What's the best $250 add to a 13" MacBook?
February 9, 2010 7:40 PM   Subscribe

My daughter is about to buy a 13" MacBook after working & saving for quite a while. I'd like to add to the fun to the tune of $200-300, but how to use the extra money? Upgrade to MacBook Pro 13? Software? AppleCare (she's 12 and will be schlepping it to school daily)? Something I haven't thought of?

She'll be doing a fair amount of video editing along with the usual writing papers. She is not a gamer. I've got a 17" LCD monitor gathering dust she can use if she wants. We're able to get academic discounts on software and I like to stay legal. I'd especially like comments on the AppleCare - I've got an aversion to "extended warranties" but want to know what your experience has been. That said, insurance is pretty boring and it'd be nice to be able to give her something fun.
posted by skyscraper to Computers & Internet (44 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Absolutely get the AppleCare. And maybe a sleeve or something.
posted by runningwithscissors at 7:43 PM on February 9, 2010 [7 favorites]

Forgo the AppleCare for now (you get one year for free anyway, you can purchase extended AppleCare 11 months and 29 days down the road if you so desire) and get her a great carrying case and an extra power cable, so she can have one plugged in in her room and another in the living room, so she can come hang out with the family while working away on the computer without having to lug around a power cord.
posted by banannafish at 7:45 PM on February 9, 2010

I might tend towards upgrading her to the Pro. The aluminum body has a nice sturdy feel to it, and it's not as much of a scratch magnet.

Also a case.

Man, kids these days. They use laptops at school nowadays?
posted by that girl at 7:46 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Agreed with the AppleCare, especially for a 12 year old taking it outside of the house daily. Boring, but better than paying a lot more if it gets bumped out of her hands by another student. Also, the Apple Store charges sales tax so you'll want to cover that as well.
posted by mnemonic at 7:46 PM on February 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Buy Applecare on ebay for a fraction of the cost. Just make sure the seller has a solid history for previous applecare transactions. You can also wait a while before doing this like bananafish suggested. Applecare is not like other extended warranties.

If she does a fair amount of video editing, you may want to get her this.
posted by special-k at 7:48 PM on February 9, 2010

Best answer: AppleCare is totally not fun but a good idea, especially for a laptop. This way if something goes funky you can just mail the whole thing back to Apple and get it sent back quicklike.

There are a lot of nice sleeves that would appeal to a 12 year old that would allow her to put the laptop easily in a backpack or shoulder bag. I recommend neoprene. I have this one, it's nice. Maybe a fun small ipod to sort of tandem with it? Or a Flip camera?

Lately I've bought my AppleCare through an ebay Mac salesman who seems to sell them as a loss-leader and they're cheaper than of the shelf. I've bought two from him and registered and used them okay so I don't get any scam vibe from him. I'll MeMail you the details.
posted by jessamyn at 7:50 PM on February 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: i've been on macs since my first one in 1991ish and have never needed apple care, but that may just be me. (i have a hunch i veer geekier than most mac people do.)

if she's gonna be doing video editing, i'd spring for the MBP. you can stuff twice the RAM into the thing and it'll help her video work go faster. the MBP also has a firewire port that will be handy if she's using a DV camera. plus higher resolution display and prettier too (what with the glass overlay; better pictures).

as far as form factor goes, i like how the MBP's scuff up better than the MB's. the white plastic gets kinda grimy, but the metals take more kid abuse and she can sticker the heck out of the thing to make it hers.
posted by patricking at 7:55 PM on February 9, 2010


Also, make sure she backs up to an external drive regularly, or you will have a tearful young lady on your hands the first time it must go in for service!

Can you find classes for graphic design or the like? Because that might be fun.

God yes, a carrying case.

And maybe check with your homeowner's or renter's insurance to make sure that little nugget is covered for theft.

posted by jbenben at 7:59 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Probably so is insurance.

Yeah. Especially since she is so young and likely to spill a drink or drop it (both not covered under apple care). I pay less than $30 a year to get a separate rider for my MB Pro and it covers full replacement value for any reason and does not affect my other insurance premiums.
posted by special-k at 8:05 PM on February 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Somebody correct me if I'm wrong. AppleCare is for manufacturing defects and does not cover damage due to accidents or abuse. You need additional insurance from a third party for that.

b. Limitations. The Plan does not cover:
(ii) Damage to the Covered Equipment caused by accident, abuse, neglect, misuse (including faulty installation, repair, or maintenance by anyone other than Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider), unauthorized modification, extreme environment (including extreme temperature or humidity), extreme physical or electrical stress or interference, fluctuation or surges of electrical power, lightning, static electricity, fire, acts of God or other external causes;

source (pdf link)
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:05 PM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: I'm overwhelmed so far. PecussivePaul's point is a big one - comments?

Sorry, made the mistake of posting right before dinner - BRB.
posted by skyscraper at 8:11 PM on February 9, 2010

A bookbook case?
posted by dhruva at 8:15 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just went through this with my sister and her nephew, who just turned 13 and wanted to buy a laptop with money he had saved.

I suggested the MacBook Pro (sturdier case + will support 8GB RAM vs. the 4GB max for the MB + FireWire 800 + backlit keys). Also, there are some free-after-rebate deals to be found on all-in-one printer/scanners and Windows virtualization software if you look a little. I also suggested that she get it with the minimal RAM from Apple and upgrade with third party RAM from NewEgg or similar (4GB total @ $100, i.e., 2GB X 2). In the same vein, one could buy it with the minimal 160GB hard drive, buy a larger HD from someplace like NewEgg (500GB @ $90), swap in the new drive, and mount the original HD in an external case (USB + FireWire 800 @ ~$30) to use as a backup.

As was mentioned, you she can always buy the Apple Care at any point before the 1-year warranty expires.
posted by mosk at 8:16 PM on February 9, 2010

Look into Safeware. Or see if your homeowners/renters will let you add it on on a personal articles policy.
posted by rbs at 8:16 PM on February 9, 2010

Is she really 12? Or did you mean 21? My answers would be radically different for those two. I'm praying it was 21...I work with elementary/middle schoolers a few days a week and they would most definitely not be allowed to have those in a classroom, I just graduated from high school a few years ago and wasn't allowed to use them in class either, and I went to a fairly upper-class school. And I'm assuming that's how she's getting the education discount? Anyways:

Don't bother with an extra power cord, it's not that hard to move them and even my lowly 13" old(er) macbook has a good battery life, the new ones have an even better battery life.

Yes to a case, but make sure it's one she likes. If she won't use a case, get one of the hard plastic casings- I usually don't put my macbook in a case, just throw it in whatever bag I'm using (which is bad, but they always take up space and get caught on things)...a casing is better for me than a case.

I would ask her what she wants. Personally, I would want to either upgrade to a pro or get something to complement it...a digital camera, an ipod, something like that.
posted by kro at 8:17 PM on February 9, 2010

Oh wow, completely missed your comment when I previewed. Anyways, I still would go with what she wants. It would be nice upgrading her to a macbook pro, but what if she really wanted a new video camera to assist in her video editing, or vice versa?
posted by kro at 8:19 PM on February 9, 2010

Safeware is a complete waste of money. Especially if you already have homeowners/renters insurance.
posted by special-k at 8:21 PM on February 9, 2010

Either a backup drive (no need to get a Time Capsule, any brand such as Western Digital will do) or Apple Care.
posted by radioamy at 8:23 PM on February 9, 2010

I'd be tempted towards a SSD and perhaps a decent-sized external drive for Time Machine and/or offloading data from video edits.

The one reason I've had to call on AppleCare for my Mac laptops has been hard drive failure (touch wood on this one, even with a backup) and swapping out the HD is much easier now than with older models. It's the one mechanical part under the hood, which means that it has a mechanical part's lifespan and susceptibility to damage; while SSDs are still power-user territory and a lot of buck for limited bang ($250 for 60GB right now), it's worth looking into.

On the other hand, I like the Pros a lot, and will probably get one in the summer; they're also likely to be updated soon, and if you buy one now, you'll get in at the top of the cycle for the expected new CPU (and possibly new graphics chipset), whereas the MacBooks are on slightly older silicon.
posted by holgate at 8:40 PM on February 9, 2010

I'm overwhelmed so far. PecussivePaul's point is a big one - comments?

It's pretty much the case in practice, I think. Evidence of misuse or physical damage means risking no AppleCare coverage for your computer, though I don't think Apple abuses this in any way.

Let me also be the loan dissenter on the AppleCare issue, as I've yet to be bitten by that zombie. If you really see yourself or her needing and benefiting from the tech support AppleCare offers, do consider it. But if you are, like me, a fairly tech-savvy (can install ram, replace aftermarket hard drives, etc.) person, there are few software problems that a trip to google can't fix. For the hardware, you get a year's coverage anyway, and you have that entire period before committing the money to AppleCare, as bananafish noted. So is two extra years of hardware failure coverage, over which period the laptop itself has already lost substantial value, worth possibly over 25% of the depreciated cost of the device, especially if you can replace a HD or RAM for considerably less by following a 5 minute YouTube tutorial? I say no, but I'm always curious to hear why AppleCare is a worthwhile gamble.

I would consider a nice external drive for regular TimeMachine backups before I bought anything else.
posted by drpynchon at 8:43 PM on February 9, 2010

Lone dissenter. Dammit.
posted by drpynchon at 8:44 PM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: I'm still absorbing - thanks for all you've noted so far.

mosk - thanks for the nudge towards upgrading ourselves, I'm totally comfortable with that.

We've got homeowner's insurance that's been great so far - I'll check with them on what it covers here.

I think there's some coverage if we use a debit card through our bank - I'll check.

I'm good about the backup thing - we've got a network going with a regular backup and I'll make sure she gets on board.

Hadn't considered the cases - that's a great idea.

The eBay AppleCare thing sounds good - I'll look into it.

Yes, she's 12. Laptops are not unusual at her school with the wealthy families (not us) buying them and the struggling families (also not us) getting assistance from the school. Some girls get by without a laptop, but I can't think of why we'd not go with it if she can pay herself.
posted by skyscraper at 8:49 PM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: Hmm, took too long to post without preview.

I'll consider the SSD, but she'd be insufferable is she got something I don't have.

holgate, thanks for the word on the update cycle.

drpynchon, good advice - I'm comfortable with opening things up and troubleshooting, although the last Apple product I used on a daily basis was a Lisa. Are you related to that nice Tyrone boy?
posted by skyscraper at 8:58 PM on February 9, 2010

Regarding AppleCare warranty, I'm an IT director for a school with 400 laptops the students take home and abuse them. Not intentionally, but just daily use between classes, going home, etc, they incur bruises. Absolutely, I'd get the warranty. We've only had out laptops since September, and a large number of them have had to go back in for various repairs.

PercussivePaul does make a valid point though, which in part comes down to educating your daughter on proper laptop care (something we as a school try to emphasize over and over). We've had a few laptops with outside (chiefly cosmetic) damage, and Apple will not repair those damages. However, all the important damages- screen going bad (assuming it's not cracked, which is much much easier to do than students realize. I cannot emphasize enough that placing heavy objects on the laptop can crack the screen, as can putting it in a bookbag full of stuff where the stuff is pressing against the screen. If it's evident the screen cracked from backside pressure, AppleCare tends not to cover it and that $500), hard drive crashing, keyboard going out, basically hardware issues making the laptop inoperable, have been fully repaired with no issues.

As far as cases, Speck covers have been extremely popular. If you go through Amazon, they're much cheaper. Just be sure you get a cover for the correct laptop. If it's clear, she can even put pictures and other assorted fun things on the backside if the school allows it. However, as far as aa separate, "real" carrying case goes, I'd rather invest the money in a hard speck case for the laptop itself and a backback meant for laptops rather than the separate carrying bag. Students already have enough books and crap to carry around- chances are she won't carry around an entire other bag all day long. Ours don't.

One last thought: Check with your school's IT department if you can get education pricing. Apple tends to be lax about that- if the machine's for education, even at home, it may fall under their education policy and if enough people buy their laptops together through the school, you can get a substantial discount. They might already have a program along these lines set up.
posted by jmd82 at 9:07 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

AppleCare, AppleCare, AppleCare. Says the girlfriend of the adult guy who dropped his MacBook coming home from school, with no AppleCare and was SOL.
posted by ishotjr at 9:10 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Applecare is a bad idea in this case. It's not going to cover accidental damage. Also, the unibody MacBooks do a bang-up job of protecting the logic board from flex -- previously, this was the cause of most trouble with Apple laptops. The latest editions are incredibly reliable vs. those made 3-6 years ago. The AppleCare bandwagon is not the deal/requirement it once was.
posted by mmdei at 9:22 PM on February 9, 2010

If you do end up going for a MacBook Pro, you might consider waiting a bit, as Apple will likely release new models soon and you will get a better computer for your buck. Check out the MacRumors Buyer's Guide.
posted by oulipian at 9:30 PM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Get BOTH a case that attaches to the laptop (like this speck one) as well as a sleeve (like this). That, and/or a backpack with a great, padded, secure feeling laptop section. I have one that I love, but I don't know the manufacturer, sorry.

Other options: wireless mouse (I think a lot of mac people aren't so into them, but I wouldn't be without mine), bamboo pen and touch tablet (a really amazing way to use a computer, and she'd probably especially like one if she's creative. I bought my first tablet around her age and used it constantly., iPod, USB TV tuner (both a bad idea and a really fun one at the same time, prepare for her o disappear for days at a time into her room), bluetooth headphones (does it come w/ bluetooth built it? If not, get a dongle. They're also really useful for tranferring pictures of phones and things like that).
posted by R a c h e l at 9:32 PM on February 9, 2010

First and foremost, congrats to your daughter! I don't know many 12 y.o. with the resolve to save up to buy their first computer (in fact I don't know many adults who can do as much without a credit card). It sounds like you have a very capable and responsible young girl on your hands. With that said, why don't you explain some of the above options to her and have her decide what she would like?
posted by Term of Art at 9:34 PM on February 9, 2010

I'll second what mosk said above about the RAM and HDD. I suggest buying the 13" Macbook Pro with the least RAM and HDD available, then upgrade yourself by buying them from newegg. You'll save a lot of money, Apple charges a stupid amount for RAM and larger drives. For a 12 year old some kind of hard shell case would be good to have to keep the laptop safe, applecare or not. The aluminum bodied laptops are tough but not impossible to destroy.

The last thing you could look into if there is any serious video editing in the future would be replacing the optical drive with a 2.5" SSD and using the SSD for a boot drive, you can get 9.5mm height SATA-SATA caddies that mount in the location occupied by the DVD-RW for about $40. It does slightly decrease battery life to have two drives (3.5W Intel SSD + 4.5W 500GB 5400rpm drive, for example) but putting the boot partition on the SSD is a huge performance increase.
posted by thewalrus at 9:45 PM on February 9, 2010

Applecare has the additional value of tech support. They will walk me through any difficult setup with any program. I have also used them to ask very (very) stupid questions, which they answered in a minute, but would have taken me hours until I went "doh!".
posted by Vaike at 9:53 PM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: Term of Art - thanks, we're lucky to have her in the family. I was actually not planning on presenting her with a fait accompli but was trying to understand what options we've got. We'll talk it over and decide together, but I'm the dad so of course Ihave to go into the conversation knowing everything.

R a c h e l - We've got a Wacom pad we use a fair amount already and my daughter's familiar with it - thanks for the reminder, I'll make sure she knows how to use it with her laptop. She will not be disappearing into her room - we've got an informal but closely observed policy that all all TV & computer is out here in the open. We'll see how long that lasts as the teen years advance. Thanks for the pointers on the cases.

the walrus - we'll almost certainly go with a minimal configuration on either the macbook or the mb pro and I'll upgrade as needed - newegg and I are old friends. I am tending towards suggesting the macbook pro with cases & a delayed look at AppleCare.
posted by skyscraper at 10:05 PM on February 9, 2010

Do you already have a Mac at home? If you do, a MobileMe account would help just in case she loses it or it's stolen. While it's unlikely she'd use the other features right now, I think the security that comes with knowing exactly where your laptop is (or at least the last location it was) is priceless. Sorry if I glossed over something that makes this obsolete or obvious.
posted by june made him a gemini at 10:06 PM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: june made him a gemini - our Apple collection consists solely of low-grade iPods, although my wife has her eye on an iPad. I'll take a look at MobileMe so at the very least I know what it is.

I'm sleepy - off to bed. Thank you one and all, I'll be poring over your advice in the days to come.
posted by skyscraper at 10:40 PM on February 9, 2010

Erm, is a regular macbook a good idea for someone that wants to do video editing? I love mine, but I was dismayed when I tried to start up final cut the other day and it said my video card was insufficient.

(it's an old copy that someone gave me when I bought a laptop from them, so it's possible newer versions work on regular macbooks, but it's something to consider)
posted by flaterik at 11:14 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm always curious to hear why AppleCare is a worthwhile gamble.

It's my understanding that quite a few people recommend extended warranties on laptops because laptops are (a) less reliable/more damage prone than desktops; (b) harder to repair than desktops; and (c) more expensive to replace than desktops.

For example, I could replace the motherboard on my desktop PC easily and cheaply; loads of places make motherboards so I could buy a replacement for about $100. On the other hand, if I had a problem with the logic board in my laptop, I would only have one source for replacement parts ($750 to replace a logic board?!) and the repair would be more complicated.

So is two extra years of hardware failure coverage, over which period the laptop itself has already lost substantial value, worth possibly over 25% of the depreciated cost of the device,

Well, it's always an option to self-insure - especially if AppleCare really costs 25% of the laptop's value - as long as you've got the liquidity to pay out for a replacement if the laptop fails. A 12-year-old girl who saved up to buy a laptop might not have that liquidity.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:52 AM on February 10, 2010

Cheap Wacom tablet (Bamboo perhaps) and max out the RAM if you haven't already.
posted by monocultured at 2:28 AM on February 10, 2010

Will you not get Academic Apple care which is substantially cheaper, and Academic Apple pricing?

No wait - thats just for Uni students... hmm


If you have any one that is a teacher, student et cetera.. have them buy it for you.

Savings are significant for the hardware, and the AppleCare costs but a third.
posted by artaxerxes at 8:18 AM on February 10, 2010

Just to chime in very specifically about AppleCare. I've had four Macs with AppleCare over the past six or seven years and I've been thinking about what people have said, that maybe it's a Jumbo's Magic Feather sort of situation, so I figured I'd outline what AppleCare did for me that was useful.

Just in case you don't know the mechanism. AppleCare, when you buy it, extends the normal one year warrantee to three years. If you buy a machine with no AppleCare, you get 90 days free phone support and a year warrantee on things that are broken. This means that you can always take the thing to an Apple Store [if there is one near you, there is not one near me] to get service/support within that year, but even calling them to obtain warrantee support outside of the 90 days can be a bit of a pain [my experience is that they will try to make you pay for a fee-for-support situation and you'll get the money back if it turns out something is really wrong that requires real support]. It also covers normal wear and tear, in my experience. If she's treating it normally and it falls apart, they'll deal with it. If she drops it, maybe not.

So with my machines -- iBook, Macbook g4, Macbook Air, iMac -- I've gotten AppleCare. I think what I paid worked out to maybe an extra $6-7 a month overall. The iBook was one of the ones with the logic board problem and I sent it back to Apple three times before they finally replaced it with a new one. The problem did eventually become its own separate Apple issue [i.e. I could have returned it even though it was outside its warrantee] but initially it wasn't and only the fact that I had AppleCare made them willing to accept it for repair. The second laptop had that cracking plastic problem on the case. Again, later turned into its own issue, but they were willing to talk to me and accept it for repair. The Macbook air had a jumpy trackpad and I could talk to someone on the phone for 20 min trying to debug it [and this thing is pretty near impossible to service myself, I'm definitely of the "add your own RAM" camp] and the iMac came with a buggy mouse that needed to be returned [after the 90 day phone support period and before I'd bought AppleCare, sort of a pain working this one out. I just bought Apple Care and called back].

In each case, I had the option of going to the Apple Store, but it's a two hour drive from here and just not a real options. I appreciated having someone to talk to on the phone. This may or may not be within your comfort zone, but just wanted to put this out there.
posted by jessamyn at 8:51 AM on February 10, 2010

The other point about AppleCare is that it extends to the various bits and doodahs that don't have separate coverage plans -- an Airport base station, for instance. As jessamyn suggests, "I have Applecare" really does smooth things out if anything goes wrong outside of your area of proficiency, which may feel like a kind of extortion, but is perhaps best rationalised as part of the sticker price that you can choose to decline.
posted by holgate at 10:44 AM on February 10, 2010

I don't know anything about Apple Care, but I got a 3-year accident protection warranty when I bought my MacBook (at Best Buy). A year later, I knocked my computer off of a table, a heavy glass landed on top of it, and the LCD screen was shattered.

I was devastated (I love my Mac!) until I remembered my warranty. Took it in, had the screen replaced, good as new. All free...it was the best money I ever spent.
posted by mingodingo at 11:02 AM on February 10, 2010

Lots of people are advocating adding your own RAM (and I've done this myself several times, even in the extremely upgrade-unfriendly Mac Mini), but Apple's markup on RAM is not nearly as bad as it used to be. They'll charge you $100 for upgrading from 2 to 4 GB, exactly as much as the quoted price from NewEgg above. (Although if you go with the after-market upgrade, you can make a few bucks selling the original RAM, making Apple's upgrade a bit less attractive.)

Hard drives, on the other hand, are still probably something you'll want to upgrade yourself. Apple's charges are fairly hefty, and you can always use the original one for backups.
posted by ocha-no-mizu at 11:05 AM on February 10, 2010

I'd add RAM and, depending on what she does with it, space. Those are the two things I always automatically upgrade when I get a new machine because, for whatever reason, Apple laptops never seem to have enough to begin with.

I'm with whoever upthread mentioned never needing AppleCare despite riding my machines pretty hard daily (and I've been using apple laptops since I was a teenager), but I get the impression that's not common, so...

And DEFINITELY a good, reliable, easy-to-use protective sleeve or whatever. There's no way that puppy's leaving the house without something good there. I schlepped my laptop to school every day in a simple sleeve like the one jessamyn linked to, placed in a separate compartment of my normal book bag.
posted by ifjuly at 11:31 AM on February 10, 2010

On the other hand, if I had a problem with the logic board in my laptop, I would only have one source for replacement parts ($750 to replace a logic board?!) and the repair would be more complicated.

It's absolutely true that the two dreaded hardware issues that AppleCare will save you on is a busted LCD or a busted logic board. That said, I think there's some data out there suggesting that major hardware booboos happen in the first year most commonly when you just happen to by a dud off the assembly line. I guess the question is whether it's worth the fairly expensive cost of the plan to insure against these two problems occurring in years 2 and 3.

Incidentally, on my Santa Rosa MBP, I did have just such a problem -- a crapped out logic board at year 2 (I suspect due to chronic overheating that is a problem on my model). And, yeah, AppleCare would have covered it, but when I took it into the store, the guys inspected the machine for physical damage, didn't see any, and offered some alternative repair option that only cost $350. I wish I knew what the Apple guys call this repair policy but the "Genius" told me it would fix and replace whatever hardware was broken (including logic board). In light of that fall back, AppleCare seems even less worthwhile.

In each case, I had the option of going to the Apple Store, but it's a two hour drive from here and just not a real options. I appreciated having someone to talk to on the phone. This may or may not be within your comfort zone, but just wanted to put this out there.

So this was definitely something I hadn't considered as I have three or four Apple Stores within a few miles of me, and definitely does make sense.
posted by drpynchon at 11:11 AM on February 13, 2010

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