Should I buy a new or refurbed MacBook Air?
February 11, 2013 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Time for a new (to me) laptop! I know this isn't that complicated, but I hate computer shopping. Please give me your wise advice on what to get and where to get it.

I'd like a MacBook Air, but not sure whether to go with a new or refurbished one. I want something that's in good condition and is relatively recent model. I'm willing to pay for a new one, but might as well save some money if a refurbished recent model is just as good. So two questions: 1) are Apple refurbs just as good? 2) any tips for buying one, or tips on particular vintage to get?

Sneak extra question: what configuration specs do you recommend? I'm a light user - no gaming, just standard web surfing, office applications, music-listening, etc.

To give you some idea of where I'm coming from, my current computer is a hand-me-down 2006 MacBook with a busted internal wireless card, an occasional refusal to eject CDs, no battery life, a chipped case, and a keyboard on which both the zero key and the open-apple key don't work. So, yknow, I don't exactly have high standards.

There are plenty of similar previous questions, but obviously the laptop market changes from year to year. Thanks for the advice!
posted by aka burlap to Technology (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A refurbished model should be just fine - it's been factory checked. It may have cosmetic damage, which you may or may not care about. I've never had a problem with refurbished things.

It doesn't sound like you need much power - if you aren't gaming or using other processor intensive programs, an older model would work for you as well.

Other questions to ask yourself:
- will you be using it outside of the house? how often will you be carrying it around? If you are carrying it around a lot, then you might want to pay more for a lighter model. If you are leaving it on a desk at home 90% of the time, weight might not matter to you.

- do you want/need a DVD drive? I don't know about Macs, but PC laptops are still divided between those with inbuilt optical drives and those without. My mom is looking for a similar computer, but she knows that she also wants to use it as a portable DVD player, which puts most of the ultra-light laptops out (most don't have optical drives).
posted by jb at 8:23 AM on February 11, 2013

No advice on the main question -- but on config -- get the best you can find. I have a 1.5 yr old Air and I got the largest memory/processing options because it's not upgradable. I plan on having this laptop for several years (basically until it's a dinosaur), so if you're looking for something to last, make sure it has enough horsepower. The Airs tend to be less powerful than Macbook Pros because you sacrifice some of the power for portability.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:23 AM on February 11, 2013

I've had great experiences with my refurbished 2011-model Macbook Air that I bought in the summer of 2012, and it saved me plenty of money and was delivered quickly. Because you're upgrading from a 2006-era laptop, a machine from 1 or 2 years ago will seem like a stunning upgrade.

My advice is to buy it with the maximum amount of memory available. For your kinds of applications, available memory will have a greater effect on performance than raw processing speed.
posted by deanc at 8:24 AM on February 11, 2013

There are those who say that Apple's refurbs are better than their new line, in that they've already been debugged & gone over for you once.

I have bought 3 or 4 refurb Apple machines & have never had a cosmetic problem. They arrive as new, as far as the packaging & warranty.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:25 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some or maybe even a lot of Apple factory refurbs have never been used (i.e., they are unused returns), and as far as I know they have the same warranty as a brand new product, so it seems very low risk to get one.
posted by Dansaman at 8:35 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bought two refurbs with no problems (KoW). Bought one new model that needed a logic board replacement to address a video card manufacturing flaw. I don't plan on buying new again.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:47 AM on February 11, 2013

Refurbs are great, I only buy refurbbed laptops. Apple Care is useful to purchase because then if there IS a problem you can just mail the thing back [or bring it to an Apple Store] and they will repair it. I have a 15" Air and an 11" Air. I like the bigger one. Very lightweight. Worth knowing that they do not come with CD/DVD drievs (you probably know this but just in case) so you either have to buy an external one or, if you have another functioning one in your house, you can play them over the network. I do this in my house and it works great.
posted by jessamyn at 8:56 AM on February 11, 2013

The Apple Refurbished stuff is good. Refurbished from other sources can be hit or miss depending on how thoroughly they actually "refurbish" versus just using that word as a euphemism for "used."

Honestly if it's not from Apple's Refurbished site, then I'd just buy a un-euphemistically "used" one from an Amazon merchant or something, because that'll probably get you a better deal on the same thing. Very few people aside from Apple actually have the capability to honestly 'refurbish' Apple computers (the parts are stupidly expensive).
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:59 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also voting for the refurbs. I've bought a couple in recent years.

For a MacBook Air, you'll need a minimum 4GB of RAM. (This can't be upgraded in the future).

I got 8GB in mine.

Hard drive size is less of an issue, what with USB sticks and all.
posted by lukez at 9:11 AM on February 11, 2013

I just got a refurbished Macbook Air and have no complaints.
posted by yarly at 9:38 AM on February 11, 2013

Apple warranties for refurbs are identical to new equip.

I've been a Mac Consultant for 18 years, with Apple laptops, ALWAYS buy AppleCare

You can buy AppleCare cheaper from a 3rd party cheaper. I like LA Computer Center

Also as a sidenote, if you buy an Air, you will also have to buy some adapters if you ever want to connect to Ethernet or Firewire devices. And, because there is not an optical drive, installing older software takes more planning an thought.
posted by bobdow at 9:57 AM on February 11, 2013

I bought a refurbished 13" MacBook Air 6 months ago. I paid essentially the same amount as I would have for the new base model, but I got the bigger 256 GB hard drive in exchange for one previous generation of processor. Absolutely no complaints, love the computer, would do again, etc. etc.
posted by psycheslamp at 10:13 AM on February 11, 2013

I got a 2010 11" mba in summer of 2012. I've been very happy with it, though I kind of miss the backlit keyboard once in a while. I get peace of mind from knowing I didn't break the bank and can replace it if I need to, and not lament if I bang it up a bit.

As far as configuration, 13" vs 11" is obvious for some, not for me. I actually got and returned a 13" before settling on the 11". I miss the longer battery life once in a while but I love the extra portability. I would enjoy the larger screen size if I had it but don't really miss it now that I'm used to the 11".

I wouldn't go less than 4gb ram. You might be able to get 8gb depending what year you go for but you probably won't miss it with your uses. I wouldn't pay a premium for more hard drive space than you realistically see a need for now. If you get the 13", you can get something like the nifty mini drive for extra storage for things like music (or just use SD cards).
posted by Salamandrous at 10:39 AM on February 11, 2013

Bought a reburbished 13" MacBook Air about 6 months ago as well (8/256). Got there through a curious route involving buying, then returning, two different older MacBook Pros. There's thin, and then there's _thin_ . It's hard to state just how tough an SSD really is over a traditional HD.

Some interesting anecdata: I was recently using my MacBook Air to repair my old iMac (which I accidentally erased). I connected them via USB, then booted the iMac as a hard drive (hold down the 't' key). The MBA actually found the CD drive in the iMac, and I was able to start up a disk repair program that way.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:52 AM on February 11, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the great answers, everyone! This is really helpful. Glad to hear more tips/advice if you've got it! I'm not married to the idea of an Air (considered the Pro, but it seems to be higher-level than I need), but these are encouraging answers.
posted by aka burlap at 11:06 AM on February 11, 2013

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