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Which Mac for me?
February 22, 2012 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Should I get the 21.5 inch iMac or the 13 inch Macbook Pro? (Or something else?)

Looking for a new machine to be our primary home computer. Other than basic document creation/ blogging/ web-surfing, the main things we plan to use it for are: photo editing and organization, home video editing (and DVD burning for older relatives), Skyping, and managing our music and video library. Budget maxes out at $1500 (thanks, tax refund!)--but less is better.

Right now, Apple has a couple of refurbished options that look good:


Refurbished iMac 21.5-inch 2.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5
Originally released May 2011
21.5-inch LED-backlit glossy widescreen display
4GB memory
1TB hard drive
8x SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
AMD Radeon HD 6770M graphics with 512MB memory

Built-in FaceTime HD camera

$1,249.00

Refurbished MacBook Pro 2.8GHz Dual-core Intel i7
Originally released October 2011
13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen display, 1280-by-800 resolution
4GB (2 x 2GB) of 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
750GB Serial ATA @ 5400 rpm
8x double-layer SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 384MB of DDR3 SDRAM

$1,269.00

Other than weighing portability against bigger screen size, is there any reason to prefer one machine over the other? Are there additional considerations we haven't thought of? And is there any reason to avoid refurbished machines? Thanks!
posted by Pater Aletheias to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I can't speak to which one of those is better, but I have a refurbished Macbook and it's been great, and I hear the same from pretty much everyone who gets one refurbed.
posted by leesh at 12:34 PM on February 22, 2012


You can always pick up a cheap huge monitor in the future and plug it into a laptop; I have a 13" MacBook and a large external monitor, so i have the best of both worlds.

Apple's refurbs are a fine way to go; they carry the same warranty as the new ones, and I've not heard any horror stories out of the (many) people I know with Apple machines.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:35 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and a specific question: for what we want to do, am I going to notice the difference in the Quad-core versus the Dual-core processor? Is dual-core good enough for video editing?
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:45 PM on February 22, 2012


Personally, I would always factor in the cost of additional warranty to the purchase of any computer, including Apple machines. Especially for Apple machines, since replacement of parts in an all-in-one system is not a task for the faint of heart, and IF anything goes wrong, it WILL save you money in the long run.

Unless you have a pressing need for portability, I would go for the iMac, it has superior graphics, greater storage capacity, and the small step down in peak processing speed is not going to be significant.

[Disclaimer] I may be biased about the warranty thing due to being an ex Apple support technician.
posted by fearnothing at 12:51 PM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


for what we want to do, am I going to notice the difference in the Quad-core versus the Dual-core processor?
No.

Is dual-core good enough for video editing?
Yes.

In both cases, number of cores is irrelevant (or, at least, less important than other factors).

Both processors will do what you want them to do. For video editing, spend a little more to max out your memory to speed up the process a little.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:55 PM on February 22, 2012


I love laptops and spend most of my day behind one with an external monitor plugged in so I have two displays running. Best of both worlds. As for specs, the time in rendering the videos after you edit them would differ, but in day to day use, you'd never notice. I'd totally choose the Macbook.

Also, our last three home computers have been refurbed laptops from the Apple Store. No concerns at all about buying one. AppleCare is nice though.
posted by advicepig at 1:00 PM on February 22, 2012


I was going to suggest the MBP but it doesn't have the discrete graphics part. Intel's graphics have been awful and Apple is leaning harder and harder on the GPU support. There are rumors that Mountain Lion (10.8) may not run on Mac's with only older Intel graphics.

It's just a rumor though, don't panic yet, the HD3000 is probably ok, etc...
posted by chairface at 1:02 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


The graphics will be a big deal in case of any video editing that might use the horse power of the card. The new version of final cut pro does, so the extra horse power there will help. Also, video editing, and transcoding (converting one format to another) is one of the only tasks of modern computer use that scales perfectly with more cores, so the quad core will outperform the dual for video stuff.

On preview:
In both cases, number of cores is irrelevant (or, at least, less important than other factors).

I disagree. Looking at these performance charts, shows a remarkable difference between the MBP230 (quad core) and the MBP270 (dual core) even though the dual core is clocked higher. I don't know in depth your video editing will be, but there could be a difference in large files and high rate compression algorithms. Nothing you probably will do, but something to note.

Everything else you do, I get by with a core 2 duo imac with 4 gigs of ram, much less either of the boxes you've got to choose from.
posted by zabuni at 1:05 PM on February 22, 2012


The imac is the faster one so i would chose that one. Plus its a bigger screen which would help for video editing.
posted by majortom1981 at 1:13 PM on February 22, 2012


both are perfectly well equipped to do what you want with them. if you can afford an external monitor and keyboard (or already have an old one lying around), then i would get the macbook pro and hook it up to an external display.. this would give you the best of both worlds, really -- portability if you ever want it, big display when you don't.
posted by modernnomad at 1:18 PM on February 22, 2012


Whichever one you choose, make sure to max it out, RAM wise. Another 4 gigs should be under $100 and totally worth it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:26 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I disagree. Looking at these performance charts, shows a remarkable difference between the MBP230 (quad core) and the MBP270 (dual core) even though the dual core is clocked higher.

Based on the OP's stated needs, the higher performance processor is going to save him roughly 2 minutes per year in rendering times.

It's a huge hit for professional work, and irrelevant for casual computing.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:26 PM on February 22, 2012


i just sold a 13" macbook and bought the same refurbed i5 21.5" imac you mention. my reason was largely because of the size of the macbook's display, which made it hard for me to read text or work from home. i tried an external dell display, but there are issues with dells on macbooks that result in the text rendering poorly. there is no fix for this, so i returned the display.

the imac has been a joy to use. fast, lovely display, plenty of screen real estate. applecare is cheaper for it, too. the last imac i had (late 2006 20" intel core 2 duo) lasted about five years, giving me solid, fast performance until the graphics card finally died.

put me down in favor of the imac.
posted by hollisimo at 1:42 PM on February 22, 2012


I have an iMac with the Duo core and 4 GB of RAM. I'm a graphic designer and use it for "homework" all the time. I also futz around with editing home movies. It's fine for both of those, though the monitor isn't calibrated at all, so I'd never send something to print without checking out on the Pro at work first.

I often wish I'd bought a MBPro, though, so I could use it in other ways, too. (Netflix in bed!) At the time, I didn't want to splash out for the computer, plus an external 22" monitor. Instead, I waited about a year, then bought a cheap clone netbook, so now we have both platforms, and a desktop and laptop. For the next computer, though, I'm pretty sure I'll go with the laptop and monitor. I plan on having buckets of cash then.
posted by looli at 1:42 PM on February 22, 2012


The iMac is due for an update soon. The MacBook Pro is mid-product cycle.
posted by davextreme at 1:44 PM on February 22, 2012


iMovie doesn't use more than two cores for the heavy lifting like encoding, unfortunately. I checked this on a quad core Macbook Pro maybe 6 months ago. Other, more professional programs presumably make better use of quad cores.
posted by wnissen at 1:47 PM on February 22, 2012


netflix in bed = ipad. i like the form factor better than a macbook for that use.
posted by hollisimo at 1:53 PM on February 22, 2012


Personally, if I were doing video editing, I'd want the larger screen.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:00 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for all the feedback, guys. Seems like the consensus is that either will basically do what I need. I have a cheap Windows netbook that is still functioning for portable surfing and writing (and Netflix in bed), so I'm leaning toward the iMac for the advantages that it brings. I appreciate all your responses!
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:26 PM on February 22, 2012


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