What is the difference between a Mac and a PC?

By George Garza
Info Guru,

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What is the difference between a Mac and a PC that causes so many consumers to flock to the PC?
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Why is the PC more popular?

I was talking to a student recently about how good the Mac was in the mid-80s when compared to the PC, and even compared to the IBM PC. The Mac had a dynamic vibrant interface. It was 'cool.' The PC, on the other hand, was a tractor; functional, but not pretty. But in the larger scheme of things the tractor won the market race. Why did that happen? The Mac had better technology, a better interface and it was fun to work with.

So, what is the difference between a Mac and a PC that caused this to happen?


The first difference is in the CPU. The CPU is the engine of the computer. It does logic and arithmetic operations. But the Mac had a CPU chip designed by Motorola, and the PC had the CPU designed by Intel. This meant that the motherboard—the interface that the CPU attached itself to—was also different. You couldn't put a Motorola CPU into an Intel motherboard, nor could you put an Intel CPU into a Mac motherboard. The wiring was different.

Supporting Chips

Having different motherboards also means that you would have to have different chips such as memory, video or sound that would work on the different systems. The supporting chips had to have a different design.

Operating Systems

The next big difference, besides the CPU is the Operating System (OS). This is the software that controls the hardware and the applications that run on the computer. For example, if you want to print a document, you have to send it to the printer. But it is the operating system that helps forward that document to the printer. Many operations are done this way because if the OS didn't exist the application would have to have large sections of code that would interface with physical devices.

The OS takes away those functions. It lets the software application be concerned with the end result that the application is designed to do, whether it is a game, spreadsheet or database.

So with that in mind, the Mac uses an operating system called OS X, and the PC uses Windows. OS X is designed by Apple. It is their own proprietary system that is used exclusively on the Mac systems. Currently they are running OS X Leopard.

PCs, on the other hand, run variants of the Windows operating system. The most current version is Windows Vista, but the popular and stable Windows XP is the flagship product designed by Microsoft.

Some other operating systems also exist; many are based on the Linux OS system. This is a variant of the powerful UNIX operating system on many engineering and scientific computers. Linux is very inexpensive and it is easy to install. On the PC side of the world, Linux accounts for about 10 percent of the market. The other 90 percent of the PC market is Windows-based.

Macs make up about 15 percent of the computer market, and PCs about 85 percent. Clearly Microsoft is the big player.


Another difference between Macs and PCs are in the applications (apps). Many PC apps will not run on the Mac, and vice-versa. This is especially true of games.

Games are frequently designed for the PC market, and don't have the same number of gaming apps for the Mac. If the players are playing on a PC, then the game designers are designing for the PC.


Returning to our initial discussion above, why did the Mac not win the market if it was a better product? The answer is simple. Another difference between a Mac and a PC is price. The price of a Mac was about $1,000 to $1,500 more than the PC. Many users were not willing to spend that kind of money for the Mac experience. So it didn't score in the market the same way that the PC did.

Today, many of the differences have been stripped away. The Macs now run on an Intel CPU, but the motherboards are still very different. Macs don't run on Windows, although there are now interfaces that allow you to run a Windows app on a Mac. But it's still the price that determines the main factor. The iMac is still more expensive than a comparably priced PC, by upwards of $500 to $900.

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