Need Mac Purchase Advice/Tips


I’m considering purchasing a Mac. I’ve been a Windows user all my life. But we’re an iPhone household and I’ve been getting an itch to try my hand at creating iOS app. But to also try a Mac and experience that eco-system of iPhone, Apple Watch and a Mac. This is entirely new to to me so ANY tips or recommendations would be appreciated. Any specific Macs you recommend would also be appreciated. I’m in no rush either, they are expensive. I’m not a PC gamer although I do play Stellaris or Minecraft every now and then but not gamer enough to drop the amount of cash to game on an Apple. I can get my gaming fix from my XBOX or Switch. I mostly surf the web, lots of Edge tabs up, use Excel, Word, and OneNote a lot, have YouTube up going through my subscriptions while surfing the web in other tabs. I do have an external 34 inch wide screen monitor that I use for working from home. I’d like to connect this Mac to use it when sitting at my desk. So would be cool with the Mac Mini or laptop. Just being able to connect to my monitor would be a must. Thanks in advance!

Comments (42)

42 responses to “Need Mac Purchase Advice/Tips”

  1. jimchamplin

    Mac mini. Hands down. Caveat: NOT RIGHT NOW. Wait until the new Macs with Apple CPUs show up. Having been a Mac user through the previous three system transitions - 68K to PPC. OS 9 to OS X. PPC to Intel - The developer base is MUCH more engaged, and the system requirements will rise much more quickly as new versions of apps are released. It won't be long after the transition that the first ARM-only OS will be released and soon after, that will be the new minimum version for a lot of apps and your relatively new i7 machine will be flotsam.

    • j5

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      I thought about waiting till then but isn't that quite a while from now or no official word on release date?

      • rob_segal

        In reply to j5:

        First Macs with Apple Silicon should arrive by the end of the year. Developer transition kits are already available for developers. Even before thinking about form factor, wait to see what's in the first wave of these machines. Something that's the equivalent to the current MacBook Air could be good enough for you. Apple stated at WWDC that the transition would be completed in 2 years with the first machines released by the end of this year.

    • wright_is

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      Having been caught out by exactly this, with the change from PPC to Intel, I'd say buy now and don't bother waiting for the first generation ARM, if you really want to get into the experience. My first generation Intel Mac only lasted a little longer than support for PPC Macs. Apple quickly changed the technology and dropped support for the first generation of Intel devices, because they hadn't done the job properly - 64-bit processor with a 32-bit UEFI motherboard, then decided that it had to be 64-bit/64-bit going forward and suddenly, my perfectly good iMac wasn't getting security updates, let alone new OS releases.

      Having an Intel based device also gives the option of "going back" to Windows, if you aren't comfortable with macOS.

      My first Apple was a ][e, followed by a Mac Plus, Mac SE, Mac SE/30 and a couple of late Mac IIs over the years. I missed the jump from 68K to PPC and Mac OS to OS X, but came back when the Intel Macs appeared. After being told by Mac using friends that Macs were better and Apple supported them longer than Microsoft, I felt very let down by Apple, when my iMac stopped getting support from Apple after 4 years - Microsoft stopped giving updates to the BootCamp side in January this year, 12 years after purchase.

      Saying all that, I would wait for the WWDC and see what timeline they are setting out. But based on my personal experience, I wouldn't worry too much about whether I have a last generation Intel Mac or a first generation ARM Mac.

      • bkkcanuck

        In reply to wright_is:

        The limited macOS annual release updates for the early intel macs were more a function of 32 to 64 bit architecture change... there will be no move to 128 bit architecture...

        The last macOS version to support 32 bit was Snow Leopard released on June 9, 2008 and the support for that version ended on February 25, 2014. It would still have been getting security updates (mostly transparent updates) up until that date. The first to support Intel was Tiger on May 4, 2004.

        That said there will likely be a Macbook Pro 13" released this year, and a newer 14" one fully updated to a new form factor sometime early next year. The Macbook Air won't likely get the same treatment since it will not be waiting on the new micro-LED screens etc. I am guessing all versions will support USB4 from the beginning (rather than having Intel Thunderbolt).

        As bootcamp will no longer be supported on new macs, I would not expect drivers to be updated by device manufacturers for long on older devices.

        If you need support of Windows on it, Intel Macs are the way to go. If you want it for professional development you really want to be on the bleeding edge. The plus side for the ARM switch is it will be beneficial for those developers that want to deploy on Amazon AWS Graviton2 instances.

        Oh and my PC heritage was IBM PC (1981) - I think 64kb, no hard drive supported (actually PC DOS 1.1 did not support subdirectories), two floppies, electrohome CGA monitor, all-caps only epson printer ($6,400CAD after educational discount); IBM PC/AT; ALR; lots of DIY builds; Dell (can't remember all the models); and then Macbook 17" (2017), Mac Pro (2008), Macbook 12", Mac Mini 2018 (and another DIY build). I probably would have lasted longer on the Mac Pro (2008), but after about 10 years - and about 6 months of 7/24 - 100% CPU load... it got angry and gave up (not dead dead, but flakey dead).

        • wright_is

          In reply to bkkcanuck:
          The last macOS version to support 32 bit was Snow Leopard released on June 9, 2008 and the support for that version ended on February 25, 2014.

          That is the problem. I came from the Windows world, where a PC from 2003 (Acer laptop upgraded to 4GB RAM) was still being offered Windows updates in January 2020, to the Mac world, where pro-Mac users had assured me that Apple kit lasts longer than Windows kit and Apple supports it. Both statements turned out to be not wholly that accurate. (I bought a first generation Intel iMac 24" in 2007, as you say Apple stopped supporting it with security updates in 2014, it ran Windows 7 in Bootcamp until 2017, when the logic board died, ironic that Microsoft provided security updates long after Apple had given up on it.)

          I just meant it as a word of caution, if you need a Mac now, I wouldn't bother waiting. If you can wait, I'd wait until the teething problems have been sorted out and get a second generation ARM device.

          • bkkcanuck

            In reply to wright_is:

            True, they run on different business models. Microsoft Windows is sold for other people's hardware and thus to make it's market as large as possible it tends to (try and) say it supports as much hardware as possible (even if it runs like a dog on old hardware).

            Apple's business has always been to sell the complete product, so and they support it as such (similar to HP saying they will support there hardware for a period of time).

            There are benefits and pitfalls to both business models and from a purely business point of view I think the model Apple has chosen to be more sustainable in the very long term since you are able to push the product along into the future rather than constantly acquiring 'technical debt' which prevents the easy transition to new platforms.

            Even without the transparent security updates, macOS tends to be fairly secure as long as you don't do something really stupid (and becoming more secure as the years goes on as they have been hardening the OS with read only system volumes etc.). My elder sister still runs her older mac for the same applications that she has run since she bought it, and I even know at least one person still using their PowerPC Mac from wayback since it still does what they need. In the early days (1981), it typically would be you would need a new computer every three years because the new DOS/Windows would run like a dog on old hardware or it would require more resources than you had available ... then it was ever 4 or 5 years... I don't actually know anyone that is running Windows 10 on hardware from 2003 though... and definitely not one with a battery. I am sure their are, I just have a small sample size. The Mac Pro 2008 (2 CPU/8 core) was the longest I have ever had a computer for primary usage (It was on one version prior of macOS - and each version is typically supported for 2 to 4 years) ... I think it is true though that Apple hardware does maintain a higher resell value for longer than your typical Windows hardware on average... though I would not myself plan on keeping the same computer for more than 10 years (it often gets repurposed or handed off).

            It is only recently that people were typically upgraded to the newer OS (by force in this case) - usually the same version of Windows was run on the same hardware until it's end of life. That version would reach it's end of life and not be supported, but people with that hardware would continue to run it until they had to buy new hardware that would not support that version of Windows because new hardware did not have drivers for it (my father would still be on an older version of Windows -- if he did not have to replace his hardware).

            As for businesses, most businesses I have been involved with would rotate their hardware out after the warranty or support period ended or the lease was over. Rarely did they upgrade old hardware, it would just reach it's end of life and then they would replace it with new hardware and start depreciating it. You would not have 15 year old PCs upgraded to a new version of the OS. Also old hardware have old bios which unless things have changed with the transparent patching process will not receive new security patches after a period of time - even if Windows does.

    • waethorn

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      A Mac Mini won't get you an all-in-one with a decent screen.

      • wright_is

        In reply to Waethorn:

        No, it will get you a decent computer to attach to a decent screen, which will probably last longer than the PC it is attached to. That annoyed me, when my iMac broke, the screen was still perfectly serviceable, but the logic board was faulty, so I had to throw out the display as well (uneconomic to repair). Since then, I've always gone for separate display and PC - my old laptop being the obvious exception.

        My current PC is connected to a 2017 Dell 34" UWP display and a 2006 24" LG display.

        • bkkcanuck

          In reply to wright_is:

          I agree, I typically have an aversion to all-in-ones (with the exception of laptops where it is inherent in the use case). Unfortunately the marketplace has shown much more interest in iMacs than component desktops with regards to Apple sales.

        • waethorn

          In reply to jimchamplin:

          Prove it.

          It's exactly $700CAD difference for a 4K P3 display, an Apple keyboard and mouse, and lets not forget there's a dedicated graphics card in the iMac.

          The LG 24" Ultrafine monitor that Apple shows in their Mac Mini branding, and sells online, lists for $879.95. I looked for the LG 22MD4KA, which is the 21.5" version, and although it's out of stock, everywhere I could get pricing, it was ~$750 for that model. A Magic Keyboard is $119 and mouse is $95. Total price for a Mac Mini 8th gen Core i3 with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of RAM, and the above to equate to an iMac is $1963. And you still have no dedicated graphics card or speakers. The same in an iMac 21.5" is $1699, but that includes a 2GB dedicated Radeon graphics card and half-decent speakers, and it's $264 less.

          • wright_is

            In reply to Waethorn:

            On the other hand, I have 3 BT keyboards and 2 BT mice in my cupboard, so additional cost $0, I have a 34" UWD display and a 24" 16:10 display, so additional cost $0. And, when I replace the Mac mini, I don't necessarily need to cost in a replacement keyboard, mouse and screen, because they are separate.

          • jimchamplin

            In reply to Waethorn:

            Prove it? Okay. I purchased my Mac mini in March of 2014. It was $999. To get an iMac of equivalent power would have been upward of $1600. (Quad i7, 1GB HD)

            I already owned a high quality display. (Dell Ultrasharp) A high quality keyboard. (Das Keyboard) A high quality mouse. (Steelseries something.) High quality speakers. (Logitech 2.1 set.)

            I saved around $600 since I already had all of those pieces. With a KVM, I just switched between it and my then-current AMD Phenom Windows 8 box.

            Q.E.D. my friend.

  2. j5

    Thanks for everyone giving some great advice and recommendations! I think I'm going to hold off for a few months and see what transpires with the ARM Macs. I could find some great deals on the Intel 2020 Mac? Or the new ARM Macs might be the better way to go? Or the first gen ARM Macs could be bad? I've gone this long without Mac what's a few more months to find a better deal right.

    • bkkcanuck

      In reply to j5:

      My guess (and it is an educated guess), the ARM Macs will be more performant for the price point. Apple typically sells products with a given markup percentage. Intel CPUs and most of the components used in the computers tend never to be lowered during the life of the products - so the prices tend to hold steady regardless of the machines overall performance in the marketplace. Intel also has high markups (even to manufacturers) and they segment their processors - so for example you will have 3 CPU options for a given computer - typically ranging from a cost of $250 to $500 per CPU (i.e. segment so the upgraded CPU options drive more profits for Intel). For Apple doing this will not be worth it, so they will make the best processor they can for a given thermal TDP usage and that will be the only CPU option. This CPU will likely cost Apple maybe $100 for a performance Mac SoC/CPU or $40 for the iPad Pro SoC/CPU (already a worthy option for a Macbook Air computer), thus the entry price and the performance price will come down for the same options for the ARM Macs. I expect this to be more performant in the Macintosh than the highest option Intel CPU. Apple will then have only the options driving the price up from base (Memory, SSD size, display options possibly, LTE/5G modem for laptops, etc.). CPUs have a long development lifecycle and Apple probably has the first processors in manufacturing or close to it, sample CPUs for next years models, and likely prototypes for the Mac Pro (last to be updated).... and I have no doubt that all of these met criteria metrics before Apple called the transition a go. The worst thing for Apple to do (and I am sure they know) - is to ONLY be as good as what they are replacing on the initial launch since this would lead to disastrous press asking what was in it for the user? In a few months you should have all the information to make a more informed decision.

    • curtisspendlove

      In reply to j5:

      I think I'm going to hold off for a few months and see what transpires with the ARM Macs.

      I’m assuming someone else has already mentioned this but if you’re wanting to write an iOS app, a *huge* advantage of the Apple Silicon Macs will be native running of your app on the Mac instead of having to run it emulated.

      This is currently one reason why a lot of iOS devs go for more powerful machines.

      The obvious tradeoffs are potential issues not being able to run x86/AMD64 compatible virtualization, if that is a priority for you and also having “rev A” boards (first revision hardware).

  3. will

    I would recommend a Mac Mini if you want something today. But, if you want to wait a couple of months you could get a new one with an Apple ARM chip. However, if you would like to use your Mac to run Windows 10 in a VM or BootCamp then I would get the current generation of Mini with the Intel chip. Just do not get the i3 version. Get the i5 version and you can always upgrade items later. For example you could add an eGPU to the unit via Thunderbolt 3 for a big boost in graphics down the road.

    But , if you want to wait and see what Apple does with the Macs later this yea, that is ok as well. In terms of Intel support, I would bet the Intel Macs will be supported for many years down the road so you can be assured that what you buy new today will be good for several years.

    • bkkcanuck

      In reply to will:

      Last transition, Apple supported the legacy macs with 3 OS releases (OS release was longer - so maybe 4 or 5 years). I expect the Intel macs will support new macOS releases for three new revisions, and the last revision getting longer 'official' support. With development, each years new features are also tied to new macOS releases - so the usefulness for the computer for professional software development would likely be shortened (assuming you want to take advantage of new macOS features in their annual releases (many/most though do not need the new features).

  4. jchampeau

    I suggest either waiting until the new Apple Silicon machines come out or, if you want something now, checking out Apple's refurb/outlet section. Prices are usually much better there and you get the same warranty just like when you buy from the Dell outlet. Note: I just looked and prices are currently terrible in the Apple Outlet, and they're sold out of just about everything. I'm guessing that's the case because people are probably buying computers for kids who are now required to attend school online.

  5. jasecutler

    Ever thought going used? I've got a five year old Macbook Air, and while it basically is only good for web browsing and light web development work... It'd give you a feeling for what its like using iMessage/iPhoto/Apple ecosystem without spending thousands.

    If you like it, it'll hold you over till the new ARM stuff comes out.

  6. steenmachine

    All the folk on this thread have given solid feedback. If you can wait just a couple months to see what's released, that allows for the best decision given your needs / desires / budget.

    This article + comments might help, or might muddy the waters even further.

  7. karlinhigh

    I needed the Apple Configurator 2 software for enrolling iOS devices into Apple Business Manager. That is the sole reason I own a macOS machine. I looked for the lowest price tag that would run the latest version of macOS, and ended up with a used/refurbished MacBook Air (11-inch, mid-2012.) I found out it works for a lot of other things, too. I can get good work done with it, although I haven't become a Mac convert.

  8. jwpear

    My first Mac was a Mac Mini (2011) for just the kind of work you're considering, plus I wanted to dabble with some iOS development. Those are great and inexpensive (relatively speaking) if you are willing to be chained to a desk. As I got into it more, though, I really wanted the flexibility of location use you get from a laptop. I sold my Mac Mini and bought a used MacBook Pro from eBay (at time, would go Swappa now).

    Laptop-wise, you might consider a 2020 MacBook Air (because it has the more reliable scissor keyboard). You'd get something new that fits your usage well. You can even pick up refurbs directly from Apple. There are good sales going on right now for back to school at Apple (if student/parent) and with other retailers for both Airs and Pros.

    I just grabbed a 2020 MacBook Air refurb from Apple a few weeks ago. It replaced my 2012 MacBook Pro (which I bought used--see above). The Air is a beautiful machine and seems to handle all the dev tasks I throw at it without burning up (some suggest 2018 and above have a thermal problem due to a heat dissipation flaw). Battery life is fantastic and I love that it is quiet and cool for normal tasks.

    If you are just doing browsing, office, and web dev, I wouldn't wait on the ARM machines. That architecture shift isn't going to impact you much for that kind of work. Now is the time to buy, due to back to school sales, if you want new hardware. You can always turn around and sell your device in a few years, if you need to switch to ARM, and feel confident it will retain value much better than Windows hardware.

  9. yaddamaster

    I'm really not sure why people are recommending a mac mini if you really want to get a feel for the ecosystem. IMHO, the Mac experience is best on a laptop. The superb trackpad makes the entire experience. The incredible industrial design of the laptop, the screen, etc. With a mini it seems to me that all you are getting is the OS - and that leaves a lot wanting.

    • bkkcanuck

      In reply to yaddamaster:

      So your recommending a laptop because the trackpad makes the experience? You know if you really want a trackpad you can get one for the Mini... I have one.... but I still prefer a mouse for efficiency reasons when at my desk. It is a very good trackpad, but the mouse is still a better option at the desk (IMHO).

    • wright_is

      In reply to yaddamaster:

      If you don't need portability, it is over priced and, if you are using it at a desk, with a decent sized display, then you will be using an external keyboard (the keyboards on the newer MacsBooks are the worst I've ever used, with the exception of the Sinclair ZX81, although it is a close run thing, the latest one is a bit better than the 2016 - 2019 keyboards but only just) and mouse/trackpad anyway.

      If I'm not going to be taking it anywhere, I'd rather save $1,500+ and invest that in a decent display, software, holiday, whatever...

  10. phil_adcock

    I have a Macbook Pro (Mid-2009) Purchased it used 2nd hand this year for less than $200. Works great. Just stuck on Mountain Lion, honestly unless you are wanting to get the latest and great of he apple ecosystem by a Mac a couple years older my actually be a worthy investment for you.

  11. bkkcanuck

    Since you are looking at trying your hand at software development for Apple devices... I figured this might be of interest for you. I have watched some of his older videos (course lectures) years ago and Paul Hegarty was a very good instructor. The upload of the Stanford cs193p course videos is now available (it was formerly on iTunes U) on Youtube. I am having trouble posting a link so the following is the search terms (there are duplicate uploads from others - the original is on 'Stanford' channel). There are 14 lectures of around 1.5 hours on average.

    CS193p iPhone Application Development Spring 2020

  12. basic sandbox

    Being budget concious, I would suggest the Macbook Air. The low end Air costs $100 more than the low end mac-mini. You can still connect it to your 34 inch monitor but also have the option to take it with you.

  13. waethorn

    I posted a help tip on how to get Parallel's Desktop really cheap (for the first year, at least) in another article. Parallels is being VERY QUIET about what options are going to be available when the ARM chips ship later, so if you need Windows software support, it might be smarter and safer to get a current Intel model. I set up a new baseline MacBook Air recently with this and the user loves it. They only need Windows for a few things, and Coherence Mode gives them an integrated Start Menu in the Mac dock, and the virtual machine will sleep automatically, thus not taking any resources when you're not running anything from it.

    The tl;dr purchase trick is: get the trial version from the Mac App Store. You need a credit card to do it because it automatically "renews" after 14 days into a paid subscription. THAT version DOES NOT have Coherence Mode, but it's also $20 cheaper. You can upgrade to the "full" version direct from Parallels for ~$15. Buy the upgrade within the 14-day trial of the App Store version, and then cancel the trial so that it doesn't charge your credit card in full at the end of it. Now you've only paid ~$15 for the first year, which should've cost you about $100.

    You'll need a legit Windows license on top of that - you're on your own for that.

    FYI: Apple is now giving new MacBook purchases a free year of Apple TV+. Be aware that this is only Apple TV+ original content, not the additional third-party channels within the Apple TV app. This includes Canada, not just the US.

  14. bkkcanuck

    There are 3 new 'ARM' models of Macintoshes expected (based on widespread rumours) to be released this year... I expect two of them to be announced by the end of October deliverable in November. The first ARM laptops expected to be released are expected to be the 13" Macbook Air, the 13" Macbook Pro -- and then a lower end iMac expected end of this year/early next. There are no rumours yet on the Mac Mini. If you are planning on using it for development, with the thought of selling it on the app store, I would really wait a bit to buy one of the ARM models -- since in that case you would want to test on ARM. All of the models mentioned should be sufficient for software development. I expect the Macbook Air to be targetted at a lower entry point, and the Macbook Pro with more functionality but it could have a lower entry point with more options. As they are not released all we have to go on is the rumours - though usually the October event coincides with the release of the next version of macOS. I currently use the Mac Mini 2018 (maxed out memory - 3rd party) as my daily driver, making the switch from Windows as my daily driver (with dual boot to Linux) in 2007/2008 - and with the current state of things - unlikely to consider Windows as an option at this moment (I do have a DIY i7-9700 loaded computer with Windows 10 Pro and Linux dual boot, but I generally use it as a Linux server).

    • waethorn

      In reply to bkkcanuck:

      That's some pretty precise specifications considering it's all just conjecture and hearsay.

      • bkkcanuck

        In reply to Waethorn:

        It is mostly a consolidation of Ming-Chi Kuo analyst reporting (has a fairly good track record; not perfect but above average). His sources tend to be supply chain based (not Apple HQ - which is notoriously difficult to gleam information out of). It also the pricing points (for other rumours) are also in line with what Apple has done with the iPad line-up to have a clear deliniation between the purpose of each model visa-vie the the market. Most people who follow Apple news will have heard of his analysts reporting, but outside - probably not so much. Unfortunately it is all we have to go on until they are released. I suspect he will be more right than wrong with this.

        • curtisspendlove

          In reply to bkkcanuck:

          It is mostly a consolidation of Ming-Chi Kuo analyst reporting (has a fairly good track record; not perfect but above average). 

          His predictions make sense. At first I was unsure on the MacBook Pro 13” slot, but I’ve decided it does make sense for Apple to come out with a moderately-powerful machine to help stave off the “well they just released all the low power stuff so Apple Silicon must not really be that good” angles.

          :: shrug ::

    • j5

      In reply to bkkcanuck:

      Hm, I didn't think about the need to have an ARM based Mac to test and develop apps for the future, that's a great point!

      I'm wondering if I'll end up never going back to Windows after trying Mac lol. Seems like yeah you're all in now.

      • curtisspendlove

        In reply to j5:

        I'm wondering if I'll end up never going back to Windows after trying Mac lol. Seems like yeah you're all in now.

        It is a potential possibility. The question I’d have for you is how much you like to “tinker” with computers or Operating Systems.

        If not, and you’re fine with console gaming (as previously stated) the. You may end up enjoying your Mac.

        Honestly, at this point I only use Windows for gaming. My Mac and Linux (Pop!OS for desktop and vanilla Ubuntu server) take care of all of my productivity and non-gaming fun needs.

        And if you get the iOS development bug (which I have recently), your choice in at least having an Apple OS around is made for you. ;)

  15. richardbottiglieri

    Check out the Apple refurbished store for some good deals on recent hardware models. It's how I buy all of my Apple computers these days. Inventory changes over multiple times per day, so if you see something you want, you need to grab it. You get the same one year warranty with these items, and you can even buy AppleCare+ on it, should you want to do that.

Leave a Reply