Apple v. PC...Desktop v. Laptop

What skills to learn, what tools to get
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Post by Redsted1 »

Jacob's article got me thinking a lot about doing computers the ERE way. It's been lightly touched upon so far but not directly in this manner, AFAIK. I currently own a 3 year old Macbook Pro and love it--it runs like the day I took it out of the box and requires no antivirus software. Though I did buy it before my full blown "ERE discovery", I would still liken it to the computer version of Jacob's boots. It is a superior product that will last longer, and though you pay a fair amount extra for it, there's a definite case to be made that it saves quite a bit of money in the long run.
So I ask you fellow "ERE-ers"...from your ERE perspective, what machine (desktop/laptop/all-in-one) and OS (Mac/Windows/Linux/Other) is the best intersection between price and quality? Or is it best to go cheaper and replace it more often? Do you go big and spend $1k + and get something that will last longer? Or just piece it together as you go and replace individual parts as needed?
I think we can come up with some great ideas here if we put our heads together...

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Post by jacob »

I bought a powerbook (mac) in 2004. The reason was that I needed a laptop (travel/conference), linux was not yet mature enough to install effortlessly on laptops, and OSX just happens to be based on BSD which gives unix functionality.
I am still using that laptop. I have replaced the harddisk (the first one died after 1.5 years, because I was walking with the computer in sleep mode rather than shutting it down properly), the power supply, the battery. Some of the keys on the keyboard are not too happy. A reader donated 10.5 to me (it came with 10.4) which was like getting a new computer.
I can't make any good recommendation, since computer hardware doesn't hold that much interest to me anymore.

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Post by Matthew »

I am sure many will not agree with me. I am also sure that there will be a cap to what we can acheive scientifically. However so far, from my experience of watching my brother upgrade to the best computers, it seems that the max he ever gets is a decade before he eventually has to get a new one or replace just about everything in it to still use anything new available.
sound ex. Vinyl, A track, tape cassette, cd, mp3, Yinyl...wait this might be a bad example.
video ex. Broadcast black/white, color tv, cable, Beta, VCR, projection tv, DVD, Laser disc, netflix, plasma and LCD, 1080p, Blue ray, new refresh rates, Hulu, new sizes, deeper blacks, 3D, 3D blue ray...this one is too long and not quite on track.
Computer ex. punch cards, tubes, floppy disc, hard disk, Zip disk, USB drive, CD burner/drive, DVD burner/drive, new speeds sizes, new ram, new storage, new graphics, modem, ethernet, dsl, cable internet, new software with new hard drive requirements, nearly all of the video above. I am sure I left tons out.
We don't really know what the next "winner" of technology necessity will be. I tend to think/"hope for the average user" the computer will eventually go the way of browsing tool and all the real storage will be at some massive storage locations.
That said, it is always nice to have a computer that is isolated from a massive server.
I usually buy the cheapest which can still do most of the latest I want. I don't play many games anymore (for reasons Jacob mentioned in the Game Board thread) so my latest purchase was an acer notebook without a cd/dvd drive. My old desk top has that and I have an external hard drive. If you prefer MAC then I would stick with that.

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Post by HSpencer »

I made a post about my old Compaq Desktop that I paid $2,500.00 for in 1998. That computer is nothing by today's standards and is still serving me well in my shop/office. It is not connected to the internet. I replaced it with a 2008 Gateway Desktop, with a 22" LCD and the latest HP photo printer. The replacement was a bit south of $1,400. I have had no problems with either unit.

So, you can say I have spent about $4,000 in home computers since 1998. Along with these, I have a Panasonic Toughbook issued by the US Army. I still use it now and then.

By far my best system is the Gateway. It is highly expandable to meet future needs. It runs Windows Vista. I have had great success with it. When I do research on Windows 7, I may upgrade to that, or not. With my old eyes, I love the 22" LCD.

I am not a big fan of laptops.

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Post by starshard0 »

It depends on what you're using it for. If you're a heavy gamer or you work with graphic design or movies, then I'd recommend a desktop. If you're just surfing the internet or working with documents, then I'd recommend a netbook. If you're not a heavy gamer but play a few here and there, or just need more power, then I'd say a notebook.
As far as OSs go, I've been using Windows since forever, if only because I don't want to pay extra for Mac OS and I'm not advanced enough to work with Linux...yet. I also play a lot of games, and most games are designed to run on Windows.
To be honest though, I'm not really a computer expert. I'll probably follow the advice others post here too.

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Post by Matthew »

You could always hook a 22" to the laptop?

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Post by HSpencer »

@ Dude
I will admit I have in the last year "come close" to purchasing one of the new laptops with the 17" screens. Playing with one of them, I found them highly attractive. However, as you point out in your "clutter" post, we only need so much stuff. Now that we are fully retired, we probably need two computers in the home office. My wife is a photo person, and does lots of email, bookkeeping and plays "Snood" several times a day. I have my penchant for the alternative news sites, the gloom and doom sites, and I like involvement with things like this blog and forum. We have not gotten in each others way yet. In our office, we have back to back desks and chairs. Hers has the Gateway computer, and mine has my XBOX 360 set up. (Keeps us together!) I am thinking of putting a net connected laptop on my desk, so we can both be on the net at the same time. (Email each other?)

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Post by photoguy »

Agree with the other poster's in that it really depends on what you are doing. If you are doing just email, web-browsing, word-processing, pretty much any computer system will do. The cheapest option would probably be a no-name bare bones system (or homebuilt) with linux installed.
For me personally, I wanted unix capability and the ability to run photoshop which pretty much means that I am limited to Macs. Macs really aren't that much more expensive for what you get, if you value all of the options they come with. For example, on the macbook pro laptops you are certainly paying for their small size, low weight, long battery life but if you don't care about these things then it's going to be comparitively expensive. Drawback with Macs is that you have only a limited set of options and there's no bargain basement / zero frills option. On the plus side, they have a high resale value and I've sold 5 year old mac laptops for $500.
On the macs I love not having to run any anti-virus or security software. Have never had any issues nor known anybody that had issues. In contrast, on PC's several of my colleagues have been infected and had to have their systems wiped and clean restored (these are geeks with CS degrees from top-tier universities).
Because of exponentially increasing speeds, you are probably better off buying mid-level computers where the performance/price ratio is greatest. I would not buy a top of the line computer unless you really needed the power. Similarily, I wouldn't buy the entry level system either.

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Post by JustChristine »

@HSpencer Step away from the Window (Windows 7 that is). I was just forced to upgrade at work and have found it FAR more annoying than useful. So far I haven't found one feature worth the headache of learning the new OS and dealing with the new funky UI. I loathe change for change sake....which is what the latest version appears to be.

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Post by George the original one »

My advice is to know the software you want to run and then buy whatever matches that need.
I'm against laptops unless you crave the power-efficiency or absolutely need the portability as, on a lifespan basis, they're usually 3x-4x more expensive.

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Post by Marius »

I seem to be alternating between owning laptops and desktops. During the last 5 years my workhorse was a laptop.
Now it's starting to fall apart and gets too weak for games. So I've built a desktop, but find myself returning to the notebook most of the time anyway - it's a beloved tool that has served me well.
My current preference:


+ Windows (it's what I'm used to, which makes it a big timesaver)

+ Ample ram (nothing is as frustrating as a computer with insuffient memory).
Strong and weak points of different solutions:
Desktop: upgradable, ubiquitous cheap parts, good for gaming.
Notebook: compact, light, low power consumption, I can take my "life" with me anywhere I want.
Apple: slick ui, unix under the hood, beautiful design, but feels like riding with training wheels to me.
Windows: less slick than Mac but it runs the stuff that I like, feels like home and doesn't make me feel restricted, good for gaming.
Linux: free, I love it, makes for very stable servers, but fixing problems is often very time consuming (I've used it for years, but not as my main platform).

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Post by InterfaceLeader »

Switched to Apple a while back, with an iBook that lasted me eight years. It's still going now, although I gave it to my brother as he got into making music. I had desktop PC's before that, and my general experience is that they get very slow and sluggish very fast. Probably if you like fiddling with them, that's okay - my partner is IT-trained, and only has PC's but he knows how to get the best out of them.
I got a mac mini, as it's the cheapest mac out there, does everything I need and more, and is a very portable desktop - I can carry it around with me, as long as I have a monitor and a keyboard I can plug it up to at the other end. So far, nobody has minded me hijacking their monitor. That was very useful when I was dating my American, and having to haul it back and forth across the ocean~ and it came out a lot cheaper than buying a laptop. I do web-design and graphics work on it, running Photoshop, Wacom tablet etc and no problems at all.

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Post by Mo »

On a theoretical basis it seems to me that one of the free Linux platforms, running on a used desktop might be a good ERE option. The rapid initial depreciation of computers might justify buying a used one, and the revenue stream you become when you buy into the windows/mac platform seem to justify a free linux approach. The revenue stream isn't insignificant: OS upgrades, antivirus, software, productivity upgrades, MacMe (or whatever that is now), etc... The disclaimers here are that I'm not retired, and I have never tried using Ubuntu, or similar, on a daily basis.
In my current working situation, I use both Mac and Windows. Personally, I find the Mac much more reliable, and easier to have fixed if not working. A few hundred dollars is well worth the reliability to me. If the choice is Mac or Win in retirement, it's Mac all the way for me.
Unfortunately, in order to be compatible with others at work, I also have to deal with Windows, which would be my last choice. When a windows machine breaks, I find it generally takes a lot of my time, or a few hundred dollars, to fix, thus I choose the Mac-- pay the money upfront and just keep on going.

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Post by JohnnyH »

I've posted thoroughly on my computer views in these threads:


I don't think laptops can compete with desktops in terms of reliability, value, flexibility, etc. They are more portable, but less so than a netbook... I prefer the LCD above, and away from my face and a large keyboard.
Linux is my preferred OS, but I must dual boot to Windows for work reasons. I also maintain several virtual machines, for access to various OS's... I have experimented with Mac on my netbook, and was fairly pleased, but I am a power user and prefer control to ease. This is why I prefer a Rockbox'd Fuze to an ipod of any flavor.
To further dump on Mac, the costs of hardware are not reality based. Here's are study that suggests Sony, Asus and Toshiba are all less prone to failure: ... top-makers

Since you can hackintosh most laptops there is no reason to pay Mac's premium, unless you think a fruit badge is worth several hundred dollars.
My upgrade from e4500 2GB to i7 8GB, cost me a few hundred net, after selling my old parts. The e4500 + parts are still smoking in system I built for a friend, at a cost of $320 to them. My P4 system is still in use by my parents, and still smokes... I'm impressed since all my computers get overclocked and tortured.
If you don't compute a lot, and don't require computing power anything will do. Probably just go with a laptop for simplicity. If you compute a lot, requiring power or not, I'd build and get a netbook if you travel.

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Post by RobBennett »

You certainly don't get as good a deal re computing power with a laptop. But that's all I've used since May 2000. I love being able to take my computer with me into other room or even onto the porch. I also like it that it takes up less space. That means more to me than the power or bigger screen.

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Post by Carlos »

I bought a Dell Inspiron laptop ($2,500 gulp) when I went to grad school. I wanted the best, something to replace a desktop. The thing was a brick.
After 5 years of use I replaced with another Dell laptop for about $500. This one has been plugging along (wine spill and all) for about 5 years as well. My cost per year as certainly improved!

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Post by csdx »

As an added thought to the PC vs laptop debate, some google research gives me that laptops consume about a third of the power desktops do (back of napkin stats 30w versus 100w at idle) which translates to about $20 a year in less electricity costs (@8hrs of on-time per day, 10c per kWh).
A quick sample on dell's site gives a price difference between a low end computer (+17" monitor) and mid-level 17" laptop at ~$400. So even given 5 years you're still paying $300 for the privilege of portability. Although buying used (assuming the price ratios remain similar) may reduce this price gap as the absolute difference in prices would diminish.

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Post by KevinW »

For several years I met all my personal computing needs by scavenging for derelict desktop computers, breaking them down, and building Linux boxes from the parts. Between Windows' lack of effective security against viruses and its ever-increasing system requirements, people discard a lot of PCs that are in perfect running condition or have only one broken part. I would watch for PCs on curbs, make it known to families and friends that I would take "broken" computers off their hands, and look at the "free pile" of my workplace. (Every place I've worked has had a free electronics pile, because companies have to pay to dispose of electronics and they'd rather see them disappear).
Using these parts sources I was able to maintain a primary workstation, secondary workstation, server, and an inventory of spares with only very occasional cash outlays for things I couldn't find (mainly cables). I believe this approach to be cheaper than anything based on buying new PC or Mac products.
On a related topic, I'd like to offer some friendly advice that ERErs seriously evaluate why they pay for software instead of using legitimately free/open source alternatives. Ubuntu Linux is in the same league as Windows and MacOS in both technical features and usability. There is viable free software for word processing, spreadsheets, typesetting, photo manipulation, vector drawing, software development, and so on. We here are on board with extreme measures w.r.t. physical surroundings, and yet there seems to be resistance to, what I consider, modest measures w.r.t. software platforms.
For example Microsoft Office costs $300-400 every 2-3 years, OpenOffice is free, and they operate pretty much the same way except for minor differences like OpenOffice puts margins under Format::Page instead of Page::Margins (or whatever). Investing time in learning the new menus seems like a no-brainer to me.

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Post by Night Runner »

All Apple computers are grossly overpriced. A PC (be it a desktop or a laptop) purchased for a tiny fraction of the Apple price can do just as much. All that's required is basic knowledge of web hygiene, a simple antivirus (and there are many free ones that work great) and, well, that's pretty much it. :)
In my experience, most Apple users don't *need* the graphic design-related capabilities - they'd be able to do everything (email, web, working with documents) just as well with PCs. I'm typing this on a 3-year-old Toshiba laptop that I got for $200 (no, that's not a typo) at the 2007 Black Friday sale at BestBuy. It works like a charm and never caused me any problems - a regular antivirus check takes care of that.
As for desktops vs laptops - it depends on your needs. Every once in a while, I travel, and I also like the ability to use my laptop anywhere in the house, so desktops aren't for me. On the other hand, desktops are a lot easier to customize and upgrade, and not as easy to damage as laptops.

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Post by photoguy »

@Nightrunner -- you wrote "All Apple computers are grossly overpriced."
Almost all apple products exist in a highly competitive market with many large players. The fact that many consumers / the market as a whole are willing to pay more should be an indication that they in fact perceive greater value in the products.
Apple certainly doesn't have a monopoly in any area to distort prices and unfairly charge more. While I don't doubt that apple products are not right for you, clearly many people have come to an alternate decision (probably because the criteria they use are different).

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