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PCs vs. Macs: How they stack up

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Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
 

Since the 1990s, hardcore PC and Mac users have been waging an epic food fight over which system is better.

In the old days, PC users poked fun at the under-powered processors and buggy software that Mac users had to endure. Mac users needed only to counter with “Windows 98.”

Today the argument is more philosophical: Who's good, who's evil, who's more brainwashed.

No side is ever going to win this war, of course, and the rhetoric does little to actually help an average user decide on a new computer and get some work done.

That's unfortunate, because in many ways this is shaping up to be a golden year for buying computers.

Ultrabooks (the PC world's answer to the MacBook Air) are getting better all the time. Models such as the Asus Zenbook and Dell XPS are a credit to the breed. Laptops and desktops are being outfitted with the latest Intel Ivy Bridge chips. And Windows 8, due to ship Oct. 26, promises to turn PC computing on its head.

In the other corner, Apple just turbocharged the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Ivy Bridge processors. The flagship 15-inch MacBook Pro also received a retina display, previously available only on the latest-generation iPad. iMacs should get a makeover soon. Just think how much more exciting your new iMac would be if it included a retina display. It could happen.

But those are minor skirmishes. Let's take a fresh look at PC vs. Mac and see who's winning the battle (if not the war) in key categories. Depending on your needs, it might help you make a decision.

Price

• Winner: PC

Some of the highly engineered Ultrabooks have finally caught up to or surpassed the $1,000 entry-level MacBook Air.

But most PC users can buy a perfectly good laptop or desktop for around $500. If you walk into an Apple Store with $500, you're still $100 shy of a Mac mini.

Design

• Winner: Mac

Many devotees appreciate that Apple spends years sweating design details.

If you want a space-saving all-in-one desktop, you won't find many staunch PC advocates defending their laptop trackpads against MacBook users. On-the-go PC warriors learned a long time ago to pack a mouse.

Operating system

• Winner: Tie game

Both OS X and Windows become second nature for users with a little experience.

Now 3 years old, Windows 7 offers PC users superb speed, stability and functionality — with very few problems. Mac users have the option of installing and running Windows with the Boot Camp tool.

Both operating systems are heading for a slimmed down, touch-based, mobile-influenced future.

Software

• Winner: PC

For the average user, this may be more of a tie. But if you're a finance person or a gamer, you know the Mac finishes a poor second.

Microsoft Office hasn't gotten around to optimizing Office for the retina display. Besides that, the productivity suite for Mac is every bit as functional as the Windows version. Adobe programs and other major software titles are very similar or identical on both platforms.

Mac versions of Quicken and Quickbooks Pro, however, have long been considered poor substitutes for their PC counterparts.

And pity the poor Mac gamer. He's been wandering the desert for years. If a game maker even deigns to make a Mac version of a title, it will come out months after the PC release.

PC gamers enjoy a vast library of games and can take advantage of extreme graphics cards tweaked for gaming performance.

Customization

• Winner: PC

The compromise you accept when you choose Apple's super-sleek design aesthetic is that do-it-yourself upgrading is impossible unless you're an expert.

You can't even replace the RAM in a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro with retina display because the memory is soldered to the logic board.

With PCs, it's easy to swap out drives and sound and graphic cards, or even build a custom PC from the ground up if you're reasonably handy.

Security

• Winner: Tie game

High-profile malware attacks against Macs this year should have shattered the illusion that Apple computers are inherently more secure than PCs. You're not safe just because you haven't been attacked or are attacked less frequently.

You're secure when you have antivirus software installed — and can withstand a hit.

So the tally for now, with ties factored in, is: PC — 312; Mac — 112.

Email Kim Komando attechcomments@usatoday.com.

 

 
 


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