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What Kind of Computer Should I Buy?
Introduction before the Introduction 11/29/2016
It's been 2 years since I wrote this. Today I am making some updates to it. It's really amusing how quickly things change. Although in this case, it's not all that dramatic. Just a few things to tidy up.
This is a question that I see pop up all the time. The answer to the question is a lot more simple than most people think. I'm going to try to help answer by identifying a couple of key points that will help you make the correct decision. Now I should point out, that I am a Windows user. But this does not exactly make me biased toward Windows machines in general. It's more like, because of the types of things I need my machines for, they are the most compatible. This article is not an advertisement. I will name specific brands, but other than advice, I am not making a plug for anyone.
Okay, so what's best for me?
This is so much easier than you think. The only question you really need to ask yourself is, "What do I actually need to use the machine for?"
There are really only 3 types of computer users in today's world:
1. I use my machine to check emails, post on Facebook, and watch videos.
2. I use my machine for office work or homework.
3. I use my machine for all sorts of different production work like, music, video, design, application development, or serious gaming that requires very specific hardware and software... In short I need a very powerful machine.
Pretty much every user out there, certainly anyone who feels the need to read this article is of type #2 on this list. People who are of type #1 could easily get away with using a tablet of some kind, or a small notebook, and really don't need a more functional computer than that. People in group #3 will never read this article because they already know what they need.
So now that we've determined that you are almost certianly reading this because you are in group #2, what do you actually need? In that respect you have 2 choices:
1. Windows (or PC)
It should be noted that there is a 3rd type of machine out there named the Chromebook. These are nice machines that run Linux for an operating system (like your Android devices). But they are not at all classified as real work machines. They are made to use Chrome, and that's really about it. Imagine using nothing but your web browser for everything. They don't even have much of a local hard drive. There's no need... They are really only suitable as "notebooks", for people of type #1 listed above. It's comparable to a really nice tablet with a keyboard.
I will go over now what are the details of each...
Windows machines are far and wide the most common. They are used as office machines. Their primary selling point today is that they run Microsoft Office. Well, duh. But that is extremely important. Because though there are a number of free, open source alternatives, nothing really compares with, or is 100% compatible with, Microsoft Office. This is why Windows is hands down the most widely used OS in all business. And by "all business", I am excluding people who do a lot of design and graphics. That's not "business" in the same sense. And those people don't require an office machine. They require a graphics machine. Whereas Windows is perfectly suited for this type of work, the Macs are actually designed 1st with that in mind. And there in lies the biggest difference between the two. It's also one of the reasons that Macs tend to be much more expensive.
Bearing that in mind, the 2nd factor to consider is cost vs. durability/longevity/customer support. In short, the more you pay, the better machine you get. I will get to Macs in moment. But for now I want to continue with the Windows machines. For most people, the lowest end machine will do every single thing they need it to. This is so true. In almost every case, even the lowest end machine is ridiculously powerful. It will have plenty of hard drive space, memory, good screen, good keyboard, CDROM/DVD writer, USB ports, Wi-Fi, hardwired ethernet (network jack), etc...
I'm absolutely serious about this. There is not a machine made today that doesn't fit this criteria. On the low end, you have ASUS, Acer, Lenovo, and Toshiba, for a start. These are the machines you typically find at Wal-Mart. They are cheap, and they get the job done. You can get an excellent machine that will suit your needs for less than $400. Brand new. A refurbished machine can go for much less.
On the slightly higher end, you have HP, Dell, Sony, and Samsung. All excellent machines that get better and better the more money you spend. If you've got the money, an investment in one of these machines will get you something that will last years, and you will be very happy with it. And if you're really lucky, you'll find one that still runs Windows 7. Windows 8 is neat and all, but completely unnecessary for normal work. If you want a tablet, buy a tablet. Don't waste money on a machine that pretends to be both. (update: 11/29/2016) Windows 10 is the new hotness now. They seem to have fixed many of the mistakes of Windows 8. If you are faced with the option of "which OS do you want?", go with Windows 10. If it's an older machine, Windows 7. Still avoid Windows 8.
Now, about the Mac
I stated before that I'm a Windows person. This is true. But I have used my share of Macs. (update: 11/29/2016) In fact, in the time since I wrote this article, I purchased a new Mac. Why? Mobile app development. You absolutely need to use a Mac for iPhone development. Period. Anyway... I even use a couple of different versions of Linux for various things. I left that off the list altogether because no one reading this even knows what the hell that is.
From a hardware standpoint, the Mac is among the best made machines you will ever find. They are durable, and they last. They are fast, and they look sharp. But they are also very proprietary in nature. You really must buy Mac hardware to have a true Mac. And they are expensive.
Contrary to popular belief, they are not any easier to use than any other machine. Windows went out of their way to emulate the basics of a graphical interface decades ago. So, in that respect they are the pretty much the same. They just look a little different. The biggest difference is the software that is available. The Macs are really made for the graphic artist, the video producer, and/or the music person. I'm talking about people that do very specific types of work, and require software that is only made for the Mac, and work extremely well for what they do. Macs are also used for the best iOS development (apps for iPhones). There really is no software development kit for Windows that works nearly as well as what is available for the Mac. And who would expect any different?
Macs run Microsoft Office too. Very well, in fact. Up to a point. The last time I worked in a production environment that required more advanced Office type of stuff, I had to use a "virtual machine" on the Mac, that ran Windows 7. I literally had to run a complete Windows 7 emulator on the Mac in order to get the work done. As a credit to the Mac, it ran Windows 7, and the MacOS like a champ, at the same time.
There is one other thing to be said about the Macs. As I stated before, the basics of the graphical interface are the same. This is true. Behind that though, the Mac system itself tends to be a little more secretive about how it's applications and files are managed. If you are a person that really couldn't care less about this sort of thing, the Mac is a good system for you. If you like to have more control over what's going on behind the scenes, Windows is better. This is what people are really talking about when they say "Macs are easier". In the area of getting things done without you knowing what's happening, I suppose that's true.
Both Mac and Windows have got their purpose. They each can do things that the other cannot. For most people, especially where cost is a factor, the Windows machine is probably better for your needs. But if you've got the money, and you like your Macs, then they are perfectly capable for doing everything exactly the same. The only difference between the two, other than that, is if you require something very specific that a Mac can do that Windows cannot.