PC vs. Mac: Does the Average Person Need a Mac?


How can you figure out whether a Mac is worth the investment? | Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Computer shopping can be problematic right from the beginning, when you’ll find yourself asking whether you need a PC or a Mac. Some people argue that in an era of universal cloud services, the operating system of your computer doesn’t matter anymore. That’s untrue for a few kinds of users — like gamers who already know that they need a PC, or creative professionals who can only run the software they need on a Mac — but for the casual user, it’s true that you can access any cloud service or use lots of popular apps on either a PC or a Mac.

So if you can go with either a PC or a Mac, is it worth it for an average user to shell out for a Mac? That’s a common question, and finding the answer will necessitate some thinking about what you need out of a computer, what kinds of activities you’re going to use the computer for, and how much you’re willing to spend to purchase your new machine.

What’s your budget?

Matt Smith reported for Digital Trends late in 2015 that the average laptop buyer spends $600 on a new machine, which is considerably less than the price tag of Apple’s cheapest MacBook Air. In Smith’s estimation, many laptops available for $600 are adequate; “They are computers, and they will do computer stuff,” he concedes. But Smith, like many other tech reviewers, advocates for spending a little more to get a lot more — in this case, a computer that will last better over the years, offer a high-quality display for more enjoyable entertainment, get better real-world battery life, and feature solid state storage.

Apple doesn't offer any inexpensive Macs, so you have to decide whether you need such a pricy laptop

Apple doesn’t offer any inexpensive Macs, so you have to decide whether you need such a pricy laptop | Source: Thinkstock

While it’s true that you don’t need to spend as much as Apple charges for many of its Macs in order to get a computer that’s going to be durable, as well as enjoyable to use for entertainment or work for years to come, a Mac can be a compelling option if one of your top priorities is to find a computer that’s built to last. Macs are known for their longevity, which Jeremy Horowitz reports for 9to5Mac is a result as much of the engineering of the software as of the durability of the hardware. Apple’s OS X updates help even older computers run better than they did when originally purchased, and Apple selects components that will continue to work for a long time.

That’s why How-To Geek reports that the conventional wisdom — that Macs are more expensive than PCs — isn’t necessarily true. Apple doesn’t offer a low-end Mac, which means that there isn’t a Mac counterpart to that $200 or $300 Windows laptop or Chromebook. But Macs aren’t necessarily more expensive than PCs with comparable specs, so if you’re planning on spending $1000 or more for a laptop, it may be worth it to compare the Mac and PC options in your price range.

But you’ll still have to answer the question of whether a $1000 laptop is a good purchase for you to make. If you’re wondering whether you need such a high-end device, then you probably don’t need a machine that’s that expensive. If you need a laptop for casual use, and primarily browser-based activity, you most likely don’t need a high-performing and therefore highly-priced computer. That doesn’t mean that you should automatically opt for the cheapest laptop possible, but it does mean that you can rule out the most expensive computers at your local electronics store.

What do you need out of a computer?

Still undecided whether you need a PC or Mac? Think carefully about how you'll use your new computer

Still undecided whether you need a PC or Mac? Think carefully about how you’ll use your new computer | Source: iStock

Another common misconception is about the comparative ease of use of a Mac versus a PC. In the same way that some people (wrongly) believe that iOS is easier to learn than Android, many people think that if they don’t want to spend a lot of time configuring and learning to use a new operating system, they’re better off with OS X than Windows. Ultimately, there’s a learning curve with either operating system, and for a user who doesn’t need resource-intensive software or have plans to extensively customize the computer, either platform will work. It’s fair to argue that a PC may require a bit more regular maintenance from you, but in most cases, that’s nothing that a smart Google search or two can’t help you figure out.

Perhaps the best test of what computer you should buy is what you intend to use it to do. Ultimately, if you need a laptop primarily to browse the Internet, watch videos, check in on social media, and listen to music, then you likely don’t need to spend the kind of money that a Mac or a high-end Windows laptop costs. Budget-friendly PCs are cost-effective for basic usage, and if you spend hundreds more for a Mac that you don’t necessarily need, you may not get your money’s worth out of the machine. However, if you’re shopping for a machine that you’re going to use for hours of serious work everyday, and are therefore willing to spend more than a few hundred dollars, then a Mac is worth considering. A low-end PC is less likely to last through years of heavy usage than a PC or a Mac that costs more upfront.

Most people can benefit from a small and lightweight laptop, often called an ultrabook, with a high-quality display and enough battery power to offer great battery life. They’re often a good category to look at if you need a new laptop for general use, particularly if you want one that will work just as well at a coffee shop or airplane terminal as it will on your couch at home. You can find such small and light computers in Apple’s Mac lineup, in the ranks of Windows PCs, or even among Chromebooks — which illustrates that the key to deciding the Mac vs. PC debate is to determine what you need and what your budget will accommodate, and then make an informed decision.

More from Gear & Style Cheat Sheet: