Computing in Engineering - Mac vs PC

Updated: May 9, 2018

PCs and Macs have long been at odds with each other, competing since the 1980s. Together they monopolise the computing market but today it’s hard to say which is the most popular. Depending on your field or engineering industry, you may be accustomed to using either or both but each platform arguably has its own pros and cons. Whilst studying at university I got by using a Mac but I have progressively found it more difficult and now use it alongside a PC depending on which software I need.

At first glance the Mac and Windows PC operating systems don’t look too dissimilar. The taskbar showing programme shortcuts may be located in different places and the minimise, expand and close buttons are on opposite sides. Differences in keyboard shortcuts are more noticeable and can make it quite frustrating performing tasks when you’re used to another operating system. For example Windows PCs use Ctrl + C to copy whereas Macs use Cmd + C whilst also having a ctrl key. After a bit of practise though, you do get used to these different features!

Source: Combe Wood Computers

Macs are very aesthetically pleasing, sleek and stylish with some lightweight MacBook laptops as well as larger iMac desktops with the hardware and display integrated. They do come at a premium over PCs with the majority of models costing over $1000. Mac OS has unique applications such as iPhoto, Time Machine and an Apple equivalent to Microsoft Office which includes Pages (MS Word), Keynote (MS Powerpoint) and Numbers (MS Excel). Macs offer high performance and efficiency for some tasks but can lack the power needed to run demanding CAD packages. There are also fewer software choices especially for technical packages and PC software releases are often more advanced than equivalent Mac releases.

Although Macs can open most PC file formats (for example .doc), Windows cannot open Mac files (for example .dmg). PCs tend to be used more despite this and from my experience so far in the automotive industry this is mainly due to cost and software compatibility. Universal files that can be opened on either system desired and make it much quicker and easier to transfer data between companies. In the CAD world, JT files are used for sharing model data as they can be opened by various CAD packages.

Some PCs can suffer from lag caused by hardware manufactured by different companies whereas Apple is responsible for all OS and hardware updates. It is also argued that Macs are much more secure than PCs and less susceptible to viruses. Windows security is comparatively weaker and malware protection is advised.

As mentioned previously, PCs are far cheaper than Macs and it’s even possible to build your own from scratch using standard parts. Although other operating systems can be run on Mac, they have to be installed using Parallels software or Boot Camp which involves partitioning the hard drive. These work-arounds can be expensive and time consuming to set up. Most computer games also do not run on Mac OS.

To summarise engineers must be competent on both platforms, like with CAD. No matter what you prefer personally, you will likely come across alternatives and be expected to adapt to them. In the CAD world you are most likely to use PCs although AutoCad has recently become available for Mac. It is however one of the more expensive CAD packages unless you’re in education - you can grab a 3 year student version for free! Other software like SolidWorks and CATIA have not been optimised for Macs though. If you are thinking of purchasing a computer I would recommend a PC however, as you will always be able to download the software you need and this isn’t always possible on a Mac, without creating a Windows platform first. You will potentially save yourself a lot of money too!

Source: Autocad

Luke T Seal Engineering