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Macbook for school- buy now or wait for a revision?
August 19, 2008 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Getting ready to go back to school and make The Switch at the same time- when to buy my Mac?

I'm going back to college next week and am getting ready to purchase a new laptop for said purpose. After being a lifelong PC user I've decided to make the switch, mainly because I refuse to run Vista. I could just buy a new PC laptop, wipe the OS, and acquire a copy of XP to drop on it, but I don't really like the idea of having to wipe a brand-new system to put an older operating system on it. It just seems like a step in the wrong direction for me.

So I'm getting ready to buy an Apple, most likely a MacBook. I've done lots of research and there's quite a bit of rumbling in the blogosphere about a possible update to the MacBook/MacBook Pro line soon, possibly as early as September. I'd like to get the new system up and running as soon as possible, so I can get used to the new OS while I have time to mess around with it (rather than when I'm trying to work on it while in the midst of a 17-credit workload).

I've examined the specs of the current MacBooks and I think the specs are great for what I need. That said, the talk of the town is that the next revision could introduce some future-critical features that I'd miss out on if I bought the current model. I've also heard, but can't confirm, that if Apple releases a new version of your product model within 30 days of purchase, you can return/exchange it for a new one- can anyone confirm or disconfirm this? I'd gladly pay the restock fee if necessary.

My budget is around $1500. As I said I've done some research but I'm interested in what MeFi's vibrant Mac community thinks about this. I already have an 80GB iPod classic so the free iPod deal doesn't really appeal to me- I could just turn it on eBay but there's a lot of talk of a September iPod revision and as such I'd anticipate the second-hand market for 1st-gen Touches to take a hit in the near future.

Bonus question- does anybody have any experience with using iWork '08 for student work (or in general)? How's that working out for you?
posted by baphomet to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The answer for Apple products is almost always: wait.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:33 AM on August 19, 2008


What blue_beetle said.
posted by furtive at 8:34 AM on August 19, 2008


I would at least wait until the last day of the free iPod promotion (September 15th), unless you have a pressing need for a new laptop before then. That keeps your options open.

As for Apple exchanging the new version for the old, I've only heard of that for people who had ordered an old product followed by a new release before the order shipped. That can stretch out into a week or two, however, because Apple lets the supply of old models dry up before a new release. The best way to ensure a long delivery time is to customize at least one aspect of the machine (more RAM, larger hard drive, etc).

A word on RAM, though: Apple gouges on RAM. You can get it for about half price from a reputable vendor like Crucial, and installing it is very easy. If you plan on ordering more than an extra GB, I would recommend doing it yourself. Hard drives are also user-upgradable, but it's not quite as easy as RAM.

Regarding iWork '08: my wife has used Pages for her law school assignments for the past year with good results, including support for Word compatibility. She has access to Office 2007 via Parallels but prefers Pages. Office only gets used to double check file compatibility. For note-taking she uses Circus Ponies Software's Notebook, which (despite the goofy name) is a popular note-taking application.
posted by jedicus at 8:37 AM on August 19, 2008


For most bang-for-the-buck, if you don't need super-wizbang features, is to get a slightly older refirb from Apple. Feature-critical features are stable in laptops since 1990. They have keyboards, displays, and harddrives. Above that, everything is just a nicety.

If you have $1500 burning in your pocket, by all means, buy new or wait for the new amazing cant-live-without-feature that people managed to live without for eons :).

My advice? Pickup the $899 MB listed at the site above, upgrade the ram to 2GB, and put $500 into savings for beer money.
posted by SirStan at 8:38 AM on August 19, 2008


And by "upgrade the ram to 2GB" I mean buy it from Newegg.com, and install it yourself (you CAN do it, I promise, it is absolutely painless on the Macbooks)
posted by SirStan at 8:39 AM on August 19, 2008


Hmmm, I would wait until next semester.
posted by Theloupgarou at 8:47 AM on August 19, 2008


Slightly off topic but absolutely buy the extended service plan. I totally love Macs but laptops get a lot of abuse (especially in student life) and we have ended up using the plan sooner or later on every laptop our family has owned.
posted by metahawk at 8:55 AM on August 19, 2008


I would like to toss in a variable that's not getting enough play in this equation: when do you need the computer?

Just because AN update to the product line may be on the way doesn't mean you should wait. It might be an insignificant one. Or it might be a significant one that moves the price point up. It's not always insanely great stuff for cheaper. I've been getting this question from people for years and years and while you can hem and haw and wring your hands forever, there will ALWAYS be an update on the way and if you focus on that, you will NEVER get your computer. These updates come every 6 to 9 months and it's only very rarely a big step up.

Is a MacBook going to be a lemon buy right now? No. Is that your worry? Or are you genuinely concerned that they might update the graphics chip from one you've never heard of to another you've never heard of and GASP you might collapse with buyer's remorse?

>>I'd like to get the new system up and running as soon as possible, so I can get used to the new OS while I have time to mess around with it (rather than when I'm trying to work on it while in the midst of a 17-credit workload).

That sounds like a good reason to me. Buy your computer. All this update prognostication is for hopeless fanboys.
posted by scarabic at 9:08 AM on August 19, 2008


>>I've also heard, but can't confirm, that if Apple releases a new version of your product model within 30 days of purchase, you can return/exchange it for a new one- can anyone confirm or disconfirm this?

This is not true. Really, just think about it. Do you think this could possibly be true? If you are an authorized reseller, you can sometimes get "price protection" if the prices go down, but that's all I've ever seen.
posted by scarabic at 9:09 AM on August 19, 2008


Absolutely do refurb, but since the latest MacBooks support 4GB of ram, install 4GB of ram. It's not significantly more expensive than buying a 2GB kit and the performance increase is astounding.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:20 AM on August 19, 2008


I'd wait until you get your student ID, then enjoy the benefits.
posted by nevercalm at 9:22 AM on August 19, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh!!! Very important: if you plan on doing any gaming on this laptop, buy a MacBook Pro, not a MacBook. Only the MacBook Pro comes with an actual video card that works with high-end games. For example, NWN 2 will not run on a normal MacBook.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:24 AM on August 19, 2008


I have the exact same problem as the OP, only it's regarding a Macbook Pro instead of just a Macbook. The update that's being rumored for both lines is a case redesign, and I've heard of possible price drops too. Is that reason enough to wait?

But then, for Macbooks, I don't think it's really worth waiting. If you're doing general computing (email, documents, Net surfing, etc.), then the current model will do fine. I'm waiting because I imagine there will be hardware changes in this big update, and for the Macbook Pro that might mean better graphics and more powerful processors, along with other improvements, and I'd like to get more bang for the buck. (Although yeah, waiting is like getting ants in your pants >.<)
posted by curagea at 9:35 AM on August 19, 2008


This is not true. Really, just think about it. Do you think this could possibly be true?

Yeah, it did sound too good to be true, but then again I read it on the internet, where lies and misinformation are filtered out as soon as you press "submit".

Is a MacBook going to be a lemon buy right now? No.

That pretty much does it for me right there. The main reason I'm buying a new computer in the first place is reliability- I've been using the same Dell desktop since 2002 (well, the same mobo and processor, the original HD and RAM were replaced due to failure and the video card due to obsolescence), and I don't want to deal with catastrophic system failure in the middle of finals week. The portability of a laptop is #2.
posted by baphomet at 10:42 AM on August 19, 2008


I've also heard, but can't confirm, that if Apple releases a new version of your product model within 30 days of purchase, you can return/exchange it for a new one- can anyone confirm or disconfirm this?

This is not true. Really, just think about it. Do you think this could possibly be true? If you are an authorized reseller, you can sometimes get "price protection" if the prices go down, but that's all I've ever seen.


You have two weeks (maybe a day or two more if the Apple Store manager is in a good mood), but if you upgrade you will have to pay a restocking fee. You can either get a refund of the difference between what your computer is selling for now (usually they knock it down a hundred or so) or pay the restocking and upgrade and walk out with the new computer.

General rule of thumb.. buy the computer when you need it and be prepared for something new to come out right after you buy and try not to regret it too much. At some point you have to make the plunge; there will always be something better coming along.

As far as iWork: Numbers lacks compared to Excel, Pages is a decent word processor and great for doing quick and dirty layout (but hey, I use TextEdit most of the time). Keynote is the best of the bunch. Fantastic. iWork is quite compatible with Office, so it's a very nice (and cheaper) alternative.
posted by starman at 10:46 AM on August 19, 2008


Slightly off topic but absolutely buy the extended service plan. I totally love Macs but laptops get a lot of abuse (especially in student life) and we have ended up using the plan sooner or later on every laptop our family has owned.
posted by metahawk


4 Laptops, all going on 3 years, no apple care, no problems beyond the first year (when the laptops are covered anyway). That's enough savings to almost buy another macbook. Not saying which is the right way to go, but that small sample sizes are nearly worthless.

In general I agree with scarabic. However, one rumored change for the macbook is going from plastic to aluminum. That's one change I'd kick myself for missing.
posted by justgary at 12:28 PM on August 19, 2008


To play contrarian: 1) If you already have a system you think is slow/useless, consider putting Ubuntu on it. You will be flabbergasted. 2) No one like Vista. Surely you can find something you like with XP on it, yes?
posted by cmiller at 12:48 PM on August 19, 2008


Speaking as someone who had to buy a new computer halfway through an 18 unit courseload this past term, I would suggest buying the laptop before school begins. You never know what each individual professor has in mind for the first week. Some professors like to take it easy while others will pile on the work during the first class. Transferring notes from an actual notebook later either doesn't happen or takes up time you could be using for something else. Last thing you want to do is to be configuring your computer (especially since you plan on doing the Boot Camp thing with XP) during the first week.

If I'm not mistaken, you can bring a printout of your schedule for this term and a regular photo ID to the store and still get the discount. Otherwise, you can also try buying at your school's student store. They sometimes have slightly better prices going than Apple's standard student discount.
posted by arishaun at 12:49 PM on August 19, 2008


What you may be thinking of with the 30 days thing is OSX upgrades; if I remember rightly, apple did offer a free upgrade to the newer version if you bought a mac directly from them up to 30 days before the release of a new version of OSX.

I'm not sure if they still do this, however, and I've not heard of it being applied to hardware.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:49 PM on August 19, 2008


I didn't get the service plan either, and haven't needed it either (mine is now two years old - only problem I had was after three months my screen started flickering - a common but not officially announced problem then as I understand it - that was dealt with under the warranty).

To be honest switching from windows to mac is easy, so I wouldn't worry too much about needing to get to grips with a new OS whilst studying if you want to wait a while. I had it down within a couple of hours. There's not much different- control key on a mac is the apple key, and the one labeled as control button is used for right click things. Once you've got that down, that's pretty much it.

And DEFINITELY wait until you can use your new student status to buy it, you'll save more! In fact I saved even more by buying from my campus computer store as they had a sale on the educational price. I think I got about $2-300 off in the end, as prices were then (plus saved myself loads more as I bought it whilst in the US when they are much more expensive in the UK where I normally live!).

Otherwise, what scarabic said. Think about what you need, and what an upgrade might provide. Think about getting or doing a memory upgrade, mine definitely seems slower now than it did, and I'm wishing I had. (no point now as I plan to upgrade the computer itself in the next year)
posted by nunoidia at 1:04 PM on August 19, 2008


To play contrarian: 1) If you already have a system you think is slow/useless, consider putting Ubuntu on it. You will be flabbergasted. 2) No one like Vista. Surely you can find something you like with XP on it, yes?

I've got an Ubuntu install disc at home that I'm going to drop on the old Dell box soon, just to check it out. I've heard great things about it and I'm sure it'll be groovy, but as I said above my big concern with keeping my current system is that my nearly 7-year-old mobo and processor will go the way of all the other hardware the computer shipped with (which as I said previously is "in the trash by necessity"), at some really critical time.

I could get something with XP on it, but there are 2 major problems I have with this. I want to buy a new computer from a major retailer so I have the option of returning it/holding someone or something accountable if something goes wrong with it, so buying a laptop on eBay, craigslist, etc., is out. And I could just buy Vista and downgrade, but putting a 2001 OS on a 2008 computer...I don't know...it just feels wrong. It's like buying a new suit and then having it tailored to get a more retro look...defeats the purpose of buying a new suit, and you still wind up with an outdated look. I shouldn't have to intentionally downgrade the primary feature of my brand new, $1,000+ machine.
posted by baphomet at 1:04 PM on August 19, 2008


And I could just buy Vista and downgrade, but putting a 2001 OS on a 2008 computer...I don't know...it just feels wrong. It's like buying a new suit and then having it tailored to get a more retro look...defeats the purpose of buying a new suit, and you still wind up with an outdated look. I shouldn't have to intentionally downgrade the primary feature of my brand new, $1,000+ machine.

You could have both XP and Vista on different partitions, if you really can't bear to get rid of Vista.
posted by curagea at 4:38 PM on August 19, 2008


Actually, I don't want to go anywhere near it =D
posted by baphomet at 4:48 PM on August 19, 2008


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