Ten suggestions on buying a Mac

For many years, the Macintosh platform was seen by the computer world as all but an afterthought. Nice looking, plenty of reasons to use one, but rather irrelevant in a world dominated by Windows systems. After Apple introduced the iPod back in 2001, interest in Apple’s computer offerings began to grow. Today, Apple sells a lot of Mac systems to people who started out owning an iPod, iPhone or even an iPad. You may find yourself in that situation, or perhaps your looking to replace your current Mac and would like some ideas.

I’ve worked with Macs ever since they were introduced back in 1984. I’ve done technical support for them, repaired them, and have helped guide countless people through the decision of buying a Mac. When someone asks me for my advice, here’s what I tell them.

  1. Think about where you’re going to use this Mac. Will you use it at home to access the Internet (email, Web, etc.), maybe do some photo cataloging, and manage your digital music library? Or are you going to use this at the office for serious work? Or, will you need to use it on the road?
  2. How important is portability? Will you want to use this Mac only at your desk (home or office), or would you like to be able to move it around your home or office to a more comfortable location?
  3. How is your eyesight? The Mac operating system has built-in tools to help people whose eyesight isn’t what it used to be. I’ve noted, though, on laptops that larger screens sometimes mean “standard” size text is a little smaller. You can change the screen resolution, but then are you defeating the purpose of your large screen?
  4. What’s your budget like? Compared to back in 1984, you can get a lot of Mac for $2,500, but you don’t need to spend that much if you don’t want to.
  5. Are you going to replace a computer that already has a keyboard, mouse, and display? If so, there might be a great option for you.
If you were expecting a decision tree, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve found many people don’t think about these things as much as they probably should.
With those considerations in mind, here’s my advice on the basic options available to you.
  • Portability. If portability is a must, then you have to go with a laptop. While the iMac is relatively easy to move, it’s still nothing you want to lug around. Apple’s laptops are powerful and reliable. Keep in mind that the larger the display, the heavier the laptop. Six or eight pounds doesn’t sound like much until you add the weight of a laptop bag, a book or a few newspapers, the power cord, and you’re carrying it through an airport. Apple’s MacBook Air is an attractive option given its light weight and recently upgraded power. It’s snappy, easy on the shoulder, and it will get more looks than any other laptop, period. People are fascinated by the MacBook Air when they see it out in the wild. The Air is not the perfect system for everyone, but when my current 15″ MacBook Pro dies someday, I will have to give the MacBook Air very serious consideration.
  • Power. While Mac laptops are pretty much on par with the iMacs, if you will need serious horsepower for video editing or hardcore gaming, you’ll need a Mac Pro. Plus a display. This is your most expensive option, hands down. But if you need speed, the Mac Pro will get it done.
  • Quick and inexpensive. If you’re replacing an existing computer and you don’t need a new display, keyboard or mouse, give a serious look at the Mac mini. The cost is strikingly low, and there’s an incredible amount of computing power inside that small enclosure. It is little wonder that many people are buying a Mac mini to use as a server or as a computer for the kids to use.
  • Gorgeous. The iMac is probably Apple’s most beautiful computer to look at. Display, hard drive, optical drive, power supply, ports, and the logic board are all encased in a stunning thin yet large (HxW-wise) box that seems to float in the air thanks to its clever stand. For anyone looking for the ideal compromise of power, display size, and cost, the iMac fits the bill—just as long as you don’t need it for portability. Apple fans drool a bit whenever they see one.
What would I do? There are many times I am tempted to replace an iMac at home that is outdated. I’d love to have one of the 20″ iMacs sitting on my desk. In reality, though, I am too much of a nomad. I like to take my laptop (or iPad) and sit in the great room with the family or (if the weather cooperates) outside on the patio. Sometimes I just want to sit in my comfortable chair rather than at my desk. For these reasons, my MacBook Pro is perfect, if a bit heavy (compared to my iPad) when it goes home with me. At the office, I can take the laptop wherever I need to go. If portability wasn’t a consideration, I would definitely end up with an iMac.
I hope these thoughts have been useful. What considerations do you use when looking for a new system? Do you have any insights that might help others? If so, please leave a comment and share what you’ve learned.