
    - As mentioned in another comment, the IPS display. The quality of the screens on a Mac actually make them good value for money compared to other laptops in the price range
    - The build quality. Being an Apple product the build quality is high and the laptop feels very solid, something that should be expected in a $1000+ laptop unlike the cheap plasticky things most manufacturers dish out
    - Magsafe. Nice touches like this make for a much more user friendly experience
    - Reliability. Thanks to the higher build quality, Mac's tend to have a lower failure rate compared to other laptop brands.

      Oh do they now..

      They aren't the best when it comes to failure rates but what you generally get is decent customer service when something does go wrong. Being a tech, i don't really care about that. I can fix and replace most problems myself anyway so i generally buy premium Asus laptops

        It would also be interesting to see if Acer's position changes now that they have started to focus more on premium laptops

        Is that % based on total amount of units sold, or based on say per 1000 units, or just per 3 years worth of sales? Where is the perspective?
        Also if a regular non-"tech" person had to get their Asus fixed, that's a month away without a replacement or compensation. But I think apart from Apple, Asus definitely have one of the best warranty policies in the world.

      The touchpad and keyboard are far superior to other laptops out there
      I feel sorry for you for thinking that. The Mac touchpad and keyboards are actually quite average. Better than a lot of the cheap PC ones, but nowhere near the best. It's also a matter of personal preference of course.

        i've used a lot of PC lappys and would ask which touchpads you find better? I've not used one that compares yet.

        What touchpad is better? There is absolutely nothing in comparison.

        My touchpad on my 07 MBP still shits on anything i've used on even premium offerings from Asus/Samsung/Sony et al.

        Best touchpads that I've used have been on Clevo, NEC, and HP notebooks. Although they're not all good. HP in particular has some of the worst touchpads as well as the best. The larger notebooks seem to be best because there's space for a large touchpad which is always easier to use.

        Also, how do you guys cope in Windows without a secondary button for your mouse? The two-finger click is the thing that makes the Mac touchpad so terrible.

          The multitouch makes doing things a lot faster. Worst case scenario you can dedicate the bottom right hand corner to becoming the secondary click. Either way there is no issue, I find it a little ancient using 2 separate physical buttons to click on a normal trackpad.

    Chipset Choice! If you're in the Sound recording industry, you need a machine with decent firewire chipset and very little DPC Latency.
    I went through 4 premium Laptop PC's from different vendors. All of them were hamstrung with poor hardware choices (No doubt to save $$) and although they had beefier processors and GPU's they were let down by poor performance when handling streaming/recording audio.

    I finally grabbed a MBP and haven't looked back! Its spent its entire life running Windows7 but its a sad state of affairs when the best PC laptop money can buy is a Macbook

    To be honest if you want a light high-quality ultrabook in Australia the MBA is the cheapest you'll find.

      thats what I've noticed too, I'm in the market for one now and there are heaps of choice but I keep going back to mac as every other one I've looked at has ended up more expensive to get the specs I want. If anyone has a suggestion I'm happy to check it out. Although fairly tempted just to get the new 14" Razer Blade and get my game on :-)

    touchpad touchpad touchpad! Get a macbook when you want a good touchpad.

    The touchpad on my Sony VAIO is AWFUL. It is insensitive, inaccurate, erratic and vulnerable to false signals. An absolute devil! The touchpad on macbooks are a pleasure to use. They are sensitive, predictable and behave perfectly.

    The macbook's also have incredible build quality compared to my squeaky creaky Sony.
    Dat Aluminium...

      Lol just laughing at an insensitive touchpad, you use it and text pops up on the screen saying "your fat fingers are hurting me chubby"

    "When Does It Make Sense To Buy Apple Hardware Instead Of A Standard PC?"

    * Apps: The applications you need only exist on or of better grade on Mac.
    * Work: If you are programmer that covers multiple platforms (eg: Windows and Mac), then getting a Mac and using Boot Camp makes sense.
    * Portability: Hands down, MacBooks and MacBook Pros are excellent laptops. I got mine as a OS X and Windows laptop for the battery life.

    Macs have better resell value too. And I think they last longer. I've got a 2008 24inch iMac that runs Mountain Lion with no issues at all. Try installing a Windows OS on a 5-6 year machine and I don't think you'll have a good experience.

      Yeah, my 2007 MBP is still kicking along really well, has had one format in all that time. Only time it struggles is when I try run solidworks in a VM, but I think that's expected.

      My 2007 Windows desktop is still going strong. Upgrading it to Win7 a couple of years ago and then Win8 last year was quick and easy. Still runs every game at native res too (e.g. I've been playing Bioshock Infinite).

      You're right about the resell value, but I think the price difference with the initial purchase outweighs resell value. My PC cost under $1000, the current price of the cheapest Imac is $1500 (and prices were higher back in 2007).

      My 8 year old Samsung R50 quite happily runs anything from XP to 7 (I have not tried 8 on it yet though) and varying distributions of Linux. I even managed to turn it into a hackintosh many years ago despite it missing the SSE3 instruction set (Pentium M CPU) but that was for the most part unusable.

      Despite it being replaced 2 years ago for an Asus (a Radeon X300 does not like games) it still works fine as a test machine

    You Want to Dual Boot on a Laptop? You sure can, its easy! You can triple boot as well. The only question is do you know how to do it. The easiest solution is to use the windows install (considering you are dual booting with 2 different versions of the Windows OS). The second solution is to use a Linux boot loader (GRUB is the most popular). its been several years since I needed to dual boot but I was able to tipple boot with GRUB. I don't know a lot about Linux (or the GRUB boot loader) as I'm a Windows guy but I managed to get it working for dual and tipple booting. I couldn't figure it out when I owned a MAC about 8 years ago.

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