Which Mac is right for you?

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This article is an excerpt from the e-book Take Control of Buying a Mac , by Adam C. Engst (2005; reprinted by permission of TidBits Electronic Publishing ).

The cost of a Mac system hasn’t changed much over the years. Of course, you get a lot more for your money now than you did in the past, but one way or another you’ll probably spend somewhere between $1,000 and $3,000 on a new Mac. That makes a Mac one of the most expensive items you’re likely to buy in an average year, so you’ll want to make sure you choose the right model. Here’s how to make that choice.

Lending weight to the decision is the fact that you’ll probably have to live with the Mac you buy for some time. So even though the industry moves rapidly, you’ll want to make sure that your new computer can handle whatever you might throw at it in the future, until you want to (or can afford to) upgrade again. Obviously, your needs determine how often you upgrade: a graphics professional might upgrade frequently to take advantage of every speed boost, while a family with average e-mail and Web needs might be happy waiting three or four (or more) years between new Macs.

I’ve bought ten desktop and seven laptop Macs in the years I’ve been working on the Mac, and I’ve also helped innumerable friends, relatives, and readers pick what to buy and when to buy it. There are many correct answers here—everyone’s needs are different—but the process I describe will eliminate the uncertainty and stress involved in choosing the Mac that will best fit your needs. Picking your new Mac can even be fun.

There are three aspects to the decision: choosing between a desktop and a laptop Mac, picking the right model, and selecting the appropriate configuration and expansion options.

Which kind of Mac?

Desktop or laptop? Many people make this decision instantly, without any trouble. Perhaps it’s obvious that only a laptop will fit your lifestyle, or perhaps you need to supplement the desktop Mac you already have at home or work. On the other hand, perhaps your employer provides you with a Windows laptop that you carry when you travel, in which case a desktop Mac might be just the ticket. And of course, you might be able to make a good argument for needing both a desktop and a laptop.

But if you’re not entirely sure whether you need a desktop or a laptop Mac, answer the questions in the Desktop or Laptop? questionnaire on the next page—give yourself one point for each question to which you can answer yes, and then add up the points in each category. The category in which you have the highest score is probably your best bet.

Your scores won’t necessarily be the final word on whether you should buy a desktop Mac or a laptop Mac. But thinking about the answers to the questions should help you analyze your needs and desires, and comparing your final scores should make the answer a bit clearer.

How they rate

Ratings, prices and product guides for Apple’s current desktops and portables.

Product Processor Display Rating
iMac G5/1.8GHz 17 inches 4.0 mice
G5/2GHz 17 inches 4.0 mice
G5/2GHz 20 inches 4.5 mice

eMac G4/1.42GHz (Combo drive) 17 inches   G4/1.42GHz (SuperDrive) 17 inches  

Mac mini G4/1.25GHz not included   G4/1.42GHz (Combo drive) not included   G4/1.42GHz (SuperDrive) not included  

Power Mac G5/dual-2GHz not included   G5/dual-2.3GHz not included   G5/dual-2.7GHz not included  

PORTABLE iBook G4/1.33GHz 12 inches   G4/1.42GHz (SuperDrive) 14 inches  

PowerBook G4/1.5GHz (Combo drive) 12 inches   G4/1.5GHz (SuperDrive) 12 inches   G4/1.5GHz 15 inches   G4/1.67GHz 15 inches   G4/1.67GHz 17 inches  

Power Mac G5iMac G5Mac minieMac G4
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