Mac vs PC for a science student

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by shifeng, Aug 10, 2006.

  1. shifeng macrumors newbie


    Aug 10, 2006
    Hi guys. I've been reading this forum and I really think it's cool! I played around with my girlfriends macbook and I fell in love with the OS X. Actually I started not to like windows os quite a while before and right now in my current office, i'm under the influence of my colleague who told me briefly what's going below the GUI of windows and I kinda agree with him after some thoughts.

    Now I was quite set on getting either a MB or a MBP, depending on my aunt's budget sometime at the end of this year or start of next year before my uni starts. And my friend came along and told me that OS X do not support a lot of science oriented apps. Any opinions on this? I'd be very much grateful as this would determine whether I switch to a Mac (which I really want to because of the better UI) or stick to a PC.

  2. WildCowboy Administrator/Editor


    Staff Member

    Jan 20, 2005
    It really depends on what software you'll be using. Since it sounds like you're just going into your undergraduate program, you likely won't be using much specialized software. And the specialized stuff you do use won't be on your computer'll be in the science computer labs or on computers attached to scientific equipment.

    In the field I'm in, structural biology, OS X has revolutionized the way we work. Most of our calculation and graphics programs have historically been Unix programs, which we traditionally ran on Silicon Graphics machines in a lab dedicated for that work. But now that the Unix-based OS X is around and porting apps to OS X is fairly trivial, we can do much of the work on our own desktop Macs. In my lab, our supply of desktop machines includes 11 Macs, 1 Linux, and 1 Windows.
  3. Bill Gates macrumors 68020

    Bill Gates

    Jun 21, 2006
    Your friend's argument is basically null at this point. Any applications that won't run under OS X will run under either Parallels or Boot Camp.
  4. Chundles macrumors G4


    Jul 4, 2005
    Yep, I did the last half of my BSc (Chemistry) undergrad degree on a PPC Mac - easy, stable and ran everything I threw at it.

    If I can find a really high-paying job soon for the next few months I hope to be doing my Graduate Diploma (Science Communication) on a new shiny Intel Mac next year (unlikely though, I can't save to erm, save myself :eek: )

    Mac = OSX and Windows. It can run close to every application in the world and you have the added benefit of OSXs security and stability when working on assignments and researching online. Any specialised software can run natively in Windows on the same machine. Buying a Mac now means not having to compromise on anything.
  5. Sun Baked macrumors G5

    Sun Baked

    May 19, 2002
    These days a Mac is a PC ...

    Albeit a Premium PC, that also happens to run Mac OS X in addition to Windows.
  6. jbusc macrumors member

    May 21, 2006
    Actually, very little scientific computing (that I'm aware of) is based on windows. Most of it is actually Unix based, which actually gives a modest plus to using Mac OS X over a windows laptop.

    I just bought my macbook which I intend to use fully for engineering & scientific computing and so far I'm not disappointed. Many major science and engineering apps like Matlab, Maple, Mathematica, Spice, etc., run on the mac (though some are not universal binaries yet)

    also, in fact, the core duo is great because most scientific computing is a lot of crunching numbers in parallel.
  7. Rend It macrumors 6502

    Oct 27, 2003
    United States
    Here are some programs that are notoriously unfriendly to the Mac (i.e., restricted or zero development):

    LabVIEW (data acquisition/instrument control)
    MATLAB (data acq, analysis, symbolic math, engineering, and on and on)
    Origin (data visualization, advanced curve fitting)
    AutoCAD (doubt this is important to your academic career)

    As an undergraduate, I doubt you'll use LabVIEW much outside of a lab. MATLAB is great (on PC), but they really need to get their stuff together when it comes to Mac. Currently, the only stable MATLAB scenario is on PPC, and that requires a clunky X11 interface. However, there are many alternatives that run great on a Mac (Mathematica, Maple, etc). Origin is used by a lot of practicing scientists. However, there are again many great alternatives, and some are even free.

    Like others have said, with Intel on Macs you can now have the best of both worlds. So, it's hard to pass on that. :D

    Here are some programs that I absolutely love, and are either cross-platform, or Mac-exclusive:


    Here's a couple of useful websites to keep in mind:
  8. shifeng thread starter macrumors newbie


    Aug 10, 2006
    Basically if I'm required to run any scientific programs on a Mac, it'll be more of anatomy and biomechanics kind of apps, not so much of engineering, design, or calculations apps as i'd be in the health sciences faculty.
  9. apfhex macrumors 68030


    Aug 8, 2006
    Northern California
    Non-issue... just get Boot Camp and install Windows too. Then you can use it when you have to.
  10. gauchogolfer macrumors 603


    Jan 28, 2005
    American Riviera
    My guess is that you'll be fine with a Mac, even if you never installed BootCamp and Windows. Most scientific applications are extraordinarily expensive compared to the value of your computer and what you're willing to spend on your own. If you'll be needing some specific software, you'll undoubtedly be running it on your university's computers. For all of your other applications, email, paper writing, presentation creation, a Mac is a wonderful choice.
  11. Eraserhead macrumors G4


    Nov 3, 2005
    At least on PPC I have had no problems, granted you don't get the same shortcuts and have to install X11 from the OS X DVD, but other than that there is no problems it works adaquetely well, you don't need to go into the command line to launch it or anything... It seems OK, at least for as much as I have used it.
  12. ChickenSwartz macrumors 6502a

    Jul 27, 2006
    I just finished my degree, BSE. The faculty in my department actually used Macs exclusively. At universities now days there is equal support for Macs. So I would say go for it and you always have the option of running Windows through bootcamp.
  13. godbout macrumors regular

    Jun 22, 2005
    Montreal, Canada
    I know that this has been mentioned in this thread already but because the OP is new to Apple computers I would like to spell it out for him (not everyone, especially windows users, keeps up with the mac world). Anyways, Apple computers used to use a processor (PowerPC) that was incompatible with the type of processors that run windows (x86). So, because of that you could not just stick a windows compatible application on a mac (without emulation). About a year ago, apple said that it was going to change the type of processor to x86 which IS windows compatible and Apple even released a beta program called Bootcamp that allows you to actually run windows on your mac natively. So what everyone is trying to say is that if you buy a mac, you are only one painful windows install away from using your mac as a windows PC. So the question "should I buy a mac or PC?" Should never again be asked on Software compatibility but on hardware alone. There are even better solutions as well including Parallels where Windows runs Inside Mac OSX so you can run all your progs that are not mac compatible. Heck, because this rant is not already long enough, you could also install Linux (think Ubuntu) on your mac...
  14. Chundles macrumors G4


    Jul 4, 2005
    You have a degree in Mad Cow Disease? (Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis)

    What's the SE stand for?
  15. Mac Rules macrumors 6502

    Mac Rules

    Jul 15, 2006
    Well I'm currently 1/4 way through my MSci Chemistry course, unfortunatly I don't own a Mac just yet, but all of my professors own Apple laptops ranging from some antique with OS9 al th way to the MBP with OSX, I haven't seen a single professor with a Windows laptop, even in their own offices they have G5 Power Macs and iMacs. So ym science dept. is very Apple orientated.

    I so far have used various Chemistry programs on my PC such as ChemSketch (very useful drawing tool), and I'm pretty sure they all have Mac variants.

    Hope this helps

  16. SwitchingSoon macrumors regular

    Apr 14, 2004
    Saint Louis, MO
    It's true.

    Academics are enlightened.
  17. shifeng thread starter macrumors newbie


    Aug 10, 2006
    thanks for all the advice guys. on the hardware issue, since Apple has switched to using intel, what difference does it actually make? besides the design being better than pc notebooks.
  18. jbusc macrumors member

    May 21, 2006
    What's wrong with Matlab on mac? Sure the latest version requires panther, and the UI is not exactly up to Apple standards, but it's just as good as it is on a plain *nix machine.

    The only real (imho) disappointing thing about matlab is that it's not a universal binary yet, even though mathematica was ported nearly instantly.
  19. MUCKYFINGERS macrumors 6502a


    Jun 7, 2005
  20. Rend It macrumors 6502

    Oct 27, 2003
    United States
    I've used MATLAB since version 4 (on PC). I loved it then, and I still like it on Windows, but I'm just dissapointed in Mathworks, because, whereas Mathematica and Maple have invested the time to make true Mac-like applications, Mathworks simply ported the Unix/Linux version to run on X11. I just think it's lame, that's all. Plus, they are way behind on getting a universal binary up and running (compared to say, Wolfram, not Microsoft or Adobe). People trying to run it through Rosetta are having a hard time.

    However, there was apparently some talk at WWDC '06 that Mathworks were going to have a true OS X native universal binary later this year. But, it will still be some time before all the toolboxes are finally ported. :rolleyes:

    It's just an example of how some SW development companies don't put a lot of effort into the Mac. Granted, Apple hasn't made things particularly easy with some of the changes over the years. But, there are a lot of Mac-users in the science community that suffer as a result. FYI, if you're curious where I'm getting my info see the links in my previous post.
  21. discoforce macrumors 6502a


    Jan 27, 2004
    Vermont, USA
    Not exactly sure what you're asking. Because you're pursuing a college degree, let me pose this in a form you're going to see a lot of:

    1. Do you mean:
    (a) What's the difference between the previous chips (powerpc) and the new ones (intel)?
    (b) What's the difference between macs and pcs?
    (c) All of the above
    (d) None of the above

    If the correct answer is a, b, or c, please read godbout's post or this.

    If the correct answer is d, please restate.

    Pencils down.
  22. TheBrazilianGuy macrumors regular

    Jul 26, 2006

    I am a heavy user of Origin, Pymol, VMD, Viewer Pro and some
    programming languages (all need to run molecular dynamics, Monte Carlo,
    and pther stuff) . Maybe you could be more specific
    about the programs you need to run.

    While it is true Macbooks (Pro or not) can run Windows, just keep in mind :

    a. Parallels (which allows to run Windows at the same time with OSX) is
    nice but there are drawbacks. You might want to look around for further
    info but I would mention the need of extra memory (= extra expenses).
    b. Boot Camp is free and Windows will run at full speed. Unfortunately,
    your laptop will run warmer and it is still a beta software (the official
    one will be released next Spring, if you can survive until there).
    c. Regarding software, some universities have discounts for multiple
    licenses. In other words, the department wou are going to join may
    have some free software for you (at least while you are working there).

    I think any Macbook has potential to be the perfect solution for
    your needs but you could also be fine going for a PC based one
    (which may also run Linux at ease with the latest Ubuntu/Suse
    distributions). I suggest you to ask several people at your department
    before taking the plunge.

  23. shifeng thread starter macrumors newbie


    Aug 10, 2006
    alright. Thanks guys. My questions are more or less answered. I'm gonna get a macbook. =)

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