To Buy or Not to Buy

When Jonny Edbrooke bought his first Mac-a Centris 650-Apple launched the Quadra models a few weeks later. So when Edbrooke, the creative director of a Vietnam-based ad agency, bought two 500MHz Power Mac G4s last December for his company, he could guess what was coming. Sure enough, a month later Apple unveiled its new G4 line with built-in CD-RW drives and processor speeds topping 733MHz.

Since the latest G4s can run complex programs such as Adobe Photoshop faster, Edbrooke figures that "my machines, although new, are old, so that in a year's time my creatives will be talking about upgrades to handle what they want to do. A $4,000 computer you upgrade after one year is not a good investment."

Anyone who's ever bought a computer has been haunted by the same worry: How do I know that a more powerful machine won't make my purchase obsolete before I even take it out of the box? There's no way to guarantee that the Mac you buy won't soon be surpassed by something better-Apple always seems to be upgrading its hardware. But with a little research, you can reduce the odds.

˙ CHECK YOUR CALENDAR Steve Jobs usually gives a keynote address at each of the four big Mac trade shows each year, using the spotlight to introduce new products. It's also not unheard of for Apple to roll out products at the two Seybold seminars that target the creative-professional market. So if you're thinking about buying a Mac right before a big trade show, you might want to put off your purchase until you see what Jobs has up his sleeve.

˙ KNOW YOUR HISTORY There's no hard-and-fast rule on how long it takes Apple to update its hardware-sometimes six months, sometimes longer. But by looking up the last time a product line was upgraded, you can get a pretty good idea of which Mac designs are fresh and which ones may be due for an overhaul.

˙ CHECK THE PRICE Rebates aren't always a sign that newer products are on the way; sometimes retailers slash prices just to spur sales. But rebates can indicate that a company wants to clear out inventory to make way for new models. Take the PowerBook G3: Apple knocked $200 off the price in late 2000. In January 2001, it introduced the PowerBook G4. If you want a bargain, take the rebate when it's offered. If you want the latest Mac, the rebates offered at the Apple Store ( http://store.apple.com ) may be a sign that you should wait.

˙ FOLLOW THE NEWS Apple never comments on upcoming product releases. But it has been known to drop the occasional hint. In December, Jobs told tech analysts that Apple missed the boat on CD-RW drives. Within a month, Apple introduced a new line of G4s with built-in CD-RW drives. Now Jobs says that Mac OS X will be preloaded onto every new Mac in July. Could that mean another round of hardware upgrades to spur sales? Stay tuned.

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