Ask LH: Are Apple Macs Worth The Extra Money?

Ask LH: Are Apple Macs Worth The Extra Money?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m an iPhone-loving mum who is looking to buy a desktop computer to store the bazillion photos I have of my kids. I’d like a machine that has longevity, reliability and one that’s fast for internet and email. Is a Mac going to be my best choice since the iPhone to Mac transfer is pretty simple or is spending the extra hundreds not worth it for me? I’m hopeless with technology, so any advice would be appreciated! Thanks, Lovely Luddite

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Dear LL,

If you’re on a tight budget and don’t require anything beyond basic computing and storage space, go with a Windows PC. Transferring your photos to a non-Apple computer isn’t that difficult: you can find comprehensive instructions for importing iOS pics here. Naturally, you can also access your iCloud Photo Library account from a Windows PC.

Unlike Macs, which start at $1699, you can snap up a competent Windows all-in-one (AIO) for under $500. These models come pre-assembled and usually include everything you need to get started, including the operating system, keyboard and mouse. To set your AIO up, all you need to do is plug it in and follow the on-screen instructions. Too easy.

For your specific needs, I’d pick extra storage space over faster hardware: ignore SSDs and go for a device with a 500GB or 1TB hard drive. This should be plenty of space for storing photos and videos — just be sure to back up your data and keep your photos in good order. This guide includes tips for keeping your photo collection safe and well organised. Good luck!

We’re also going to open this one to our readers. Are the user-friendliness and familiarity of Macs worth the extra money for tech-shy mums? Share your opinion in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • For your specific needs, I’d pick extra storage space over faster hardware: ignore SSDs and go for a device with a 1TB hard drive.

    NO NO NO NO NO!!!!!

    The speed increase you get by having a SSD in a laptop is immense. You can easily fit “a bazillion photos” on a 240GB SSD, and if you really need the extra space, spend $150 on an external drive.

    If you don’t hate the person who’s going to be using the laptop, make SSD a requirement.

    • This advice is for entry-level all-in-one PCs, not laptops. Also, she said she only needs it for internet and email.

      • She didn’t ask for an all in one, she asked for a desktop…
        She also said “fast for internet and email”, she wants an SSD I can tell…

      • you can pick up a 120gb ssd these days to boot from for about 50 bux. no reason to not boot from an SSD and have a second drive for storage.

    • Agreed with Jager,
      SSD’s mean nothing in mum speak lol.
      I sawpped my mums 120GB SSD with a 2TB mechanical hard drive because after OS, updates, phone backup, cache/temp files the HDD was almost always full causing millions of other issues (including dramatic speed drops). Storage was much more valuable over the time it takes to tie up a shoe lace while waiting from your computer to turn on.

      • Yes, 120GB is insufficient, but I disagree that SSD makes little difference to a home user, if anything i think it makes more of a difference for an infrequently used PC.

        Boot times are important – with a mechanical HDD, Windows 10 takes generally 30 to 60 seconds to boot up and login ready for use. Then, if you only have a few gig of ram, chrome starts to grind as soon as you load facebook and youtube.

        A SSD reduces boot time to about 10-20 seconds, and gives a noticeably faster browser performance when it starts hammering the swap file.

        Yes, 120GB is insufficient – Windows 10 and all it’s crap generally expands to 100GB. But 240GB leaves ~100GB for user files – which is sufficient until you start pirating or storing home movies.

        Windows Disk Cleanup in Windows 10 is fantastic, run it and get rid of about 50GB of unnecessary files on most computers.

        At the moment the component cost for a 240GB SSD is about $110, which is about $20 more than a 1TB spinning disk.

        It still commands a premium on ultra-cheap pre-built PC’s, but they often still ship with 500GB spinning disk.

    • At the very minimum a hybrid drive. Computers without the OS and apps on an SSD belong in the distant past. People are still spending premiums on CPUs they don’t need to make their computer feel faster than the IOPS of a mechanical HDD continue to be the bottle neck.

  • User experience plays a big part in to value as well.
    Since Luddite is out of the technological click but coming from an ‘I’ background i would suggest going the path of the Mac.
    Initially a greater cost but you can save in the long run with software costs generally being cheaper down the dark side.
    Its also a friendly and familiar environment to someone new to it all easily taking current skills with an ‘I’ device relating almost directly to the desktop environment.
    If you strip everything down to numbers and stats you would be mad not to buy a PC over a Mac but numbers and stats dont translate to real world scenarios very well.
    Im not a primary Mac user but doing the whole desktop support thing ages back, to some people windows is just too open for them. (Win10 making a huge bridge on that front for new / limited users)

    • If she’s ever used a PC, getting a mac would be a terrible idea, it is so different and hard to get used to.

      • Well I guess that’s part of the case study we have to assume.
        Judging from what was posted about “I’m an iPhone-loving mum”, “terrible with technology” “ease of use” it pretty much confirmed my recommendation and that’s why I chose what I did, familiar environment with fairly standardized configuration (compared to PC) to make use and troubleshooting easier and no less powerful in use

        as for how ‘hard’ one OS is to use compared to another? its all relative mate

        • As a fairly tech savvy guy I can say it’s incredibly hard to use a mac after a PC. I hated it. They are very different.

          If she’s ever used to a PC, she should get a PC.

          If she’s never used a PC, sure, get a mac.

  • I’m still using my 2009 iMac 27inch daily, both for work and surfing. still does everything i need it to. can’t say the same for even 2 year old laptops i’ve had in the past. if and when it dies ill be getting another mac

    • Yes and I’m still using my 2008 Core-i7 Dell XPS desktop. I’ve replaced the power supply (which at least you can do in a desktop PC, try it on a MAC!) with a good quality Thermaltake after the original failed but apart from that it’s going along fine, including upgrades all the way from Vista to Windows 10.
      My daughters only just retired their (still working) 2009 Sony VAIO laptops for something a bit faster and until last year I was still running a 2007 Dell 17″ laptop which would be good to this day if my daughter hadn’t wrenched the power socket so it won’t charge any more.
      Mac’s don’t have a mortgage on reliability and at least most desktop PC’s can be repaired/replaced at reasonable cost if something does go wrong.

  • Longevity is also a big one.

    While PCs and Macs will last as long as you look after them respectively. Replacing a $1500+ machine in 5 years with another $1500+ machine is expensive. You can replace the Windows PC for years to come and never get to that price.

  • I know she asked for a desktop but I’d say get a decent laptop, a monitor, keyboard, mouse and 2x portable drives (you can get 2tb for $129).

    ( )

    This laptop is SSD so superfast, it’s touchscreen and flippable, and it’s small enough to put on a desk with the monitor.

    A decent 24″ monitor is $250 so you’re talking $1300 for a ‘desktop’, laptop, tablet, and backup storage! Keep all the pics on the backup drives, too easy!

  • I’ve been using a pc for over 25 years and tried using a mac for the first time about a year ago. After 20 minutes I couldn’t work out how to do anything, even ubuntu is more user friendly.

  • Do you have a family member who you are likely to go to for advice on how to use this? If so get what they have. Otherwise every time you ask for tech support from them they will complain that you didn’t go with the system they know.

  • Hold the phone!! just back up the photos to the cloud using for example Google photos for unlimited storage albeit at a reasonable resolution.

  • Don’t get a computer to store stuff on. Get a NAS. And a proper backup solution.

    (hint: time machine is not a proper backup.)

  • Longevity is a factor here. Generally, Macs have better build quality than a $500 PC. We have some Macs in our house that are 7 years old and still run (albeit somewhat slow). You can get there with some Windows PCs too, but it’s more less likely.
    Another thing to consider is the crapware that comes with a cheap Windows machine. Macs just don’t have any.
    As far as switching from Windows to Mac: yes they are different. If you want to use it exactly like Windows, you need to stick with Windows. None of my relis who just want to do mail and web and the occasional Word document have any complaints. But that’s just anecdotal.

  • Everyone who says they can’t use a Mac can hand their access cards in now. As a professional who uses Windows, Linux, Unix I find the Mac the most straight forward, even my parents are able to use it. How hard is it to click on the email and internet buttons? You plug your phone or camera in and photos opens up to import with one click.

    This is the same misinformation as years ago it was “but there are no apps for Mac”. Supporting a family member using a Mac takes up far less time than a family member using Windows. Also I personally have found my Mac laptops have a far longer life than Windows laptops, needing maintenance or replacing far less often. Im on one of the first i7 MacBook airs and it’s still going strong with no signs of slowness.

  • The entire idea of the apple products are they are meant to work seamlessly together and are made in such a way you are pushed towards apples way of doing things. keep in mind that the hardware is made for the operating system just like the ipad and iphone not android or win expect to work on every built system created by manufacturers with google turning around saying your responsible for the bug fixes not us. It is always been apple products for apple hardware.Im into electronic music and when apple took over everyone who used logic audio moved to apple simply because they dropped support for ‘Win expect,’ . So my point being if you don’t have a specific piece of software required for a specific need both platforms will do just fine. Remember though you’ll get everyday productivity software for the mac that will for fill all your requirements whereas when you buy a pc you’ll get alot of thirdparty software bloat which you will probably not need that will be buggy and bog your computer down with crud.If I had the cash id go mac and maybe dual-boot with windows.Or heh wack Ubuntu on. Folks took 2 years to realise they had linux running.

  • Why are we comparing $1500 Macs to $500 PC’s? It’s like comparing a Mazda 3 to a Hyundai Excel.

    Let try this properly, a $1500 PC is leagues ahead of a $1500 Mac. A $900 PC is miles ahead of a $1500 Mac.

    And the MacOS is hard to use if you are a power user as you have to change a lot to even just get to the HDD in the explorer.

    If you are used to PC, stick with PC.

    Macs are designed for those who are not great with technology, which is it’s selling point.

    • The user in question is not a power user. If she is never going to upgrade or repair her computer, or reinstall an OS and doesn’t want to worry about virus and malware attacks then a windows pc is out of the question.

      When it comes to build quality, the $1500 pc you mention is the Excel. The $500 PC can only aspire to be a Lada, so should never be even considered as a viable option.

      Your comment about finding the ‘HDD in the explorer’ is honestly made me laugh, indicating that you have no idea about the Mac OS.

      As for you last statement, Id like to amend that to say that Macs are for those who want a beautiful experience, who want their computers to just work for years and years without the need to pull them apart, to reinstall the OS or to worry about virus attacks or malware.

      I work in an environment with lots of macs and lots of PCs. People often ‘convert’ from PCs to Macs but never the other way around. That is worth thinking about.

  • If you were as tech savvy as you say you wouldn’t have a problem using either… I has a windows desktop and a mac laptop, switching between the two has never caused me any problems. I lived with just a windows laptop for a while, then just a mac for a long time, then I built my PC. Really not very hard to adapt…

  • A Mac would actually be ideal given her criteria.

    She’s currently using an iPhone (which she loves) so she’ll already be familiar and happy with how Apple’s photo, email and internet browser applications work. The Mac versions of these iPhone applications are almost identical in appearance and function, so she’ll be right at home on the Mac.

    Whilst it’s certainly fairly trivial to transfer photos from her iPhone to a Windows PC, syncing her iPhone with a Mac is going to be a much more seamless experience given both devices are designed from the ground up to work together. She’ll get much more than just photo syncing – everything from being able to use her Mac for messaging and phone calls to having her internet bookmarks and history, notes, reminders etc all seamlessly synced between her iPhone and Mac.

    Also worth considering is the fact that, if she’s ever needing help or would like to know more about getting the most out of her iPhone and Mac, she can attend free training workshops at her local Apple store. There are excellent workshops on iPhone photography, photo editing, movie editing, using a Mac etc.

    There’s no denying the fact that a Mac is generally more expensive to purchase, but this is offset by the well designed hardware and software and the reliability and longevity that Macs are well known for.

    If she’s already got a monitor, keyboard and mouse she could actually pick up a mid-range Mac Mini for $1,099 – much cheaper than what’s mentioned in the original article – which would be more than capable of doing everything she’s after (photos, email, internet) for many years to come.

    Alternatively, check out the Apple Certified Refurbished Store for some great deals on refurbished Macs

  • I am more worry about her photos, cos she said she is hopeless with technology, that means probably no backup…
    Maybe recommend her some paid cloud storage service , like icloud, google doc, one drive or dropbox 😀

  • A lot depends on budget. I wouldn’t necessarily says Mac is easier to use than a PC if you’ve never used either. It depends on what you get used to. You also don’t need to get an iMac or a MacBook if going the apple route. The Mac Mini does all the things an iMac will do and you aren’t paying for an apple ‘retina’ display to boot. Just pick up a cheap mouse, keyboard and monitor. And to all those who will no doubt say “but you can find a mini form factor PC for half the price of a Mac”, I say “will it last?”

    I’m a long term apple products user (so, yeah I’m probably biased), but my experience is that Apple hardware consistently outlasts pretty much any PC computer by many years. My shed iMac is a PowerPC G5, that makes it about 10 years old. It never gets any maintenance, gets covered in sawdust etc. might go weeks without being turned on and still doesn’t skip a beat. I mostly use it for looking up plans on the web and streaming music to the shed stereo but I can still run photoshop word etc on it fine. I don’t think the OS has been updated in about 4 years but I never have a problem with it.

    In my experience, commodity PC hardware would not last anywhere near as long, so I think I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

    Edit: typos

  • Switched my dad over to Mac from Windows many years ago. Was spending most weekends supporting him on the Windows box – endless issues with the OS, the software and anything he was unfortunate enough to plug into it. He bought an entry level iMac and has been using the same one ever since. Hardware he plugs into it just works, updates are never an issue and the software features consistent interface design making it easy for him to try new apps. You can get the entry-level iMac for $1099 with 1Tb internal storage and it will outlast any Windows box many times over.

  • I use my MacBook Pro for everything and love it to bits but unless you’re doing some kind of development or you need a kernel based environment for some reason PC is the way to go hands down.

    The problem with an entry level Windows laptop is that it’s so hard to get a low cost laptop without all the extra junk software that vendors throw into it.

  • Push her towards a Mac, even if it’s a three-year-old MacBook from Gumtree. I spent a large part of my teenage years supporting the computing mistakes of my Luddite relatives in a different city. Every year or two when I’d be asked advice on what to buy next, they always ignored it to save a couple of hundred bucks, then be calling for help after six months with a broken registry or some malware or other drama. One xmas a few years back my two-day flying visit included re-installing Windows on three separate machines. Even PCs belonging to experienced users I know bog down over time and need regular open heart surgery to maintain performance. I’ve finally gotten everyone moved across to Macs, and nobody calls me for help anymore. They don’t have to. The initial savings on a budget PC will be swallowed by IT support in the first year, unless you’re prepared to donate countless frustrating hours of your own time to keep that cheap Wintel shitbox running. Trust me, a Mac will work better and last longer for someone likely to click “yes” to anything that pops up in their browser window.

  • I’m no fanboy… I use both windows (work) and Mac (home). I don’t think they cost more when you take into account how long they last. I used to buy a new pc every two years when they started getting painful to use. I only just realised that my second Mac is now 4 years old, and there has been no slowdown in performance or enjoyment. At this rate, it will probably go another couple of years at least. And if you can get SSD’s, do it!

  • Unless money is not a consideration it is time to ditch the iPhone as well. The Apple eco system is a very expensive system to be stuck in, everything is over priced and under specc’d for what you get. A $500 PC will absolutely do the job for most people nowadays and will be reliable.

    Apple are not more reliable they do not manufacture their components and they use the same general components as a PC.

  • Macs are ALWAYS worth the extra money. A Mac runs Windows better than a PC ever will. How ironic. Im on my 4th Mac laptop, and the previous 3 are still running. I also have a PC for work, purely out of necessity, and I loathe it. As soon as i can, I’m dropping it like a bad habit

    If you’re thinking of buying a PC, save yourself the frustration, give the guy in the store your $500 and just walk out. You’re wasting your time. My father always taught me to ‘buy the best you can afford’ and ‘the poor man pays twice’. Buy the Mac and be done with it. I bought my partner a MacBook Air after she was strictly PC her whole life. Now she will never go back and even complains how rubbish her work PCs are. For someone who isn’t technically savvy like myself, she took to it like a duck to water. Why, because they’re simply better in every way possible. Period.

  • DEAR Lovely Luddite,

    Last year I needed a reliable, stationary hub for my photos and other files of my kid so I’m in a similar situation as you. After months and months of consideration I decided to purchase my first iMac and handed over my 2009 Macbook Pro to my husband. I chose a 16G RAM and 1TB Fusion drive. I already have a 2TB external hard drive at home. Here are the main reasons and considerations why I ended up with this decision:

    1. After being a mother, I have to go with the most convenient option that I can afford. I already have an existing Apple ecosystem so getting an iMac makes sense from convenience perspective. You have to judge ease of use of macs for yourself. I wouldn’t take reviews of people who tries using macs once or twice after 30 years of PC usage. Like anything you’re learning for the first time, you have to give it time.

    2. My experience from PCs have been okay, but I felt like PCs need a lot more work. Even before I had a child I felt like Software upgrades, antivirus softwares, and general maintenance of PCs took more time than Macs. It’s doable, but not time efficient for me. My 2009 MBP had never had any problems with it; It was reliable, fixed viruses and trojans without me installing any antivirus softwares. I just had to upgrade to the hard drive memory thus the decision to purchase an iMac.

    3. When I was in the process of purchasing my iMac, i customized the specs a tiny bit to suit what I ultimately need: a big memory with a processor or RAM that wont slow down in the next 5 years at least. I also use a little Photoshop and iMovie so I want a fast processor. Because I do not have time to keep transferring files to external back ups, and I want to avoid replacing hardware every couple of years because again for time and cost reasons. So when I know I can afford the iMac that I need and it gives me more value in terms of convenience, time efficiency and what I believe will be longer reliability based on my ’09 MBP, I went with the Mac.

    Good Luck!

  • Bingo!

    I always say. Windows for tweakers and Macs to get the job done. I have used everything from windows 3.1 to Windows 10 and Mac OS 7 to Mac Os 10.11 over the last 30 years. I have wasted more time on a Windows machine fixing software issues than getting the job done on a Mac. A Windows PC does not come with user friendly software to manage “Bazillions of photos”. There is no equivalent of iPhoto in Windows that comes bundled with Mac OS. Mac OS has always ruled in the area of photography and graphic design for that matter. Macs are generally sturdier than PCS and will last you for years if you take good care of them. You will also get an excellent return if you decide to sell it. There is hardly any Mac in the second hand market that below $500 from 2011 up to 2015 models. Macs are a good investment. Well worth the money you pay for them. Non-Savvy Windows users will have their PCs running very slowly after a good two years if they are not careful with your clicking habits and don’t have up to date anti-virus, cleaning and maintenance software.

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