Since the release of Windows, and spurred on by the creation of the laptop market in the mid 1990s, the debate about "Mac versus PC" has been ongoing, with Macintosh computers getting high marks for usability and performance while Windows PCs (often called IBM PCs, as they're the descendents of the IBM PC released in 1981) get the nod for running the dominant operating system and having (generally) lower prices for comparable hardware. When it comes to playing music, this debate still runs, with the dominant music format being the MP3.
What Is An MP3?
The MP3 is an abbreviation for Moving Pictures Expert Group, Audio Layer 3, and is a lossy file format for storing digital audio. ("Lossy" means that some data is lost in compression.) The MP3 first gained widespread use in the late 1990s, with the creation of the Napster music sharing service. Compared to earlier file formats for digital audio, an MP3 at CD audio rates can be as much as one tenth to one twelfth the file size. This makes MP3s very convenient for storage and emailing.
Computer hardware generally doubles in capability in slightly under two years, and in terms of how the hardware is or is not stressed by playing MP3s, both Windows (IBM) and Macintosh laptops made in the last decade are more than capable of playing an MP3 without strain; any computer with a multi-core processor (a chip with two or more CPUs in one case) can play an MP3 and run lots of other programs at the same time. This effectively means that there is no hardware difference between an IBM and Macintosh laptop for MP3 playback, at least on the computer level.
By way of comparison to computer hardware, speakers are a big deal when it comes to playing MP3s on a laptop. First, when it comes to speakers, more watts are better. When it comes to making laptops work better, fewer watts are better; lower wattage on components means longer lasting batteries, and less waste heat. As a consequence, nearly every laptop has "compromise" speakers. Macintosh laptops have good speakers as a rule, while most PC laptops have adequate to poor laptop speakers. (Laptops also compromise sound quality by having to put the speakers in places where they aren't directed at your ears when you're using the laptop). That being said, real audiophiles put on headphones rather than put up with laptop speakers.
Both the Macintosh and Windows operating system environments have built in media management tools, and these show up on laptops as well. In Windows, it's Windows Media Player. In Mac OSX, it's iTunes. Both do the basic jobs of letting you organize music by artist, theme or other categories, and both can handle synchronization between your computer and a portable MP3 player. iTunes even comes in a Windows version, and has the killer feature of being able to connect to the iTunes music store. It's in the field of software integration that Apple tends to pull away in MP3 playback on laptops, though again, they're smart enough to keep a toe in the Windows laptop world as well.
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