Windows PC for Mac user

Our IT folk say those Microsoft guys give a great dinner.


And this isn’t even recent. I got my degree in computer science in 1991 and even then, a PC (running MS-DOS) was mandatory.

We were given several software packages (Turbo Pascal, Microsoft FORTRAN, TK Solver, MicroPLATO (a PC subset of the PLATO system), a spreadsheet (I forget the name, but a third-party clone of Lotus 1-2-3) and Microsoft Word).

We needed to run these for our various classes, and none of them would run on a Mac. (Yes, there was a Mac version of Word, but it was pretty much incompatible with Word-for-DOS documents). We were also expected to submit assignments on 5.25" floppy disks.

Interoperability today is better, in that there are true cross-platform office suites, and you can run other operating systems in emulators or VMs, but that can only go so far. If the school gives you a license for a specialty app, you may not be able to run it properly in an emulator. Or the license may only be good for the Windows version (if there is a Mac version, you may have to buy it on your own at great expense). Or it may run too slowly in emulation (e.g. neural net software may need direct access to an NVIDIA GPU in order to run at a usable speed).

By all means ask questions about why the university wants you to get a PC, but don’t be surprised if there actually is a perfectly valid technical reason.


I think you’ve gotten some good advice here.

I’ve finished an MD, PhD, residency, and a quarter century of practice, so my pre-med was a long time ago, but despite the Windows-centric push that has existed since my pre-med days in the before-times, my personal computers were always Apple. My main computer remains a Mac, but I run a mishmash of Macs, Linux, and WIndows for various reasons at home these days.

It sounds like she wants Windows, though, which probably makes things simpler, especially if the school does have OS-specific software they use.

Damn, though, W11 sure seems to be pushing hard to be a data colletion tool for Microsoft, which I really dislike. She might consider clean-installing W11 without signing in to a Microsoft account. You can find instructions for this online, and I’ve done it myself on my travel laptop (which is primarly running Kubuntu, but was W11 on a separate partition).

If she does a clean W11 install–you can download the .iso from Microsoft directly and verify the checksum–you can be as sure as you’re ever going to be that you’ve removed any OEM shovelware Dell may put on their PCs. (I don’t know to what extent Dell does that, but some OEMs seem pretty bad about it.) I suggest doing this to people who have the time and interest in doing so.

If you do this, before you wipe the laptop’s drive (I presume it’ll be an M.2 drive) be sure to recover the original W11 registration key. You can do this easily from an admin command prompt with the command:

wmic path SoftwareLicensingService get OA3xOriginalProductKey

Once you do a clean install, the easist way to get all the drivers, etc., up to date is Snappy Driver Installer an open source tool that really helps do this.

Of the docs I work with now my impression is the a rather large majority use iPhones in their personal life, as do most if not all of our C-suiters, so if she likes iPhones I don’t think she’ll need to switch to Android unless she wants to. I’m not qutie sure why so many people are invested in the OS wars (mac vs pc, ios vs Android), but I really don’t think it matters from the educational or professional standpoint. Maybe socially being a green bubbler really matters these days. I’m sure she knows that answer better than I.

Once she’s out in practice, she’ll almost certianly be using a minimal Windows box that connects to her EMR and other services. That will all be determined by IT. I use my Mac at home and when necessary connect via Citrix, which doesn’t care if my local hardware is Mac or PC.

A somewhat unrelated suggestion is this: Get her a nice external monitor that she can hook to her laptop. Two, it it will support them. For increaing productivity on a computer, having ample monitor space really helps, and for doing research papers, etc., where you can have references open here, and your documents open there without overlapping is really helpful.

As you’re getting a Dell laptop, I suggest taking a look at their Ultrasharp series of monitors. I bought a Dell UltraSharp 32" 4K USB-C Hub Monitor (U3223QE) last year and have to say that the screen is beautiful, and the USB C hub works well and is very handy, allowing a single cable to communicate and charge my laptop while everything else stays connected to the monitor.

Good luck to your granddaughter.


{edit-spelling error corrected}

1 Like

Great advice. Laptop screens, while definitely useful, are no substitute for a large monitor. a 27" 4K screen or maybe an ultrawide display will make life a lot more pleasant when the laptop is docked with it.

Even if you get your laptop from somewhere else, I’d recommend it. Computers from all manufacturers today use the same small set of connections:

  • HDMI
  • DisplayPort (or mini-DP)
  • USB-C/Thunderbolt (with support for DisplayPort alternate mode)

Just about every monitor you get today will have one or more of these, and if the monitor’s ports don’t match your computer’s, adapter cables are easy to get and are not very expensive.

I’ve always been a fan of the Ultrasharp series. I’d also recommend one with an IPS panel, since they have very accurate colors and sport a wide viewing angle. But Ultrasharp displays with VA panels also look very good, although not quite as good as IPS.


You should talk to the undergraduate advisors for the biology and chemistry departments, and probably the math department too. ‘University’ suggestions are not as useful as departmental suggestions because the top level people often don’t have a clue about what the departments actually do. The advisors can ask the department IT staff if they need to, and they’ll know what software is being used, if it’s installed on the public student computers, and if there are sufficient public computers that there’s no bottleneck to getting time on them. If the answer is the the IT people don’t know if something will work on a mac, go with the flow and get the windows laptop.

Aside from the already mentioned possibility of needing windows to even be able to submit assignments, the first two years shouldn’t be a problem with a mac. There’s a chance that some science and math courses use third party teaching drill software. I’m blanking on the name of one of the bigger ones. It used Java and was a small challenge but possible to get working right in intel mac browsers. I don’t know about the apple silicon macs but the departments should.

For more advanced classes and labs, there can be problems connecting macs to some instruments. Drivers for instruments rarely have mac drivers, and with apple silicon, the old solutions of crossover and windows virtual machines no longer work. Higher level classes are also going to be using various specialized analysis software such as Octave, some of which will be open source, with the usual mixed bag of modules that are well supported for macs, and those that used to be but the maintainer got bored and never updated them.

But really, once she gets there she may decide she’d rather go into electronics, structural engineering, or history. The best part of college is being exposed to so many possibilities. Over thinking what she’ll need for med school is kind of premature. Actually, planning for med school before surviving organic chemistry is kind of premature…


I’ve got a M1 Air, and I’ve installed Windows 11 (for ARM processors) under Parellels. It works incredibly well - it boots up in just a few seconds. Most tasks seem significantly snappier in emulated Windows on my M1 Air than they do under “real” Windows 10 on my Thinkpad T14 that I use for my day job. Most applications will install and run just fine in ARM Windows. On the other hand, if you want to be running something like x86 Oracle Personal Edition then you will be out of luck.

All in all, I think Windows 11 running in Parallels on an Apple Silicon Mac is easier to support and use than a real Windows laptop, and also easier to set up and use than Bootcamp on an Intel Mac. I think an Apple Silicon Mac with Windows 11 ARM under Parallels is a viable option for this case.


You can also install Windows 11 ARM using UTM, it works pretty well.

I’ve been working with Windows 11 ARM as VMs on Apple Silicon macs for over two years now on VMware Fusion. For the most part I echo your experiences and find that most Intel applications will indeed run on Windows 11 ARM.

But there are applications that don’t work. I’ve heard of applications that deal with specialized equipment that won’t work on Windows ARM because their vendors haven’t ported the device drivers from Intel. And note that games or graphics-intensive applications that are looking for nVidia or AMD graphics cards are going to be disappointed because virtual machines don’t expose the GPU to a guest - nor will you find many physical ARM PCs that have these graphics cards.

I’ve also found that few developers have tested or support their applications on Windows 11 ARM. If it works, you’re fine. If it doesn’t, good luck getting help.

Let’s see what happens with Microsoft’s rumored upcoming announcements of ARM PCs There’s a distinct lack of interest in ARM PCs in the marketplace. Let’s see if Microsoft’s upcoming push of the new ARM PCs can convince developers to take more interest in Windows 11 ARM.


And on this topic, I ist read an article by Paul Therrot (experienced Windows columnist) who found UTM with Windows 11 easy to setup and run. He walks through the steps if you’re interested:

1 Like

You can also run Windows 11 ARM in a VM. VMWare Fusion has officially supported this since February 2023.

Of course, you still need a valid license for VMWare Fusion and Windows 11.

1 Like

VMware has a free personal use license for non-commercial use of Fusion Player 13.


And Windows 11 can be run ‘unactivated’ seemingly indefinitely (from an installer downloaded from Microsoft), but there are certain customisation options disabled.

1 Like

I’m with @dgbchr. Let her use her Mac. All the specialized Medical software is likely to come AFTER her pre-med days and she can get whatever she might need then. But, I can’t imagine anything coming up during those first four years where a Mac will be a problem.


In general, XPS machines are very good choices for college students, with a good balance between performance and mobility. A nice thing about Dell is that it provides excellent technical manuals for its machines, so you can see what components are replaceable/upgradeable and how easy/hard it is to repair a unit before purchasing. At 32 GB RAM / 4 TB SSD, you’d be buying a higher-end, more expensive laptop, so anticipating the realities of college life, I do recommend getting a four-year subscription to one of Dell’s premium support options with accidental damage protection.

If you do choose to go this route, both Parallels and VMware offer significant discounts (~50% in the US) to students, and depending on the college, a Windows license for students may be free or available for a nominal fee. Definitely check with the college before paying retail pricing for Windows.

Before I comment on this issue, some personal background: I have undergraduate and graduate degrees in biophysics, cell biology, and related fields, I’m a VP of IT in the biotech industry, and I serve on advisory committees at a couple of universities, including the accreditation committee of a top-tier engineering school. I’ve also helped guide three kids through six degrees in science and business fields in recent years.

I’m seeing “we strongly recommend Windows” much less often in universities as time goes on. When I see it, this generally indicates the support preferences of the school’s help desk rather than an academic need. (To be fair to the help desk and the IT department, there are legitimate reasons why they would prefer to support Windows machines over Apple machines in a large environment, but I don’t want to go off-topic.)

It’s been my experience that a solid majority of pre-med students use Macs. Even in the computer science and engineering programs that I am directly familiar with, a substantial percentage of students use Macs, though students who work on developing robotics systems do tend to choose Windows or Linux. Also, a lot of the computer science students want to develop iPhone apps, which means they want access to a Mac. Also consider that more and more software programs, including courseware, are moving to the cloud, so platform choice can be less important than browser choice.

Believe it or not, the most common case I’ve encountered in recent years where a user’s machine (as opposed to an instrument controller, for example) had to be running Windows was in regular business use: Microsoft Project and Microsoft Visio. If a user’s job requires working with Project or Visio files routinely, it’s much, much, much easier to work with the native Windows apps than to work with their cloud versions or alternative apps on the Mac due to nagging formatting/compatibility issues.

Anyway, I don’t want to spend too much of my lunch time on this post, so I’ll suggest that if your granddaughter strongly prefers a Mac, she’ll probably be fine with one, especially if she only has a general idea of majoring in a pre-med field. On the other hand, kids are very adaptable, and she probably would be fine with a Windows computer. Unless she knows of a specific course requirement, she’ll probably be fine, either way. Another idea: if her current Mac can run a currently supported version of macOS, perhaps she can use that for at least the first semester. Based on her experience on campus, you can get her a new machine to start her second semester with greater confidence.


In my experience attending, and later working for, my city’s two finest universities, faculty generally only just barely understood technology not immediatlly critical to their own research domains.

My guess is, when the admissions rep putting together the welcome packet asked a med school faculty member what kind of computer students should bring, the professor blinked, frowned, then gestured in the direction of the crumb-encrusted, coffee-splattered PC on their desk, with the university asset tag, buried under journal prints, and said, “Definitely one of those.”

That was probably the extent of the consideration that went into the recommendation.

I’m not trying to be hard on med school faculty; most of them essentially have three full-time jobs between research, clinical practice, and pedagogy. They just don’t have time to geek out about anything else.

If it were my kid, I’d bet the price of a Macbook that they’ll never need anything more than a browser, a PDF reader, and whichever cloud office subscription the University provides for undergrad. For anything more specialized, there will either be a cluster on campus, or a remote/cloud version available through the student portal.

(Grad school might be a different story.)

1 Like

A funny thing that just struck me is that this thread doesn’t seem to have anybody who is an undergraduate, or even a “young alum”, participating. That includes me.

Maybe the OP should head over to Instagram or TikTok for some first hand information…


Fair point. A lot of schools also provide portals where incoming students can connect with each other and ask questions before coming to campus.


Cool. I just read a more detailed description in a How To Geek article. This is very different from the WinXP days (last time I read about activation), where the OS was pretty crippled before activation.

See also Wikipedia

No disagreement, but it’s important to point out that if you have a system the help desk can’t support well, you (or your friends and family) may end up having to provide any tech support if something doesn’t work.

Depending on how tech savvy the student in question is, this may or may not be a significant problem.


Yes, a really interesting case is the IBM stats package SPSS, which will not work on the M machines without really tricky adjustments to the operating system, and does not work with the VMs.

Brother laser printers (B&W) are pretty bullet proof. Just note the differences between models and skip features that may not be needed.

I will add another vote to the “check with the department” option as to what suggested system type/configuration is best for new students. They often have a unique perspective on what is needed vs. the official college or university recommendation. Dell XPS and many serious Windows/Linux laptops are serviceable and upgradable (unlike most Apple products) so it may be scalable to some degree if needed later.