The MacBooks versus Windows laptops debate has been raging for decades, but never has it been this intense or important. New advances in chip technology are propelling even entry-level MacBooks to high-performance targets, and a shift in Windows laptops away from cheap plastics evens the playing field between these two platforms. Both Windows 11 and macOS are intuitive and clean operating systems. But where they differ comes down to one key element: their ecosystems.
What this means for you is that choosing an option from a list of the best laptops isn’t so simple. The laptop you choose today can greatly influence which accessories you buy, which apps you use, and even what kind of phone you carry. Your entire workflow will depend on the platform you go with, from how you manage windows to which keyboard shortcuts work best. It’s not a light decision.
Build quality vs. variety
There’s no denying that Apple hits physical hardware out of the park. From a purely aesthetic (and subjective) viewpoint, MacBooks are gorgeous. They look great. They feel great. That boxy industrial-minimalist design feels as if it’s worth $2,000 or more. Ever since the debut of the M2 MacBook Air in June 2022, every MacBook except the low-end MacBook Air M1 has followed the same fastidious design.
Don’t forget the actual quality you’ll get with a Mac. Take the hinges as an example. You can open up any Mac with one hand. The screen opens up while the base sits as is. Also, the screen stays firmly in whichever position you left it in. There’s no wobble. There’s no dropping. Apple has nailed the hinges, and few Windows OEMs have come close. Dell’s dual-clutch hinges on its XPS lineup is one exception.
You’ll also get an amazing keyboard now that Apple has ditched those awful butterfly keys. You’ll appreciate the latest Magic Keyboard whether you’re a coder or a writer. There’s nothing else like it available on a laptop. The same goes with the Force Touch trackpad, hands-down the best haptic touchpad on any laptop. The haptic feedback, the swipe gestures, the Force Click feature … few Windows laptops have a touchpad as good as a MacBook’s. The HP Spectre x360 14 is one Windows laptop that comes close.
But Windows laptops have an ace up their sleeves regarding build quality: variety. The top Windows laptops share the same sort of industrial design language as MacBooks, whether that’s the Asus ZenBook, the Dell XPS line, or even Microsoft’s Surface Laptops. Taken together, you get a lot more choice in design and color than you do with MacBooks. And Windows laptops come in many more form factors, such as tablets, convertible 2-in-1s, dual-screen laptops, and more. MacBooks are limited to clamshells only, and only Windows laptops have touch- and pen-enabled displays.
You need to consider what kind of computing power you want from your laptop when choosing between MacBooks and Windows laptops. MacBooks use Apple Silicon ARM chips, and these are getting more powerful by the day. They’re able to combine graphics and processing into one highly efficient chip, which gives you extraordinary battery life. And unless you’re pushing the fastest MacBook Pros with demanding creativity apps or games, you’ll barely hear the fans spool up — unless you’re using a completely silent, fanless MacBook Air.
Windows laptops, on the other hand, mostly use either Intel or AMD processors and Nvidia or AMD graphics cards. In the most powerful Windows laptops, this can mean a greater power draw and lower battery life while the fans constantly run. Some Windows laptops run cooler and quieter, and some are also fanless, but those are generally not as powerful.
Overall, Windows laptops provide more versatility, so you can play more games and download more programs, thanks to the x86 architecture and superfast discrete GPUs. Also, some Windows laptops are switching to ARM chips, so this field isn’t as divergent as it used to be.
Both MacBooks and Windows laptops offer incredible computing power. Generally speaking, the latest MacBook Pros are faster in creativity applications than all but the most powerful Windows machines, while Windows laptops are better for gaming. Otherwise, there is no real difference in what they’re capable of.
The meat on the bones of the MacBooks versus Windows laptops debate is their respective operating systems. MacOS is a gorgeous and mature UNIX-based system. It hasn’t changed much in the past 20 years, aside from some tweaks and visual overhauls.
The entire OS is uniform across programs. This means the menu items, buttons, and overall look and feel of every app are consistent. For example, you’ll always find the File menu in the same place, no matter which program you use.
Windows is a completely different beast. It has undergone several major overhauls in the past years, with Windows 10 and then Windows 11 being the most significant. Windows 11 is a little macOS-like, with a centered taskbar, rounded corners, and a slick, glassy look. Both Windows 10 and Windows 11 look as nice as macOS, so it’s under the hood where you’ll find the biggest differences.
However, many past Windows versions have been left in the system. You’ll find subsystem control panels dating back to the Windows XP era. The Windows code itself is a Frankenstein’s monster of years of different versions all mashed together. Each app you use will have its own look and feel unless it’s from the same developer, such as Microsoft’s Office productivity suite. Menu items can be wherever the developer wants to put them. Windows 11 is trying to bring some conformity to the overall system, but it’s still a jungle out there.
Both operating systems are equally good from a visual perspective, but macOS is generally superior in terms of ease of use and offers a uniform UNIX environment for those users who need it.
There are some annoyances with macOS, beginning with the way windows behave. The top-corner “X” does not close windows, it simply minimizes them. You need to use Command + Q or right-click on the window icon to close out of it completely. Windows users coming over to macOS will find this extremely frustrating.
Windows management overall is a painful experience on macOS. You can work in two windows side by side, but you’ll need a third-party toolbar app if you want to do anything else. Also, if you have two windows of the same application running, you can’t use Command + Tab between them. You need to right-click on the icon and carefully click on the window you want.
The same goes for seeing how many instances of an app you have open. You’ll only see a small black dot below the icon, but you won’t see that you have four Safari windows open, for example.
Window management is phenomenal in Windows 11. There are multiple built-in layouts you can use. You can snap windows to the sides of the screen simply by dragging them, and you can re-center everything by grabbing a window with your mouse and then vigorously shaking it.
Every app instance you have running shows up on the taskbar. If you have four Edge browsers open, each window will have its own icon that pops up on the taskbar when you hover over the parent app, and you can easily find the one you need. You can press Alt + Tab between them. If you have multiple monitors, you can drag individual windows to the second monitor, and the taskbar icon will also move over so you know which window is open on which monitor.
And the best part of Windows? Clicking Close actually closes the app. Revolutionary, right?
Despite the things macOS gets right, Windows is clearly the superior OS for windows management.
Both Windows laptops and MacBooks come with a healthy ecosystem of first-party apps, such as email, calendars, note-taking, and reminders. Apple’s offerings on MacBooks are still barebones. Notes and Reminders have come a long way in the past five years but still don’t match up to many third-party apps. Apple Mail is dismal despite Apple’s mediocre updates since macOS Ventura.
Where MacBooks really shine is in the Apple ecosystem, specifically thanks to the Continuity functionality. Using an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods — anything Apple, really — with a MacBook is a joy. You can AirDrop large files from one device to another nearly instantly. Your AirPods connect without you needing to lift a finger. Continuity allows such perks as copying a link on your iPhone and simply pasting it on your MacBook. iMessage on Mac is great, and Apple Keychain means your passwords carry over across all your Apple devices.
The downside to this ecosystem is Apple itself. You’ll be locked into Apple’s narrow view of what an ecosystem should be like. Android won’t work with your Mac. Windows won’t work. And if you depend on Apple’s first-party apps or third-party MacOS apps, you will be limited to using only Apple devices. The iCloud.com website is barebones, and you won’t be able to do much else off the platform.
Windows laptops, on the other hand, are much more open, and this is where the entire Windows platform really shines. Thanks to Microsoft’s Your Phone app for Android, you can get a lot of the same functionality on your Windows laptop as you would on a MacBook, such as messages and file transfers (up to a limit). Samsung phones, in particular, work extremely well with Windows.
You’ll also get Microsoft’s excellent first-party apps built right in. Microsoft’s productivity software is light years ahead of Apple. Even the base Windows Mail client is more functional and easier to use than Apple’s horrible Mail app. OneNote is a beast and possibly one of the greatest productivity apps ever created.
Best of all, every Microsoft app is available on every platform. You can get apps for your Apple devices, and the Microsoft web apps are surprisingly powerful. Of course, that’s a double-edged sword for Microsoft. While many apps made for macOS don’t run on Windows, many of the best Windows apps also have macOS equivalents. Microsoft’s range of products is a great example. You can invest in Microsoft 365, which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and 1TB of OneDrive storage, and use it on a MacBook.
That means that a MacBook can actually coexist in a mostly Windows environment better than a Windows laptop can coexist in a mostly Apple environment.
Finally, there’s one area where a Windows laptop is hands-down superior to anything Apple can offer, and that is gaming. You simply cannot enjoy Mac gaming the same way you can on a Windows laptop. Sure, there are some big titles available on MacBooks. You can stream games with Game Pass Ultimate, Stadia, and GeForce Now. But you can’t get all the functionality, smoothness, or any offline capabilities. Windows laptops offer an entire category of devices focused on gaming, bringing more gaming branding, features, and performance.
Ultimately, investing in all Apple products brings a rich interactivity that no other platform can match. Apple is more locked down and dependent on Apple-only devices, but in exchange, you get a more seamless experience. But it’s not as good for anyone looking for the greatest possible diversity.
Windows, on the other hand, hits the entire concept of an ecosystem out of the park. Although the more-curated experience is better for some, a Windows laptop allows you to use more devices and apps than a MacBook.
How to choose
MacBooks are superior in terms of consistent build quality and the UNIX-based macOS operating system. They also offer the highest performance mated with the best battery life. Windows laptops take everything else, including the ecosystem.
If you choose a MacBook over a Windows laptop, be sure you’re okay with the apps available for macOS. You give up the diversity of accessories and apps available with Windows, as well as the ability to really game, but you get a polished, good-looking computing experience. You’ll also find many third-party macOS apps are more polished than you’ll find on Windows. Finally, if you use an iPhone, iPad, or both, then a MacBook will give you the most seamless connectivity.
If you want greater diversity, then look at Windows laptops. You’ll find more than just Apple’s clamshell form factor, such as 2-in-1s and dual-screen laptops. You’ll have so much more freedom to use machines how you want. If you want to connect your Android smartphone with a laptop, then you shouldn’t even consider a MacBook. There really isn’t a choice for hardcore gamers, either. It’s Windows or bust for them.