Windows PC for Mac user

My grandaughter is off to college later this summer and they strongly recommend a Windows based laptop. She has been a Macbook user since she was in middle school and loves her Mac.

One option is bootcamp with Windows 11 on a new Macbook Pro. But another option is a true Windows PC. What hardware has a quality build and specifications similar to a Macbook Pro. I confess to being totally ignorant of Windows PCs as I converted away from Windows with my first Mac PowerPC laptop.

Cost is a secondary consideration as I would happily buy her a maxed out Macbook Pro if that was what she (and the college) wanted.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

I’m afraid that won’t work on a truly new MBP. There is not Bootcamp on Apple Silicon. Your only option would be to buy an older Intel MBP. At this point, I doubt that’s a wise investment.

Perhaps, if you get a good deal on used in excellent condition. Something like this.

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Bootcamp was never my favored option. So now I just need some advice and specifications for a good Windows PC.

What’s her intended major? That makes a huge difference.

What about getting her a Mac laptop, and an inexpensive Windows box? Thet could share a display, and she has both options.

Thank you for your suggestion. I believe her major will be Pre-med of some sort. Maybe biology but I don’t know for sure.

I do not want her to suffer with some sort of Dell PC junk. Whatever she has, I want it to be first rate and never cause her an issue for the next 4 years or so. So I really want to get her a solid Windows PC that will last and run whatever the college throws her way. Windows is Windows, but it need not run on commodity hardware.

Two quick things:

  1. It could make sense to think about repairability instead of initial build quality. Life happens, especially with the busy university student lifestyle. One source I use frequently for self-repair and troubleshooting info is iFixit. They have a guide for laptops here: Laptop Repairability Scores | Most Repairable Laptops - iFixit

  2. It can be a good idea to see if the specific department or academic program has any recommendations in addition to the general university specifications.

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Pre-Med, she definitely wants Windows. She will be using data visualization software in some classes that wants a lot of RAM. Max out on RAM.

The campus store likely has discounted software and hardware for students; some software will be licensed for the campus and she may not have to pay much or anything. There should be a campus IT site with a list. Get her a local portable backup solution and consider something like Backblaze.

If you buy her a printer, get a laser printer, not ink jet. She will go broke paying for ink. Lately, I’ve been buying Brother laser printers, and am thoroughly disenchanted with HP.

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Besides buying a new Windows laptop, I can think of two other possible solutions:

  1. Virtual desktop: Many colleges offer virtual desktop on Windows 10/11, where users install a client app and sign in to the virtual machine like a Remote Desktop setup. The virtual desktop usually comes with the college’s device management system, licensed apps, etc. Personally, I find the experience much inferior to using a local machine - perhaps this has to do with how the virtual machines are set up.

  2. Set up a powerful desktop then access remotely: This is similar to the virtual desktop setup, but with your own machine instead. This may work if the environment is suitable (e.g. with ubiquitous high-speed Internet access, VPN allowed, etc.). This is how I access my work Windows machines. These are headless Xeon workstations hosted in server rooms that function as my ‘desktop’, and I access them from my Apple Silicon MacBook Pro using Remote Desktop. So far the arrangement works really well for me - the Mac turns practically into a Windows machine, while I can get back to macOS with just a swipe.

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Lisa is correct about Windows. Unfortunately Apple never seemed to attempt to make much effort, if any at all, to target Medical app developers for Mac OS, and it’s the same with the legal field. And the price range for Macs is also difficult for most medical and legal offices and hospitals to afford.

We do have a radiologist relative that does have some Macs in his practice, mostly because they need super superior graphics. And I have had doctors in hospitals and private practices that use iPhones, though I don’t know if they were for medical or personal use.

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You should find out what software is required. If it’s just stuff like Microsoft Office, where there are Mac equivalents, just go with the Mac and don’t worry about it.

But if there is specialized software, like some medical training/testing tools (you said she is a medical student), then you need the Windows PC. Don’t try to mess around with emulation or VMs if there is a need for specialized software, because it doesn’t always work well, and nobody at the college will be able to support the configuration.

Dell, like HP and others, has a wide range of products at a wide range of capabilities and price points. It’s not all junk, although you might not find a good model at your local WalMart.

You should determine the system requirements and then go to a manufacturer’s home page. Browse through the available models and review the various build-to-order configuration options. I actually like Dell’s web site a lot, because they offer a lot of customization choices and are usually not too expensive. But it can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t have a clue what you’re looking for. (You can also call and discuss the issue with their sales rep, but they may not completely understand what you need, and they will try to upsell you on an extended warranty.)

My employer likes HP, but I’ve found that their equipment doesn’t give you as many options and they cost more.

But also look at some other brands. Asus is one with a good reputation. Also consider “gaming” systems, which tend to be available with powerful CPU/GPU combinations and the capability to install a lot of RAM and SSD storage. But they tend to weigh a lot and often have things like RGB lighting, which you will definitely need to turn off if she will be using it in a classroom.

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Thanks all. At the moment I’ve settled on a dell xps maxed out with 32G ram and 4T disk. I’ll upgrade the cpu and graphics too.

This is especially good advice if you are considering a M1/M2/M3 Mac. The only version of Windows that works as a VM on these Macs is Windows 11 ARM. Windows 11 ARM is not the same as Windows on Intel (although it’s pretty darn close). The big issue I see is that “specialized software” in all likelihood is compiled for Intel and does not have an ARM port. We haven’t even discussed the graphics required by those packages - remember that virtual machines don’t have access to the physical GPU.

As old maps used to say “Thar be dragons”.

Agreed that in this case the best avenue is to get a physical Intel PC.

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Does the college store also sell computers? You might see what they recommend for use at the college. They may even have student discounts.

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That’s the model the Wirecutter recommends for editing photos and video, probably a good metric for scientific work too.

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I’ve got quite a few friends and family members in the medical field, including three MDs, a nurse, and an engineer who works on medical hardware; they swear by Dell. And many of the non medicals are happy with Dell as well.

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That sounds nice. Can you share the specific model? XPS is a brand used for a series of computers - generally higher-end models. I think it will work well, especially with the configuration you chose.

I assume (and hope) you meant a 4 TB SSD. If you have a hard drive and no SSD in there, the result will probably not perform at an acceptable level.

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I am a long time Apple user, but as an equally long time academic administrator at three universities, I have always had to own a PC as well - often for network access to the Library and university paid subscription databases, for example. I’ve had Gateways, Dells and PCs die on me, but I’m very impressed with Lenovo IdeaPad and ThinkPad machines. As someone else mentioned, I have had great success with a Brother laser printer. To echo other recommendations here, if a PC is actually required or strongly recommended, buy the computer, software, printer, etc from a campus store if possible. You’ll get a discount, and they are also a quite a bit more obligated to help with set up and troubleshooting than some big box places or online. Be aware that to qualify for the student discount at many places, the purchase would have to be made BY THE STUDENT. Perhaps not the surprise gift opportunity you had in mind, but maybe you can ride along to the store and provide the means of payment there. Roadtrip!

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I’ve gone through pre-med, med school, and half of residency. The great majority of my peers and teachers throughout all that training used Macs. I did too, for most of it, except for a few years when I used a Samsung laptop that was fine until the battery stopped charging and now it won’t start up. Now I’m back on a Mac and everything is working better.

I can’t imagine why this university would be “strongly recommending” a Windows PC. If your daughter loves her Mac, and does not have much experience with Windows, then I foresee an adjustment period that may distract from her studies, and may outweigh whatever compatibility issues the university is predicting.

I would try to gather more details about why exactly they recommend a Windows PC before committing yourself and your daughter to that world.

Good luck to her in her studies!


Edit to add: I guess I would dispute the following, unless premed has changed significantly in the last ten years …

And regarding this …

… maybe that’s true, but it won’t matter, because once your daughter enters clinical training, everything related to that (ie, the electronic health record, radiology tools, etc.) will run via a virtual desktop, whether accessed from a Mac or PC.

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If the university suggests Windows in the sciences, they typically expect students to use specific apps and submit work via a portal, especially post COVID Some files are fairly cross platform via Save As or Export, others are Windows only. Faculty can’t grade what they can’t open.,

Moreover, if a school urges Windows, Mac support may be minimal. Not a big deal in Arts & Humanities, but a potential minefield in the sciences.

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I went through four years of pre-med, four years of medical school, five years of residency, and over twenty years of medical practice. I used macOS computers the entire time, in spite of being told over and over and over again that “you’ll really want a Windows machine for this.” I militantly stuck with Macintosh, and often the Mac worked so much better than Windows – even when doing “Windows-only” things – that many of my colleagues switched to Mac.

Remember that many university IT departments are fully intoxicated on Microsoft Kool-Aid and the advice they give often comes from a place of profound ignorance, or fear of having to interact with something they don’t understand.

Yes, much of my experience is dated, but the pro-Windows arguments sound exactly the same as they did in the wayback (except that we hear a lot less about “you don’t even know if Apple is going to be around to support your machine”).

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