Mac for Physics

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by WithTea, Mar 19, 2006.

  1. WithTea macrumors member

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    May 11, 2005
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    Canada
    #1
    So, with any luck, I will be studying physics in university come this fall, and of course, I need a computer. I am currently (sigh) a windows user, but I've been wanting to switch to a Mac for all the reasons everyone always says. :rolleyes:

    My only concern, however, is that, since I will likely be doing some programming and such of a very specific nature, I might lack the ability to do so on a Mac. I'll always be able to use the university computers, I suppose, but that would be a bit of a bummer. I was wondering if there's anyone around here who either works in the field or knows if this would be a problem - would a Mac be okay for studying physics at university?
     
  2. ero87 macrumors 65816

    ero87

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    #2
    well with the new ability to dual-boot (run windows on a mac), you should be able to handle any software problems you encounter. Do you still have a windows XP cd lying around?
     
  3. munkees macrumors 65816

    munkees

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    Pacific Northwest
    #3
    whitetea

    Mac OS X is ther ideal system, with the unix underneath, you will be able to develop and use a mountain of science software available. This is a better choice of platform than any other, especially physics. If you are running Matlab or Mathematic, or just some other software this it the platform.

    If you are intrested in coding well fortran is use alot in physics, and it much easier on a unix machine. I do believe gcc compile supports fortran.

    You should look at what your couses require, what software they are using, base you choice on that.
     
  4. jsw Moderator emeritus

    jsw

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    Mar 16, 2004
    Location:
    Andover, MA
    #4
    FWIW, since you mentioned that you'd be doing programming, any non-Microsoft-specific language (i.e, not .Net, C#, etc.) will be fine to use on a Mac. Also, there are many UNIX-based physics apps which would compile and run quite well.

    You might need Windows at times, but you likely won't unless there are Windows-specific apps you'll need.
     
  5. idea_hamster macrumors 65816

    idea_hamster

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    Jul 11, 2003
    Location:
    NYC, or thereabouts
    #5
    I'm not a coder, but I have to imagine that it really depends on the programming language(s) you'll be expected to use.

    Even a PPC Mac can run any program written in any version of C (other than C# ("C-sharp") which is a Windows-specific C implementation, like Javascript), Java and of course its native Cocoa. The programmers could probably tell you of other languages that can be compiled for Mac.

    And a MacBook Pro would be able to run and code any Win programs natively, along with Linux (Fedora Core and others run on MacBook; YellowDog on PPC)and probably whatever flavor of unix that your server-time will be in as well. Hopefully someone with more knowledge than I will enlighten both of us as to the specifics....

    Good thing partitions are easy!
     
  6. Zorkon macrumors newbie

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    Jul 25, 2003
    Location:
    Kamloops BC
    #6
    Macs work great for Physics

    I'm in my 4th year of a physics undergrad degree here in BC, and I've used Macs all the way through. Right now my machine of choice is a 15" Powerbook, and I've had no trouble whatsoever.

    First off, you'll likely need to get ahold of Microsoft Office or (even better) NeoOffice / OpenOffice. I've found NeoOffice's formula editor to be much better than Word's, and have been using it to write up my labs for the past two years.

    For serious math work I use Maple, which runs fine on my Powerbook. The unix underpinnings of OS X come in really handy too. I spent last summer working on a research project at the university's observatory. IRAF is a common Unix tool used to process astronomical images, and I had no trouble getting it to run on my Powerbook. The staff astronomer was so impressed that she bought a Mac mini to drive one of our new telescopes.

    For more Mac/Physics related stuff, take a peek at:

    http://hitoshi.berkeley.edu/macosx/
     
  7. Zorkon macrumors newbie

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    Jul 25, 2003
    Location:
    Kamloops BC
    #7
    Re: Macs & physics

    Forgot to mention:

    Programming wasn't a problem either. Most programming courses taught to science students these days deal with one of:

    * Java
    * Fortran
    * C

    All of which will work nicely on a Mac.
     
  8. excalibur313 macrumors 6502a

    excalibur313

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    Location:
    Cambridge, MA
    #8
    I'm a physical chemistry major and from my experience a very high percentage of physics and chemistry profs use macs for recreation and for doing research. There are many scientific programs only written for macs. I would definitely get a mac if I was in your shoes.
     
  9. Chundles macrumors G4

    Chundles

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2005
    #9
    I'm doing a BSc (Chemistry) and all my profs use Macs. The lab computers are all Dells but the Uni has a contract with them. Most of the staff computers are Macs.

    Mostly old Macs though as I'm pretty sure they're resisting the move over to Windows, same with the Arts dept. They all have eMacs and I think they'd move over to Dell the day the pope becomes a rent boy.

    I'd get the Mac, you'll be fine 99% of the time. For those awkward 1% you can always use the lab computers.
     
  10. valiar macrumors regular

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    Mar 14, 2006
    Location:
    Washington, DC
    #10
    A little bit of history...
    When Steve Jobs was driven out of Apple in mid-80s, he has started up a new company, NeXT Computer. The company had a goal to produce a dream computer for an academic/research environment.
    They have succeeded.
    NeXT computers were designed around the needs of academic community, and were widely adopted in places like CERN.
    Mac OS X is, basically, NeXTStep 5.
    Thus, Macs are the best things for science since sliced bread. :)

    You can read more about NeXT here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Next_Computer

    By the way, I am a chemist :)
     
  11. Acehigh macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2006
    #11

    You can get Mathcad and Mathematica for OSX. Not sure what other programs you can use. But you computer lab will have them.

    You can always call the school. But then again you might be able to do everything without a laptop lol
     
  12. airkarol macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2005
    #12
    If you are using vb, you can use it a lot of ways on the mac..

    - Real Basic (basically vb for mac)
    - VPC
    - Dual Boot in Windows
     
  13. WithTea thread starter macrumors member

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    May 11, 2005
    Location:
    Canada
    #13
    Thanks so much to everyone who replied - you all eased by concerns by a whole lot. I will double check with the department (there's very little info on their website), but with any luck, in three months I will be a Mac owner. I don't think I'll be able to afford a MacBook Pro, so I'll probably go for the iMac and lose the portability. Ah well, you can't have everything in life.
     
  14. excalibur313 macrumors 6502a

    excalibur313

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    Cambridge, MA
    #14
    Get the intel ibook when it comes out. Here's to April 1st!
     
  15. WithTea thread starter macrumors member

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    May 11, 2005
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    Canada
    #15
    I feel like I'd get more bang for my buck with an iMac... but I guess that depends on whether or not you consider portability bang.

    It all comes down to the old laptop-or-desktop conundrum. It's frustrating - I want my cake and I want to be able to eat it too.

    Which is admittedly the stupidest analogy ever - when do you get cake and *not* eat it?
     
  16. Spanky Deluxe macrumors 601

    Spanky Deluxe

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    Mar 17, 2005
    Location:
    London, UK
    #16
    Hi!

    I'm a second year student at the University of Nottingham in the UK doing Physics with Theoretical Astrophysics. My course is more computer involved than the straight Physics course and we've only ever used Matlab and a standard C compilor, Salford C++ although any C compiler for the Mac would probably be absolutely fine (we only do smaller terminal based applications in C).

    I hope this helps!! BTW if you've done any programming before in any language you'll find the programming courses a synch at Uni!!
     
  17. WithTea thread starter macrumors member

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    #17
    It does, thanks. I wish I had done programming - I am completely inexperienced. It'll be an interesting learning curve...
     
  18. Spanky Deluxe macrumors 601

    Spanky Deluxe

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    London, UK
    #18
    To be honest, its all about knowing how to break problems up and deal with them logically. That's why it doesn't matter which language you've used before, its simply about the skill. Get hold of a simple basic language, something like QBasic, there must be something like that on the Mac and then simply play around with it. Do stuff like model the flight of a ball or something to start getting your head around it, it'll really help you when it comes to classes.

    There's a *huge* divide here between the people that can do it and the people that can't. Top students in all other subjects have been known to fail the computer modules. My mate's a genius at everything, 97% in one module. He failed the programming one though while I creamed it.

    The logical skill of dealing with problems that you learn by programming is a very valuable asset in all walks of life, not just with computers.
     
  19. plinden macrumors 68040

    plinden

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2004
    #19
    Look at it this way, if you have eaten your cake, you no longer have it. If you have it, you haven't eaten it. You can't do both.

    It's an epigram, by the way, not an analogy.
     
  20. Fearless Leader macrumors 68020

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    Mar 21, 2006
    Location:
    Hoosiertown
    #20
    wow thanks for that bit of information. Never Really understood that epigram, thats fun to say, either. Now im a bit smarter, well kinda...
     
  21. SC68Cal macrumors 68000

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2006
    #21
    I believe the XCode & dev tools that are included with the Mac OS will basically pay off the Mac purchase, depending on what compilers and such you would have to purchase if you wanted to use your dorm room computer to do some extra "coding" ;)
     
  22. WithTea thread starter macrumors member

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    May 11, 2005
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    Canada
    #22
    Wow. That makes complete sense - thank you. Just goes to show that when you ask a question at Macrumors, you get more of an answer than you ever expected!
     
  23. yellow Moderator emeritus

    yellow

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    Portland, OR
    #23
    I support 5 nuclear physicists (radiation) who all have Macs.
     
  24. thegreatunknown macrumors regular

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    Jan 12, 2006
    #24
    I've done the physics route. if there is anything that a unix based OS can't do in your classes then your school is a bit behind in the physics world. all of your programming necessities and mathematical programs will run, and will run smoother on a mac.

    there is always those public computer labs if need be. but you won't need em.
     
  25. bankshot macrumors 65816

    bankshot

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2003
    Location:
    Southern California
    #25
    I completed my physics degree 10 years ago (has it been that long?? ack! :eek: ) so I don't know how relevant this still is. But anyway, the vast majority of programming we did was on various flavors of unix, save for one program we had to do on a Vax; I'm sure it's been phased out long ago now. HP and Sun were the big ones we used at the time, but I imagine it'd be much more tilted towards Linux these days. But since OS X is, effectively, unix and it comes with the standard GCC-based compiler suite, you should be good to go for C/C++ etc.

    As others mentioned Matlab and Mathematica are both available (we used both, on various platforms back then), as is IDL which I didn't use in school, but is an excellent scientific computing language/platform that I use daily in my work. For lab writeups and such, I remember using an old Mac package called Kaleidagraph for plotting results. Don't know if it's still around, but that was obviously a classic app (we were on, what, System 7.5 in those days?). And of course there are plenty of plotting packages available for all platforms, so no issues there unless they require something really, really specific. Even then, you can always dual boot your new Mac if you absolutely must. ;)
     

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