Can cloud services like MacinCloud and Mac Stadium replace a real physical Mac? After all, there are many reasons why people love their Apple computers. Hardware is one of the most obvious.

Apple computers have some of the best hardware in the business. Their computers are ergonomically pleasing, the screens are a pleasure to look at, and the experience is generally what creates some pretty avid fans.

However, the design and hardware are only half the story. macOS and many Mac-specific software packages have their own dedicated crowds. Buying a Mac can be expensive, so is there a way to easily 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 might be a viable alternative.

Someone holding an invisible iPad

What is a cloud-based Mac?

Usually, when you rent a cloud-based computer, it’s a virtual machine running on a huge multi-core server. That’s not really the case with using a Mac in the cloud. This is because Apple’s macOS license agreement ties software to hardware. It is illegal to run macOS in a virtual machine (not on Apple hardware) or to run it on non-Apple hardware.

This means that the cloud-based Mac you are using is a real Mac connected to remote computing systems. In this sense, it’s just like using a local Mac that you have right in front of you. However, there are some serious caveats to be aware of before walking down Cloud Road.

Cloud-based Mac servers

The advantages of Cloud Macs

The biggest benefit of using a Mac in the cloud is that you only pay for what you use. Buying a Mac is expensive. There is no way around it. Macs in the data center are shared among thousands of users who only spend a little time on each machine.

So that cost is split between many people. However, every time you log in, your Mac’s setup should be waiting for you. The price can be hourly or fixed for a certain period. 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.

IMac illustration

This also means that you don’t have to go through all the headaches of owning a physical Mac. You will never have to worry that your model is too old for the latest version of macOS or that it has to wait for Apple to send back a critical working machine that is dead.

You can also access your cloud-based Mac from anywhere, using various remote desktop clients. Depending on the specific service provider, of course.

In short, this is the cheapest, hassle-free way to use macOS, BUT the specific things you want to use macOS for are a big factor in the suitability of cloud Macs.

The limits of Cloud Macs

There will be some special considerations when the Mac you are using is hundreds of thousands of miles away. For one thing, you probably won’t get much joy out of applications that require as little delay as possible.

When we looked at game streaming services like Google Stadia and GeForce Now, it became clear that eliminating latency on the internet is a huge engineering task. It’s not the kind of thing cloud-based Mac vendors can justify doing for their most common use cases.

Mac laptop on a tree stump in the woods

This brings us to the next big problem: the internet itself. If (for example) you buy a real MacBook, it will work regardless of whether you have an internet connection. So if you are in another country, on the subway or on the plane there are no problems. If you can’t access the network for any reason, you can’t access your Mac cloud.

The next potential problem is how much control you have over the Mac cloud. Do you have administrator access? Can you install the software you want? Is your data private? The answer may be yes to all three questions, but not necessarily. Be aware of the terms and conditions of any service you sign up with.

Who should use cloud-based Macs?

In our opinion, cloud-based Macs are no substitute for a personal Mac. Instead, they are better suited for other use cases and may be better than a desktop local Mac computer.

A great use case is for macOS and iOS app developers. Both of these platforms are hot and many developers would like to create software for them, but the cost of the hardware is prohibitive. Now you can code, test and publish your applications simply by paying a monthly subscription.

Mac developer software on MacBook Pro and iPhone

Some institutions have also used cloud-based Macs for their computer labs. Students can build their Mac projects on non-Mac terminals, which are much less expensive to replace and don’t require on-site technical support to maintain them. Some people even use cloud-based Macs 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 jobs) that requires a Mac Pro, you can get the job done by renting one remotely.

MacinCloud vs Mac Stadium: What’s on offer?

As of this writing, there are two major players in the cloud-based Mac industry: MacinCloud and Mac Stadium. While it’s tempting to compare these two in terms of “best,” it doesn’t make much sense, since the two companies offer services that only partially overlap.

Mac stadium website

Mac Stadium is primarily known for having thousands of Mac Minis in its data centers, as well as fewer Mac Pros, new Mac Pros (soon), and some lone iMac Pro machines. They have a lot of custom infrastructure built to make Mac Clouds viable. It is also the simplest solution for the average user.

Rent a single dedicated Mac Mini for a flat monthly premium and do whatever you want with it. From there you can also rent time on the aforementioned Mac Pros or pay thousands of dollars for enterprise-grade Mac cloud solutions.

For single users, this is probably the better option of the two. $ 79 a month for your dedicated Mac Mini with 24/7 support is a pretty cool deal.

Macincloud website

That said, MacinCloud offers some interesting pricing options. You can sign up for a pay-as-you-go option. This means that you pay for the hours you use and no more. The base amount is $ 30 for 30 hours, but it varies based on the customization of the desired hardware.

MacinCloud also offers eGPU options. The other plans are more business-centric and offer servers at fixed monthly prices with various limitations depending on what you choose. MacinCloud is what we recommend for those looking to use app development technology to consider first.

Are Cloud Macs a valid alternative to “real” Macs?

The answer to this question is yes. Absolutely. As long as your use case fits the boundaries of technology and service. They’re not an alternative to your personal Mac and the way most people use them, but it’s a brilliant offering for people who don’t use Macs as part of their normal workflow but need tools to tap into the Mac market. The good news is that many of these plans offer a short trial, so why not go see them for yourself?

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