Apple Buying Guide: Is it Time to Own a Mac?

Admit it, you do want to own a Mac. But for some specific reasons –mostly higher prices, especially out of US– most of the people don’t take the big decision to try out Macs. Yesterday Apple released brand new iBooks and updated eMacs, which in conjuction to the existing G4 PowerMacs, come in very affordable prices. Dive in to see some simple feature comparisons between Mac models and prices, which can help you make the big step towards Mac OS X. The time is right, prices are right, feature-set is right too and Christmas is coming soon!The need for a Mac
Of course, Apple offers more high-end machines, like the Powerbooks, the XServe, the G5 PowerMacs and even the iMacs. But newcomers are not usually ready to shave off a lot of money for a platform they don’t master yet. These potential switchers are more likely to try and get some cheaper machines, and this is why this article will try to help out these cunsumers to choose the machine that is right for them.

First, you need to decide if you need a Desktop (from $799), a Workstation (from $1299) or a Laptop (from $1099). Think what is your main need: just a web/office station, a powerful multimedia/development platform or mobility, and decide accordingly.

eMac The eMac and the iMac line are the ones marketed as educational and desktops-only machines. The iMac is a sexy machine and more powerful than the bulkier eMac, but it comes with a heavier price. For platform newcomers, the eMac might be more suitable, as it starts at $799. In the previous eMac line the bottom-line model was really spartan and I wouldn’t recommend it, but the new low-end is a really capable machine. It features 1GHz PowerPC G4 (256 KB cache only, slower than other desktop G4 machines), 40GB Ultra ATA drive, Combo drive, two firewire and 2 USB ports, ATi Radeon 7500 32 MB, 17″ CRT embedded monitor. It’s only sour point is its 128 MB of RAM, but you can easily upgrade it yourself.

Good points: Cheapest G4 ever, combo drive, includes everything needed for a modern desktop. Suitable for a first Mac, students.
Bad points: Not enough RAM in the cheaper model and also s-l-o-w RAM, expandability only through USB 1.1 or Firewire 400.

One can also decide to go for the higher end eMac model, which at $1099 can give you 256 MB RAM, 80 GB disk and a SuperDrive. However, my suggestion would be that if you feel like paying that extra $300, you might as well consider buying the below model instead.

We should note that people who decide to buy an eMac, there is a software choice to get Keynote presentation software for $49 (normal price $99) and Final Cut Express for only $99 (normal price $399).

PowerMac G4 Yes, the PowerMac G5 is here. However, the PowerMac G4 is still a very capable machine, easily compared performance-wise (to some non-G5-optimized applications) to the 1.6 GHz G5 model which sells for $2,000. The uniprocessor PowerMac G4 comes with a 1.25GHz PowerPC G4 (1MB L3 cache, helps overall speed a lot), 256MB DDR333 SDRAM (faster RAM than the eMac’s plain SDRAM), 80GB Ultra ATA drive, Combo Drive, ATI Radeon 9000 Pro (Dual Head), Firewire, USB 1.1. This model is available for $1,299.

The dual configuration is identical to the uniprocessor one, but it comes with two 1.25GHz PowerPC G4 with 2 MB L3 cache per processor (that’s 4 MB of cache!). This model sells for $1,599 and it is the highest/fastest model of the “value range”. I have special love for this model and I fully recommend it if you do have the extra cash and if you are a definite power user. This model the exactly the one I want to buy for myself too, to replace my soon-to-age Cube G4 450 Mhz. I am drooling over it since Apple lowered its price a few months ago with the introduction of G5.

Good points: Cheap raw performance (great performance/price ratio comparatively), expandable, perfect for power users.
Bad points: No built-in USB 2.0, slow RAM for a modern workstation/desktop (but still faster than eMac’s).

iBook The new iBooks look great. Meanwhile, Apple still sells the previous G3-based entry iBook model for $899, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, not even if the price was $799. The new G4-based iBooks start at $1099 and they come in three flavors. The cheaper model has a 12″ XGA screen while the other two models have a 14″ XGA one (better for people with visual problems). It comes with 800 Mhz, 933 and 1 GHz option with 256 KB cache. All have 256 MB DDR SDRAM (128+128 unfortunately, which means that you need to ‘throw away’ one stick when upgrade your RAM), combo drives, 2 USB 2.0, 1 Firewire 400, NIC, modem, ATi Radeon Mobility 9200 32 MB. Disks come with 30, 40 and 60 GB flavors. Personally, if the CPUs are real G4s with Altivec in these machines, I would not be afraid to go for the lowest-end model even if its processor power is not as high, because it is smaller, lighter and with more battery life (smaller screen, while retaining the same resolution as the 14″ models) .

Good points: Good features for the price, good for a first laptop/Mac, cute machine.
Bad points: No high-end model with 12″, entry price point could have been $999, the 128+128 MB fiasco is annoying.

Laptop Shoot-out
Check the matrix below to spot the differences between the 12″ iBook (from $1099) and the 12″ Powerbook (from $1599), because some users were confused over what the real differences are between the two models.

12″ G4 iBook 12″ G4 PowerBook
800 Mhz CPU 1 GHz CPU
256 KB cache 512 KB cache
VGA (mirroring), S-Video, Composite Video Out Dual Head, DVI
ATi Radeon Mob. 9200 32 MB nVidia GeForceFX Go5200 32 MB
Bluetooth-ready, not included Built-in Bluetooth
640 MB max RAM 1.25 GB max RAM
133 Mhz DDR SDRAM PC2100 (266MHz) DDR SDRAM
30 GB hard drive 40 GB hard drive
Combo drive Combo or Superdrive option
Built-in stereo speakers, microphone, headphones out Audio line-in, headphones out, stereo speakers with midrange-enhancing third speaker, internal omnidirectional microphone
Airport Extreme Ready, 802.11b certified Airport Extreme Ready, 802.11g and 802.11b certified
4.9 lbs, bigger/heavier overall 4.6 lbs, more compact
Up to 6 hours of battery Up to 5 hours of battery
Price: From $1099 Price: From $1599

So, no matter what model you decide to buy as your entry to the Mac world, don’t forget to buy more RAM. Buy it from Crucial or other places to save some money, and make sure you put in there at least 512 MB. Mac OS X likes a lot of RAM, it is a Unix after all.

One of these machines can be a great Christmas gift to yourself. Think about it, Mac OS X Panther 10.3 is a great OS (our review), and you wouldn’t be reading this very web site in the first place if you hadn’t had a spark of geekness inside you.

Note: If you buy from the Apple Store, use this link and help support OSNews.


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