Mac User’s Guide: You Literally Can’t Buy A Crappy Mac (Part 1)

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Apple makes the best computers in the world: you literally can’t buy a crappy Mac. Our expert advice will help you pick the right one for you.

Apple's machines are like fine-tuned sports cars: high-performance, high-quality components wrapped in an eye catching package that’s utterly fun to drive. They'll last for years, but you might want to steer clear of the showroom in the meantime, because the new models will tempt you even when your trusty steed still has plenty of miles to go. Lucky for us, we get to test-drive each new Mac, and the last few months of 2012 saw big steps taken in the lineup of desktop Macs, reviewed here. While we're still waiting to see what's going to happen with the Mac Pro this year, the new iMacs and Mac mini are plenty capable and they complicate the question of which Mac you should buy.

Apple's machines are like fine-tuned sports cars: high-performance, high-quality components wrapped in an eye catching package that’s utterly fun to drive.

Apple's machines are like fine-tuned sports cars: high-performance, high-quality components wrapped in an eye catching package that’s utterly fun to drive.

Most people assume that a laptop is the answer. Apple makes the best notebooks on the market, but the rise of the tablet for portable computing means you might not necessarily need a computer you can bring with you. Mac minis are flexible enough to be used as media centers, boasting a small form-factor and built-in HDMI port, and an iMac can even be an external display for a Mac notebook with Thunderbolt just connect the two with a Thunderbolt cable and press Command-F2 on the iMac's keyboard to enter Target Display Mode. Is it time for a desktop revolution? Read on for our buying advice, and in-depth reviews of the late-2012 models.

How To Buy A Mac

Questions to ask yourself before you go Apple-picking

1.    Desktop or laptop?

Apple's laptops are amazing, and outsell the desktop line handily. But with iPhones and iPads being so capable at so many tasks, sometimes laptops wind up sitting on a desk most of the time, anyway. Desktop Macs have more storage, bigger screens, more powerful graphics, higher RAM ceilings, and more inputs. Obviously, you can’t tote an iMac along on vacation, but when you think about it, almost everything you would do with that iMac, you can do with an iPad, which is lighter than a laptop, plus cheaper, easier to get online, and its battery lasts two or three times as long. And for those last few things you can't accomplish with native iOS apps, you can fire up a VNC app like Splashtop 2 Remote Desktop and control your always-on desktop Mac right from your iPad's touchscreen.

Should I Get A Laptop Or A Desktop Computer

Should I Get A Laptop Or A Desktop Computer?

2.    Which Model?

iMacs are Apple's flagship desktop model, I and we love the all-in-one convenience. The new slim design is slick, but the best part about it isn’t the thin edge you can only really appreciate from the side. (Who looks at their computer from the side, anyway?) It’s the beautiful, glossy screen with deep blacks and brilliant color and Apple reduced reflections by 75 percent. The Mac mini is a plenty capable machine, too, and a low-cost point of entry if you already own a display you like, plus a mouse and keyboard. The mini works well as a media-center Mac, too; its HDMI port lets you connect it to an HDTV without needing an adapter, and it's not much bigger than a router. The Mac Pro is the most easily upgraded Mac, but it sorely needs a refresh aside from a minor processor bump last year, it hasn't been updated significantly since 2010. The 27-inch iMac is our pick here (see review p46).

If you’d rather get a laptop, follow the features. If you truly, truly need an optical drive, go for the non-Retina MacBook Pro.

If you'll be toting the machine everywhere you go, you’ll appreciate the lightness of a MacBook Air. And if you need the most graphical and processing power available, the top-of-the-line MacBook Pro with Retina display can handle pro-level applications and development tools without breaking a sweat. Our advice is Retina if you can afford it, MacBook Air if you can’t, and the regular MacBook Pro if you simply can't live without your optical discs.

3.    When and where to buy?

It stinks when you drop a couple grand on a new computer, and Apple promptly rolls out an update that leaves your brand-new machine in the dust. Before you plunk down a credit card, check out http://buyersguide,, which tracks how long it's been since each model has been refreshed.

The Apple Store is a great place to play with new Macs and narrow down your picks, but you'll need to shop online to save on refurbished models.

A just-refreshed machine is a good buy, but if a particular model has languished a while, you might want to wait, if you can, in case an update is around the corner.

Deals on Apple products are rare, so we usually just buy directly from Apple, a must for build-to-order options like Fusion Drive. But don't forget to check the Refurbished Macs section of the online store, Refurbished Macs come with the same one-year warranty as new Macs, and you can purchase an AppleCare Protection Plan for three years of full coverage. Be sure to read all the specs: some are stock models, some were upgraded at the original purchase time, so be sure you understand what you're getting.

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