A friend of mine/MacGroup member came by the house last night and told me that she was thinking of buying a new Mac soon. I asked her about her current setup and needless to say it was over 5 years old (she admitted to still using a Floppy based sneaker net between Macs 🙂 ) and she was starting to feel the pains of not being able to run certain new Apps that she would like to run, so it's time. Now the big question: Which Mac?
1) Go with a notebook
Although desktop iMacs offer more bang for the buck in terms of price/performance, I'm still recommending to most people I know to get a notebook if their budgets will allow. Why? Simply because they are portable. Unless you fancy yourself the kind of person that goes to a desk works on a computer and then leaves that desk to do other things, then you'll probably get more enjoyment out of a notebook computer. You can use it in any room you like and take it with you when you travel. They cost more and are more fragile, but I love having a MacBook Pro as my primary Mac.
2) Get an external display
OK, this is really part 2 of tip #1, but if you do go with a Notebook Mac and you're thinking there are times when you'll want to work at your desk with a nice large display, full size keyboard and mouse, then I would say go with an external display, keyboard, mouse and leave it at your desk. You can plug your MacBook in whenever you want and have that desktop computer feel if you want it and when you want it.
3) Go low end or high end
This is the age old debate. Do you buy the bare minimum configuration because it will be obsolete in a few years anyway? Or do you buy the high end configuration/model so that it lasts you longer? To answer this you would have to decide what kind of person you are. Some people upgrade more often (like whenever a new model comes out). Therefore it's probably a waste for those people to buy on the high-end side. Others like to hold on to their Macs as long as they can. Those people should probably buy the higher end models so that performance is still good in a couple of years for the more demanding Apps and OS's that may be coming down the road.
4) Buy as much RAM as you can
I still say that RAM is probably the single biggest performance boost that you can have without having to buy a new Mac more often. The more RAM you have the more Apps you can run at the same time and the larger the files are that you'll be able to handle. In the past I would have always told you to buy your RAM from another vendor and either install it yourself or have a pro do it. However, in recent times Apple's RAM prices have fallen more in line with 3rd party vendors. I still say price compare before you buy, but with my last Mac Pro purchase I went with 12GB of RAM from Apple because it was only a few dollars more than buying it elsewhere. Also if you go with Apple RAM they can never blame the RAM as the problem if you start having issues with your computer.
5) Yes, get AppleCare
AppleCare is like car insurance. You hate buying it but you're glad you have it if something happens. Don't read my analogy the wrong way though. AppleCare is NOT insurance. It's an extended Warranty. If you drop your MacBook and the screen cracks as a result, you're on your own. AppleCare doesn't cover user accidents. It covers defects and problems with the computer for an extra 2 years beyond the standard 1 year warranty. It's a gamble, but it's paid off for me more times than what I've paid for it.
Since #2 was actually part 2 of number 1, here's another tip: If you don't have to have the latest and greatest Mac, you can often save money by buying the model that was just discontinued. For example, Apple usually comes out with new Macbooks and iMacs every year. If you time it right you can save a few hundred dollars by buying the model that was just replaced the minute the new ones are announced. It will still be new in the box and have the same warranty as if you had bought it a month before. It just won't be the current model (anymore).