Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mac vs PC for College 2011

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So turns out that I've received a lot of questions around Mac vs PC from family and friends who have kids going to college this fall. I also interview students for the college I went to and this question comes up (specially after they see me using a MacBook Pro to do the interview). I figured I would capture some of the thoughts on the topic and provide my take in the matter. This by no means is meant to be a comprehensive look at the options that are out there. If you are interested, there are plenty of discussions out there.

Off the bat, I usually recommend the 11" MacBook Air and undoubtedly the first thing I get back is "but they are so expensive". I figured I would look at the numbers and see how it would pan out. The comparison is against an HP machine which is the cheapest I found in OfficeMax.

There's also the question of iPad (w/ bluetooth keyboard) vs full laptop. I believe students still benefit from a full laptop (I'm thinking about writing those 40 page papers and gamers). I'm willing to be proven wrong, though.

Here's what I came up with:
Feature MacBook Air 11" PC
Price $899 (typically there's a 10% discount for students) $399
Weight 2.38 pounds 5.5 pounds
Screen Size 11.6" 15.6"
Office Productivity
Suite (1)
$59.97 $149.95
Anti-Virus (2) Not needed $159.96 (you have to renew virus license every year)
Memory 2GB 4GB
Processor 1.6 GHz Dual Core 1.6 GHz Dual Core
Storage 64 GB (flash drive; up to 2x-4x faster) 500 GB
Backup $0 (Time Machine included) $80 (typically $20 / year)
OS Upgrade (3) $29 (at least the last 2) $119 (at least that's what it was for Win 7 Home Premium)
Battery Life Up to 5 hours (30 day standby) Up to 5 hours
Screen Resolution 1366 x 768 (up to 2560 x 1600 w/external monitor) 1366 x 768

Total $987.97 $907.91
(1) You could save by using the free versions of Office like Symphony or OpenOffice . I'm assuming students will need a word processor ($19.99 for Pages), spreadsheets ($19.99 for Numbers), and presentations ($19.99 for Keynote). If students only need a word processor, Pages is enough and it's ~ 1/8 the price of MS Office)
(2) Some colleges have a site license for anti-virus. Used Symantec Anti-Virus at $39.99 / yr. Update 3/Aug/2011: Apparently, Microsoft has a free solution for anti-virus. Not sure how good it is or how it compares to the paid ones.

(3) I'm assuming that in 4 years Apple will release another update to their OS and Microsoft will release one as well.
So the Mac is costing you about $80 more over a 4 year period. Yet, it's about 2 pounds lighter and it's up to 2x faster. Personally, I would recommend the 13" MacBook Air which would come up to about $1258 over 4 years (vs $907.91 for a PC). The 13" MacBook Air gives you 7 hours of battery, it's still under 3 pounds, a 128GB SSD of storage, and has a faster processor at 1.7 GHz.

Of course, cost is not the only consideration.  Some tools will only run on a Windows environment so it might be good to ask current students in the prospective major what they are using.  

There you have it. Hope this helps.
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