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Choosing a Mac

By January 10, 2011People+Technology

There are so many options!

Used Macs, MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac, Mac Pro, Mac Mini… And they usually have a few versions of each.

The iPad is not a computer…

It’s a glorified and “more usable” iPod Touch. It relies fairly heavily on having a Mac as its parent for syncing and backup. You can download some content onto the iPad directly, but to store and manage it all you will need a Mac.

Used machines are always a risk and rarely worth it…

…Unless you get a great deal on a Mac that still has AppleCare warranty on it. Warranty is everything – you don’t want to get caught with a “no exchanges no refunds” purchase that dies in two weeks. A 4 year old MacBook can sell for about $650. If you buy a brand new one, it will come with the warranty and will be about $1050. Not a huge difference.

How does each machine stack up against an equivalent PC?

In my experience, and without getting into a ton of specifics and data (or an argument with a feisty PC user – lol), a Mac of equivalent and even lower speed/RAM/graphics will feel faster and stay peppy for longer – even years longer. The Mac system software is well optimized and based on Linux, so it’s stable and virus-free. I find the Windows operating system to feel clunky and sluggish unless powered by fast gear, and even then it doesn’t take long before it feels a bit goopy. Yes… Goopy. You know, like when you click on something and have to wait a bit for it to respond. Drives me mad. Anyway, I digress.

In terms of which new Mac to choose, this is how I’d break it down, based on my experience… And this guide is by no means law. Please, take this info and all other info you gather, ask multiple people, and decide for yourself!  🙂

 

Questions to spur thought:

 

Portable or Desktop?

I always ask if someone wants a portable Mac, first. Do you want to be able to take it with you, wherever you go? I sure do.

Important Note: Any portable Mac can also be a Desktop Mac if you get a big monitor and laptop stand, with an external keyboard and mouse. Any Desktop will only ever be a Desktop, however. You can’t take an iMac on the bus (without looking a little bit odd). You can get a great 24″ screen for around $350, and a keyboard/mouse/stand setup for around $200.

Big screen or small screen?

Do you deal with large documents, PDFs, or photos, and want to see a lot on the screen at once? Or do you have some trouble with eyesight? If so, you’ll want a bigger screen. If you like smaller, more convenient, more portable things, I recommend a 13″ or 15″ screen. Your back will thank you if you’re carrying it around all day.

However: I would always caution people when considering the 17″ laptop – that is a beast of a machine to carry around with you, so only get it if you really need large screen portable, for displaying large images to clients in meetings, and you can’t just use an external monitor wherever you work most.

Is professional image an issue for you?

If so, you will want to go for an aluminum laptop instead of the white MacBook. What will people in the stylish fair trade and organic-only coffee shop think of you if you have a shiny white plastic computer? If image is not an issue (or you find the MacBook adorable) then a MacBook is a great machine.

Are you a speed demon?

Do you need the fastest? The latest and greatest? Unless you are a multimedia professional or a power user, you will likely not be able to tell the difference between most current Macs (even comparing base model to top of the line). I usually say: “It’s like the difference between a Ferarri and a Lamborghini – they will both get you to Safeway, but one will be a bit faster.” If you are a speed demon, consider getting higher-end models or the Mac Pro tower. If you have a few seconds to spare every day, the base or mid-range model is fine.

How long do you want it to last?

I’ve seen Macs last one year before full “write off” failure and I’ve seen them last 8+. The Mac that was the top of the line when you bought it will be considered faster for longer, near the tail end of its life. However, this is an interesting question because it assumes that the Mac will live beyond its three year AppleCare warranty (and yes, always buy AppleCare – Macs are just electronic devices too, and they can fail). I always recommend selling the Mac at around the two year mark. This gets you the highest resale value and still gives one year of AppleCare warranty to the new buyer.

 

A speed guide based on how you would use your Mac:

 

Do you use your Mac mostly for email, word processing, web browsing, with light music/video/picture activity? Any Mac will be great for you, including the base model of any machine. None of that takes much in the way of processor power, and you won’t need a lot of storage.

Note: Consider, however, that once you get a Mac you may grow into doing more with multimedia – the Mac makes it easy and fun, and the iTunes store is very addicting. Just ask my credit card.

Do you do all that but with heavier music/video/picture activity? Any Mac with a large (and ideally, upgradeable) hard drive will be ideal. Music, video, and pictures (all multimedia content) takes a large amount of hard drive space, so you’ll want lots of space and the option to add more. On all Macs but the ‘Air you can replace the internal hard drive with a much larger one, later, and it won’t break the bank. The average 500GB hard drive is around $100, and labor is usually only an hour or two at around $85/hr, unless a custom software setup is needed.

Do you use any pro applications, like Photoshop or Final Cut Pro, or do you play any high resolution games? I would always recommend the higher speed models, but you can usually get away with even the base model for these – they just won’t last as long in the professional world, and they won’t feel as peppy when working hard. If it’s for a teenager, they will likely whine if they need to play World of Warcraft on a lower-end machine. I was that teenager, long ago.

Do you push your machine to the limits? Do you use all the keyboard commands, and love a high resolution screen? Aim for the top of the line MacBook Pro or iMac in that case. They’re deluxe and speedy little devils.

Do you stop at nothing to get the highest possible output and upgradeability in all capacities, or does your business depend on very high output and amazing horse power? Mac Pro it is. Note, however, that to actually leverage a Mac Pro’s power you will need to be very fast with your hands, skilled with application switching and multi-tasking, and very familiar with pro applications. Or, you might just be really impressed by its monolithic aluminum appearance.

Long story short:

For most business professionals in the working world, I would recommend either the base model MacBook Pro 13″ or the base model MacBook Pro 15″, with a large 24″ third party screen (like Samsung or LG) and an external keyboard and Magic Mouse.

For home users, the white MacBook or base model MacBook Pro 13″ is great unless you want a larger screen. For home users wanting a Desktop machine, even the base model iMac is fine, again unless you want a large screen.

If you need a machine just for travel then the MacBook Air is a great machine. I would not recommend anyone use this as their primary and only machine, however, unless you get the top of the line unit with 4GB RAM and the upgraded hard drive. Even then, it’s a pricy toy that will be outdated pretty fast. The processor is slow (compared to current standards) out of the box. If you have it as a secondary laptop just for when you travel or go to business meetings, it’s awesome, and very sexy.

I hope this helps! Enjoy your new Mac… And the “new Mac smell” that comes with it.

2 Comments

  • Jordan says:

    Hey Lucas. Great article! Just wanted to share some things with you.

    1. You can get a fully functional bluetooth keyboard for the iPad, which works really well. Using it in-place of your laptop has actually worked out quite well.

    http://www.zagg.com/accessories/zaggmate.php

    2. I’ve started to notice my mac getting Goopy, any tips one how to speed it up?

    3. You can purchase a 8GB kit for the Mac Book cheaper than from Apple Directly. Installation is rather simple, 8 screws and ploping in the new ram.

    4. If you’re ordering a Mac, you can only get the High Res screen online for the 13″ and 15″ online. They don’t carry them in the store. This screen is $100 more but well worth it.

  • Jordan, thank you!

    Good to know the iPad can be made more functional with a keyboard. Also, for a goopy Mac, best fix is an erase install. Or better, an SSD hard drive upgrade. 🙂

    I would never recommend buying RAM from Apple. WAY overpriced. And totally agreed on the high res screen.

    Great additions, thanks!

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