MacBook vs. regular PC laptop for engineering student

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by Setlew, Jun 12, 2007.

  1. Setlew macrumors newbie

    Jun 12, 2007
    I know there have been a couple of similar threads to this one, but I have a unique wrinkle that needs help. I have just finished my first year as a Computer Engineering student at a NYS-run university, and am looking for a laptop. I will need to run various engineering applications, including but not limited to MATLAB, MultiSIM, a circuit software program that I do not know the name of yet, and a CAD program (probably DesignCAD but maybe a different one). I will also need a good office suite.
    I have used Linux and Windows all my life, but after using a couple of Mac desktops at the school and hearing a couple of friends enthuse over their MacBooks, I am wondering if I should think about getting one. I looked at one in a small Apple reseller nearby, and it looked pretty good price-wise as well as feature-wise, but I need to convince my father, an electrical engineer, that MacBooks have some advantage over a standard PC laptop before I can consider acquiring one, as I live at home and he has pretty tight control over my expenses (which I believe is good, as I am still developing my sense of financial control :D ).
    My other alternative would be getting a standard laptop, probably from Dell or a similar vendor, with specs similar to the cheap and/or midrange MacBook, and dual-booting Linux (PCLinuxOS 2007) with Windows, for any and all apps that won't run under Linux. I have specifically been looking at the Dell Inspiron E1405 range.
    So, what advantages would a MacBook have over something like the E1405? Better build quality? Does the MacOSX operating system have any distinct advantages over any other operating system that would make it desirable to buy? Included software? Or any other advantages? Or are there some disadvantages I should know of? I realize that I will have to set up a dual-boot system in all likelihood, but as I can get a licensed copy of Windows through my school this will not be a problem. I've read a bunch of reviews as well as the opinons of some other users on this forum, but I'm looking for some pretty solid information - personal experiences, for example.
    Thank you very much in advance.
  2. Sun Baked macrumors G5

    Sun Baked

    May 19, 2002
    Look at the next generation Intel Mobile 965-based machines.

    Even though it still has a 4GB limit, it should get you better use of the last 2GB of memory -- especially in the integrated graphics notebooks.

    Basically buy the Santa Rosa machine, the extra 2GB might not mean much now -- but it will in 2-4 years.


    As far as the machines, they should be similar hardware wise -- it is the OS choices and price that'll give the MacBook the edge or a PC.

    For college, the MacBook likely will be a decent choice for the slightly smaller size and the more rugged plastic case.
  3. 66217 Guest

    Jan 30, 2006
    I am not a Computer Engineering, but I am a Mechanical Engineering, and have some classes that use only-PC apps. No problem here with BootCamp.

    So the question is wether you dad wants to spend in a MB, which costs the same as similar PCs. Or he would prefer to buy a cheaper PC. It seems he is willing to buy you a laptop around the price of a MB.

    So just tell him that a MB is just a nice PC. You can run Windows and OS X. So you don't lose anything with buying a Mac, at the contrary, you have more.
    Macs are well build computers that would last you a lot of time.

    I have not faced a single issue at college with my Mac, it is a perfect size for carrying around at college, and in my opinion, the MB is just the most fashion-wise, feature-wise and cost-wise laptop you can get out there.
  4. Dynamyk macrumors 6502a


    Jul 8, 2005
    The only thing that should be noted is that it can run both OSX and Windows. You have the best of both worlds :).
  5. Setlew thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 12, 2007
    Thanks Roco, but here's the problem.

    My Dad is an engineer in whatever he does; that is, he wants details and specs. He has an older Dell laptop of his own, and a newer one at his company, and he has gotten to know them pretty well. No major problems with either one. He has also never used a Mac in his life, nor known anyone who did. Now, he knows that the new Macs run on Intel processors, and can run Windows, and can be had for about the same price as a similarly equipped Dell. His question for me is, what justification do you have in purchasing a piece of equipment from a small manufacturer outside of the mainstream, as opposed to getting one from a major manufacturer with better support and a larger userbase to iron out the bugs? To be fair, he is very open-minded, so if I can convince him that there is some advantage, he will accept it with no problem. He knows that I am fairly well used to using oddball stuff (hey, I'm a Linux geek-wannabe), but is concerned that I'm falling for a fancy interface and bells and whistles rather than concentrating on reliability and effectiveness (not necessarily Windows; he has a Linux partition too).

    Also, as I am working for him over the summer on an unrelated project, I will be the one purchasing the laptop. ;) He just wants me to get the best laptop I can for the money; and doesn't want me to make an immature, short-sighted decision that will cost me in the future (which I am fully capable of doing).

    So, if I can find some concrete specs or reviews somewhere that highlight advantages of MacBooks OVER the far I have not found anything like this...
  6. -Nick macrumors member

    Jun 11, 2007
    If you want to try and convince your parents of what a Mac has to offer over a similar Windows notebook, try showing them the Leopard Demo Videos. My parents weren't too sure about me getting a Macbook for Uni, bu the older Leopard videos, and these new ones helped to convince. As well as the nicer hardware, dual booting, and all that fun stuff.
  7. 66217 Guest

    Jan 30, 2006
    I'll list a number of advantages of having a Mac over a PC:

    1- You can have OS X and Windows in one laptop. And both work natively.

    2- Apple offers AppleCare, which to my opinion is the best warranty and repair service out there. They usually are able to help you if you have problems, and if you need repair they help you as well in all the process of repairing it.

    3- Macs are known to be well builded and last a lot of time. You could easily keep it for 4 or more years.

    4- Apple is not that a small company, in fact, they are bigger than Dell. Link.

    5- OS X is a very stable system, with no viruses, no spy-ware, etc.

    6- The MB is has the perfect size for college, it is a very thin computer.

    And many more small advantages.
    Of course, Dell must have some advantages also (I can't believe I am saying this:D ), but all-in-all, Macs are great computers.
  8. Sun Baked macrumors G5

    Sun Baked

    May 19, 2002
    The Macs and PCs are generally similar spec wise, except that the Macs typically use a few different chips (firewire, wireless, ethernet PHY) so they don't qualify for a Centrino sticker.

    Then you have a few extra ports that notebooks typically don't have, like powered FW400/800.

    Not really a big deal unless you need to plug in some of the cameras.

    Basically since the switch to Intel, Macs and PCs are very similar -- the only difference is in port configurations and the ability to run the Mac OS.

    Because Apple isn't tied to the Centrino sticker, it allows them to switch to newer wireless chips and/or modify the configuration a little more freely without an Intel tax.

    You can always look here for some of the specs and basic Mac configuration graphics.

    This new Santa Rosa (mobile 965) MacBook Pro


    Will look a lot like the graphics on the Intel site in the Mobile 965 Chipset Section.
  9. redrdstr macrumors newbie

    May 19, 2007
    First of all, I know where your dad is coming from since I am also an Electrical Engineer. It's all about the numbers and when I looked at it, the numbers are comparable. The only benefit with going with Dell is that Dell actually has coupons and you could possibly get the same system for a whole lot cheaper. Apple on the other hand, does not have any coupons or discounts other than the educational discount.

    Why should you buy a mac? First of all, ask yourself, why are you using Linux? I bet you're using Linux because of the versatility of it and how much more stable it is than windows. OS X is built upon UNIX and that is pretty darn stable as it is. Do you want to buy a Dell machine which runs Vista, which would probably be very buggy or would you much rather use an OS that is much more stable and has been out for a good long while (Tiger). Also, for all the engineering apps, do not use Parallels, it will crash, that is a fact!
  10. Wolfpup macrumors 68030

    Sep 7, 2006
    I guess others have answered this, but Apple is far from outside the mainstream. They're one of the largest notebook manufacturers (I don't remember what number off hand-seems like 4 or 5?) Their warranty is considered the best in the entire industry by Consumer Reports, so you definitely wouldn't get better support from Dell (not that there aren't horror stories on here about Apple too, but...)

    Basically if the hardware is comparable to a Windows PC you're looking at, I don't see the downside. At worst, you could install Windows and ignore OS X, but it does give you a third OS choice not available on other systems.

    I like Dell also, and own both brands, but especially since the switch to Intel I don't see any real drawbacks to going with Apple unless the hardware doesn't meet your needs for whatever reason.

    To me, the two drawbacks to the Macbook are the small screen size (the few I've seen in person look great, but I'd rather have at least a 15"), and the integrated graphics. If you want a system for gaming (or need good 3D for something else), you'd have to spend more. Toshiba and Dell probably offer the best bang for the buck for gaming, though Apple's Macbook Pro with it's Geforce 8600GT is solid too (actually not much different price or performance from what you can get from Dell's e1705 with a Geforce 7900GS).

    EDIT: That's a good point above about Unix. There's a lot of software that will compile on both OS X and Linux without modification, which is pretty cool.

    I haven't used VMWare or Parallels, but a coworker says VMWare has a lot better product. They've got a free beta right now. Of course you can always reboot directly into Windows also.
  11. Roba macrumors 6502

    Mar 18, 2006
    The differences between Mac and PC's are blurring over time. This all started to happen first with the switch to Intel.

    I do agree though that Mac's are more secure than Windows and that is the main difference. I have never had to bother about any virus protection whilst using a Mac.

    I have had good and bad Applecare service. I don't know though if they are all that better than other good PC support services. Some companies will come out and fix your computer at home or pick up and collect if you have a problem. Apple though has changed their repair service at least in the UK. If you have a problem now you have to take your computer to a service centre as opposed to Apple collecting and returning it as they used to do before. That knocks some points of for me and makes their customer service nothing much out of the ordinary.
  12. fwhh macrumors regular

    Aug 11, 2004
    Berlin, Germany
    I'm a student of electrical engineering, and I can only recommend a MBP for this. Most of the special software is written for windows, but with Parallels it all works really great. The performance of MATLAB is really surprising in parallels. As I do a lot of image processing at the moment, I can say that in Parallels my MBP outperforms all those Dell-XP-Boxes in our labs...
    Go for a Mac, and you will have more time for your studys as you don't have to patch/repair/fix windows all the time.
  13. aliquis- macrumors 6502a

    May 20, 2007
    I'd say only reason to go with the Macbook is if you want to run OS X. If you don't like it or don't care just get a Lenovo/LG/Sony/whatever laptop with preferably 12" screen, as light weight as possible, eventually flash based drive instead of regular HDD and as good battery life time as you can find.

    The recently updated Macbooks are not Intel 965 based and can therefor not use 4GB ram, you can put it in but you still only get 3GB (or a little more) ram.

    So if you like OS X, which you probably should/would if you tried it, get a mac, but I would get the macbook pro due to better graphics but anyway. If you don't like it or don't care get a new small santa rosa pc laptop and be done with it.
  14. Setlew thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 12, 2007
    Thanks for all the info. The hardware diagram and hardware info were especially helpful.

    MacOSX has looked pretty good to me, especially considering some of the software that has been put into it; but how solidly built are the laptops in general (MB/MBP)? Any major problems with hardware? I'll look up the Consumer Reports review; I know PC Mag & PC World rated them highly.
  15. Sbrocket macrumors 65816


    Jun 3, 2007
    I'll be beginning my first year as an Aerospace Engineering major this coming fall, so I'll see if I can help you out with this. I'm typing this on my SR MBP right now that'll I'll be using for the next few years and I'll need it for applications such as the ones you mentioned (MATLAB, etc)

    The advantages of a Mac are many. First, since it seems as if your dad is not particularly familiar with Apple, I would make sure to note that the fact that Apple's market share in the PC market is not the largest does not bar them from being well-made and dependable. Because Apple restricts Mac OS X's use to its own hardware, it has a only a small, controlled set of system hardware to develop for. This means that Mac OS X is better optimized for the specific hardware you'll be running it on, and less prone to bugs than an OS like Windows or Linux that must account for possible hardware on an infinite spectrum. As such, these OS's are much less optimized and cannot build features in specific to a controlled set of hardware.

    Second, I think you will find no problem with the size of Apple's userbase. Although it is certainly smaller than the overall Windows/Linux userbase, there are numerous avenues to get help and discuss Mac-related issue (such as this site!) that are very active and should satisfy your needs well. And sinc e the realm of Macs only includes a controlled set of hardware, such people can more easily provide help to you because they already know what hardware is in your computer simply based on the name and revision of the computer. You also have to keep in mind that the vast majority of the Windows (not Linux) userbase wouldn't be able to give you any kind of support at all; they'd be the people tying up the manufacturer's support hotline asking where the intertubes button is on the desktop.

    As far as the reliability of a MB or MBP's hardware, I think you'll find that if you get a proper carrying case or backpack w/ sleeve you'll find no problems outside the freak failures that come with any computer hardware of any brand whatsoever. Of course if you look on a forum you're going to find lots of posts complaining about having this problem and that problem, but most people don't make a post every time their computer is working perfectly now do they? And as long as you protect it from accidental damage and don't take it apart to poke around, Apple's hardware support should repair any defects that pop up.

    Also, OS X is Unix based so many Linux packages will either install natively or are ported by a group like the people at

    You or your dad won't be disappointed with an Apple laptop.

    Oh, and Boot Camp + VMware is a great solution for all your Windows app needs. VMware for anything not so processor intensive, Boot Camp otherwise. Works perfectly (and its what I'll be doing this coming fall).

  16. Setlew thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jun 12, 2007
    Thanks for the info.

    Does Apple have a site somewhere, official or unofficial, that has some technical specs on the MacBooks? Because if most of the hardware is identical now to other laptops (processor, graphics, etc.), I would like to know what hardware in the MacBook is specific to Apple. Also, what is the case made out of? The one I saw seemed to have some specially strong frame that made the laptop rigid; if I can find out, I can use it as a selling point with my father. :D

    Perhaps these questions seem somewhat trivial, but, knowing my father, he will ask for some of this information, and I want to be ready to answer him. :)
  17. Sun Baked macrumors G5

    Sun Baked

    May 19, 2002
    Yep, and will be a tossup whether the iMac of MacBook will make the transition next.

    So basically, if you have to buy a new machine today -- the Mobile 965-based PC is the better choice.

    Since the extra 2GB of memory will make a lot of sense in a rather short while.
  18. aliquis- macrumors 6502a

    May 20, 2007
    Of course the iMac will see an update first. Macbooks where just updated but iMacs haven't been for long and cost like three times more than a comparable PC. They are in a desperate need of an update.
  19. deadpixels macrumors 6502a


    Oct 30, 2006
    Vi$ta = spyware + viruses + frustration + unstability = bad karma and less time to study
    Mac = no virus, no spyware + more stable + cool = more chicks and more time to study :D
  20. 66217 Guest

    Jan 30, 2006
    More chicks /= more time to study.:D
  21. jellz macrumors regular

    May 5, 2007
    what are you talking about dead pixels? engineers don't get chicks!
  22. deadpixels macrumors 6502a


    Oct 30, 2006
    he he! i'm not an engineer :D just try to cheer up the OP :D anyways an engineer with a Mac will more likely get chicks than one with Wi$ta :D
  23. deadpixels macrumors 6502a


    Oct 30, 2006
    well, it's true but in the worst scenario, if the guy's not studying, better spend the overtime with chicks instead of fixing a window$ machine :D
  24. aliquis- macrumors 6502a

    May 20, 2007
    So far I haven't had any spyware except cookies I think, definitly no viruses, frustration yes but all OSes gives me that, unstability? After XP SP2? No.

    So well, that's lies, just know what you are doing and it's just fine.

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