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$1099 Macbook: am I selling myself short?
September 24, 2006 12:41 AM   Subscribe

Will I be at any disadvantage if I buy the most basic of the Macbooks? What would I NOT be able to do that I might have to do? This would be my first laptop, I'm on a limited budget (less than $1300), and I live both inside and outside the United States, so I have a few (sub-)questions.

I am not a power user by any means: I have some (< 500) photos and some (< 500 songs) music, I chat/e-mail (using web-based programs like MSN and Gmail), I write some things, I make mix CDs for the car, I play a little Literati, and just generally surf the web. I'm an English teacher by trade (but not at a US university or school, so perhaps no educational discount?), so there's no real need for my computer to be all whiz-bang-amazing, but I do want a Mac.

For reference, my current computer is a Dell desktop running Windows ME (I know, I know) which is five years old, and while it functions, it doesn't run all that well, and it's not the most portable of things.


So, if I do buy this thing:

1) Can I upgrade my RAM without voiding the warranty? Would I even need to worry about this, given my needs?

2) What are the consequences for AppleCare, service, tech support (and anything else) if I buy it in the US and live elsewhere later? Should I buy third-party-insurance instead if it costs less, or is AppleCare really worth it? Or should I get both?

3) Can I get by with the software/hardware that comes out of the box? What should I absolutely purchase to accompany this? I've never owned a laptop before so I don't know the drill with regards to batteries and other peripherals.

4) $1099 doesn't seem like a huge price to pay for a laptop I'd like to last for the next 3-5 years, but is there another (cheaper) option out there, like a used-G4-iBook-with-third-party-insurance, that would meet my needs and last as long as a new Macbook would?

6) Finally, I'm living in Indonesia right now, so I'm not close to an Apple store and nobody around here has a Macbook for me to try out. I'll buy the Macbook in the States, though, when I return in the winter. Are there any rumored Macbook updates that might have happened between now and then?

I have seen this guide for Macbook first-timers (http://campbell-online.com/blog/2006/07/02/geeking-out-with-a-new-laptop/), and I'm not worried about switching to a Mac, but I just want to make sure my hard-earned, long-saved money is well spent.

Thanks!
posted by mdonley to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
1) Can I upgrade my RAM without voiding the warranty? Would I even need to worry about this, given my needs?

Upgrading to 1 or 2 GB of RAM is a good idea for the long-term, even for regular users.

2) What are the consequences for AppleCare, service, tech support (and anything else) if I buy it in the US and live elsewhere later? Should I buy third-party-insurance instead if it costs less, or is AppleCare really worth it? Or should I get both?

You can buy your AppleCare plan in the US and it will be valid outside the US; however, you will be bound to terms of service for a US contract. AppleCare is a worthwhile investment for laptops, in my experience.

3) Can I get by with the software/hardware that comes out of the box? What should I absolutely purchase to accompany this? I've never owned a laptop before so I don't know the drill with regards to batteries and other peripherals.

Some do not like the MacBook's single button trackpad — but you can easily buy an inexpensive two- or multiple-button wired USB or wireless Bluetooth mouse if the trackpad is not to your liking. Apple sells its wired and wireless "Mighty Mouse", which is a multi-button mouse with a 360-degree trackwheel.

4) $1099 doesn't seem like a huge price to pay for a laptop I'd like to last for the next 3-5 years, but is there another (cheaper) option out there, like a used-G4-iBook-with-third-party-insurance, that would meet my needs and last as long as a new Macbook would?

I would get the MacBook. A used G4 iBook will not save very much money at all, considering what you would have to spend on added components (wireless, Bluetooth, etc.) to bring it up to the same feature set as a MacBook. It will also be much slower; the G4 iBook will age much faster.

6) Finally, I'm living in Indonesia right now, so I'm not close to an Apple store and nobody around here has a Macbook for me to try out. I'll buy the Macbook in the States, though, when I return in the winter. Are there any rumored Macbook updates that might have happened between now and then?

No guarantees, but Core Duo 2 chips are slated to make it into MacBooks and MacBook Pros before holiday season. For the benefit in battery life-for-equivalent-speed, you may find it worthwhile to wait.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:16 AM on September 24, 2006


1) Yes, but for your needs you probably won't need to (despite what people might tell you).

2) I don't know.

3) The only thing I've bought is Ms Office and that's for compatibility with uni.

4) There's cheaper options, but you get what you pay for and personally where laptops are concerned I find the stability of an Apple to be paramount. Plus they're dollar for dollar cheaper than the equivalent Dell. However, a friend of mine buys all his macs second hand and they do seem to hold their value (not dollar, but usefulness) better than PC's, I think cause the software is more tailor made. YMMV, obviously.

6?) Not major ones, but the next version of OSX is due out early next year.

For what it's worth I bought a bottom end Ibook about a month before the Macbooks were introduced and for what I use it for (which sounds pretty much exactly like what you use it for) it's perfect. 512 megs of RAM and 1.33ghz processor and all!
posted by Silentgoldfish at 1:19 AM on September 24, 2006


I got an g4 ibook about 18 months ago (first time apple product purchase since my dad got a 1982 fake apple ][e btw), and for the record I'm still a very happy camper. Admittedly there's been longer for the ibook line to iron out flaws than the macbook line, but all other things being equal, jfdi.
posted by singingfish at 1:21 AM on September 24, 2006



I would get the MacBook. A used G4 iBook will not save very much money at all, considering what you would have to spend on added components (wireless, Bluetooth, etc.) to bring it up to the same feature set as a MacBook. It will also be much slower; the G4 iBook will age much faster.


These are actually all standard features on G4 Ibooks, the only thing the Macbook has in extra features that the Ibooks doesn't is the camera built in to the screen.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 1:40 AM on September 24, 2006 [1 favorite]


The G4 iBook didn't come with wireless and Bluetooth as standard until mid-2005, so you can't assume they'll be installed on older (1Ghz and under) models. (Mine has both as BTO options.)

Getting a used iBook as a mid-term laptop is a false economy unless you're on a highly restricted budget or have very limited needs. That said, a refurb iBook might fit your criteria, and there are likely to be a few lightly-used ones on the market in the US as people upgrade. If you can get a late-model iBook (2005 or later) with paid-up three-year AppleCare -- it's transferable -- then it's under warranty for long enough to get good use out of it.

Still, I'd go for the MacBook, because there's more room for you to grow into it.
posted by holgate at 2:03 AM on September 24, 2006


AppleCare - buy it as close to where you live as possible. I'm a Brit who bought in the US, and the guys at the store said to buy AppleCare in the UK, as all the paperwork (or something...) goes through where you bought AppleCare, even though it's global. So it's more efficient to buy close by. Also, as long as you buy it in the first year of ownership, it's the same as buying it on the day, so you can wait.

Extras - Um, depends on your situation. As a teacher, if you hook up to a projector you may need the DVI - VGA output or something.

Updates - As has been said, Core 2 Duos are expected sometime.
posted by djgh at 2:20 AM on September 24, 2006


Your needs are very basic. Almost any laptop you would buy would work fine. You should find the low-end iBook to be absolutely delightful.

The only thing I'm not certain you can do on a Mac is Literati. I'm running OSX right now, and did a quick check. Literati gives me some popups about 'livescript not supported on the Macintosh'. It does seem to work okay, though, at least to watch other people's games.

Historically, Apple laptops have been very durable, but this generation of them seems weaker than most. Applecare would not be a bad idea. It will add to the cost of the laptop substantially, but it will help ensure that it will work. If it breaks, however, you are still in Indonesia, and you will be laptopless for a good long while as it ships all over the darn world. I'm not sure you could do any BETTER than that with another brand, since you're still in Indonesia no matter what computer you buy, but you should be aware of the issue and keep regular backups of your work files. I'd suggest using Windows-formatted disks so you can use a friend's computer in a pinch.

I would suggest upgrading to 1gb. I understand that it's kind of a pain to do this yourself, and while Apple charges too much, it may be easier to just pay them. Alternately, you may be able to buy the machine from an Apple reseller that can do the upgrade for you. This could be substantially cheaper, as Apple overprices their upgrades tremendously. But they also don't warrant 3rd party memory. If you go non-Apple, buy a premium brand like Crucial or Kingston.

1gb will give you some overhead. You probably won't need it now, but in a year or two you'll likely be grateful to have it. And you probably won't want to ship your computer back to the US from Indonesia for upgrades. :)

(more RAM is always good; it is the single biggest limiting factor on computer performance, most of the time. Buy more than you think you need.)

There's a lot of good stuff in the box, almost all of the basic needs you describe. It doesn't come with a full word processor; you have to pay extra for Pages or Word. Pages is fairly competent and much, much cheaper than Microsoft Word. iTunes can handle most basic music needs and making mix cds, and iPhoto should work okay for your photo library.

One download you may want is Firefox. I prefer Firefox to Safari, having come from Windows. Many Mac people think the reverse... Safari IS more Mac-ish. I'm just used to Firefox, and I was very pleased that my profile transferred from Windows to the Mac with very little pain.... just a bit of futzing with pathnames.

You may enjoy Shapeshifter, which is a $20 theming engine; it will let you make OSX look quite different. I have my interface all done in sort of light maple woodgrain. Looks very nice.

Adium is often mentioned when IMing comes up, but I haven't used it, as I don't IM much. I'm of the creaky, antiquated oldschool that likes email. :)

You may want another battery if you plan to spend long periods away from power. Don't buy one if you don't need it, though. Lithium batteries go bad over time. In two or three years, even if you don't use it, a battery you buy now will be worthless. You will need to replace the internal battery every 2 to 3 years as well.

If you have a car, you may want an automobile power adapter.

Rumor is pretty insistent that there will be a Macbook refresh before Christmas with the new Core 2 line. The Core 1 chips are very solid and will serve your needs well. If you could find one on sale cheap when the Core 2 model ships, that should work really well, and may save you substantial money.

I suppose it's possible that they might reserve the Core2s for the Macbook Pros. No way to know yet. Apple has made no announcements and there is no way to be certain what will happen.

Finally: you'll like OSX, but it takes some gettng used to. It's quite a struggle converting from Windows at first.

Nicest part about these laptops is that if you don't successfully transition to OSX, you can still buy and install Windows. You're not locked in forever if you don't like it or can't adapt.
posted by Malor at 2:54 AM on September 24, 2006


I bought the 13" lowend MacBook myself, after years of high-end Dell laptops, and am very happy with my purchase.

1) 512MB RAM is not enough. I found that running only a modest number of applications would make my system infuriatingly slow. RAM is trivial to upgrade yourself. All you need is a 00 size screwdriver and this link to apple's MacBook memory upgrade page, although there are videos on YouTube and such as well. (PS: You have to push really hard on the RAM to get it to seat.)

2) AppleCare is really good, and worth it. Using it outside of the states (and a country that doesn't have an Apple Store) will probably be a pain and involve international shipping, so at least make sure you're backing up your data on an external drive or something.

3) Software: I've been happy with what is available for free. Hardware: I thought I would miss having a DVD-writer if I didn't buy the mid-tier 13" MacBook, but I don't. Other than that, some people prefer mice to trackpads, but I'm happy just using the trackpad.

4) Intel MacBooks are supposed to be many many times faster than the PowerPC line (but not having used a PowerPC Mac in ages, I don't really know. I can say that the performance of my MacBook is better than any of my Dell laptops.) Is saving a couple hundred worth it?. Second, MacBooks, and most of Apple's Intel-based computers cost the same or are cheaper than equivalent non-Apple computers. See: MacPro 17" MacBook Pro 13" MacBook

5...6) Merom-based MacBooks rumored due out for the holidays (around late November). Mac OSX 10.5 rumored to be released Spring 2007.
posted by cactus at 6:00 AM on September 24, 2006


I just got the "high end" Macbook last week and love it. I went with the higher one simply because I wanted the dvd burner. To me, it's worth the extra money and will affect the sellng price when I choose to unload it. I expect by that time CD burner only machines will no longer even be being manufactured.

1) Can I upgrade my RAM without voiding the warranty?

Yes, there are instructions for upgrading the ram right in the manual. Buy the ram from someplace not Apple. When you do this, you'll have your current ram left over. Keep it. If anything ever happens to the machine, swap out the ram. If the problem persists, ship it to Apple with their ram. Otherwise, they'll just send it back and blame the ram. I speak from experience on this.

2) What are the consequences for AppleCare

You have up to 1 year to buy the Applecare (from date of purchase). Because of this, I suggest you don't buy Applecare with your machine. Instead, wait the year and if you feel you need it, purchase it then. It may be cheaper by then or you may be in a better financial spot.

3) Can I get by with the software/hardware that comes out of the box? What should I absolutely purchase to accompany this?

For software, I recommend DevonThink, a great Mac-only program. There are also many threads from the past on Ask with software recommendations. I don't think there's anything that you need to buy along with the machine directly from Apple, unless you do get a education discount, in which case it might be a good idea to get Office, though I'd wait till the next MS upgrade.

4) I don't think you should go the G4 route because:

- new machine is much faster
- you'll take a huge loss on resale when the next MacIntels come out.
- Warranty is important.

6) Are there any rumored Macbook updates that might have happened between now and then?

I have no doubt they'll release something by Christmas, though you never know. Good luck with your new computer!
posted by dobbs at 6:54 AM on September 24, 2006


Data point: 12" G4 powerbook, 10.4.7, 1.25gb RAM, Literati runs fine despite popups about livescript errors. Should be no problem on a macbook.
posted by Alterscape at 7:02 AM on September 24, 2006


Don't spend money on Microsoft Office. Download the free OpenOffice.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:05 AM on September 24, 2006


Most of your questions have been answered.

Just a few thoughts:

memory: my macbook has 1 gb of ram and I'm happy. My girlfriend's macbook has 512, and she's completely happy. Of course, she doesn't run many programs at the same time. She mainly surfs and does email. It really depends on what you're doing. If she needs more memory, she can get it cheaper later.

applecare: as dobbs said, I'd wait until your year is up. That said, even then it's a personal choice. It could come in handy, or it could just be spending a fourth of a new macbook for peace of mind.

ibook: Yes, the ibook will do just about everything the macbook will, and I loved my ibook. But the macbook is a much better computer. Bigger screen, brighter, better keyboard, faster, camera. I'd only get a cheap ibook if you can't afford the macbook. It's no comparison, and people telling you that there's little difference are misleading you.

Software: I would take all software suggestions with a grain of salt. I've seen suggestions for programs that you couldn't pay me to download, and I've downloaded programs no one else seems to like. So much good stuff comes with any mac I'd really get use to it before searching elsewhere. Most of what you'll need is in the box.
posted by justgary at 9:04 AM on September 24, 2006


I have a PowerBook with 512 MB RAM, and while it's occasionally slow with a lot of stuff open, it's definitely usable -- and this is on a 1.25 GHz PowerPC processor. I typically have Camino, Mail, Adium, NetNewsWire, iTunes, and iCal open at once, without any noticable slowdown. If I want to do something a bit more intense -- maybe some light video games -- I close some of the above (especially iTunes) and it still runs fine. 1 GB would be nice, but is by no means absolutely necessary.
posted by danb at 9:12 AM on September 24, 2006


Shapeshifter doesn't work on the MacBooks yet.
posted by onalark at 10:21 AM on September 24, 2006


Another reason to get AppleCare is that, in Indonesia, your laptop will probably be exposed to higher-than-average humidity and temps. Personally, I've pushed my iBook way past its recommended humidity & temp levels and it's still alive... but humidity especially can have corrosive effects.

I strongly second the recommendation to try OpenOffice rather than buying MS Office. For most purposes they're indistinguishable.
posted by allterrainbrain at 11:00 AM on September 24, 2006


Yay! Folks, these are awesome, awesome answers! I'd mark everyone best but that would look a little gauche. I have learned so much, and you've convinced me that the $1099 Macbook, plus a little extra RAM love from Crucial or wherever, is the way to go. Five months, people!

An e-mail to the folks at store.apple.com states that I do qualify for the educational discount, but the opinion of a few other threads here seems to imply that going to an Apple store and claiming to be a teacher (perhaps with evidence, like my teaching certificate...) may be easier than manipulating the website - I don't teach in a public school or in the United States. Ideas?

I was reluctant to change/upgrade the RAM for the very issue that if I sent it back, I'd have problems getting them to admit the problem, but it's nice to know I can just switch it in and out - I assumed laptops weren't that easily mess-around-with-able. I also didn't know I could buy Applecare after getting the thing, and I didn't know that I could have a US-bought computer with non-US Applecare.

For the record, and my question wasn't super-clear here, I'll probably be heading to Europe in fall 2007 after leaving Indonesia in the winter and working in the States in the spring and summer. Some quick googling about shows me that there are Apple Stores/service centers in most places I'd likely be headed to, so that's good news.

I have no idea where 5) went. Meh, I was pushing the one-question rule anyway.

Again, thanks!
posted by mdonley at 6:30 PM on September 24, 2006


So lots of people have answered the question, I'd like to point out a couple of things:

A) Before committing to a "Mighty Mouse", be sure you use one in a store. I've seen several blogs commenting on how it's one of the worst products Apple has ever made, and I sure couldn't handle switching from my Logitech mouse to the Mighty Mouse. The good news is that all Logitech mice will work on a mac, so if you're too used to PC-centric mice, you'll feel comfortable with that. (and I'm making this comment strictly because you're coming from a PC history. You'll find that Apple's history with pointing devices is a veritable mine-field when talking with apple enthusiasts.)

B) If you will be using the machine outside, or in very bright areas (like the porch, next to windows at coffee shops, inside a tanning booth), be prepared for mega glare with the MacBook's new screen. A major trend across all manufacturers is to include the super-glossy screen. This makes colors much more vibrant and enhances the contrast, but it also makes the screen reflect like crazy. This might not be a problem, but it does limit the "usable-while-portable" aspect. IIRC, the MacBook is the first Apple laptop with this screen, so a prior model may look a bit more appetizing.
posted by hatsix at 11:00 PM on September 24, 2006


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