Sunday, September 13, 2015

How to make the right choice when you buy your next Mac

How to buy your next Mac


Today, tomorrow, next year – at some point you’re going to need to replace your current Mac with a newer model, and who wouldn’t want a shiny new one? Discover how to make the right choice.

Macs are built to last, but there comes a time when yours starts to show its age. When that happens, you’ll find yourself looking for a new model, and these days the variety of Mac desktops and laptops on offer can be mind-boggling. It’s an expensive purchase, so it pays to take your time and get it right – computers are like cars in that in their value goes down and they’re quickly replaced in the showroom by a better model.

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Nevertheless, you shouldn’t allow yourself to be paralysed by fear – whichever Mac you buy, it’s almost certainly going to be faster than your current one, so even if it’s superseded a few months down the line, your new Mac will still feel like it flies compared to the trusty friend you’re moving on from.

In this feature we’ll steer you through the buying process – from helping you find the right place to buy your Mac, to giving you the lowdown on options such as insurance and configuration. We’ll also debunk a few Mac-buying myths along the way. If you’re still stumped as to which model is right for your needs, then we compare four popular models – MacBook, MacBook Pro, iMac 5K and Mac Pro – based on which person they’re best suited for. And don’t forget to check out our Upgrade section (see page 107), where you can compare all major Macs side-by-side. Think you’ve got a good idea of which one you want? Good, now turn the page to find out how to get it at the right price from the right supplier and with all the options and protection you’ll need…


Get a great deal

nce you’ve settled on the Mac you want, the obvious thing to do is take yourself to your local Apple store or visit its product page at apple.com to make your purchase. But just hold off for a second. There are some pitfalls to avoid – and, more importantly, some opportunities to get a better deal if you think outside the box and consider the unthinkable: purchasing your Mac from someone other than Apple!

Buy now, or wait?

Before you hit the buy button, ask yourself this: how long has the Mac model you’re planning to purchase been available? When did Apple last refresh the product line? If it’s less than six months, then it’s unlikely to be superseded in the very near future – move on to the next stage of your purchase. However, if the Mac has been around for longer than six months, then stop and consider the possibility that a newer, faster model is on the horizon.

It’s difficult to know when Apple is about to launch new models, but you can gain some useful insights before you begin. Turn to our Upgrade pages at the back of the magazine, where you’ll get a handy ‘days since refresh’ guide to every single Mac currently available, coupled with our recommendations about buying or waiting now.

It’s also worth noting that even if you’re happy with the current model, there’s a financial bonus if you wait for its successor to launch. You may find limited stocks of the Mac you desire are made available at a discount as local stores strive to clear them from their shelves ahead of the new model’s arrival.


Insurance

It’s one thing protecting your Mac from problems that may develop after the warranty has run out, but you’ll also want to protect your expensive investment from accidents in the home as well as the risk of theft, particularly if you’ve bought a MacBook and are ferrying it around from work to home and everywhere in-between.

First, check your home insurance policy to see if your Mac is covered – you might find your Mac is already covered at home, but check carefully to see protection extends outside for your MacBook too. If not, compare the cost of increasing your home cover with taking out a dedicated policy with lower excess.


Shop around

The margins on Macs are so tight that you might be forgiven for thinking you won’t get a better deal than Apple’s prices, but discounts can be found. It’s also worth popping into your local Apple Premium Reseller store or browsing a few online to see whether they offer discounts – most don’t, but there are exceptions, such as MacMall. Even so, discounts will be slim. Just make sure the model on offer is the right model by matching the specs with those available on Apple’s website.

Nevertheless, there are other compelling reasons to consider purchasing your new Mac from a Premium Reseller. There’s the convenience of being supported locally, obviously, but also look out for stores offering discounts on previous-generation models.


Refurbished bargains

Another way to save money is to investigate the second-hand market, particularly if you’re happy with an older model that doesn’t have the latest components, or is easier to upgrade than the current one. The obvious place to look is eBay (see its closed auctions for the kind of prices you’ll pay), but remember you’re usually buying privately, so there’s no protection, and no guarantee.

It makes more sense to pay a bit more from a reputable dealer that offers some protection. The obvious place to look is Apple’s own Certified Refurbished Store. and use the sidebar on the left to filter down your choices). Here you’ll find ex-display models and returned Macs that have subsequently been refurbished and repaired to Apple’s exacting standards for 10-20% less than the normal price, complete with 12-month guarantee. Make sure the model you’re buying is the one you think it is, and bear in mind that stocks are limited, so be prepared to wait until the model you want is available.

You can also pick up refurbished models from some Apple Premium Resellers – typically in-store rather than online. Also take a look at second-hand seller Mac Of All Trades, which often offers the best prices of any store, while including a 12-month guarantee on all its Apple products.


Other considerations

If you’re in higher education then you can get discounts on your next Mac simply by showing your work or student ID. Visit Apple’s own store at http://www.apple.com/us-hed/shop or speak to your local Apple Reseller to see what discounts they can give you.

If you can’t afford to purchase your new Mac outright, many stores, including Apple, offer some form of credit, with the cost spread over a number of years. If you can afford to pay over 10 months, then Best Buy offers interest-free credit on all purchases over $US399 for 12 months, Just apply for one of their credit cards and you'll get 10% back in rewards on your first purchase when you are approved for a "My Best Buy Credit Card".

Finally, if you plan to buy your Mac in-store, don’t be hassled. Apple and Premium Resellers are not supposed to be pushy.


Configure a Mac

At first glance, it looks like you’re hampered when it comes to choosing your perfect Mac, straitjacketed into a relatively narrow set of options. For those coming from the world of Windows, it can be a bit of a culture shock to discover your choices are relatively limited, but if the specs don’t quite match up to your expectations, don’t worry – you can often customise key aspects of your Mac prior to purchase. The service isn’t just limited to Apple’s own stores either; some Premium Resellers also offer it, so check before you set off to purchase.

It’s worth sitting down and deciding exactly what you’re going to need from your new Mac, thinking five years ahead. In most cases, once you’ve made a choice about memory or hard drive, you’re stuck – the days of easily upgrading those components on a Mac are fading fast.

When you select a Mac on Apple’s site, you’ll be taken to a screen where you can upgrade various components – they depend on the model you pick, not just the type of Mac. Choose upgrades carefully as the price can quickly spiral (usually with RAM). Make sure your upgrade will make a real difference – a 200MHz bump on the processor’s speed will have little effect, but going from dual-core to quad-core will.

For most people, the most critical upgrades to consider are storage and RAM (memory). For the latter, consider 8GB a decent amount for a range of tasks, but bump it up to 16GB if you perform high-end creative tasks like video editing or rendering. To improve day-to-day performance, choose an SSD or a Fusion Drive (which contains a small SSD cache) – this will speed up loading times and make a real difference to how responsive your Mac feels.



Mac Buying Myths

You can’t buy cheaper than direct from Apple: Not true. Search for your model on Google, then switch to the Shopping tab to track down possible bargains, but make sure you trust the vendor. Some deals are too good to be true.

I’ll need an extended warranty: Not necessarily true. Your Mac’s standard guarantee will protect it against faults for up to three years (depending on who you buy it from). AppleCare does come with extra benefits, such as expert support over the phone.

I won’t be able to upgrade my Mac after buying it: Check. User-serviceable upgrades are gradually disappearing, but they still exist (iMac memory, for example). Also check with Apple or your Premium Reseller to see if they can upgrade other parts for you.


By Nick Peers - Mac

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