May 18, 2009

Curious George: Windows vs. Mac It's time for a new computer and I am seriously torn... If Windows, what kind of machine? Is Mac really worth the extra $$$?

I don't want to cause an all-out brawl... just seriously looking for advice on how to replace the ancient, sticks-on-clay-tablets style computers I presently own. I've had one of the first iMacs, and it was swell, and I've had a Windows machine, which was less swell but okay. Neither is very recent and I have no hands-on use of the current machines to say so. Please, monkeys, tell me: How should I spend my money? and why?

  • If it's helpful, I'm not a gamer, nor am I a webmaster or even a webdabbler. I primarily use the web for informational browsing including streaming vids, organizing photos and loading my iPod. Nothing too fancy.
  • If you only use your computer to surf the web and play with videos/photos/music I recommend getting a Mac simply because using it will be a much nicer experience. If such an experience isn't worth a lot of money to you then skimp on the specs, you don't need much horsepower to do what you do.
  • If you're looking at Windows, wait until Vista has vanished beyond the horizon later this year, and at least the early reviews of the official release of Windows 7 are out. The betas are quick and shiny, but who knows what MS will stick in the final version. You could experiment with Ubuntu in the meantime. I've been trying it out, and while I'm not ready to make it my main OS, it's not as user hostile as I'd feared. While I have friends who swear by Macs, I haven't drunk the koolaid. They're OK, but I don't think the Apple premium is worth it for what I need.
  • For what you are talking about, I'd think hard about grabbing the cheapest box (with a brand - HP, or Dell or whatever, for the warranty) I could find, with the nicest monitor I could afford. You don't need a lot of processing grunt (or so it sounds) but having something nice to look at would be a plus. (I was going to suggest a netbook for portability, but even one with a monitor out might not have the processing speed you could use.) Dell have a headless box for US$369 at the moment. For an extra $230 Dell will sell you an box with an additional GB of RAM, a better processor AND a 20inch monitor. You don't mention portability, hence the desktop solution. And I'm assuming here you are in the US. I like Apple computers, and they seem to be well thought through. On the desktop side, there is a premium to be paid for buying one (though offset by much nicer design, user interface and a solidly thought through component mix) but in my opinion Apple's strengths are in their laptop line. It is really hard to find the same balanced mix of performance, price and weight in Winland. At least in the US. The Apple prices overseas tend to be a bit harder to justify, vs alternatives. Other advice - if you go for the Windows solution (and assuming you aren't using these already) look to move to Firefox (with the Adblock plus add on), and Picasa for photos. If you shoot RAW (or similar) I'm also using RAW Therapee for processing (and it seems to be quite handy at it, better than what I got in the box with my SLR). VLC is nice for movie playback. These are Free (as in beer) Software, and make for a much nicer desktop experience on Windows.
  • Maybe try a netbook? You can get an Ubuntu netbook real cheap. It'll do everything you mention, and you'll have a nice experience using it. Plus it's portable.
  • I'm a mac guy, so this is biased... but, in my opinion, the relative lack of malware and viri (?) created for the mac makes it worthwhile... Look at it like this, me, the wife, 6 assorted kids, using macs for the past 5 years for recreation, education, and business have NEVER had a virus, never had our security breached...and we do pretty much nothing to prevent it... plus, I've had macs running in the basement for three years being a host for a printer and doing some tivo related stuff, that only get restarted when there is a power failure in the house... the OS is pretty bullet proof compared to windows.
  • The newer Mac minis are under $500, which is great if you already have a monitor and such to plug in. I was raised on an Apple ][, and used my friend's Mac Classic my first few years of college, but moved to Windows circa 1994 (not coincidentally the time that Doom hit my dorm... go figure, it was a game that made me switch). After using and liking Windows from then up to 2007 I moved to a MacBook Pro. I have been happy as a clam - happy enough that I refurbished a first-gen Mac Mini for my wife to use hooked up to our flatscreen TV so she won't have to drag the tadpole down to the basement just to check her email while on maternity leave. I've been giving it some thought lately, and if I were to replace our home system right now, I'd buy a new Mini. The few frustrations I've had with proprietary lock-ins with Mac hardware have been very minor compared to the ease of use. I honestly haven't fired up our home Windows box more than once or twice since getting the Mini up and running. Polychrome has some good software advice, but I will point out that I'm happily using Firefox, Picasa and VLC on my Mac. (I really do not like iPhoto. Aside from being much, much, much slower and choppier on my computer than Picasa, it pretty much sucks ass if you share photo libraries between computers, as I do. Picasa doesn't care which computer I do my photo culling or uploading with, when I do a sync between systems it quietly updates its internal database to reflect the changes on next program start.)
  • (Also, if you have a Mac and decide you want to run Windows after all, well, you can. Best of both worlds!)
  • I've just done essentially what polychrome suggests, buying a Dell laptop and upsizing the monitor. It's got Vista but (knock on wood) after a week I've had no trouble, even uninstalling all the shite that it came with. Thus far all I need and have used it for is firefox, MS office, and VLC for watching the Lost finale. It's likely a temporary machine, as I'm hoping, nay assuming that this time next year I'll be teaching and get a laptop as part of the job. Probably a Mac.
  • You guys are AWESOME. This is all useful information and I need to do climb into the higher boughs for some digesting. I've got folks shaking pom-poms on both sides of the debate and am still undecided. One teensy concern of mine has to do with keyboards. I've been touch-typing for 45 years and really, really hate flat laptop keyboards. Give me an old-fashioned 3D keyboard and I can do 130 wpm, no problem... but put me on a 2D keyboard and typos proliferate wildly. Thence it's not likely I'd ever go for a laptop as my main computer. This weekend I plan on doing some shopping. I feel much more prepared now! Thanks, Monkeys!
  • you can always get an external keyboard for your laptop...
  • Do you need a brand new computer? I just bought a refurbished iBook G4 (Power PC) with enough RAM and hard drive space for my needs (which sound similar to yours) for $499. True, there's plenty of new stuff that only runs off the newer intel chip models, but frankly it's not the kind of stuff I need.
  • Do you get viruses or spyware? If you are computer savvy enough not to get them then buy the cheapest windows machine you can find. Before you do that I would check out Ubuntu and since you have an older computer I would check out the Xubuntu variant which is especially aimed at using less resources and so better for older computers. I run Xubuntu off of a usb thumb drive on my office computer and it is more responsive than XP running off the hard drive. download it and burn it to a cd (yes it is small enough to fit on a cd!) and try it as a live cd (reboot with the cd in the drive and it will run off the cd) so you can test it out. Running off of the cd is much slower than it is installed but it will give you an idea of whether or not it fits your needs.
  • GET A MAC! They nice and shiny.
  • Okay, that's it. The Mac guy is definitely cuter. Although it would be amusing to have John Hodgman around. Thanks, ThinksTwice.
  • Since you don't want a laptop, and probably have a monitor ready, I'd definitely go for a Mac Mini. Cheap, powerful enough for your purposes, quiet and very small. And it will be a much nicer experience not having to worry about viruses or malware or reinstalling the OS at least yearly which has been my experience with Windows. And you can use whatever keyboard you prefer!
  • I want second jccalhoun's suggestion of not getting a new computer. Keep your old one with a light OS like Xubuntu. It's free, and will feel like you got a new computer.
  • Will Xubuntu allow me to use things like iTunes? 'Cuz the machines we have presently won't. We're talking pre-Windows 2000 and an original "first generation" strawberry iMac. Pretty much everything causes both to freeze up. Neither will properly display the New York Times online, for example. Unfortunately memory is an issue... Whether we get a new machine or not, I will definitely give Xubuntu a try.
  • Check out Lifehacker for linux alternatives to windows/mac software. They recommend songbird to replace itunes.
  • Macs have some hardware design niceties that come from having an army of overpaid hippies try to dream up cool features. A magnetic cable lock that comes free when you accidentally step on the cord so you don't knock your $2K laptop on the concrete of the cafe you're posing at getting free wi-fi because you can't afford a broadband connection after paying what Apple thinks is a fair price for a laptop is one of many that come to mind. But why not have the best of both? Have you heard of "Hacintosh"? (If not try Google) You can buy a legit copy of OS X for < $150 and obtain the drivers that will allow it to run on many PC laptop models. A PC power and price performance with Mac OS. And if you get a model with an easily replacable hard drive you can have both a PC and a Mac and run Windows when there is something that you need to run that only works on Windows. It's not a solution for the fainthearted and requires thorough research into the brand and model you intend to upgrade.
  • FYI, the Mac "premium" is kinda illusory, although kinda not. That is, if you compare a Mac and a PC with the same specs, you'll actually find they cost roughly the same (and sometimes the Mac will be cheaper.) The catch is, there is a wider variety of specs available for the PC. Apple very carefully controls which options they give you in order to provide (what they consider to be) the optimal user experience. If cutting a particular corner would drop the price by $100, but would result in more crashes (or a clunkier user experience, or less whizzy-looking design) Apple won't do it. This is good (because it means Apple users tend to be more satisfied) but it is also bad (because you are a grownup capable of making your own decisions, and you might be willing to put up with a slight increase in crashes to save $100.) The one case where there really is a Mac premium is with RAM. If you buy an Apple, I highly recommend getting the absolute minimum RAM they'll sell it with, and then buying more RAM from a reputable memory retailer (like Crucial). On the balance, my advice is to figure out what your budget is for this computer. If there is a Mac that fits within this budget and seems to do what you want, I'd go for it, and figure you'll save yourself hassle in the long run. However, if none of the Macs in your budget seem to do quite what you want them to, you may be able to find a PC that makes whatever tradeoffs would make more sense for you.
  • It seems to me that the hardware distinctions between MACs and PCs have become rather blurry, especially since Apple went Intel. What remains is largely a matter of marketing, fashion and Operating Systems. OS X is a much superior OS but... I like the Mac esthetic and all but often need a portable PC for evil Windows work-related network stuff. My elderly Dell recently passed away and I've just ordered a Lenovo Thinkpad - not pretty but reliable and well-engineered. It came with Vista but it'll have XP Pro once I get at it. Lenovo's got some good online deals going at the moment but they're still aimed mainly at the business market. For simple web browsing and email, plus maximum portability and cheapness, a netbook, as Mr. K. suggested, might be worth a look. You can attach your existing monitor and keyboard while at home but they generally lack the horsepower for HD video and don't usually have DVD/CD drives. For a home desktop replacement, I like polychrome's idea of of a cheap box from a reputable source, with lots of memory (which is cheap and easy as a DYI add-on) and a decent monitor. Good luck with your shopping!
  • kinnakeet, I'm running Xubuntu on a Dell P3 circa 1999 or so. It's an old PowerEdge server model, with a tiny amount of RAM (by today's standards) and small hard drive, with crappy graphics, but it runs fine.
  • This is the first time I'm posting anything with our brand-new iMac. After carefully considering everyone's input, and our limitations, we took a big breath and went for it. It is GORGEOUS. I'd forgotten what a pleasure the Apple visual interface is! Needless to say I was up very VERY late last night. One thing I must comment on... unpacking and setting up this computer was a pleasure, as even the packaging was beautiful and well thought-out. Although I'm sure we could've done well with something cheaper and less pretty, so far I am blown away by this thing. Got a huge monitor and tons of memory, too. It may not be as exciting as caution live frogs' new tadpole, but trust me, this is one new arrival we are VERY happy about. Thanks one and all!
  • Very nice choice. *thumbs up*
  • An entire Mac Vs Windows thread and no blood shed? I wuv you all! I was just going to pop in and say, regarding the keyboard issue: I think you'll find that once your fingers get accustomed to the slightly different layout, you'll be typing faster than you ever have. The thing about laptop keys is that they're low-profile, so you don't have to push them down as far to make a letter. The .02mm keypress difference may seem ridiculously small, but averaged across even 100 words it really adds up!