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August 29th, 2000

[Tip] How To Buy A New Mac, Part I
by Michael Munger

We have now published Part II of this article.

Buying a computer is more than difficult. It is an art in itself. If you want to make sure that you get the most for the least, you have to use a strategy. It starts from what you need to how to negotiate your transaction, without forgetting when the appropriate moment is to buy.

Because of these factors, most people who purchase a new unit usually pay too much or find their machines outdated quickly. How could we minimize this phenomenon? There are no magical and universal answers, but I can share a few tactics for you to get more bang for your buck, for a longer period.

Step 1: Know your needs

Determining your needs is a crucial part of the job. You have to know what kind of person you are. If you consider that anything less than a Ferrari or Lamborghini cannot be called a car, it is highly probable that anything less than a G4 is not a computer to you. If you are the ambitious type who always wants to do more with what he has, think about high-end solutions. If you are rather conservative and like to limit your scope, think about a lesser but still good machine. The iMac is attractive anyway!

You also have to determine what type of computer your needs call for. You have to keep basic elements in the background:

  • Portability or desktop workstation
  • Power or simplicity
  • Integrated or external monitor
  • Comfort level
  • Need for expansion

To give you an example, someone who just wants a portable computer to work with for university purposes will probably opt for an iBook. Someone who plans to do digital video and desktop publishing for a living will need a G4 with its power and expandability, extended keyboard and a big screen. Having the right work posture for hours will also be easier with a desktop machine than a portable.

Another aspect to keep in mind is how the new unit will fit in your household if you already own Mac hardware. You need to know how it will complement your existing machine(s).

This step is important since when you walk in a store or look at an order page, knowing what you want helps you to shop better and focus on getting it done right instead of questioning yourself while buying.

Step 2: Know your wallet

It may sound funny at first, but you have to know how much money you can spend on a new computer, since it does influence your final purchase. If you are on a budget, such a choice may make the difference between the slowest G4 available or an iMac surrounded by peripherals and extra RAM.

Step 3: Know how to speculate

Honestly, this is the most difficult part. You can view the computer industry's evolution as furious and totally out of control. Two years can change everything; reputable and reliable software can die, the operating system will change a lot, etc.

Mostly, the face of hardware changes as Apple announces new Macs and internal changes in the new units, even when just offering speed bumps. The G4 motherboard issue is an excellent example of speed bumps that mean more than a faster processor.

To buy the right Mac at the right time, you have to know industry tendencies and to speculate on what happens. This works only when you keep yourself informed regularly by reading reliable information sources. Read a Mac magazine and check a short list of solid Mac Web sites regularly and you will have the tools to be the judge. Such sources will provide all the facts, insight and industry whispers that they can print.

Once you are on the same page than the rest of the industry, you can feel its pulse and anticipate its moves. By knowing when the last time was that Apple revised the iMac and the next events featuring a Steve Jobs keynote, you should wait for the right moment, just like when knocking out the king in a chess match.

How do you do it? Combine gut feelings with industry information.

I will give you a personal example for you to illustrate how to do the reasoning. I used to have a G3. In January, I decided to save up for a G4. I also decided to watch all of Apple's moves closely regarding that machine. I gathered these facts and kept them in mind at all times when in observation mode:

  • Apple revised its G4 on February 16, 2000.
  • Apple likes to revise its products once every six months (or less when possible.)
  • The G4 was a fiasco from the beginning with processor problems, which forced their hand to do something to make it up to par with the rest of the IT industry.
  • At the World Wide Developers Conference in May, it seems that Apple demonstrated the possibilities of multiprocessing...

In January, the G4 offered from 350 MHz to 450 MHz with a messed up motherboard line. In February, things got in better order, though the fastest was only at 500 MHz. In New York, Apple turned it into a single processor 400 MHz G4, followed by the dual 450 and 500. During the whole time and until New York, I waited patiently, even when I was in a position to buy.

When leaving the keynote room at the Javits Center, I knew that I would have to make a trip to the Apple Store within a week. Here I am, with a dual processor G4, which will not be outdated for a while.

I know that it may be easier to brag about it after the occurrence, but the method works and is as simple as I described earlier. You just have to apply it meticulously.

Steps 4 and 5 will come in the second part of this article.

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