PCs vs Macs in College: The Great Divide?

Sep 2nd, 2011No Comments

This is Part 2 of How College Students Use Technology (Hint: Not Like the Rest of Us), continuing the conversation with Alexis, Jack, Justin, Katy, Michelle, Rebecca and Tommy.

Quick summary of Part 1:  The essential, must-have technology devices for college are a laptop, iPod and cellphone (or simply a laptop and iPhone).  The non-essential gadgets are a TV, iPad, DVD player and desktop computer.  Students majoring in computer science often have a dual-monitor setup for increased productivity and/or a desktop computer for extra computational power.

“Laptop/iPod/cellphone is definitely the essential triad,” said Justin, Political Science senior at Amherst.

College students seem less cult-ish about the Great PC-vs-Mac Divide than Generation Xers and Boomers, perhaps because these college-age Millennials are digital natives.  Chances are they’ve had access to both PCs and Macs in middle and high school and are very comfortable in both environments.  But a few PC-vs-Mac generalities did emerge.

PCs are for Computer Science majors and Business majors

Business majors need to be Johnny-on-the-spot with MS Office applications such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint.  Of course, you can buy MS Office for the Mac, but version compatibility is cleaner across PCs.  More importantly, their prospective employers, Fortune 500 companies, typically have PC environments and use enterprise software and other business applications made for PCs.

Computer Science types run the gamut.  They’d probably prefer to have one of each (a PC desktop and a Mac laptop) plus dual monitors.  Michelle said that some of her Computer Science friends believe that if you have a Mac, “you must not know your stuff, or at the very least, wasted your money.  Also, CS people are disproportionately likely to be gamers, and since most games come out for Windows first, they buy PCs”.

“My CS friends think that if you have a Mac, you must not know your stuff, or at the very least, wasted your money,” said Michelle, Chemistry sophomore at Rice.

On the other hand, Rebecca, Electrical Engineer junior at UT, is a “huge Mac person”. She said, “Most engineers use PCs though, because most programming has to be done on Windows.  The engineers I know who have Macs typically run Bootcamp or Parallels on the Mac and run Windows off of a partitioned hard drive”.

Katy said lots of art students "personalize" their Macs with ducttape, stickers, etc, to reduce the odds of their being stolen

Jack, Computer Engineering senior at Santa Clara University, said that most people in his Computer Engineering classes use OS X (Mac’s operating system) “because you can do very powerful things without having to install anything extra.  The fact that OS X has a terminal emulator and Windows doesn’t is a big factor in my preferring OS X.”

Almost everyone else uses – or wants to use – Macs

It’s almost a no-brainer that artistic and creative types prefer Macs.  Katy said she doesn’t know of any Rhode Island School of Design students using a PC.

Justin estimates a 50/50 Mac-PC split at Amherst.

Perhaps it’s the aesthetic superiority of Mac products or their lighter weight or just the Mac brand in general, but as Tommy said, “I bet all students (me included) wish they had a Mac.”

“Unless a student is a whiz on their PC, I bet that all students (me included) wish they had a Mac.  With everything being Apple-friendly these days (we have a Mac store on campus), the easiest form of computer is a Mac.”  Tommy, 2011 graduate of University of Oregon

Michelle said that chemistry and biology students “often have Macs because the better imaging allows faster run-time of programs that allow you to look at and manipulate molecules in 3D and some of the earlier software for working with chemicals was originally written for Macs and works better with them.”

In the end, it comes down to preference and parents

It often comes down to preference and what their parents can afford.  If money is the absolute first priority, entry-level PCs are less expensive than Macs.  If it’s time for you to choose a new laptop for college, take a look at both Luis Benitez’ article and College Avenue’s article.  And just for fun, here’s a transformer-themed Mac vs PC video.

Suzanne Doughty

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