I'm a PC
October 1, 2008 7:04 PM   Subscribe

mac purchase advice: I'd like to pick up a used mac laptop on ebay for under $400. What specs or models should I look for that will give me the least buyers regret?

ie, how fast a processor do i need? Should I choose a g3? g4? intel processors? how much memory do i need? etc.

I dont need usb 2.0, i dont need pc card slot, just wireless and a cdrom drive.

Mainly my concern is to not pick up something that is dog slow. I guess i'd like it to be able to run the latest OS (is that possible on older macs?)

I dont know diddly about macs by the way. I"m a pc guy all the way (and will remains so ;) but I want to experiment with macs a bit to prepare for a school-related project that will involve some macs.
posted by jak68 to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
i'm still rocking an ibook g4, just upgraded to 1 gig of ram, should run tiger fine.
posted by emptyinside at 7:32 PM on October 1, 2008

$400 is about the fair price for a late-model 12in iBook with built-in wireless and combo drive. You're likely to have to pay a wee bit more, most likely, to get one of the first-edition MacBooks. You'll ideally want it with over 1Gb RAM. You're might also want to look at Craigslist for a local sale, as some of long-term PPC Mac owners are still making the jump to Intel.

That level of hardware means you'll miss out on a few Intel-only things, but as long as there's enough RAM under the bonnet, you can run Leopard at a decent clip. (I'm selling my 2003 iBook for around that price.)
posted by holgate at 7:37 PM on October 1, 2008

If you go with a G4 make sure that your processor speed is 866Mhz or higher if you want to run Leopard. While it's possible to install it on lower class hardware, it is not easy.
posted by mge at 7:37 PM on October 1, 2008

Response by poster: thanks all. what are the intel-only features? Would I miss them in normal use? (word processing, web surfing).
posted by jak68 at 7:58 PM on October 1, 2008

I had a PB G4 1.5Ghz with 1 GB of ram that was adequate for just about everything (including audio production) except running Windows under virtualization/emulation up until this April, and I would have kept it longer if it hadn't malfunctioned. I bought it for $900 two years ago, that was a bit of a steal then, but I still imagine you could find one nowadays under $400.

Whether it'd be in good condition is the sticker. Best bet: if possible buy from people who are the previous owners, not selling for someone else, who obviously know the machine and its history well. Ask if they had AppleCare, ask if they've had to replace anything, ask if it's running Tiger or Leopard and if they have the install disks, ask in particular if the screen is in good condition and the hinges are healthy. Ask any number of other questions to make sure they know the machine well.
posted by weston at 7:59 PM on October 1, 2008

Response by poster: also, would an ibook g3 instead of g4 be a bad idea? (assuming both at 800mhz or higher)
posted by jak68 at 8:00 PM on October 1, 2008

My old g3 800mhz was fine for most internet browsing, but had a hard time playing flash videos like youtube etc. There are also problems with some g3 logic boards crapping out. I'd try and stick to a g4 if I was you.
posted by meta87 at 8:05 PM on October 1, 2008

Yes, a G3 would be a bad idea.

I just bought a 12 or 13" G4, 1.07gHz, 40Gb, 768Mb, 802.11g, from an auction site (ex-corporate, not ebay) for AUD400. I think that was a pretty good deal.

We also have at home, a G3 for which I've cranked the RAM enough to run 10.3.9... and it is useable, though not really pleasant. More importantly, it won't do WPA, and the battery is so old it won't hold a charge. I'd be surprised if many G3 laptops didn't need a battery replacement, which will cost so much that you may as well have bought a better G4. Also, I think you'd have a lower ceiling on RAM, though I'm not certain on that.

You won't miss the intel-only features if you don't know what they are (he types, on an intel mac). They're largely about compatibility with other OSs.

Low End Mac used to be really good for this sort of thing. Now, it seems, they're just 'good'.
posted by pompomtom at 8:11 PM on October 1, 2008

(also: the cdrom on a G3 is probably on its last legs, if it works at all...)
posted by pompomtom at 8:12 PM on October 1, 2008

I have a g3 800 which I'm about to replace. There's a 640MB ceiling on RAM and it *barely* runs xubuntu 7.04. I recommend strongly against a g3.
For comparison, I'm replacing it with a 1.33gHz g4 from a local repairer/reconditioner, and I'm paying $550 Australian.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:06 PM on October 1, 2008

I also have a 12" ibook G4 that I've upgraded to 1 gig of RAM and I love it. It even runs World of Warcraft pretty well. I only use it for web browsing and iPhoto so I haven't really run into an issue with it not being an Intel Mac.
posted by cabingirl at 9:09 PM on October 1, 2008

If you don't *have* to have a laptop, you might consider a Mac Mini, which can be had for a few hundred more and is infinitely faster than a G4. You can even run Windows on it under Parallels/Fusion.
posted by cnc at 10:09 PM on October 1, 2008

what are the intel-only features?

It's not so much features as app compatibility. Virtualization: Parallels, VMWare, VirtualBox. Silverlight 2 (the Olympics streams from NBC were Intel-only). Some of Adobe's more recent stuff. Some recent games. No huge show-stoppers for word processing or the web.
posted by holgate at 10:47 PM on October 1, 2008

Response by poster: thanks for the very useful tips, everyone. So I guess I'm leaning towards an ibook g4 (either 12 or 14") with a gig of ram and 800mhz or higher, seems like there are quite a few on ebay and elsewhere for around $400 more or less. I'm not ready to buy this very second but I think thats what I'll aim for when I'm ready.
posted by jak68 at 11:03 PM on October 1, 2008

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