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What You Need to Know Before Biting the Apple: Mac Shopping Guide

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 5/21/2011

Are you looking to buy one of Apple's computers? Great! This buying guide will help you decide which on is best for you. You'll find information about Mac desktops and Mac laptops in this guide.

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    A Guide to Mac Computers

    So you're thinking of buying a Mac computer, are you?

    That's a good decision. Of course, deciding to by a Mac computer only leads to more questions. Which Mac computer will best suit my needs? Which Mac computer can I afford? And on, and on. This guide will help you narrow down the choices so that you can decide what Mac computer is best for you. We will focus first on the desktops, and then on the laptops.

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    The Mac Mini

    The New Mac Mini Ever since its introduction, the Mac Mini has remained the least expensive computer which is available from Apple. Not just by a little bit, either - the Mac Mini ships for $699.99, while the next least expensive Mac desktop, the basic iMac, ships for $1199.99.

    The issue of cost, however, is a bit more complicated than this. The Mac Mini does not ship with a keyboard, mouse or monitor. Apple's basic keyboard is $49, the mouse is $49, and the display is a whopping $899. The iMac comes with all of these things, so if you want the full Mac experience you should buy the iMac.

    If the Mac Mini isn't for first-time Mac users, what is it for? There are two uses for the Mac Mini. One is the home theater, where it can be a home theater PC. The Mac Mini can also be used as a home server.

    Verdict: The Mac Mini is mostly for home theater and server use. Those who have not purchased a Mac before should not go with the Mac Mini.

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    The iMac

    Mac Computers: The iMac The core of Apple's desktop line, the iMac is a beautiful all-in-one computer which is designed to provide the full Mac computer expeirence in a single package. The basic iMac comes with a 21.5 inch LED Cinema display and start at $1199.99. The bigger, 27-inch LED Cinema display model starts at $1699.99. All iMac comes with an Apple Magic Mouse and Apple wireless keyboard.

    If you are buying your first Mac computer the iMac is a good choice. It provides everything that the Mac experience is known for. It is elegant, beautiful, superbly crafted, and simple. Because it is an all-in-one computer you don't have to worry about where you're going to place your desktop tower. There is also a shocking lack of cords. There are no cords going to the monitor and no cords for the keyboard and mouse.

    While the iMac is an all-in-one, it is still powerful. The base models have fast dual core Intel processors and integrated graphics. The most expensive iMac computers have quad core processors and discrete graphics cards.

    Verdict: The iMac is the perfect Mac computer for first-time Mac users and veterans alike. It is powerful, compact and beautiful.

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    The Mac Pro

    Mac Computers: Mac Pro Aimed at true computing professionals, the Mac Pro is an elegant and immensely powerful tower computer. The most basic model has a quad-core Intel server processor and discrete graphics. The upgraded model can be purchased with a server platform which has two quad-core processors on board, resulting in eight cores in total. The base model is $2499, while the upgrade is $3299.

    That's a lot, and while the Mac Pro does include a keyboard and a mouse, it doesn't include an Apple Cinema Display. If you want one of those you'll have to pay another $899. Unlike the Macbook Pro, which is really just an up-scaled consumer product, the Mac Pro desktop is absolutely meant for computing professionals, such as 3D artists or video editors. If you do not spend large parts of your day rendering 3D scenes or editing photos and videos with tens of millions of pixels you do not need to purchase this Mac computer.

    Verdict: The Mac Pro is for professionals. If you're asking yourself "Do I need this much power" you most likely don't. A computer of this sort is for complex applications which can take hours to complete.

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    More people than ever before are thinking about purchasing a Mac laptop. If you are looking at Mac laptops you're surely comparing the models available. This Mac laptop computer comparison places the Macbook, Macbook Pro and Macbook Air in a head-to-head match.
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    Mac Laptop Computers Comparison

    Now that we have talked about Mac desktop computers, let's do a Mac laptop computer comparison. Apple's Macbook line of laptops has become the real star of Apple's computer line, and there are a large range of Mac laptop computers available. So, on with the comparison!

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    Macbook

    Mac Laptop Computers Comparison Apple's least expensive laptop, the Macbook is also the only Mac laptop which doesn't subscribe to the aluminum style and instead uses the older pure-white aesthetic which Apple used to favor. While it is intuitive to think that plastic is less durable than aluminum, there is really no difference between the build quality of the plastic Macbook and the aluminum Macbook Pro. Plastic cracks. Aluminum dents. Either way, you can cause damage to your laptop if you drop it.

    The Macbook is only available as a 13 inch laptop. It has an Intel dual core processor, Nvidia integrated graphics and two gigabytes of RAM. The 13 inch display has a resolution of 1280x800. All of this is basically the same as what you'll find in the Macbook Pro (although the 13 inch Pro has four gigabytes of RAM), and that goes for the keyboard and trackpad as well. In comparison to the Macbook Pro, and most laptops today, the Macbook is lacking many ports. It only has two USB ports, an Ethernet jack, a combo audio jack and a DisplayPort connection.

    In the Mac laptop computer comparison the Macbook is clearly the budget option. That doesn't mean you won't be happy with it, however. Although it is the least expensive Mac laptop, it is still expertly crafted.

    Verdict: The Macbook is the budget option, but it isn't cheap. Mac buyers on a budget will love this laptop.

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    Macbook Pro

    Macbook Pro The Macbook Pro is clearly the flagship line in this Mac laptop computer comparison. Unlike the Macbook, which is only available as a 13 inch laptop, the Macbook is avaialble in 13, 15 and 17 inch sizes. They cost $1199, $1799 and $2299 respectively.

    First, let's talk just a bit more about the Mac laptop comparison between the Macbook and 13 inch Macbook Pro. The Pro is $200 more, and for that you gain quite a few features - more ports, a backlit keyboard, a sexy aluminum body and two extra gigabytes of RAM. However, all the other hardware is the same. Are those features worth $200? Yes - but only if you need them. If you don't, they're not.

    The Macbook Pro 15 inch and 17 inch, on the other had, have no Mac laptop computers for comparison. They're in a class of their own. The 15 inch Macbook Pro is Apple's most mainstream laptop. It also has upgraded hardware compared to the 13 inch Macbook Pro. The hard drive is larger, the processor is faster and the GPU is also quicker. The 15 inch Macbook is expensive compared to the 13 inch model, but some people need that power.

    The 17 inch Macbook Pro's value is less obvious, however. It is $500 more than the 15 inch Macbook Pro, but has no significant hardware advantages. When compared to the most expensive 15 inch Macbook Pro, which is $2199, the base 17 inch model is both more expensive and slower.

    Verdict: The Macbook Pro laptops are great products, but the one you should purchase depends entirely on your needs.

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    Macbook Air

    Macbook Air Last and least in our Mac computer laptop comparison we have the Macbook Air.

    The Macbook Air has, overall, been one of Apple's least attractive products since its debut. Actually, scratch that - the Macbook Air is very, very attractive. Its slim aluminum design is the pinnacle of everything that is cool in electronics today. The problem with the Macbook Air is that "cool" is all the Air going for it.

    In comparison to the 13 inch Macbook Pro, the Air is slower in all respects, has worse battery life, and at $1499 is more expensive. It has literally no advantage except for the fact that the Air is very slim and light. However, the slim design dosen't really make the Macbook Air more portable. You will still need the same size bag to carry the Air as is needed to carry a Pro.

    Verdict: The Macbook Air is a bit of a dud. If you really, really need to look cool, then the Air is for you. Just be aware that you're paying for a fashion accessory, not a laptop.

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    References

    Author experience

    All images are from Apple press materials






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