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If you’re in the market for a new laptop for school or work, and have already ruled out getting a Chromebook, you’re left with two choices: Mac, or PC.
The “Mac vs. PC” debate has been going on for more than 35 years, with Apple and Microsoft stoking the flames every few years, especially through marketing (also see: iPhone vs. Android, Headphones vs. Earbuds, etc). But, which one is actually better for your work? There’s no wrong answer, but we’ve broken down the main differences and similarities below, so you can make the right choice.
We’ve also recommended both a Mac and PC, so you’ll know exactly what to get once you’ve made your decision.
What is the Difference Between a Mac and PC?
The hardware differences between both platforms closed dramatically once Apple moved from using PowerPC to Intel processors in the mid 00s. All Macs and most PCs run on Intel processors, have roughly 8GB (Gigabytes) of memory, 256GB of storage, an integrated graphics chip, WiFi and Bluetooth support, and a built-in webcam. This common baseline of hardware is pretty good, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
Apple’s laptops have transitioned to having one type of port: Thunderbolt 3, which means you’ll need a special cable or adapter to connect your machine to a TV, camera memory card, or older accessories. Many PCs still have dedicated ports like an SD Card Slot, USB-A port, and HDMI port, which don’t require you to use an adapter for those common tasks.
The biggest difference between Mac and PC hardware is the amount of choice you have. A majority of PCs running Windows come from third-party companies, with tech specs that can vary wildly. If you have a highly specific computer in mind — high amounts of memory, touch screen, lots of ports, no webcam, excellent speakers — PC laptops are the right way to go. Apple is the only company that makes Macs; they follow a pretty strict set of guidelines in terms of build quality and design philosophy, and your choices boil down to three machines that can be customized slightly. By controlling all Mac hardware, Apple has the ability to make sure all of its computers meet a strict standard for quality. There isn’t anything quite like that on the PC side, but again, you have many more options.
Windows 10 vs. MacOS
Mac and PC hardware has been drifting closer to one another over the past 15 years, but their software is still very different.
MacOS is part of Apple’s larger software ecosystem, which includes iOS on iPhone and iPads, WatchOS on the Apple Watch, and tvOS on Apple TV. Some of these platforms have the same apps, and are designed to work with one another. For example: You can send an iMessage to a friend on your iPhone, receive their reply on your Apple Watch, and respond using your Mac.
Notes, iMessages, calendars, photos, and data stored on iCloud Drive are synced between all of your devices through apps built right into those operating systems. In some cases you can recreate this experience using third-party apps available on multiple platforms, but Apple’s experience is generally more seamless.
Windows, on the other hand, is a more “open” platform. Windows is available on a wide range of machines built by several different companies, and Microsoft hasn’t made a lot of headway into the tablet and smartphone market. If you’re using a PC, you’re likely using a mix of Apple and Google hardware, too. So, instead of having a built-in seamless experience between all of your devices, you’ll have to rely on third-party apps.
The upside there is that the marketplace for software — both free and paid — is enormous on Windows. There are often dozens of options for any particular task, so you won’t have to hunt around very long to find one. Both software platforms have there upside and downsides, but there’s one place where Windows has a truly substantial lead: Games. Windows is a gaming platform, MacOS is not. In many cases, game designers cannot afford — literally — to rewrite their games for an operating system with a totally different structure.
The most substantial difference between MacOS and Windows is that because MacOS is less popular (less than 10% of computers run it), it’s a lot less attractive to people writing viruses. MacOS also has a few additional safeguards in place to help most users avoid Malware by limiting their access to the computer’s file system. Windows may not have all of the same safeguards, but Microsoft has been diligent about patching security holes quickly to keep users safe.
Is a Mac or PC Laptop Better?
While the differences between Macs and PCs have waned over the years, both platforms are very strong. You’ll be able to accomplish the same sets of tasks: Writing, creating spreadsheets or slideshow, photo, video, or image editing, and streaming videos without facing a lot of performance hitches.
If you prefer Apple’s tech, and don’t mind accepting that you’ll have fewer hardware choices, you’re better of getting a Mac. If you’d like more hardware choices, and want a platform that’s better for gaming, you should get a PC.
BEST MAC LAPTOP: MacBook Air
After many years of refinement, the current-generation 13-Inch MacBook Air is the ideal Mac laptop. It has a dual-core Intel i3 processor, 8GB of memory, 256GB of storage, and a 13.3-inch high-resolution screen. The machine has a 720P HD web camera for video conferencing, and a Touch ID fingerprint reader, which allows you to unlock the computer without entering in a password.
This laptop features Apple’s T2 chip, which enables certain security features like automatically encrypting its SSD (solid state drive), and enabling Touch ID. Apple outfitted the 13-Inch MacBook Air with two Thunderbolt 3 ports, so you can charge the machine while having one free port for accessories. Apple says you can get up to 12 hours of use out of this laptop without having to charge it, but the amount you actually get depends on the apps you use, your screen brightness, and your WiFi and Bluetooth settings.
Physically, the MacBook Air is made out of aluminum and weighs 2.8 pounds. It’s .63-inches thick at its largest point, and tapers down to .16 inches at its thinnest point. This is a laptop you can take with you in a backpack without feeling weighed down. Although it’s very well-rounded, the MacBook Air’s integrated graphics card is its only real downside. This is a laptop powerful for light image and video editing, but it’s not suited for regularly handling 4K footage.
The 13-Inch MacBook Air is an excellent example of Apple’s minimalist design philosophy, and focus on solid tech specs.
BEST PC LAPTOP: Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Microsoft was late to the hardware game, but the Surface 3 proves just how much ground it’s made up over the last three years with a laptop that’s easy to use and easy to love.
The laptop has a quad-core Intel i5 processor, 8GB of memory, 256GB of storage, and a high-resolution 13.5-inch touch screen. It has a 720P HD webcam, which can be used with Microsoft’s Windows Hello feature to scan your face and unlock your machine. Surprisingly, the Surface Laptop 3 supports WiFi 6, the latest version of the wireless standard that allows you to use the internet a lot more quickly if you have the right router.
This machine sports one USB-C port, one USB-A port, and Microsoft Surface Connect port, so you can plug in a wide range of accessories without needing an adapter. Speaking of accessories, you may want to get a Surface Pen, Microsoft’s stylus, if you intend to use the Surface Laptop 3’s screen as a drawing tablet.
Microsoft’s Surface 3 Laptop weighs 2.8 pounds, and is .57 inches thick all the way across, so it’s also very backpack-friendly. Like the MacBook Air, its only real technical downside is its integrated graphics chip, which matters more here because Windows is the dominant PC gaming platform. That aside, the Surface Laptop 3 is an excellent portable PC for anyone who enjoys a clean-looking, fast machine that runs Windows.