Yes, we know you've seen the commercials, and we know that when the choice comes down to a Mac or a PC, Mac always wins hands down because it's cooler. But still every year around this time, the country is flooded with ads for laptops under $300 and people put aside their hipster selves to indulge their inner scrooge and opt for PCs. This is why Apple's market share is still only 8% in the U.S., putting it in fifth place behind four PC makers.
There are two opposing trends putting a new twist on this debate. The first is that low-cost PCs are going so low cost that they are scraping the bottom of the barrel on features. If you want to do anything at all significant with a computer, you can't opt for a $99 netbook at CVS, or even a $199 laptop at Walmart. So shoppers are seriously looking at their options in machines again.
The second is that the average computer seekers now has so many different mobile devices that the primary function of their home computer is to make them all coordinate with each other. That makes the choice less about the computer itself than about the phone, music player, reader and other peripherals that the person already has.
So what's a gadget lover to do with this new age of the PC versus Mac debate? Let us crunch the numbers for you:Power
We're not talking battery life here, but computing power. Without going into processing speeds, RAM and other technical issues, suffice it to say that you'll likely get more computing power for your money with a PC than a Mac. Just be sure you'll be using the computing power you're paying for.
Heavy computer users may want to go with a souped-up PC for their gaming and movie-watching abilities, and they'll pay less for this pleasure. Not that a Mac can't do those tasks well, but a PC will provide more power for the dollar than a Mac.
But if speed to you means the computer is ready to go when you hit the power button, you may want to think Mac. With all of the downloadable programs that Windows often runs into when starting up, just turning on your PC could take many more minutes than the few seconds it takes a Mac to start up. At the beginning of a work day, that may be the best show of force for a computer — having the power to start quickly without having to wait for a boatload of programs to start running in the background.
The other major issue to consider is plug-and-play functionality. You turn on your Mac and you get to work. It doesn't get so many viruses. It doesn't crash so much. We can't say the same about the PC, especially if you get a lower-cost model that uses an older operating system.
If you have an iPod, iPad and many other things that have a lowercase i in front of them, then you've already made the choice on whether you're an Apple person or a PC person.
Still, if you don't mind dealing with tangled wires for plugging more peripherals into your computer, then the PC is actually the star here. Most things such as monitors, speakers, keyboards, digital cameras and mice are universal and will work with either computer, but many new gadgets only work on Windows-based PCs — such as some storage drives MP3 players and USB gadgets. Trying out the latest hardware may not always work on a Mac.
Everyone has their own style, but the extra money you pay for a Mac does equate to some sleek, cool looks that is hard to deny. Most Apple computers have aluminum cases rather than plastic ones, giving them a shiny, more sturdy look and feel, and they are usually lighter and thinner than PCs.
The coolness goes beyond carrying around a metallic computer with the iconic Apple logo on it. There's something to be said for having a computer — the Mac — where everything functions seamlessly together and computer viruses and crashes aren't an everyday part of life. I've had enough PC problems where the manufacturer blamed problems on software that came from another company, and there weren't enough anti-virus programs to keep my computer safe. With Apple, there's one place to call when something goes wrong — Apple — and that's a cool thing to have on your side.
Macs cost more, there's no doubt about it. For less than $1,000, you can walk into any computer store and buy a PC with about the same computing power that would cost $1,500 or more in a Mac. Some Windows-based PC notebooks run as low as $300, with entry-level PC laptops at $450. The Mac Mini starts at $599, an iMac at $1,199, the MacBook laptop is $999 and the MacBook Pro is $1,199.
Add another $500 to the price of the laptop you want and buy a Mac, and you'll get more for your money.
You can see we've got something of a tie here. Mac is our winner for power and coolness, the PC is tops for universal connectivity and cost. So we still need to tip the scales a little bit.
I recently had to make this decision for myself, as I needed a new computer for work. Price had always held me back from buying a Mac. But what tipped the scales for me was the years of frustration of having a PC crash and the regular and costly trips to my local computer repair store. Even with an anti-virus program, things were breaking and getting infected, and I wanted a computer from a company that had top customer service and stood behind its product.
I bought the three-year AppleCare program for peace of mind, and even bought a year's worth of classes at my local Apple store so I could get the most out of my computer. I spent way more money than I ever would have on a PC, but I think it will be a worthwhile investment that will make me more productive and give me less headaches every time I turn my computer on.
Overall Winner: Mac
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has worked as a reporter and and editor at newspapers and websites. Follow him on Twitter &mdash @AaronCrowe.