Mac OS X El Capitan vs Windows 10 comparison

Welcome to our Mac OS X El Capitan vs Windows 10 comparison, updated for July 2016. If you'd like to read about Apple's upcoming desktop OS, read our macOS Sierra preview.

It won't surprise you, considering our name, that most of the staff at Macworld are keen users of the Mac platform. But that's not to say we don't like to keep an eye on rival platforms, such as Microsoft's most up-to-date OS, Windows 10.

Windows 10 hit the world's hard drives at the end of July 2015 and has been making Hawaii-sized waves ever since, with folks saying it might be the best release since Windows XP. Below we compare Windows 10 and OS X El Capitan.

Disagree? Think we missed something? Let us know in the comments below. Or simply enjoy OS X 10.11 El Capitan vs Windows 10 for features, security, performance and... stupidest name.

You might also be interested in our top 10 features in OS X El Capitan and How El Capitan compares to Yosemite.

OS X 10.11 El Capitan vs Windows 10 comparison: UK release date

Windows 10 and Mac OS X El Capitan have both been with us for getting on for a year now. 

Windows 10 launched on 29 July 2015. Mac OS X El Capitan was unveiled at WWDC 2015, and became available for general download in autumn 2015. Its successor, macOS Sierra, is on the way; this was unveiled in turn at WWDC 2016, and will appear around September.

Read our comparison of Windows 10 and Yosemite here.

OS X 10.11 El Capitan vs Windows 10 comparison: UK price

Both OS X 10.11 El Capitan and Windows 10 are essentially free to existing users. For El Cap, you just need to open the App Store and it'll be right there. Of course, not only are OS X updates always free, but if you buy a new Mac you also get Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iMovie, Photos and much more free of charge - no hassle.

Mac OS X vs Windows 10 comparison

New releases of OS X, such as Yosemite and El Capitan, are made available via the App Store and are always entirely free of charge

To get Windows 10 you can use the notification app installed as part of Windows Update. In fact, you'll be nagged half to death until you do, because Microsoft is really keen to get people to abandon Windows 7 and 8. Who wants another Windows XP situation, where people are still clinging to those old installations after nearly two decades?

Microsoft offered free updates to Windows 10 for a year, and that's almost up now: in theory, free updates will end on 29 July 2016, although it's possible that Microsoft may offer amnesty to stragglers in the future. It really wants users on the latest version if at all possible.

In the Windows world systems builders will still have to pay to license Windows 10 for new PCs and laptops, and corporate users will still need to hand over cash for the Enterprise release of Windows 10. If a home user want to buy Windows 10 on DVD or USB stick then they'll need to heft over around £80 for the Home version, and nearer £200 for the Pro version. Ouch. To make matters worse, if you update from Win 7 or 8 then you might have to purchase certain apps like Windows DVD Player because Windows Media Player has been deprecated in Win10. Even Minesweeper comes with in-app purchases in Windows 10. Microsoft ain’t that generous. 

OS X 10.11 El Capitan vs Windows 10 comparison: Availability

Hardware continues to get more powerful but in our modern age software grows less resource-hungry - or is at least as resource-hungry as the previous version. As a result both Mac OS X El Capitan and Windows 10 are able to run on lots of existing computers.

As with Yosemite, even if your Mac is approaching a decade old there's a good chance you’ll be able to run El Cap although some features like handoff between iOS and OS X won't be available. 

Like Yosemite and Mavericks before it, El Capitan can run on the following Macs:

  • iMac (Mid-2007 or later)
  • MacBook (13-inch Aluminum, Late 2008), (13-inch, Early 2009 or later)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid-2009 or later), (15-inch, Mid/Late 2007 or later), (17-inch, Late 2007 or later)
  • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or later)
  • Mac Mini (Early 2009 or later)
  • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or later)
  • Xserve (Early 2009)

All of these Macs feature a 64-bit CPU, and that means Core2Duo or later. As we've explained, if you max out your RAM and fit an SSD, performance will be insanely good even on older Macs and OS X 10.11 not only promises faster app loading performance but also fixes a few annoying bugs that meant things would slow down in Yosemite.

El Capitan will run on Macs that are coming up to a decade old, provided they can run 64-bit software

Find out if your Mac can run OS X 10.11 at Will my Mac run El Capitan?

You can find out more about Windows 10 from our colleagues at PC Advisor in their story Windows 10 UK release date, price and features but the story is similar with Windows 10: it'll likely work just fine on any system that can run on Windows 8 and Windows 7. In fact, we can't imagine many currently working x86 computers can't at least install Windows 10 - and that includes your Mac, of course. Microsoft provides a typically frugal system requirements list of just 1GB of RAM, a 16GB hard disk, DirectX9-compatible graphics, and at least 800x600 resolution display.

Where Windows 10 does have the whip hand, in theory at least, is that it will also run on mobile phones, tablets and even the cheap and tiny single circuit board computers like the Raspberry Pi Model B. In each case it's the full version of Windows 10, albeit with some features modified for each platform. This is part of Microsoft's Internet of Things (IoT) project.

Despite this, there's no handoff-like ability to pick-up tasks or files between devices, such as you can with iOS and OS X. If you open an email on your iPhone then you can immediately switch to the same email on your Mac, for example. Sorry, Windows users, but despite this being an incredible easy feature for Microsoft to implement that we’re baffled as to why they haven't.

However, Microsoft makes tantalising reference to 'continuous apps', which brings the ability to log in to the same app on all of your devices, and find the same data. It's backed by Microsoft's Azure cloud service and this is an area where Microsoft undoubtedly leads.

Of course, OS X users have had continuous apps via iCloud for a few years now, and in El Cap this is strengthened by the fact that all the system apps like Notes and Reminders are now fully iCloud-enabled.

Run Windows 10 on Mac

You can of course run Windows on a Mac, if you must...

OS X 10.11 El Capitan vs Windows 10 comparison: performance

Few people knew that Windows 8 was a few notches faster than Windows 7, making it an unlikely favourite of gamers in particular. Well, benchmarks show that Windows 10 hums along about the same speed as the previous version, and that's a win for everybody. However, new to Windows 10 is DirectX12 which, provided your PC has a graphics card to make full use of it, promises a doubling of game frame rates.

In El Capitan apps will load up to 1.4x more quickly than in earlier versions of Mac OS X, while switching between apps is up to 2x faster, and certain everyday apps like Mail and Preview will also be boosted. Some of this is down to Apple's own 3D technology called Metal, which has been ported from iOS and promises graphics rendering up to 40x better than the basic OpenGL system that's been used on Macs previously.

The Mac is growing in importance as a gaming platform, with Steam bringing many PC titles direct to Mac gamers along with the App Store. For a demonstration of this, see: Best Mac games.

The Metal graphics engine, ported to OS X from iOS, it promises everyday speed boosts, and not just better gaming

Our own trials with El Capitan have shown it to be nippy and fast in everyday use.

Mac vs PC: poll

OS X 10.11 El Capitan vs Windows 10 comparison: Security

One doesn't really talk of Windows security in polite conversation but this is a taboo that perhaps should be put to sleep - provided you own a PC that features Secure Boot and a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), and not all do.

Both OS X El Cap and Windows 10 offer full disk encryption, and this is essentially unchanged from earlier releases. El Cap features FileVault, while Windows 10 features BitLocker in both Home and Pro releases, although in Home you only get the core functionality without any customisation options.

OS X El Cap features Gatekeeper, which lets you block software that's not from the App Store or from approved developers. It does this by digitally signing the app, which also stops it being modified. In Windows 10 Device Guard works in a similar way, although extends the ability to lock down a PC to a systems administrator should the need arise.

OS X’s Gatekeeper lets you avoid installing apps that aren’t digitally signed by approved developers - a vital security measure

Windows Hello lets you use fingerprint scanners or special webcams to identify the user without the need for a password. This is referred to as biometrics, but most insiders know that there's only really one biometric system that works reliably, and that's Apple's TouchID. However, Apple has not yet ported this to Macs so this is a grudging win for Microsoft.

Windows 10

When it comes to built-in malware protection, Microsoft still offers its Defender malware scanner - which often comes near the bottom of the table when compared to other malware and antivirus apps. Apple uses a behind-the-scenes component called Xprotect to automatically block certain apps or plugins or remove malware should any arise - which remains an infrequent occurrence, thankfully.

Windows Defender is touted by Microsoft as a first line of defence for Windows users -- but many reviewers disagree and advise third-party add-ons

OS X has already pioneering the sandboxing approach that means apps can't mess with the system (either deliberately or intentionally) but in OS X 10.11 System Integrity Protection, also known as rootless, will prevent the modification or removal of certain system files even by administrative overrides. This means that no user, application, or process will be able to write files or modify files in the root System folder or the /bin, /sbin, and /usr directories, which are hidden by default in OS X’s Finder. The /usr/local folder will still be accessible though.

Read next: How to turn off rootless

By locking down the core system Apple will scupper the attempts of any malware to gain access to files, folders, running processes (software that manages tasks in the background) and system apps, such as the Finder and Dock. This might lead to some changes in third-party apps you use regularly, for instance, prior to El Capitan Dropbox showed sync status in the Finder, luckily this won’t be gone completely, Apple has added generic code to support it.

As with OS X Yosemite, kernel extensions (drivers) are also verboten unless signed by approved developers.

Apple is far ahead of the game when it comes to security. Considering there are still few real-life threats to Macs, this is a clear win for Apple compared to Microsoft.

More Mac security advice: Best Mac security tips | Best Mac antivirus software

OS X 10.11 El Capitan vs Windows 10 comparison: New features

Let's take a look at some of the features in OS X 10.11 El Capitan and Windows 10.

OS X 10.11 gets a quietly significant set of new features compared to its predecessor. We get a redesigned Mission Control, for example, that's tied into the new split-screen mode that lets you run two apps side by side. There's an option to hide the menu bar in everyday use, just like you've always been able to hide the Dock.

Spotlight is boosted with natural language queries, although you still don’t get the full Siri experience - and this leaves us somewhat red-faced because Windows 10 does bring the full Cortana personal assistant experience to Windows. Arguably Cortana is still a shade of Siri, but nonetheless Microsoft is to be applauded for bringing it to Windows 10.

Safari is boosted with an actually useful pinned tab feature (why have Chrome and Firefox been getting it wrong for so long?), along with the ability to mute tabs. In contrast, Windows 10 comes with an entirely new browser called Edge that's designed to be speedy. The browser wars are over but there's a lot of dissatisfaction out there with the slow and privacy-ignoring Google Chrome browser - so perhaps the battle isn't over just yet. Unsurprisingly, both Cortana and the Edge browser default to Microsoft’s own Bing search engine - but then again, so does Siri nowadays!

Read next: Best browsers for Mac

In Windows 10 we get Universal Apps that means an app on your phone can feasibly run on your desktop too - despite the fact that they're very different computing platforms - as well as the on-the-fly Continium that lets hybrid laptops/tablets switch between tablet and desktop mode automatically. The idea being that all Windows devices will speak unto other Windows devices.

As well as the exciting task switching and virtual desktops feature - which, let's be honest, is a copy of Mission Control - the Start Menu makes a return in Windows 10, and Action Center notifications get a revamp. There is another redesign of the already useful Task Manager, too.

Microsoft reckons the new Edge browser is a game changer for the web and with people becoming skeptical about Google products, they might be right!

OUR VERDICT

There are lots of new features in Windows 10 and we certainly like it a lot, but there's also little doubt that Microsoft is still playing catch-up with OS X in many key areas, including security and desktop features. Windows 10 is undoubtedly more secure, and has some neat features, but Mac users have been enjoying such luxuries for years, and El Capitan boosts them even further.

That's the problem with playing catch-up: while Apple is skating to where the puck is going to be, Microsoft is spending all its time and energy skating to where it believes the puck is now - or where it used to be, by the time it actually gets there.

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