What Are the Differences Between a Mac & PC?

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The term "personal computer," or PC, came into use in the early 1970s, referring to any microcomputer, as opposed to a mainframe. Early Apple products were called personal computers too. In 1980, 50 percent of PC sales were Apple computers, according a PBS documentary, "Triumph of the Nerds." Eventually, due to the popularity of the original IBM PCs, the term personal computer came to mean only home computers that were compatible with the IBM PC specifications, unlike Apples and Macs. Since 2006, there are fewer differences between Macs and PCs, but they are still mostly incompatible.

PC laptop vs. Apple laptop
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The primary difference between a Mac and an IBM-compatible PC in the past was the hardware. A PC was built on the Intel 8086 family of microprocessors, used in the original IBM PC. From 1994 to 2006, Macintosh computers were based on the RISC PowerPC architecture, developed in 1991. Hardware that would work with a PC would not work with a Mac. Until the introduction of the iMac, which featured standard USB ports for peripherals, Macs had proprietary connection types, meaning that keyboards and mice had to be built to work specifically with Macs.

Since 2006, Macs have been built on the Intel architecture, the same as PCs. This has created more hardware compatibility between the two. However, due to other differences, including firmware and driver availability, not all PC hardware works with modern Macs.

Introducing the iMac to Macworld public in 2002
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You can install many different operating systems on a PC, including Windows, Linux, FreeBSD and Solaris. Apple computers historically only supported the Macintosh Operating System due to the use of the PowerPC processor, although other operating systems were ported to the Mac, with varying levels of success. When Apple began using an Intel processor, it became easier to install Windows and Linux on a Mac computer. Mac OS X is designed to work closely with Apple hardware. Although it is possible to install the Mac OS X operating system on a PC, it only works on a limited selection of PC hardware.

Copies of Mac OS X Snow Leopard on Apple store counter
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Software applications are designed to run on specific operating systems, not specific hardware. There are applications that run solely on Windows, and others that run solely on Mac OS X. However, many mainstream software applications, like Apple iTunes and Microsoft Office, have versions for both Mac and Windows PCs.

Touchscreen demonstration of Microsoft Office 2013
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Macs are typically more expensive than PCs. This is because Macs are only sold only by Apple and there is a limited number of hardware devices that are compatible with the computers. PCs are sold by multiple companies, such as Dell, HP and Toshiba. Consumers have the option to shop around for the best price, and PC manufacturers compete to keep the prices low. You can also build your own PC using various manufacturers' hardware. PCs, therefore, come in a wide range of prices from very low to very high.

Apple laptops on display at Grand Central Terminal, New York City
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PCs are intended to be used by many types of consumers. The wide range of prices and operating systems supported allow them to be used by casual home users, programmers, gamers and businesses. Historically, Macs were used by a smaller subset of consumers. Due to their hardware capabilities and graphics-centric OS interface, they were popular in desktop publishing and with graphic artists and musicians. Again, this line has blurred since 2006. Recent Macs and PCs are used in a variety of applications.

Laptop with Microsoft Windows operating system
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