There are plenty of buying options for people who want a new Mac to close out 2008 and bring in 2009 with a bang. If you are on a very limited budget and don’t need the latest and greatest hardware bells and whistles, you can go with the last generation of the 2007 models (especially laptops) for under $900. If you need the enhanced video capabilities and other new options on the 2008 line and don’t know which to choose, then this buying guide is for you.
The First Hurdle: Desktop or Laptop?
The biggest challenge most people face when buying a computer for themselves or is whether to buy a desktop or a laptop. If you never travel, aren’t a student, and don’t need to work remotely, you may be happiest with a desktop. Also, if you have a lot of peripherals, or if you run a television or music set up from your office, you may also want to have a desktop for that purpose. If you work from home and travel a lot, are a student who needs a portable solution or just occasionally like to have the option to get work done from your recliner, you probably want a laptop. some people who have businesses to run or other specialty needs may want both a desktop and a laptop.
At the moment the best bang for your buck in the Apple Store is the regular MacBook. This is the reliable solution that works best for most people. If you want a workhorse that will stand up to some abuse and be reliable as you are on the move, this is the machine for you. If you are looking for the ultimate music and movie making machine or a gaming unit, jump ahead to the next section or two.
The new MacBooks, released in late 2008, are made of aluminum. This replaced the white plastic option formerly available, though you can still get a white one if you want last year’s model. Frankly, the switch to aluminum is my least favorite part of the upgrade. Aluminum is not nearly as sturdy and dent or scratch resistant as the white plastic was. This invokes a little known fact about the Apple Care warranty – they may hassle you over normal wear and tear before doing a repair (or instead of the repair if some users can be believed).
I highly recommend going to a store that sells protective decals or plastic case covers and getting one at the same time as your MacBook to protect it from damage during normal use. In addition to that, I’d recommend buying a zCover or other keyboard sheath for any Mac as well, because spills and water damage are also not always covered by the warranty. In spite of those speed bumps to happiness, the Macbook is still a better bang for your buck than a PC laptop, even at a high price point.
What you get for your money (about $1,200 – $1,600 depending on options you choose) is a vast improvement over previous models. Aside from the new case, apple shaved off about a half a pound in weight. If you have ever had to lug a laptop bag around a crowded conference hall for a day or two, drag it around airports, lug it all over campus, ride you bike with it over your shoulder or heft it onto subways and busses, you know that even a half pound makes a huge difference in how hard it is to lug around. The new 4.5 pound weight and 0.13 inch slimmer laptop is ever so much more portable.
The display is designed to maximize the 13″ space, and is thin, similar to the MacBook Air that came out last year. The keyboard is now all black. This is in line with MacBook Pros and the all black model from previous years. It looks fairly sleek when combined with the silvery metal of the new aluminum cases. For some reason, in spite of having black keys, only the high end MacBook has the back lit keyboard option.
This MacBook lost the FireWire port but kept the two USB ports. It also relocated the battery indicator light to the side for easier viewing, and changed the access panel on the bottom of the laptop. Instead of a battery compartment accessed by a coin latch with the Ram jammed up under the case you now have a spring latch panel that opens to reveal the battery, the RAM and the hard drive in a much easier to access layout.
The new models of MacBook have a slightly shorter battery life than previous models, based on reports from users. Expect about 2 and a half hours of normal use, possibly longer if you set the laptop to battery saving options like a dimmer screen, or less programs open. The last MacBook gave you about 3 hours or more at normal use. Apple is claiming a full five hours of use, but that is at minimal settings for testing and not normal drain. Users have also reported that moving the speakers under the keyboard has resulted in the best sound from a MacBook in recent years, which is good – previous MacBooks have suffered in the sound category. Interestingly, Apple decided to separate the iSight from the microphone. The iSight is still at the top center of the display, but the microphone is now on the keyboard, closer to the user.
The display on the new MacBook is glossy now, which many users dislike. One of the biggest complaints about the new MacBook line is the lack of option for the displays – many want a matte display as opposed to a glossy one, especially if they do a lot of work in daylight conditions. Even if you don’t like the glossy screen, you probably will like the back lit LED screen. A more efficient and clearer display is the result of this technique. Add in the button-free multi touch trackpad that responds to pressure in the same way as a touch screen phone does, the new graphic card by nVidia, as well as other upgrades the average user won’t notice immediately but will enjoy using and the new MacBooks are pretty slick over all.
The MacBook Pro
The MacBook Pro now has a unibody design that has engineers and environmentalists everywhere excited. The 15″ screen models also have two options for speed: MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz and 2.53GHz. The MacBook Pro’s design, made from a single piece of aluminum, also lends itself to easy access. Those who like to upgrade and tinker with their laptops can now access everything under the hood with the simple slide of a latch, including the hard drive, RAM and battery.
The MacBook Pro has many of the same interior upgrades as it’s sibling, the MacBook. The graphics upgrades (to dual graphics chips) made to this make it a much better gaming machine; however, with a lot more power than the regular MacBook. Add in the bigger screen at 15″ (and on the 17″ the option for matte or glossy, still) and there is more room visually for a richer game and graphics experience for the user.
The ports on the MacBook Pro are another plus. Not only did the Pro keep the Firewire port (why the MacBook lost it is still unclear), it also added a MiniDisplay port so you could hook your Pro up to a larger monitor (compatible with the Apple large cinema displays, especially, if you are looking for an enhanced movie or gaming experience). In the 17″ model RAM has also been increased to 4GB, which is a huge bonus for people doing graphics intensive applications. Oddly, where the regular MacBook went a bit lighter, the MacBook Pro went a bit heavier, but not noticeably so.
One of the coolest things about the more expensive 17″ MacBook Pro is the option for a solid state drive. This new technology will one day become standard, but for now it costs a bit extra and is limited to the 17″ MacBook Pro (it is also in the MacBook Air, not included in this guide). The dual graphics chips and solid state drive option are cool, but not without problems. The largest solid state drive available for the Pro is 128GB. This will be plenty of room for many, but others will have to have an external to store the overflow, which adds to the cost (already high at $2,000 – $4,000 for the higher end MacBook Pro model). The dual graphics chips are cool in that you can switch from one to the other to save your battery, but they also run into a usability issue: you must turn the machine off and on again to make the switch, you can’t do it on the fly.
The keyboard and trackpad on the new MacBook Pro has undergone a redesign to make computing faster and quieter. With back lit keys continuing to be standard on MacBook Pro and not MacBook, users who often click away into the wee hours or who take notes in darkened class rooms and court rooms, for example, will love this standard feature. As with the MacBook, the multi touch trackpad will take some getting used to. Many users have not so far liked the switched from button based trackpad clicking to gesture based. If you use it correctly, it could save you computing time and has other benefits as well. As with the MacBook, expect shorter battery use time at normal modes than previous MacBook Pros, even if using the switched graphics chip to conserve power.
If you are looking for a desktop solution that packs a lot of punch for a low entry price, yet gives you all the benefits of owning a Mac, look no further than the iMac. The 2008 version of the iMac, with its 20″ and 24″ screens, sleek aluminum case and interior upgrades, is a serious contender for a powerhouse desktop. What makes it so powerful? Intel Core 2 Duo Penryn processor, which can reach speeds of 3.06 Ghz in some models. that makes the iMac super fast and efficient.
The 2008 iMac is all about speed, efficiency and jaw dropping perfomance for the money. Apple even upped their bus to 1,066MHz (up from 800MHz), and included 2GB RAM as a standard option, upgradeable to 4GB. With all that under the hood, a better graphics set up, a huge monitor, and decent configurations for hard drives and CD/DVD RW, what’s not to love about this desktop? Toss in the attainable price range at $1,200 to $1,600 configured the way you want and if you are in the market for a desktop this one becomes a no-brainer.
Under The Hood
Every Mac comes with a formidable set of programs right out of the starting gate. You may want to buy custom software as a matter of preference or to satisfy a job requirement, but for basic use, the Mac is ready to go from day one. In addition to the fantastic software that comes with your Mac, there are a wide variety of Open Source and shareware solutions out there. Try a few before you over spend on name brand solutions, I think you’ll find that your new Mac is fully capable of doing the job from the moment you plug it in.