How to Buy an Apple Computer
Not really a buying guide per se, but more of a "how to get the most from your investment". There is a perception that Apple laptops and computer hardware in general is greatly overpriced. That has never been strictly true. Sure, the Dell Vostro's are a LOT cheaper, but get into the Dell Business class and Workstation, or high end consumer (XPS series) and you get a lot narrower of a differential.
But this isn't the post to dig deeper into that differential, but instead to maximize the performance of what you buy, and to ensure that you get the return on your investment that makes sense.
Decide what you need
First and foremost, what do you need? Are you a student but not a software engineer? Are you a design professional? Do you wish to record and self produce your band's music? Do you create video to share or as a profession?
Be perfectly honest here, otherwise you will either overspend greatly, or you will rue your decision as being a slow hunk of garbage.
Most people will be perfectly happy with the MacBook Air line. Slim, fast, plenty of oomph, and priced nicely, especially compared to the true Ultrabook competitors on the market (Dell, Acer, Asus, Lenovo come to mind).
If you do session work, or serious photo editing, or semi serious video production, the MacBook Pro's are hard to beat.
If you are a serious 4K or 8K video producer, well, bite the bullet and go for the Mac Pro line.
Strategize your configuration
Within each system, there are a number of tweaks you can do. Processor speed/capability, physical RAM, and SSD Storage. The low-low base system will be the cheapest, and unlike in the past, you really can't upgrade memory later, especially on the M1 series Macs, as it is physically part of the CPU.
Here, my recommendation is to get the faster processor, and a minimum of 16G ram. 6 years ago, I would have recommended the 8G as being fine unless you were doing video editing, but now, 16g is the sweet spot.
For SSD, on the low end MacBook Air, you will have 256G, and that doesn't cut it. For the faster/better processor, it starts at a more reasonable 512G SSD, with options to jump to 1TB and 2TB.
Truthbomb: With iCloud, and either google drive sync or Microsoft OneDrive, you can have near real time access to a lot more, that will only be downloaded if you use it.
Really, for most people, even photo hounds, 512G should be plenty. But I would recommend the $200 bump to 1TB.
The reason is simple. In 2, 3, or 5 years when you upgrade, and you go to sell or trade in your Mac, you will get more money for it.
My late 2015 vintage MacBooc Pro 13" with the Corei5, 8G ram, and 512G SSD will net me $320 tradein for a new Mac (more than covering the AppleCare) or if I wanted to deal with eBay, I could easily get $500 for it. And that folks, makes a big difference.
So, spend the $200 now, have some headspace, and then get more out of it when it is upgrade time. Win-Win-Win.
I know it sounds awful, but buying more than you need now, will
- keep the computer usable longer. It is easy to get 5+ years of life, and taking the full price, dividing by 5 will give you a rather nice annual cost that takes some of the sting out of the purchase price
- Apple computers have remarkable resale values. Cost sensitive customers scour the net looking for older generation hardware. If they surf the web, write term papers, and do email, there is much more life in a 5 year old Macbook. My wife still uses my 2013 vintage MacBook Air that still gets about 8 hours of normal use on its senior battery.
It is just plain smart.
When it is time to trade up, one consideration is how much your old Apple gear is worth. Unlike the consumer focused Dell and Lenovo systems that are built fairly cheaply and to a low price point, Apples have a strong secondary market.
As I mentioned, my nearly 6 year old MacBook Pro 13" is still worth $320 as a trade in, and more on the open market. Apple has strong secondary sales, and will refurbish it to be sold into markets where that is still quite usable gear.
Seriously, I have resold ALL of my used Apple gear to help defray that initial purchase price sting. Every bit helps.
Budget in AppleCare
I normally advise people that the extended warranty is a waste of money. This is one exception. The extra responsiveness for service is a very nice to have, and when I have needed phone support, you get a person really quick.
Additionally, if you live near an Apple store, you get much better service from the genius bar, and often their agents are empowered to "make it right" for you.
Once, I had an iPhone's cellular radio die. Out of warranty, and Applecare expired. I expected to be told to trade it in, but they looked me up, my history, and they just swapped it right there. Good luck with that on a Samsung phone.
Don't buy something way more or less than you need. Up-configure what you do buy, it will extend the usability, and help at upgrade time with resale or trade in. More memory is always a good investment. Buy enough SSD space, erring on the high side (again, it will help with value at resale time).
Don't overthink it. It is a tool.
If you want to save a few bucks, like enough to buy the AppleCare plan, browse the Refurb area on the Apple website. You get the same warranty as new, the same experience, and I saved about $200 when I bought my 13" MBP. No brainer.
Oh, and if you want to feel better, go look at a nearly similar spec'd Dell XPS, and the price difference isn't that much. Do not compare it to the lower end products, as they are built to a price point, not a performance and usability spec. Sure, you can extend the life of them by dropping Linux on it, but unless you are an uber geek, that is not a great strategy.