Should I buy a new CPU now, or will the prices go down soon?
November 30, 2010 5:31 PM   Subscribe

Should I buy a new computer now, or will I just kick myself in six months because it will be cheaper? I am contemplating buying the iMac, but the cost of getting 16GB of RAM upgrade adds about a grand to the total price. I really want to have a lot of speed. Is it likely for the price to go down much in the next 6 months? If so, will it be substantial (worth putting off the instant gratification), or will it be insignificant as a % of the total price? Thank you for helping me make this decision. (As a side note, does anyone know of a good PC that is comparable to the iMac? I couldn't find one that had a solid state HD) Thanks again!
posted by gibbsjd77 to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Unless you know why you need 16GB of RAM, you don't. That much RAM won't make your computer any faster unless you're processing lots of 1080p video and other such things. Save the cash and buy an Intel SSD for the iMac instead.

As they say, technology isn't going to stop advancing once you buy something. You just have to jump in when you can, and rest comfortably in the knowledge that you'll upgrade to something better eventually anyway.
posted by singularian at 5:39 PM on November 30, 2010

Do you have a reason for requiring 16GB of RAM? If you don't -- if you're buying this just to surf and play video games -- that's absolutely overkill.
posted by griphus at 5:39 PM on November 30, 2010

-You can add your own RAM and it can be a bit cheaper than the Apple option. Have you looked into this?

-RAM doesn't necessarily mean "a lot of speed". I'm guessing above 4 GB, you will only see tiny increments in speed, and only for memory intensive operations like Photoshop or video editing.

-Apple prices don't change as quickly as other manufacturers. Mostly the price will stay the same until the newer, better model comes out. Then they might do a price drop, as they recently did with the new Macbook Air models. Sometimes third party vendors have specials ($50-$100) off.

-I don't know of an all-in-one PC that is equivalent to an iMac.
posted by sharkfu at 5:39 PM on November 30, 2010

Where on earth are you getting that "about a grand" number? After ten seconds of searching, I find that OWC has 16gb kits for the iMac below $270. You don't need to buy RAM from Apple; it's easy to install it yourself. (Others are right, too, that you probably don't need 16gb in the first place.)
posted by RogerB at 5:43 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't understand. The iMac has four RAM slots. I see 4GB DDR-1333 SO-DIMMs on newegg for $60. That's $240 for 16GB. Where do you get a grand from? You wouldn't be trying to buy extra RAM from Apple, would you?
posted by thejoshu at 5:43 PM on November 30, 2010

A couple things to note:

1) Don't buy RAM from Apple, ever. You can get 16GB of RAM for an iMac for about $250 online (looking at NCIX), and even if you're not comfortable installing it yourself, I'm sure you could find someone to install it for $50.

2) The same goes for solid state drives, but I suppose that's not easily replaceable on an iMac. You should really do some research comparing the speed of Apple SSDs (well, whatever they use in their machines) and, say, Intel SSDs before deciding. SSDs are not created equal, some are much faster than others.

3) This is just me being pedantic, but CPU refers to one part of a computer, not the entire thing. Good luck!
posted by ripley_ at 5:44 PM on November 30, 2010

I really appreciate the feedback. I will look into getting the RAM and installing it myself, especially if it will save that much money. Also, I know that I don't "need" the extra RAM, but I love having a ton of speed and not having to upgrade for a long time. Thanks!
posted by gibbsjd77 at 5:55 PM on November 30, 2010

I think what you are looking for is the Macrumors Buyers Guide that anticipates when Apple is likely to update their offerings.

And just like everyone else, I'm going to say don't buy the RAM preinstalled in the mac, it's easy to get it upgraded later at a fraction of the price.
posted by WhackyparseThis at 5:55 PM on November 30, 2010

I know that I don't "need" the extra RAM, but I love having a ton of speed

Once you have enough to accommodate all the programs you're running at a given time (so that the computer doesn't swap pages in and out from the hard disk), more RAM doesn't make anything faster. You really don't need 16gb for that unless you're using the computer for video editing or some other very memory-intensive task. In any typical use, getting an SSD rather than a conventional hard drive will make a much, much larger difference to the computer's perceived speed than going from 4-8gb RAM to 16gb. Go ahead and get the extra RAM if it makes you happy, there's no harm in it; but it doesn't make sense to delay your purchase because of that upgrade expense.
posted by RogerB at 6:09 PM on November 30, 2010

N'thing you really really don't need that much RAM. I do HD video editing with 8gb and things run very fast.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:12 PM on November 30, 2010

$250 for 16GB of RAM isn't a bad price so if you really want it, have at it. That said, you're still not going to see a ton of speed from that. If you're running into memory issues now it will certainly improve that, but unless you're rendering or processing HD videos, it's not going to do a lot more for you than, say, 8GB.
posted by asciident at 6:14 PM on November 30, 2010

Computing speed is a very nebulous thing. Once you have enough RAM, another item becomes the bottleneck - CPU speed, video bus speed, hard drive throughput, etc. There is no point in overloading on one element (RAM) because at a certain point, it doesn't contribute anything to speed.

If you want to know your current bottleneck, start running System Profiler to determine what resource in your system is slowing you down.
posted by meowzilla at 6:21 PM on November 30, 2010

"Should I buy a new computer now, or will I just kick myself in six months because it will be cheaper?"

Yes, and yes. No matter when you buy, a few months later something better and cheaper will come out. But if you wait, you'll wait forever.

Buy a new computer when you need a computer. Don't try to time the market for the "ultimate best bargain" because there is no such thing.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:29 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Let's say you wait. Guess what? You'll still be in exactly the same situtation you are today. There will always be a cheaper, better everything six months down the road.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:33 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, and yes. No matter when you buy, a few months later something better and cheaper will come out. But if you wait, you'll wait forever.

That said, in my experience Apple doesn't do substantial price drops all that frequently. I bought a bottom-of-the-line 12 inch iBook g4 5-ish years ago. It cost about $1000. Last February I upgraded to a similar bottom-of-the-line 13 inch MacBook. It also cost about $1000.

In the intervening 4-5 years you get a lot more computer for that $1000, but no, I wasn't kicking myself in July because now the 13 inch MacBooks cost $500 and I could have saved a bunch of money by just holding on for a few more months. I don't even have to go to the apple website to know that the same computer I bought in February still sells for about what I paid for it.

The only place this might be different is with newer products or products they are still trying to find a niche for, like the Air, iPad, and Apple TV.
posted by Sara C. at 7:04 PM on November 30, 2010

You want speed?

Get the highest i7 processor available for laptop X, choose laptop X for it's ability to host 2 internal harddrives - make one a biggish SSD and the other a standard HD. If you're willing to sacrifice battery life, there are 7200rpm 2.5" HDs available - most 2.5" HDs are 5400.

I repeat - get thee a SSD primary harddrive. It might not *actually* speed up "processing" but by golly hell, it'll give you the impression of speed something fierce. Best bang-for-buck in making a computer "feel" speedier. Heh. Photoshop CS5 loads and is ready to roll in about 2.5 seconds (not preloaded into RAM, in Win7). If you're willing to potentially thrash your SSD, I suspect that having your temporary files and your browser cache be on the SSD might also blow your mind. Hmm, come to think of it, RAMDrives haven't really been in the popular consciousness for a while now. I wonder how effective having all of your temporary and cache files be on a 4 gig partition on a 16 gig chunk of RAM (if course, saving them to flash on shutdown, and reloading them on reboot)?

6 Gigs of DDR3 1200 RAM should do you good; if you're worried, choose laptop X for having 6 banks (iirc, DDR works in triples) - fill 3 banks, leave the other 3 blank (sorry if this doesn't apply to laptops; I bought myself my version of your laptop and was more than happy maxing out 6 Gigs on the cheap (using all the slots, but I can't remember what the configuration was).

FWIW, I recently got a Lenovo T510s with a switchable NVidia graphics card, 120G SSD primary HD, 500G magnetic secondary HD, and the top i5 they offered, and 6 Gigs of RAM. I'm loving the little beasty and this'll probably be the working computer that I'll spend my postdoc (in a year or so, for three to five years after) with. It compares well with my home desktop with a mid-range i7; stuff opens hella faster on the laptop, but serious number chrunching/video processing/HD crunching is faster on the desktop (as long as the data isn't on the laptop SSD - in some applications, the SSD kicks my desktop in the nuts). I got everything (except for an external enclosure for the slimline DVD writer) from Lenovo; could have saved ~20-25% by buying the SSD/HD/HD caddy/dock/monitor (actually, probably closer to 33% if I didn't get my 23" external mon from Lenovo... but Lenovo mons have always been aces for me) from 3rd parties.
posted by porpoise at 7:42 PM on November 30, 2010

This page might help you. The iMac is currently rated as being 'mid-cycle' (typically gets updated every 226 days; current model is 126 days into the cycle).

If being 'latest-and-greatest' is important to you, wait for the next big announcement and buy then.

If longevity is your goal, I'd recommend buying the fastest processor and biggest screen you can afford and plan to update the hard drive and ram somewhere down the line when prices fall and new OS/applications become more taxing. Add the extra life when it's cheap and you need it.
posted by mazola at 7:51 PM on November 30, 2010

If you're willing to sacrifice battery life, there are 7200rpm 2.5" HDs available - most 2.5" HDs are 5400.

Not necessarily. Check the specifications, the power consumption might be the same. I replaced a year old 5400 rpm with a 7200 rpm and it had LOWER power consumption.
posted by gjc at 6:07 AM on December 1, 2010

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