Intro / Disclaimer
The information below is that of my opinion, and not that of my employer.
I do NOT work for Apple and have no direct stake in the company.
I work in IT, and have a long work experience with Apple products.
I only recommend items that I personally use / have used, or know enough about the product/company that I can determine that I would personally use if I had that product. (e.g. I don’t have a MacBook Air, however because of my experience with Apple notebooks, I can recommend it).
Disclaimer: Use the information below at your own risk. Make your own decisions, and you need to take the consequences for those decisions. You should do your own research. Take this knowledge and use it as a spring board to help you with your research. I take no responsibility in your decision to purchase or not to purchase a specific product. You are using this information AT YOUR OWN RISK!
Your milage may vary, and others may not agree with what I have to say.
Table of Contents:
Rule # 1:
Accept it… that when you buy an Apple product – Apple will release a newer, faster, shinier, etc etc item possibly the next day, week, or a few months from your purchase date. Live with it. Your device still works, and will continue to work. Yes it’s a downer that you no longer have the latest and greatest, but advances in technology are always moving forward (we hope!).
Sometimes you can return stuff within 14-days for a refund. If you fall into this situation you need to consider if returning the product for a new one is worth it. Ask ahead. Find out what the policies are, etc.
Rule # 2:
Buy a “stock” (off the shelf, non user configured) unit from Apple.
Do NOT “configure” one on the Apple online store or at an official Apple store.
Why? If you “configure” a unit for purchase from Apple (meaning upgrading the RAM, hard drive, etc), and it’s a LEMON you CAN NOT RETURN it to Apple for a refund. You can only return stock units for refunds.
Configured units become your property as soon as it’s shipped and you are charged. If it’s a LEMON, it’s yours, and your only recourse for issues is to have it “repaired/replaced” with identical system. Depending on where you live, you may have a “LEMON LAW” that will protect you. Do your homework on this potential issue.
I’ve been burned by this when I got a lemon – many many years ago. It was a nightmare. There has to be a MAJOR benefit in it for me to prompt me to “configure” another unit.
Note: for MacBook Pros (MBPs) you can upgrade the RAM yourself, and if you are tech savvy you can also upgrade your internal hard drive.
Rule # 3:
If you need a computer RIGHT NOW, don’t wait for that “rumored” refresh that’s supposed to come out “this month, next month, etc”. If you need one now, go buy one now.
If you CAN wait, find out what is speculated, and look at previous release schedules from Apple to get an “idea” as to when a refreshed product will be released.
Rule # 4:
BUY an EXTRA power adapter!!! Leave one at your dorm/apartment/home and have the other in your laptop bag/book-bag. Trust me. It sucks not having a power cord with you with you are low on battery life, and it’s a hassle to wind up the cord every time you leave your living quarters – you WILL forget sometime.
Rule # 5:
Buy an external hard drive – of equal/larger size of your computer’s hard drive. You will need this for on-site back up. Mac OS X includes a service called “Time Machine” that can backup your computer.
Rule # 6:
Take RUMORS/SPECULATION/REPORTS with a very large grain of salt. Apple almost NEVER pre-announces a product until they are ready to. So if you hear a report from – say Forbes – that the new such-and-such will have x-y-and-z, don’t believe it – unless it’s posted on Apple’s site.
The same goes for the general rumors of refreshes: what’s “coming” or what’s going to “be upgraded”…
If you want info, talk to someone (like me) who can give you greater insight into what is really “possible” and “probable”.
Rule # 7:
If you want to compare Macs to PCs, you must compare APPLES to APPLES.
Make sure you compare the:
• screen: type, size, resolution, pixels per inch, etc;
• ram: speed (e.g. DDR3), total ram you can upgrade to;
• hard drive: type (ssd, non-ssd), speed, connection type;
• wireless technologies: wifi (802.11 a/b/g/n, 5GHz, etc), bluetooth 2.1 or 4, etc;
• available ports: number of USB ports, usb 2 or usb 3, firewire, e-sata, etc etc;
• extras: does it have a memory card reader? what types does it support if it does, does it support a type that you actually use? Is that worth it?;
• battery life: how large is the battery, what does the manufacturer “estimate” is the run time – and what do reviews say more realistic run time actually is;
• form factor of notebook: including weight, dimensions, size of keyboard, etc etc;
etc etc etc
It’s a vary laboring thing to do – and when you do, you will find out that the Mac will be a better investment over an identically configured PC… Which isn’t even really possible because only Macs use the Apple operating system: Mac OS X. Also, you can’t find another computer manufacture that produces so durable and well built computers.
Just buy the Mac!
Rule # 8:
If you absolutely need “Windows” you can install and run Windows on the Mac! There are two ways: 1- Bootcamp, where you reboot out of the Mac side and boot up into a full Windows install. 2- Virtual machine, where you can run Windows along side your other Mac programs, and it appears as it’s own window within Mac OS X.
Okay – lets look into the crystal ball…
One of the core rumors is that the new line of MacBook Pros (MBPs) will be similar to the form factor of the MacBook Air (MBA) (very thin, and wedge shaped – when looked at from the side).
There is speculation that if Apple releases such a re-design of the MBPs that – at first – the 17″ won’t get that design, and will continue to be offered, with or without a hardware spec increase.
The most likely outcome if this new design is implicated: is that the 17″ MBP will simply be discontinued. The total sales of 17″ MBPs are very very low. They are to big and the newest hardware specs are making LARGE 17″ machines unnecessary.
Now the flip side to the “similar to the MBA form factor” is that the MBPs will keep their current shape (non wedge) but will have a few different tweaks.
The most logical change would be the loss of the optical drive. Apple clearly believes that digital distribution is the future – that’s one reason why they haven’t sold Macs with Blu-ray drives.
I’d venture to guess that if they remove the optical drive, that Apple may offer an option for a 2nd internal hard drive.
This would be a great win-win for Apple and for consumers. If Apple were to offer two drives, one would most likely be a smaller SSD (solid state disk – they are SUPER fast, and have no moving parts), along with a traditional larger 250-500+GB drive.
The SSD drive would likely have the operating system on it, as well as the built in applications.
This would allow the computer to boot up and start applications very quickly. The other drive would be for your files, music, etc. Since the traditional drive will be a much larger drive, it would make sense to move your files off onto this second drive.
Some common FAQ’s:
Q: When should I buy my system? My college orientation is in June/July.
A: Well, refer to RULE #3. However, I do recommend that you have the computer in hand at least one month before you are to be living on campus. That way you can get used to the computer.
Note however, that some schools require that you have the computer for your orientation. Ask ahead – plan ahead!
Q: My college sells the computer / and or / the college has a “tech store”, should I buy it from them?
A: It depends. Some schools offer deals (decent student discounts) or bundles (includes software) in the total.
Also some schools – may allow you to fold the cost into your tuition. ASK FIRST! NEVER ASSUME that you can do that. Plan ahead!
Q: Should I get a MacBook Air (MBA) or a MacBook Pro (MBP)?
A: That’s up to you. However, there are disadvantages for both.
MBA Pros: small, 11″ or 13″ screens, very light, solid state disk drive, long battery life
MBA Cons: no 15″ option, few ports, underpowered compared to MBPs, small internal hard drive space, NON UPGRADABLE RAM
MBP Pros: more powerful than MBAs, 13″, 15″, and 17″ screen options, more ports, decent battery life, UPGRADABLE RAM
MBP Cons: heaver and larger than MBAs, solid state disks are expensive
I would not purchase a MBA. You can not upgrade the RAM, and it’s limited to a MAX of 4GBs from Apple. In my opinion it’s underpowered unless you only need to surf the internet, email, etc.
I simply recommend MBPs.
Q: What type of processor should I get? Example choices: Core i3, i5, i7.
A: The i7 will be the best that they have to offer, the middle range is the i5, and it’s unlikely that you will see a MBP with an i3.
Q: What screen size should I get?
A: I’ve had 13″, 15″, and 17″ notebooks (all Apples). Obviously smaller is more portable.
I would say go with the 13″. Why? Well, you can always connect your MBP to an external monitor for more screen real-estate when you are home.
Q: Okay, so I can connect it to an external monitor, does it have to be an Apple monitor?
A: Nope! If you want super ease of use, with added features, and can afford the $1000 price tag of the 27″ Thunderbolt LED display from Apple – go for it.
All you need is an LCD monitor that can connect via DVI or HDMI.
Apple sells MiniDisplayPort adapters to VGA, DVI, and HDMI. Go digital- make sure DVI or HDMI.
Q: I predict that I will be using my MBP for presentations… what do I need to connect to digital projectors, etc.
A: You should buy a MiniDisplayPort to VGA adapter as well as one that goes to DVI. Keep those in your laptop bag in case you need to connect your machine to a projector.
NEVER ASSUME it will “just work”, plan ahead: look at what type of connection the projector uses, or ask the school’s IT department if they have an adapter you can borrow.
Q: How much RAM (random access memory) should I get? You tell me not to pre-configure (rule # 2)…
A: Minimum of 4GB.
If you are purchasing a MacBook Air, make sure you buy a unit with the most RAM you can when you buy it. Why? The RAM in the MacBook Air isn’t upgradable after it leaves the factory. If you get a 2GB unit, you are stuck with only 2GB or RAM.
At posting, Apple is selling all MacBook Pros with a minim with 4GB… Now, if you want more, you can upgrade the RAM from a 3rd party company. The goal should be to get 8GB of RAM or more.
I suggest a local company (Woodstock IL) called Other World Computing when buying RAM for your computer.
Q: If I can’t “configure (rule # 2)” how can I get a better hard drive, and what do you recommend?
A: Well, I swear by solid state drives, but they are very expensive. I would recommend, that you get a 7200 RPM (rotations per minute) drive that is at least 250GB (or 500GB) in size, obviously larger is better.
Q: I hate using a trackpad on notebooks, can I get a mouse? Does it have to be an Apple Mouse?
A: Yes you can get a mouse, no it doesn’t have to be made by Apple.
Most USB mice “just work” for right, left click, and scrolling. If the mouse has a ton of extra buttons, those buttons most likely won’t work.
If you buy a Logitech mouse, I DO NOT RECOMMEND that you install the drivers that come with the mouse – they are crappy software drivers!
If you get an external mouse, I recommend that you get a wireless mouse.
However, it’s better to get a Bluetooth mouse. Why? If you get a wireless mouse that uses a USB dongle, you will be utilizing one of the ports all the time you want to use the mouse.
Also, even mice that offer “nano” receivers (very small – doesn’t stick out of the USB port all that much) can still be SNAGGED and cause damage.
A bluetooth mouse will utilize the built in bluetooth wireless radio – allowing the mouse to communicate with the mouse without any USB dongles.
Q: If I get a wireless mouse, what about batteries?
A: I recommend rechargeable batteries. You get more bang for your buck (over time), and at the same time keeping more disposable batteries out of the landfills.
Make sure you do your homework on what batteries are the best.
I recommend PRE-CHARGED (low shelf discharge) NiMH rechargeables. Best brand IMHO: Sanyo envelop (available on Amazon)
You will want to get a “SMART” charger.
I suggest: Sony Cycle Energy BCG34HRE4KN (search Amazon)
Q: What happens if Apple updates the MBPs without an optical drive? I’d like to be able to watch a DVD, burn a disc, or import music from CDs. How can I do that without an optical drive?
A: Apple offers an optical drive, but it’s expensive. Know that it will work without issues, however you can get a less expensive optical drive else where. Just know that some require a power outlet – or the use of TWO USB ports to power up the drive.
Q: What do you recommend for a printer?
A: I recommend Brother laser printers. More specifically, for college students, I recommend: the Brother DCP-7060D Compact Laser (b&w) Multi-Function Copier with Duplex Printing. It’s compact, and has a flat bed scanner that can be used as a copier. The scanner can also be utilized to scan items into your computer.
Brother laser toner costs less because the printer drum is a separate product. Eventually you will need to purchase a new drum. On the flip-side, HP laser toner costs more because the drum is part of the toner cartridge. I still recommend Brother over HP. Choose carefully.
I DO NOT RECOMMEND color laser printers for college students. I also DO NOT RECOMMEND inkjet (any form) for students. The cost of ink is just to much for inkjet.
Q: What about Microsoft Office?
A: Microsoft offers Office for Mac. You can purchase a copy for Students/teachers, at your local Best Buy… Most college book stores/tech stores also offer Office.
Q: Are there any free Microsoft Office alternatives?
A: Yes there are. However, if your professor or a class requires Office, then you should really utilize Office. If you are interested in a free alternative to MS Office check out LibreOffice.
Q: In rule #5 you mention “on-site back”, what about an off-site backup?
A: An off-site backup can be as simple as a clone of your computer’s hard drive onto an external disk that you leave at your parent’s house.
Another alternative is “cloud storage”. There are services such as SpiderOak, Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. Choose wisely.
At this time, I only recommend SpiderOak, because it’s the most secure method. They offer a free 2GB account, with larger accounts available for a monthly or yearly cost.
Do your homework, research the alternatives. They all have pros/cons.
Here is a handy link to start from:
Q: Thoughts about a MBA and an iPad 3rd Generation???
A: That’s a tough one. I have a MBP 17″, an iPad 2, and an iPhone 4S. I use all three products for their intended purposes. I’ve taken just my iPad and an external keyboard to meetings. However, there are times that I NEED to use my computer for projects.
I don’t think that I could do my job without my computer. On the flip side, I can do a lot with my iPad – as I’ve adapted to it’s strengths and weaknesses. Even though I’m proficient with typing on the virtual keyboard, for extended typing, I would recommend getting the Apple Bluetooth wireless keyboard – which will work with the iPad(s).
You need to seriously evaluate what you need to do with your computer. I can’t really give a solid answer on this one.
Last, but not least…
Q: Should I get Apple Care (Apple’s extended warranty)?
A: Yes. In the event you have issues, the low cost for the Apple Care coverage is well worth it.
Note that you can purchase Apple Care within the first year after purchasing it. You should get it right away so you won’t forget.