Author Topic: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?  (Read 3601 times)

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Offline IDEngineerTopic starter

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PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« on: June 10, 2023, 03:42:21 pm »
My EE student son called to ask which direction he should go for a new laptop. He's always been a PC guy but he's impressed with what Apple's proprietary processors are doing with compute power and battery life.

My answer was the same as it always is: Choose your applications, then choose the platform that runs them best.

However, most such analysis seems focused on CS applications... folks heavy on "pure" software, not so much hardware and embedded firmware. So it's less applicable to a guy who is favoring hardware development.

What's the general consensus regarding the better-supported platform for a hardware centric guy? I haven't seen this question asked this way so thought I'd see what others here have experienced.

Thanks!
 

Online sokoloff

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2023, 04:00:16 pm »
At the hobbyist level and, as a Mac guy, I've not found the lack of easy access to Windows to be a hindrance. That's an incomplete answer, because I'm only doing things at the hobbyist level, but I've written firmware, designed PCBs, done Fusion 360 designs, etc, etc. and never felt limited. (I've been using a 2019 Intel MBP as my primary sitting-down-with device. I have access to a Proxmox server that I can run Windows or Linux VMs easily.)

There's little doubt that a Windows laptop carries a much higher level of "that's what most people/companies will expect to support", so it's lower risk in that sense.

If I was paying out of pocket, I'd probably be looking at the M1 Air is tough to beat on a per dollar-spent basis. M2 and MBPs are much more expensive.

Edit to add: Obviously, if the school/department says they do (or do not) support Macs, that would weigh heavily into the calculation.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2023, 04:02:00 pm by sokoloff »
 

Offline DiTBho

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2023, 04:14:58 pm »
ummm for a student? I would recommend a Lenovo second-hand laptop(1)
everything from 2017 with an i6 and 8GB of ram should be fine  :-//



(1) Refurb Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga? here I leave the opinions to those more experienced than me with modern x86 machines.
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Offline IDEngineerTopic starter

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2023, 04:27:04 pm »
Too early for specific laptop recommendations. The question is "which ecosystem is better for hardware development", e.g. better tool support, etc. Windows was the obvious answer until a few years ago but with Apple's recent hardware efforts perhaps industry acceptance has shifted a bit?
 

Offline MMMarco

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2023, 05:25:41 pm »
(I've been using a 2019 Intel MBP as my primary sitting-down-with device. I have access to a Proxmox server that I can run Windows or Linux VMs easily.)

Emphasis on “Intel” — newer MacBook Models all use Apple Silicon which is ARM based and not x86-64.

It’s a real pain to deal with VMs since x86-64 cannot be virtualized anymore.

So unless you’re ready to deal with that, Mx chips have a good performance but a big lack in architecture support.

I would not recommend getting an older Intel based Mac (they get very hot, have a terrible keyboard)

Source: I do own both a M1 Max MBP and an older Intel based one.

What about Linux?
« Last Edit: June 10, 2023, 05:58:42 pm by MMMarco »
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Offline Someone

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #5 on: June 10, 2023, 08:15:17 pm »
Too early for specific laptop recommendations. The question is "which ecosystem is better for hardware development", e.g. better tool support, etc. Windows was the obvious answer until a few years ago but with Apple's recent hardware efforts perhaps industry acceptance has shifted a bit?
Depends on the specific tools (as mentioned above) but the "hardware" tools an electronics engineer might typically use are 90% windows only. As a student they will get free access to whatever their school has negotiated for, the specific software they are going to be asked to use is the starting point rather than some hypothetical.
 

Offline DiTBho

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2023, 11:07:06 am »
but the "hardware" tools an electronics engineer might typically use are 90% Windows only.

Yup, that's why I suggested a refurb Lenovo laptop  :D
« Last Edit: June 12, 2023, 12:45:46 pm by DiTBho »
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Offline DiTBho

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2023, 12:13:22 pm »
It’s a real pain to deal with VMs since x86-64 cannot be virtualized anymore.

Yup, plus even on a PC, the Virtual 8086 mode is not available in x86-64 long mode, although it is still present on - what the market defines as - "x86-64 capable processors" but only those running in "legacy mode".

I know it's confusing, and, worse still, the first generation AMD Ryzen CPUs have been found to feature a broken VME implementation, then fixed since the Ryzen 2000 series.


So, I don't know, but for sure every modern VMs solution should be evaluated carefully according to the software that one needs to run on it :-//
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Offline 50ShadesOfDirt

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #8 on: June 11, 2023, 02:16:41 pm »
My suggestion would be to get a new/used PC laptop w/ minimum i7/32gb-ram/nvidia-gpu/1-tb-ssd. Other specs are all about personal choice (screen, weight, battery life, etc.), but with these minimums, you can run a host os of your choice (win10 or win11, linux) and virtualization on top of that (virtualbox, etc.). PC over Apple to avoid any proprietary issues (os, ports, cords, etc.) and to enable the most compatability with who knows what the student will want to do later.

Virtualization is important to keep the host os from being polluted with massive amounts of programming and other software ... just create vm's to hold all the project work, and keep all projects separate, from each other and from host os.

So much software is interwoven into the host os upon install, and can't ever really be sorted out again if installed that way. If kept in vm's (compiling environment, other EE special-purpose environments), one issue in one vm won't take down the OS.

Backups are now easier, because it's a simple/clean host os, and multiple vm's ... without the above, one os ends up with millions of files, and backups take forever (even on fast hardware) and take up more space.

If weight does become an issue, and I run a Dell laptop w/ above specs and weighs 5 lb's (used from Ebay, about $300), also get a reMarkable tablet & keyboard ... take these to class for notes/drawings/reading (super lightweight, small), but use the laptop for heavy computing (fully replaces a desktop) back at the dorm or wherever home is.

Hope this helps ...
 
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Online SiliconWizard

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #9 on: June 11, 2023, 07:45:28 pm »
Too early for specific laptop recommendations. The question is "which ecosystem is better for hardware development", e.g. better tool support, etc. Windows was the obvious answer until a few years ago but with Apple's recent hardware efforts perhaps industry acceptance has shifted a bit?

Not that I know of. Very few EDA software run on MacOS, for instance. A bit problematic for a EE student.

OTOH, Apple laptops have been very popular for a long time in the academic world in more fundamental fields (math, physics, CS...)
But for EE and ME, not going for Windows is probably going to be a waste of time, and Windows VMs under newer Macs is more of a problem as some have said.

KiCad and LTSpice do have a native MacOS version, but that's almost pretty much it as far as "common" EE tools go - of course, if anyone has a significantly longer list, please share.
 

Offline bw2341

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #10 on: June 11, 2023, 09:19:13 pm »
You shouldn't take our advice unless one of us is currently enrolled at the same EE program as your son.

Check with the school to see what you need to buy. Some coursework might need specific application software with detailed system requirements. This might make a Mac unsuitable. Running Windows software on an M1 Mac is still a work in progress. Your son can't waste time struggling to make it work while trying to learn.

Alternatively, the latest EDA, CAD or IDE systems may have cloud-based editions, so if the school prefers that students work this way, any client hardware, even an iPad may be sufficient.

The key is to find out how the school expects their students to work. If you can't find out in advance, it may be better to wait until your son starts school before buying a new laptop.
 
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Offline IDEngineerTopic starter

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #11 on: June 12, 2023, 12:11:19 am »
Check with the school to see what you need to buy. Some coursework might need specific application software with detailed system requirements.
Thank you, good points, but that homework has already been done. It's more or less a tossup at CalPoly, either platform will get him to graduation in a year, the other students in his EE program are about 50-50 between the two platforms. As I understand it, things like LTSpice run better on Windows but will run on a Mac, and some graphics tools run better on a Mac but get by on Windows.

If the school had a clear preference that would have made the decision and I'd never have asked here. But it doesn't, so he asked my opinion, and I asked this community's because everyone here is exposed to more tools than either he or I will be so it provides a much richer cross-section.

It could also be driven by his internships or initial employer(s) but so far the internships he's had have all issued him a company laptop with their preferred shared data and security stuff, so again - no input to the decision.
 

Online David Hess

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #12 on: June 12, 2023, 01:56:57 am »
My answer was the same as it always is: Choose your applications, then choose the platform that runs them best.

That is the analysis that I would do, and for hardware it will then be Windows.

Yup, that's why I suggested a refurb Lenovo laptop  :D

The selection is limited, but I would suggest the Lenovo outlet store, and get at least a 15" screen, or larger.
 

Offline Halcyon

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #13 on: June 12, 2023, 07:08:44 am »
My answer was the same as it always is: Choose your applications, then choose the platform that runs them best.

Generally good advice that rings true today.

However the lines between PC and Mac are pretty blurred. PC-based computing pretty much went down the toilet after Microsoft released Windows 8. These days, Windows 11 still isn't much better (and it pains me to say this as someone who grew up with DOS/Windows). Window 8/10/11 is the reason why I switched to Linux and it wasn't a smooth transition either, but it was still less painful than sticking with Microsoft products.

If you asked me 10 years ago "Would you buy a Mac?", I would have laughed at the suggestion. For many years, they were merely just toys compared to PC offerings. However Apple computers have come a long way in the last few years. As long as you're happy to pay the premium and deal with quirks/restrictions of Mac OS, I'd definitely consider buying one today, particularly with the new models which are ready to order now and are about to be released this week.

If you're looking for a PC, I'm avoiding anything that is owned by a Chinese company or substantially manufactured in China these days (which is difficult). My pick at the moment would be one of the higher-end Dell laptops.

It really does come down to one's workflow and applications.
« Last Edit: June 12, 2023, 07:10:16 am by Halcyon »
 

Online Bicurico

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #14 on: June 12, 2023, 08:09:09 am »
This thread makes no sense to me.

First, the question should be asked to the teachers, as they know best which applications will be used during the courses.

Then, for any Engineering application, the recommended platform is Windows. Not because it is great or whatever, but because all commercially available software products run on this platform.

As a teacher, I feel a bit sad for students that show up in my classes using a Mac. Very beautiful, expensive and without doubt a great piece of technology, but does not run the courses applications. So they need to use bootcamp, which most don't know what it is or how to set it up, and even then they lack the DEL key and have worse experience.

Another mistake is to buy a laptop with a 14" 4K screen. Then thy need to use Windows scaling, which is not fully compatible with many engineering software.

Finally, the Windows, Linux and OSX debate is a PITA. It always comes up and kills any discussion. What matters in topics like this is: which apps run on each platform? Do the apps I need to run work?

For engineering, I would consider a gaming laptop with reasonable specs, preferably a model being shifted out and on sale.
 
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Offline MMMarco

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #15 on: June 12, 2023, 08:12:48 am »
So they need to use bootcamp, which most don't know what it is or how to set it up, and even then they lack the DEL key and have worse experience.

Bootcamp doesn't exist on Apple Silicon, so there's no way to natively run x86-64 Windows on them.

Just wanted to have mentioned that.
27 year old Software Engineer (mostly JavaScript) from Switzerland with a taste for low level stuff like electronics 😊

 

Online Bicurico

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #16 on: June 12, 2023, 10:18:14 am »
Well spotted! Forgot about that, which makes this choice even worse.

Offline aeberbach

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #17 on: June 12, 2023, 11:20:23 am »
Does your son's university maintain a Citrix or similar environment? They usually cater for students that can't run or install software locally and that's a fallback for Mac users.

Virtualisation: Parallels 18 can run Windows on an Apple Silicon Mac. I know people run Solidworks that way. (Obviously it's completely unsupported and IT will laugh if you ask for help.) And it is not as efficient since there is instruction translation going on, but the Apple Silicon machines have power to spare. Worth watching:

 I have a M1 Pro Mac, I have a Lenovo P1G4 with Nvidia A2000 (for Solidworks mostly). The Lenovo is nice and upgradable, just pop off the bottom cover 1TB fast SSD and 32GB RAM without paying the Lenovo tax. But using it really feels like a step backwards when the thing gets so hot and the fan revs up at the slightest challenge. I have only rarely heard the Mac fan and it never gets as loud. If I could get by with the Mac after investigating the requirements of the course that's what I would buy.
« Last Edit: June 12, 2023, 11:22:48 am by aeberbach »
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Offline DiTBho

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #18 on: June 12, 2023, 12:30:34 pm »
Not that I know of. Very few EDA software run on MacOS

yup, things like

{ Solidworks, Rhino, .. } -> intel/x86 only
{ Avoget MPU/CPU suite, .. }  -> intel/x86 only

plus, EagleCad on MacOSX v10.4 was unable to correctly operate on projects made with EagleCad on Windows.

So, probably it was some endianness problem, I don't know, but, although nowadays both x86-* and Apple M1 are little-endian, we'd better also consider these possible software annoyances which then waste time  :-//
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Offline aeberbach

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #19 on: June 12, 2023, 09:18:15 pm »
Not that I know of. Very few EDA software run on MacOS

yup, things like

{ Solidworks, Rhino, .. } -> intel/x86 only

Rhino is for Apple Silicon now. https://www.rhino3d.com/download/rhino-for-mac/evaluation I doubt Solidworks ever will be, Dassault seem intent on making it worse with their stupid 3DExperience rather than improving any part at all.

Quote
EagleCad on MacOSX v10.4


OS X 10.4 was released in 2004, >18 years ago. Any bearing on current state of things?
« Last Edit: June 12, 2023, 09:19:53 pm by aeberbach »
Software guy studying B.Eng.
 
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Offline Infraviolet

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #20 on: June 12, 2023, 09:36:35 pm »
Personal suggestion would a be a typical PC laptop running a pleasant Linux distro (Mint, Ubuntu...) with a VM where you can put Windows. You may well need the Windows VM to run certain Windows only software in, but you won't want to be reliant on a Windows laptop for general use. Windows is evr more cloud connected and forced updates can crash things at the worst possible time, better to have a stable platform you can trust for getting online, processing documents, doing generally anything, and Windows in the VM for when you can't avoid it.
 

Offline james_s

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #21 on: June 12, 2023, 09:57:21 pm »
While I like my employer issued Macbook, for an EE student that would definitely be playing things on Hard mode, a lot of professional tools are Windows only, or Windows/Linux, Mac support is relatively rare. I'm really not a fan of Windows beyond 7, but it is still the defacto standard and going with anything else is going to result in extra challenges. An advantage of a Windows laptop is you can also run Linux on it if you want, with a Mac you are locked into MacOS now since they moved away from Intel CPUs.
 

Offline Someone

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #22 on: June 12, 2023, 11:24:39 pm »
LTSpice do have a native MacOS version
Have yo ever used the native version? its absolutely nothing like the windows version (which is already bad enough).
 

Offline DiTBho

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #23 on: June 13, 2023, 02:44:58 am »
OS X 10.4 was released in 2004, >18 years ago. Any bearing on current state of things?

At the time, it was an unexpected problem for me, so I simply suggested verifying things in advance before the definitive purchase.
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Offline nctnico

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Re: PC or Mac laptop for EE student?
« Reply #24 on: June 13, 2023, 08:51:27 pm »
Personal suggestion would a be a typical PC laptop running a pleasant Linux distro (Mint, Ubuntu...) with a VM where you can put Windows. You may well need the Windows VM to run certain Windows only software in, but you won't want to be reliant on a Windows laptop for general use. Windows is evr more cloud connected and forced updates can crash things at the worst possible time, better to have a stable platform you can trust for getting online, processing documents, doing generally anything, and Windows in the VM for when you can't avoid it.
Agreed. I'm planning on buying a new laptop later this year and it will run Linux as the base OS with Windows in a VM for the applications that need it. A large part of electronics engineering is around developing software and all those environments run way better on Linux.
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