Grad student seeks first time Mac laptop purchase advice

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by windemere, Oct 8, 2007.

  1. windemere macrumors newbie

    Oct 8, 2007
    I’m a full time grad student who only owns a laptop (though I do have access to several antiquated desktops at school). I am considering a Mac laptop as a replacement for my current Acer Travelmate TC110. Unfortunately, I know next to nothing about Macs, having never owned one.

    I’ve been leaning towards the midrange MacPro (2.4 GHz standard configuration), just because it seems like that would probably handle multiple applications easily (not to mention the option for the matte screen in the Pro line is nice—I worry that a very pretty yet glossy screen plus data entry and analysis might equal a very big headache). However, is that configuration overkill? Since I have an embarrassingly limited knowledge of computers, I am second guessing my assessment.

    Specifically, my questions for Mac veterans are:
    (1) Which is likely best for my needs: Macbook or MacPro (and if the latter, which configuration is best or would any Pro configuration be OK)?
    (2) Has anyone had problems using Parallels, especially as it concerns running statistical software and/or OneNote (I have a lot of Windows software that I can’t afford to replace, so I’m expecting to rely heavily on Parallels)?
    (3) On a slightly more random note that exposes my limited computer knowledge, would there be a compatibility issue with doing backup for a new Mac laptop on an older Western Digital external HD?

    As background, most of my laptop usage falls into one of three categories: (1) general Office 2007 suite use (Excel, Powerpoint, Word, and OneNote), (2) statistical software and software related to developing stimulus materials for social science research (ie., SPSS, MPlus, and, to a lesser extent, SAS; DirectRT; Photoshop; also, a variety of other minor programs that I expect to use with Parallels for audioediting), and (3) general internet usage (also Westlaw, LexisNexis).

    I use my laptop primarily for schoolwork and generally have at least four applications open at once. I do listen to itunes and surf the internet, but I’ve never watched a DVD on my laptop, nor I do play video games on it. I am hoping to purchase a laptop that can get me through my graduation in 2011, if possible. The actual purchase will probably be made by my parents, so cost, although still a concern, is less pressing a concern than were I purchasing the computer myself.

    Sorry for the lengthy post, but I wanted to make sure I included all the information that might be relevant to potential advice givers. Thanks in advance for the help!
  2. Telp macrumors 68040


    Feb 6, 2007
    Since i dont know anything about the statistical software i can't offer you a great oppinion, but it does sound that you really dont need more than a macbook. Other people who have better knowledge of those apps might think differently, im not sure. However, if you think the apps are extremely CPU and RAM hungry, the macbook pro might be a better buy.
  3. GimmeSlack12 macrumors 603


    Apr 29, 2005
    San Francisco
    I'll be brief in my answers.
    First off the Macbook Pro (MBP) has the glass/matte screen. Probably a typo from you but you had referred to the Mac Pro when discussing the screen.

    As for laptop/desktop question this is age old and is up to you I'd say. The MBP can run an external monitor easy, but lacks on internal expansion (other than RAM). I say go with the laptop for portability. All Pro machines are beasts in performance.

    Wait a few more weeks for Leopard to come out (end of October) before you purchase. Otherwise you'll have to buy it ($129). Although not crucial especially since you've never used a Mac, but its not far off so why not?

    An old Western Dig. HD will be just fine on a Mac. Though NTFS format is not writeable in OS X (only readable).

    Parallels is a great program and runs pretty snappy though I haven't really put it through its paces. You might expect a bit of performance drop using heavy processor programs. But then again how fast is your old Acer? A new MBP is pretty damn fast. Overall I would say you can count on Parallels to keep you comfortable for your XP fix.

    Audioediting I would recommend you start to use Garageband or another OS X software audio editing suite. You'll get great performance out of it.

    I'm kinda rambling here, but overall compatibility with Office documents will be nearly 100%, and with other documents you shouldn't have too many problems.

    Good luck.
  4. lord patton macrumors 65816

    lord patton

    Jun 6, 2005
    If you can live with the screen size, a MacBook will do fine. Max out the RAM (it can take 3 GB), get the AppleCare, buy a case, buy parallels and Windows. There's enough extra stuff to spend you're money on that I think you should go the cheaper route on the computer itself.
  5. flopticalcube macrumors G4


    Sep 7, 2006
    In the velcro closure of America's Hat
    Performance-wise the biggest difference between a MacBook and a MacBook Pro is the GPU. Since you don't game or use 3D applications, I would say a MacBook would suit your needs. Be forewarned, however, that a new MacBook is imminent (next couple of months) and is probably worth waiting for as the current one is based on an old design.
  6. psingh01 macrumors 65816

    Apr 19, 2004
    First the Mac laptops are the MacBook and MacBook Pro, the Mac Pro is the big tower/workstation. Just wanted to clear that up.

    I have the 17" MacBook Pro 2.33ghz and run Parallels 2.0 all the time. I have no problems with it, but I mostly use it to develop software and access my company's intranet and the software I need is windows only. The machine kind of slows down when I first start parallels, but once everything is going I have no problem running it with a few mac apps, just not anything that is a resource hog (i.e. like photoshop). But, for example I prefer to use the Safari browser in OSX than anything inside of Parallels. Generally Parallels will run anything that is not 3D and the latest version claims to do some 3D apps as well but I don't have that version so I can't comment.

    Don't use statistical software so I can't comment.

    If the external HD has a USB or Firewire connection then there should be no problem. You just have to format the drive to a filesystem the Mac understands. A disk utility is provided with OSX that lets you do this, but this will destroy any data already on your drive. I did this myself but with a newer Hitachi drive since my laptop only has 160GB, I keep my pictures on a separate drive.

    I prefer the Mac Book Pro because the specs are a little bit better (mostly the video card) and I wanted a large screen. If I were in your place I would go with the 15" MacBook Pro. I had a 15" Powerbook in grad school and it was perfect. However any one of the MacBooks are probably a better bang for the buck if you don't mind the video card and slightly smaller screen. The specs are not that different like they used to be between the PowerBook/iBook.
  7. theBB macrumors 68020


    Jan 3, 2006
    3GB RAM is overkill unless your statistical software actually uses a lot of RAM. Otherwise, most of that 3GB would be sitting idle. 1 or 2GB RAM total is enough. It costs less if you buy it from a third party such as OWC instead of from Apple.

    If your data entry is done while using two different programs such as reading from one and entering into another, the screen size could be important. You could use a second monitor while working on such things. Macbook Pro is so expensive, you could probably buy a Macbook and an iMac for the same price. iMac for power and screen size, Macbook for portability.
  8. observer macrumors member

    Jan 26, 2007
    heavily windows-oriented software.

    I see problems ahead.

    The basic MacBook is capable of doing what you want, but I'm afraid it's not really what you want. Your software will run under Parallels (I think -- no reason for it not to) but it's all Window oriented. That means you'll be in a Windows point of view for how the app behaves, and then go to MacOS for ... well, for what? If your word processor is Word, and your bibligraphic package is Windows, and your statistics software is SPSS or SAS, then when are you going to be using the MacOS features? Mac and Windows are just enough different that I'd expect a little perceptual jar whenever you shift context.

    All the software you mention requires lots of memory, and even more so under Parallels. MacOS allows lots of apps to be working simultaneously, but that really only applies to Mac apps. Several Windows apps running simultaneously under Parallels? Might not work.

    Also, SAS really wants a big screen. I haven't used SPSS for ages, but I bet it does too. The MacBook glossy screen is fine to work on for data -- the people who object to glossy are generally photographer or graphic types who need the screen colors to match to paper output. But it's pretty small. The 17" screen is huge, but that isn't a laptop any more. You may want a 15" MBP, and add an external screen for your usual workplace (a MB can add a screen too).

    Law schools tend to be Windows bigots, also.

    All of what you want to do can be done with MacOS-friendly software. R for statistics, BibTex for references, iWork for writing, all free or cheap. All of these work fine on a small screen, because of the way they split information across smaller windows (well -- R in particular). And I prefer my MacBook to any Windows laptop I've ever used. But if you're living in Windows, you may well prefer to stay there rather than bumping back and forth. If you're going to move to a mac, it's probably better to really move. Parallels is best for that one app that just won't go.

    Good luck.
  9. Sun Baked macrumors G5

    Sun Baked

    May 19, 2002
    And the 2nd major difference is the case design, the plastic on the MacBook is a little more tolerant of abuse -- and has a rather easy user option to upgrade or replace the HD in the future.


    In either case, also don't forget to look at the Apple Refurbished Machines -- and extra 10% off or more on the price may not hurt and allow you to grab an upgraded machine. Though you cannot customize them.
  10. peapody macrumors 68040


    Oct 7, 2007
    San Francisco, CA

    I agree and I am in your same situation. I bought an older 2.0 C2D model that is fully loaded for less than the lowest whitebook out right now. With the extra cash, I went for applecare, a case, and when leopard comes out, I can still purchase it and be lower than the base model whitebook.

    I am in your same situation, as a current windows user....I needed a means to use all the programs I needed for school, yet get the computer I wanted. I am between parallels and fusion at the moment...but from what I hear Fusion takes less system resources, and is $20 cheaper than parallels. It is highly recommended for people who don't want to go the bootcamp route.
  11. windemere thread starter macrumors newbie

    Oct 8, 2007
    Sorry about the MacPro typo (apparently my proofreading skills are subpar after a 3 hour seminar)...I meant to refer to the Macbook Pro not the Mac Pro.

    Thanks for all of the feedback so far. It is very helpful. In response, I have some clarifications (to the extent that they might change responses) and some revised questions.

    I previously used a friend's old imac for two weeks over a working vacation Mac, and my law school is oddly Mac friendly at present (perhaps due to a Dell backlash?). Thus, with the exception of the loss of OneNote, I don't think a switch to a Mac OS, in and of itself, will bother me much (I'd actually be fairly happy to be Windows free as much as possible).

    My sole reservations with a Mac switch hinge on Windows-related simulation software and any practical problems that might ensue (i.e., if the Windows programs I must use run in Parallels, but run poorly, a PC probably would be best). I know Bootcamp is always an option, but I imagine the rebooting would be exceptionally annoying. Also, R sounds like a great option, but, given my professors' attachment to SPSS and SAS, I probably have to be able to run those two programs. My use of Photoshop, at this point, is limited, though that could change in the future (given its pricing, I'd prefer to avoid rebuying it in the Mac version if at all possible).

    I am currently using a 10.4" screen and the points about data entry and analysis being a pain on small screens are definitely well-taken (I've always used a lab desktop for inputting the data; but the analyses, I am usually running on my laptop at home). In any event, either Mac laptop's screen would be bigger than my present one, but the external monitor is a good idea that I hadn't considered.

    So, some updated questions:
    (1) Given my limitations, is a switch to Mac worth it? Or should I stick with a PC?
    (2) Assuming a Mac switch, I'm still interested in advice on whether Macbook or the 15" Macbook Pro would be the better option for me.
    (3) Can a Mac laptop interface with a non-Mac monitor (the Mac ones are expensive)? If so, tying in to the second question, would it be better to buy a Macbook + a monitor OR to just spring for the 15" Macbook Pro (since the latter means a bigger mobile screen, with the option of attaching to external monitors in the lab)?
    (4) I'd still love to hear from people with either Parallels or Fusion experience (particularly with using it to run SAS, SPSS, Photoshop, and/or OneNote), since this is a major concern of mine. Any incompatibilities? How horrible is the lag, if any?

    Again, sorry for the tons of question and thanks again for the advice.
  12. panda macrumors regular

    Mar 15, 2004
    go mac

    So, some updated questions:
    (1) Given my limitations, is a switch to Mac worth it? Or should I stick with a PC?
    (2) Assuming a Mac switch, I'm still interested in advice on whether Macbook or the 15" Macbook Pro would be the better option for me.
    (3) Can a Mac laptop interface with a non-Mac monitor (the Mac ones are expensive)? If so, tying in to the second question, would it be better to buy a Macbook + a monitor OR to just spring for the 15" Macbook Pro (since the latter means a bigger mobile screen, with the option of attaching to external monitors in the lab)?
    (4) I'd still love to hear from people with either Parallels or Fusion experience (particularly with using it to run SAS, SPSS, Photoshop, and/or OneNote), since this is a major concern of mine. Any incompatibilities? How horrible is the lag, if any?

    1) i don't think your limitation are anything that will be issues
    2) here, i would take life into your own hands and go to an apple store and try out both the macbook and macbook pro. you'll find out pretty quickly which one you like best. some just like the better portability of the macbook, others love the look, feel and screen size of the pro.
    3) most (all?) monitors work with the all the macs.
    4) no experience here, but from what one reads, there are no incompatibilities and speed is great, sometimes even better than on a pc running windows. many programs have mac versions, perhaps some of the ones you use do as well, which is even easier. photoshop for example...

    basically, you will love mac for a million reasons and i wouldn't hesitate. but wait for leopard in a few weeks. and i suggest buying a brand new machine.

    good luck :)

    Again, sorry for the tons of question and thanks again for the advice.[/QUOTE]
  13. psingh01 macrumors 65816

    Apr 19, 2004
    Photoshop is a resource hog, running it natively sometimes slows down other apps on my if you are doing more than "simple" edits it probably will be painful running in Parallels. For example, I have CS3 and I use the auto stitching feather to create panoramas of many 10 mega-pixel images. The resulting image is HUGE, I am pretty sure the Parallels experience would suck.

    If there is a demo of OneNote or any of these other programs you use maybe I can test it tell you how it performs. You'll probably have to tell me what to look at otherwise I wouldn't know if it is performing well or not.
  14. MacinDoc macrumors 68020


    Mar 22, 2004
    The Great White North
    SPSS Mac version will run natively on a any current Apple notebook, so the notebook's portability and screen size (and glossy vs. matte finish) are more important issues for you than hardware. A non-Apple external monitor is a good idea. I'd go for 2 GB of 3rd party RAM, as well. Photoshop, in its current iteration, is probably best run on the MBP, but if you are just starting to do photo editing, a universal binary update that will run just as well on the MacBook should be coming next year.

    Another interesting possibility is the much rumored subnotebook rumored to be coming out before the end of the year. Updates to the existing lines have also been rumored, so keep this in mind when making a purchase (although if you need it now, you should buy it now).

    For occasional use of Windows-only software like OneNote, they should run as fast under Boot Camp as they would on a PC notebook, so I would probably forego Parallels unless you need to use them more frequently (you are giving up speed and stability for convenience).
  15. Freyqq macrumors 601

    Dec 13, 2004
    one note: the macbook has a glossy screen
    the macbook pro has a matte or glossy screen depending on what you pick
  16. windemere thread starter macrumors newbie

    Oct 8, 2007
    Would it make a difference that I would be running Photoshop 7.0 rather than CS3 in Parallels (as I assume the latter would require more resources)? If not, Bootcamp probably is the only truly viable option for Photoshop unless I repurchase in a Mac version.

    psingh01: As for Onenote, if you could try it out to see if it works OK in Parallels, that would be greatly appreciated, although I’d totally understand if you can’t. I believe a trial demo is available at, but I'm not sure if that trial version will work for a Parallels install. I use OneNote for all my classes’ notes, so I’d love to be able to retain it (I’m holding out hope that it will be included in Office for Mac 2008, but there’s no word on that yet). My use of the OneNote is fairly simple (I don't share notebooks). I generally just cut and paste in the professors' Powerpoint slides (although probably any image would work as a test) onto a page and take notes around them. Also, I do create different notebooks, dividers, and pages. Thus, if doing any of that works, it's likely to run fine for my purposes.

    I use SPSS Gradpack v. 11.5, but I could not locate a demo for that version or a subsequent version (given there’s probably a narrow market for SPSS, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised).
  17. Guy Incognito macrumors regular

    Oct 15, 2006
    For what it's worth, I have a Macbook (not Pro) with 2GB of RAM. I use native Mac apps (Safari, Pages, Preview, etc.) for my research and dissertation work. I run a Windows XP VM in VMWare Fusion for the Windows software localization work I do on the side. I kept a BootCamp partition for a while, but ultimately decided it wasn't necessary. I find Fusion to be more stable and less resource-hungry than Parallels. Though I have licenses for both, I use Fusion exclusively.

    Bear in mind that the 13" screen has a reasonably high resolution (1280x800), so you will likely have much more screen real estate than you're used to, despite the smaller screen. The physically small screen plus good resolution means that I can get work done in tight spaces (trains, planes, etc.), where a 15" screen is inconvenient. At home I run the Macbook in clamshell mode attached to a 19" Dell monitor with an external keyboard and mouse.

    You might find that a similar setup will meet your needs nicely. Good luck.
  18. psingh01 macrumors 65816

    Apr 19, 2004
    Well I installed the OneNote trial on XP SP2 under Parallels 2.0 just fine. From what I can do the UI is responsive, doesn't feel all that sluggish....however the trial is a crippled version of the app. I can only view existing notebooks so I can't really test it like I hoped. I am basically just navigating around the sample/user guide notebook provided.
  19. windemere thread starter macrumors newbie

    Oct 8, 2007
    Thanks, psingh01. I figured the trial might be limited, but, given I don't use many of the more complicated features, I suspect it will probably run fine for my needs if the trial ran okay for you. Thanks again for your help!
  20. Freyqq macrumors 601

    Dec 13, 2004
    idk if this helps..but in the 2004 office for mac, there's a notepad mode in MS word that is similar in many respects to onenote. I've been using that it works well for my notes in class
  21. aaronw1986 macrumors 68030

    Oct 31, 2006
    Just my input about glossy...I got my MBP in July, it's glossy, and I've had no issues with that. I am a computer science major, and this quarter I've had to do a lot of coding a day (sometimes close to 8 hours) in big chunks of time. The glossy screen has not seemed to fatigue me more than usual. I love the MBP, and would recommend it over MB. More features, and more powerful. Vid card was important for me.
  22. windemere thread starter macrumors newbie

    Oct 8, 2007
    I wanted to post here briefly to thank all the people who offered me advice and other assistance--it was greatly appreciated. I've taken the plunge and now just have to wait for my 2.2 Ghz Macbook Pro to arrive. Thanks again.
  23. reynolds888 macrumors newbie

    Dec 26, 2007
    I'm curious to find out how the MacBook Pro is working for you.

    I just got a MacBook Pro with Leopard. It's my first Mac and I have to say I haven't had "The Apple Way' experience.

    Lots a problems and I am concerned that I will have to spend as much time dealing with compatibilities issues, temporary(?) problems with the new system (like intermittent lose of keyboard functionality), learning the new system, and how to make it work for me as I will spend writing my dissertation.

    If I keep my Mac, I urgently need to determine which software would be best to write a dissertation in the humanities.

    Hoping to be reassured that I made the right choice or to know that I should switch before it's too late....rebecca
  24. Val-kyrie macrumors 68000

    Feb 13, 2005
    Humanities Dissertation

    This would be best posted in a separate thread, but I will offer my thoughts and I hope you start a new thread before I do - it might get more attention with a different thread heading.

    First, it would be helpful to know on what subject you will be writing.

    Second, I am finishing a master's thesis and preparing to begin doctoral studies. For Mac native apps, I would suggest Mellel for a word processor, Bookends for a bibliography program (although some prefer Sente), and DevonThink Pro for a database program to complement your bib. program. However, for my field, Nota Bene [edit: add: Windows only] is the premier software. My two primary problems with the Mac software are (1) they are not as tightly integrated as the equivalent programs for the Nota Bene suite, and (2) Mellel does not yet support cross references. However, the Mac software is much cheaper. You might prefer MS Word or another word processor, and Mellel's website has an accurate comparison of the various word processors.

    I hope that points you in the right direction as these are the two major groups of software that I have found in my research. I am still uncertain about whether to choose Mellel/Bookends/DevonThink or NotaBene [edit: add: via emulation in Fusion], but I will hopefully have decided by the end of January.

    PS - Make sure you download the latest Apple updates. There was a recent firmware revision for the MBP to fix the intermittent keyboard functionality; however, it requires the 10.5.1 update first, and I would also strongly suggest the security update. N.B. that the firmware update and security update will only show up after 10.5.1 is installed, so run the software update function once for the OS and then again for the security and firmware updates after 10.5.1 is installed.
  25. reynolds888 macrumors newbie

    Dec 26, 2007
    Software question

    Many thanks for your reply. ;)

    I am grateful for input and will follow through on your suggestions.

    My dissertation is in Art History.

    I was fortunate to get all the updates that you've mentioned and can see a remarkable difference in the performance of my machine.

    Happy New Year to all!

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