View Full Version : Mac or PC for Astronomy major

2010-Jun-17, 07:25 PM
I am majoring in Astronomy and I am in dire need of a new laptop. For many majors the choice is clear but I am not sure about whether to choose a Macbook Pro or a Windows based laptop for Astronomy. What do you prefer and why?

2010-Jun-17, 07:34 PM
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2010-Jun-17, 08:08 PM
If cost/performance is your concern then PC is the winner. Macs are now running on the same CPU as PCs so what you are paying for, really, is the logo and the OS.

2010-Jun-17, 08:25 PM
I have a Mac and they do run a lot smoother than p.c's. I have had it for a few years now and it hardly ever crashes, the interface is nicer and they are very user friendly.

I don't use it for anything major though. I used to produce music but i am giving it a rest at the moment. If i had the money to spare then i would rather buy a Mac over a p.c

I have never used one for Astronomy but because i have a Mac i thought i would share my opinion.

Good luck with your Major :)

2010-Jun-17, 08:26 PM
The main issue seems to be drivers. Some equipment only comes with PC drivers and then only 32 bit not 64 that is the coming thing. Some software is available for only one OS or is more complete when run under one OS. If money is no object then the Mac would be my choice since you can install Windows and have the best of both worlds. But the Mac is more expensive to start with though this difference is getting smaller all the time and then you have to buy the Windows OS. Linux is another choice as well. I know several who use it exclusively but you have to be a computer geek to really make that work well.

My son was a die hard PC user but had to move, kicking and screaming, to a Mac due to software he needed for his degree being available only for that OS. He has completely forgotten his loyalty to PC and switched just as strongly to the Mac. Something totally against his personality.

I still use the PC as I use some PC only hardware so get more bang for the buck using it. If my hardware changes then I'd reconsider. Also since I assembled this machine I have the full Windows OS so moving to a Mac yet keeping the Windows OS wouldn't be as much of a cost issue since I already own the needed OS.

There is no general right answer to your question. You have to determine what you want to do, what your budget is, what hardware and software you need and choose accordingly.


2010-Jun-17, 08:42 PM
Thank you all for the advice. I have a pretty good PC Desktop at my house that I built so I think perhaps i would get the best of both worlds if I got a MacBookPro.

2010-Jun-17, 09:59 PM
While it may not be entirely relevant at the undergraduate level nearly all of the professional astronomers I know (I am one myself), have Mac laptops and many now have Mac desktops as well. There are two primary reasons. 1) Mac laptops seem to have a better record for "just working" when used to make presentations, connect to the internet while traveling, etc. 2) Much of the software and tools we use were originally UNIX based, so the transition to a Mac OS (or Linux) is nearly seamless. That said, the more instrumentation you do (and the more engineers you interact with), the more likely you are to find Windows machines. At least that's been my experience as a US-based research astronomer.

2010-Jun-18, 01:03 PM
There are very, very few young astronomers using Windows these days (based on what I've seen at conferences). We've all got either OS X (sometimes on a hackintosh), or some version of Linux.

Personally, I've been very happy with my 13" macbook pro, and use it for everything now, including heavy data processing (which is why I'm about to get 8GB of RAM!). When I bought it last year, I did some searching and neither Dell, nor Asus, nor Lenovo had an equivalent system for significantly less, if they had an equivalent system at all. The standard claim that Macs are always more expensive may be true for server class hardware and desktops (I don't know: I haven't checked), but the price difference for laptops is small to nonexistent. One certainly can find a cheaper laptop running windows, but it's unlikely to be comparable in terms of features.

That said, one should rarely purchase upgrades and accessories from Apple. You're almost always better off buying third-party RAM, monitor, harddrive, etc. and installing them yourself.

If you are strapped for cash and are just looking for something to carry around and take notes on, a Linux based netbook (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_netbooks) (e.g. Asus eee, Dell mini-9, MSI Wind etc.) would be a good choice. I recommend trying one out first, though, since the keyboards are very small.

2010-Jun-18, 06:28 PM
Yeah, what Cath and fresh-Dr. parejkoj said. I got a MacBook Pro a couple of years ago and it replaced practically everything I used to use a full-scale SGI workstation, a Linux box, and a desktop PC for at work. Throw in the ability to run MS Office versions natively and run Windows in a virtual machine when needed, and I've never looked back. For me the big deal wasn't Mac coolness, it was the fact that OS X is a Unix flavor so that a couple of decades of legacy software packages run out of the box without fiddling around with cygwin or anything on a PC (which I continue to watch people waste lots of time trying to get going).

2010-Jun-18, 07:51 PM
Question about the Unix side of the Macs: If you want to use open source software on your Mac or stuff from sourceforge, do you have trouble obtaining binaries for it? Do you have to compile most things yourself?

2010-Jun-19, 07:46 AM
The two most powerful image acquisition programs are currently only available in PC versions though CCDSoft says it will release Mac and Linux versions in the near future. Maxim has no mention of Mac versions in its future. Since auto control software like CCD Commander, CCD Autopilot and ACP use one of these two programs (ACP works only with Maxim) as well as other PC only aps, most serious amateur imagers will want either a PC or a dual system Mac. For some hardware, 64 bit drivers, needed for either machine running a 64 bit OS are sometimes a bit of a question but that is changing fast, still something to watch out for. There is Mac and Linux only control software but it is far inferior so most serious amateur imagers still use PCs though some are going to dual boot Macs as they replace old 32 bit machines with new 64 bit ones.


2010-Jun-20, 04:25 AM
Question about the Unix side of the Macs: If you want to use open source software on your Mac or stuff from sourceforge, do you have trouble obtaining binaries for it? Do you have to compile most things yourself?

Fink (http://www.finkproject.org/) or Macports (http://www.macports.org/) is the way to go for installing most open source software, with of order 8000 open source packages each. Fink is based on Debian, Macports on the BSD ports system, so pick the one you are more familiar with: they usually alternate which has the most up-to-date version of a given package.