~What is the best (and cheapest) way to purchase an Apple (Mac) Computer?

During the recent holidays, I have been repeatedly asked for advice on purchasing a new Mac, especially from potential switchers, who want to continue to run some of their Windows applications. I have quoted below my answer to this question as posted on another forum.

While only you can decide what’s best for you, money can be saved with some careful research and planning. Here are some suggestions that may be of help.

1) Choose among the four basic flavors. The MacBook and MacBook Pro are notebook computers, with the MacBook Pro having greater “horsepower” than the lower end MacBook. The iMac is a desktop all in one computer with the CPU and drives housed in a single case with the screen. And the Mac Pro is the top of the line tower configuration, and much more expensive than the iMac. There is also the budget priced Mac Mini, a small form factor system unit to which you must add a monitor, keyboard and mouse, however, this unit is not suitable for running multiple operating systems, especially if using graphics intensive applications.

2) Purchase your Mac with the base memory (ram) configuration. Memory can often be purchased at dramatic discounts by buying at after market outlets. Just make sure you purchase the correct memory and amount of ram for your machine. One online supplier that makes this easy is Other World Computing, though MacMall and MacConnection also sell Apple memory. One example of the savings is to configure a new iMac with 4gb instead of the 1gb standard will cost you about $799. If you purchase the machine with 1gb and then purchase 4gb from OWC for $99 (the current price as of this writing), you will have saved $699!

3) The next decision is where to purchase your computer. Again there are a number of places to purchase online, just make sure you do your research and purchase from a reputable dealer. MacMall and MacConnection are well respected online sources for everything Apple. Note that MacMall will even install and configure your Mac with Boot Camp, Parallels or VMware Fusion, and XP or Vista, so your Mac will be ready to go when you receive it. You can also of course purchase from Apple, at a retail store, or online. If you are a government employee, visit the Apple Government site for deep discounts on computers and lesser discounts on other Apple products. If you are a student, teacher or staff member of a registered educational institution, check the Apple Education site for similar discounts. If you have a frugal budget, you may also want to consider purchasing a refurbished computer from Apple.

4) No matter where you make your purchase, the AppleCare extended warranty is a must have. Not only will this provide unlimited software and hardware support (including free telephone support) for three years, but it will vastly improve the resale value of your computer if you choose to sell your computer within the warranty period.

14 thoughts on “~What is the best (and cheapest) way to purchase an Apple (Mac) Computer?

  1. Heed says:

    I disagree with the claim that the Mac mini is “not suitable for running multiple operating systems”. Even the basic model surpasses the minimum requirements for VMware Fusion.

    In fact, if you do a side-by-side comparison of the Mac mini vs. the iMac, you will notice that the features are nearly identical (especially the 2 GHz mini vs. 2 GHz iMac). The main difference (aside from the inclusion of a display) is the shared graphics memory of the mini vs. dedicated memory of the iMac. This makes a somewhat noticeable difference for things like image/graphics processing (“Artista software”) and gaming, but not for the rest of the things you would like it to do. Obviously, that is a bigger deal to some people than others.

    So, to sum up the mini vs. iMac debate, buy a mini if you would like to save a little cash by using an existing/cheaper display. Buy an iMac if you would like a discount on a very nice Apple display with your Mac purchase or are into graphics-intensive things. Although if you are into graphics-intensive things, the Mac Pro would be far better if it is worth the cost for you.

  2. bm says:

    mac mini is the g4 cube
    and its obviously dying out the same.
    they wont update bc why have the wires of the mini when the imac reduces so many already.

  3. @2 If you have a monitor and keyboard already a Mini is a good investment. You can pick one up for a little over $600-800 that will do most of what the average person does with their machines. Its not for the graphic intensive user or the gamer but its useful for most things. In addition, its an easier sell for a switcher who would more than likely have a monitor, keyboard, and mouse already lying around. I think we may yet see some type of update, perhaps in the way of a revamped form factor and specs but definitely some sort of update…

    Long live the Mini!

  4. It’s worth noting that you don’t have to buy applecare at the time of purchase, and you don’t have to get it from the same place you purchased your Macintosh. I know a number of people who got their applecare at a decent discount off of amazon. Applecare for my iMac was $169 from apple, but if you look at Amazon, you’ll see that you can get it for $20 less than direct from Apple. Sometimes there are links for other vendors who will sell the Applecare for even less.

    I agree, Applecare is well worth the money.

  5. fred derks says:

    John, I can buy a current imac model MB323LL/A for $900. It’s 5 months old and comes with and extra gig of memory and ilife. The person said he paid around $1400 at the Apple Store 5 months ago.
    Question: Would you make this purchase of just use MacMall at their current price,around $1134,that doesn’t include the memmory upgrade or the ilife,but it would be a new machine and a full one year warranty? At MacMall I believe I could get a printer for free which I need.
    Any insight here would help me.


    1. Fred – personally I would go with the new model from MacMall and purchase 4gb memory from OWC, which is currently advertised at $49. I am always skeptical of why a person would sell a computer only 5 months after purchasing it, especially if there have been no significant recent model changes, which there haven’t for the iMac line. The seller may of course have a legitimate reason (needs $$$) for making the sale. If he included a 3-year AppleCare warranty and convinced me the machine was functioning well, I might be swayed otherwise. Hope that helps, John.

  6. fred derks says:

    John, He stated the reason for selling is that he bought it for his wife who is stuck on Windows. She thought she could get use to a Mac but prefers Windows(PC). He also states the computer has only been on for a few hours.
    It is advertised in my community,so I guess it wouldn’t inconvenience me to take a look at it. I’m up in the air about this thing. I want to do the right thing,but money is important to me too.

    1. Fred – if the person is local to you and you can check out the computer at his place, that does change things in my mind. And, his story sounds legit so it might be the best deal for you. If you’re concerned about the warranty, you should be able to purchase an AppleCare plan since the computer hasn’t reached its one year anniversary. John

  7. Casey says:

    Thanks for your advice, posted here. Especially the point about buying RAM from a third party. And the refurb store at Apple.com, which has discounts of 15% to 30%, is another overlooked source.

    I just purchased a $2,800 MacBook Pro for a little under $2,000 (about 30% off), from a less than completely reputable online etailer. I was a little worried, but looks like what I received is a newly manufactured and working Mac… it synced to my WiFi, right out of the box. I bought the Apple Care and MobileMe from Amazon.com, at about 15% less than the Apple store price. I called Apple and asked if this arrangement was kosher. Apple techs seemed mystified as to why anyone would think it not to be legit.

    Well, it seems that in my corner of the high tech south, the local Mac Users’ Groups literally scream that one is asking for trouble by purchasing a Mac at less than list price.

    Can anyone speculate on how this rumor started? I remember reading in some Mac oriented magazine, over fifteen years ago, before the internet, that any Mac computer not purchased from an authorized retailer was somehow “gray-market” and without a warranty.

    This spread of misinformation is unfortunate. I see students and school teachers, who really need to conserve their money, get steered into the meager educational discount, with the less than truthful pitch that no other discounts are available. Worse, I have found many message threads on the internet perpetuating this myth.

    Thanks for posting more accurate advice, John Kendrick!


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