Buying a computer system/Running Windows on a Macbook Pro

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Question
Hi, I will be starting my post-bac in computer science this spring and I am planning on buying a new laptop for my courses. The university prefers a Windows laptop, but ever since my switch to Mac, I never want to go back to a PC. I have a few questions:

1. What advantages does a Windows/PC laptop have over a Mac for computer science?
2. I have the option of running Windows in my Mac, but if I were to do that will it slow down the laptop? Will it consume more gigbytes since I will be switching between using Windows and the Mac OS?
3. Is there a downside to running Windows in a Mac?
4. Instead of running Windows in my Mac, is there a way for me to run it in an external portable hard drive? If so, what external drive do you recommend that will hold all my computer science course load?

Thank you in advance!

Answer
I'll try to answer your questions in order:

1) Generally speaking, none whatsoever. The university likely suggests a specific platform because of familiarity though - I would guess that your professors, TAs, etc will be more versed on the Windows platform, but that doesn't mean you can't code on a Mac (or any other platform). My advice would be to determine what applications you actually need, which will likely entail an IDE and/or associated SDKs, and what equivalents exist for OS X. If you run into something that absolutely requires Windows (e.g. you're going into graphics, and need to work with DirectX, which only runs on Windows) you will need Windows, which is easily accomplished via dual-boot.

2) There are generally two avenues for running Windows on a modern Intel Mac. The first is to use Parallels Desktop to run an emulated virtual machine that Windows runs within. This will see increased memory usage and the Windows VM will have lower performance than Windows running directly on hardware (this is true of any VM system - e.g. running OS X in a VM on Windows would exhibit the same performance penalties). The other option is to dual boot the machine with OS X and Windows, via Boot Camp; this will have no performance penalty for either operating system, as the machine will be running one OS or the other (you will select at boot-up). The only cost to this will be the hard-drive space required for Windows' partition.

3) Not really, no. Most Apple computers are not as high performance (especially relative to their price) as many non-Apple components, for example they tend not to have top of the line graphics hardware, which may be a consideration for certain application workloads. For conventional desktop usage and running more typical applications (e.g. office productivity, development IDEs and SDKs, etc) this will probably not be a problem, but if you're after gaming or specialized coding (e.g. you need to work with CUDA (which requires an nVidia GPU)) you may run into issues. For more specialized performance requirements it is likely the university will have on-campus resources (e.g. if you need to work on a very high performance (read: very expensive) machine, or use specialized hardware (e.g. FPGA labs)). Again, I would suggest contacting the university or your advisor as far as specific requirements and what the university is able to provide.

4) There's no need for this, and it would reduce performance and increase complexity (because you'd have to have the external drive always available if you had configured the machine to dual-boot). I would not suggest this route.

If you have further questions or need clarification, feel free to ask. Also, best of luck with your studies.

-bob

Buying a computer system

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Bobbert

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I have nearly two decades of experience in IT, computer repair, and related fields and will attempt to provide the most solid, brand-agnostic advice when it comes time to purchase a new computer, or upgrade an existing machine. I can answer anything from the seemingly basic to the downright complicated - and will do my best to provide this information in a clear and concise manner.

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I have been an enthusiast of PC's for many years, and can answer questions about the purchase/use of a new computer or the purchase, installation, and use of upgrades for existing computers. There probably isn't a whole lot related to the home computer that I haven't seen over the years.

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15+ years of experience

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