Can cloud services like MacinCloud and Mac Stadium replace a real physical Mac? After all, there are plenty of reasons people love their Apple computers. Hardware is one of the most obvious.
Apple computers have some of the best hardware in the industry. Their computers are ergonomically comfortable, the screens are easy on the eyes, and the overall experience is what makes some pretty die-hard fans.
However, the design and hardware are only half the story. macOS and many Mac-specific software packages have their own dedicated crowd. Buying a Mac can be expensive, so is there any easy way to access the world of Mac software without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a physical Mac?
While you might be thinking of making a Hackintosh, a cloud-based Mac could be a viable alternative.
What is a cloud-based Mac?
Usually, when you rent a cloud-based computer, it’s a virtual machine running on a large, multi-core server. That’s not quite the case for using a Mac in the cloud. That’s because Apple’s macOS license agreement ties the software to the hardware. It is illegal to run macOS in a virtual machine (not on Apple hardware) or on non-Apple hardware.
That means the cloud-based Mac you’re using is a real Mac connected to remote computing systems. In that sense, it’s like using a local Mac that you have right in front of you. However, there are some serious caveats to keep in mind before stepping down the Cloud Road.
Advantages of Cloud Mac
The biggest advantage of using a Mac in the cloud is that you only pay for what you use. Buying a Mac is very expensive. There is no way around that. Macs in the data center are shared among thousands of users, each spending a small amount of time on each machine.
So that cost is divided among many people. However, whenever you sign in, your Mac profile will be waiting for you. Pricing can be hourly or flat fee for a certain period of time. So cost control is easy and if you need access to macOS now there is no other way to get it for such a low price.
This also means you don’t have to face all of the headaches of owning a physical Mac. You’ll never have to worry about your model getting too old for the latest version of macOS or having to wait for Apple to send back a dead critical working machine.
You can also access your cloud-based Mac from anywhere, using various remote desktop clients. Of course it depends on each specific service provider.
In short, this is the cheapest, most uncomplicated way to use macOS, BUT the specific things you want to use macOS for is a major factor in the suitability of a cloud Mac.
Limitations of Cloud Mac
There are some special considerations when the Mac you’re using is hundreds of thousands of miles away. For one thing, you probably won’t get much fun from apps that need as little latency as possible.
When we look at game streaming services like Google Stadia and GeForce Now, it becomes clear that eliminating lag over the internet is a huge technical task. Not something cloud-based Mac vendors can justify doing for their most common use cases.
Which brings us to the next big problem: the internet itself. If you (for example) buy an actual MacBook, it will work regardless of whether you have an internet connection or not. So if you are in another country, on the subway or on a plane, there is no problem. If you can’t access the network for any reason, you can’t access your cloud Mac.
The next potential issue is how much control you have over the cloud Mac. Do you have admin access? Can you install any software you want? Is your data private? The answer may be yes to all three questions, but it doesn’t have to be. Take note of the terms and conditions of any service you sign in to.
Who should use a cloud-based Mac?
In our opinion, a cloud-based Mac is not a replacement for a personal Mac. Instead, they are better suited to other use cases and may be better than a fixed local Mac computer.
A very good use case is for macOS and iOS app developers. Both these platforms are very hot and many developers want to create software for them, but the hardware cost is very high. Now you can code, test and publish your apps just by paying a monthly subscription.
Some organizations have also used cloud-based Macs for their computer labs. Students can execute their Mac projects on non-Mac terminals, a much less expensive alternative and require no on-site technical support to maintain them. Some people even use a cloud-based Mac as a web server for their small websites.
A very important use case for these hosted Macs is for professional users. If you need to run workstation-grade software (such as macOS 3D rendering) that requires a Mac Pro, you can get the job done by renting one remotely.
MacinCloud vs Mac Stadium: What’s on offer?
At the time of writing, there are two big players in the cloud-based Mac industry: MacinCloud and Mac Stadium. While it’s tempting to compare the two services in terms of “best,” it doesn’t make much sense, since the two companies offer services that only partially overlap.
Mac Stadium is primarily known for having thousands of Mac Minis in its data center, as well as a smaller number of Mac Pro, new (coming soon) Mac Pro, and a few iMac Pro machines. Single. They have a lot of custom infrastructure built to make Macs in the cloud possible. This is also a simpler solution for the average user.
Rent a single dedicated Mac Mini with a fixed monthly prize and do whatever you want with it. From there, you can also rent time on the aforementioned Mac Pro or pay thousands of dollars for enterprise-grade Mac cloud solutions.
For single users, this is probably the best option of the two. $79 a month for your own dedicated Mac Mini with 24/7 support is a pretty cool deal.
That being said, MacinCloud offers some attractive pricing options. You can sign up for the “pay-as-you-go” option. This means you pay for the hours you use and no more. The base amount is $30 for 30 hours, but this changes as you customize your desired hardware.
MacinCloud also offers eGPU options. Their other plans are more enterprise focused and offer servers for a fixed monthly price with various restrictions depending on what you choose. MacinCloud is what we recommend people who want to use technology to develop apps should consider first.
Are cloud Macs a viable alternative to a “real” Mac?
The answer to this question is yes. Sure. As long as your use case fits the limitations of the technology and service. They’re not a replacement for your personal Mac and the way most people do, but it’s a great product for those who don’t use a Mac as part of a normal workflow. but needed the tools to break into the Mac market. The good news is that many of these plans offer short-term trials, so why not go see them yourself?