Miscellaneous Ramblings

When to Buy a New or Newer Mac

Charles Moore - 2002.10.08 - Tip Jar

How you know when it's the right time to move to a new Mac? The timing of system upgrades is rarely a black and white issue - outside of major component failures - and everyone has to individually figure out when it is right for them to make the move, usually contingent on budgetary considerations.

For casual users who mainly do a bit of word processing, email, Web surfing, and perhaps some light image editing, the timespan between system upgrades need not be short. At this point in time, a 233 MHz G3 machine is certainly adequate for this sort of use - or even a pre-G3 Mac, if you're reasonably satisfied with its performance for the things you do.

However, hints that it may be time to shop for a new Mac could be:

Your current machine doesn't support newer software that you want to use.

OS X is a salutary case in point. While it's possible to coerce some older Macs to run OS X, unless you're into seriously messing around with computers, you're better off sticking with an officially supported machine. Currently, some of the newer software titles are specifying a 300 MHz or 350 MHz G3 as minimum supported hardware, and it's usually best to exceed the minimum specs if you want acceptable performance.

Is your current Mac slowing you down significantly? Do you find yourself waiting for the Mac to catch up a lot?

If so, this is at least annoying. If you use your Mac to make a living, it's also costing you money in wasted time and lost productivity. Looked at in that light, upgrading to a new system could actually pay for itself, or even represent a saving, over a period of time. On the other hand, if your current machine still performs well for most of what you do with it, but lags only in tasks that you do only occasionally or or rarely, it may be worth putting up with the aggravation for a while yet, at least from an economic perspective.

Is something really bugging you about your current Mac?

Is the monitor too small? Are the fan and/or hard drive too noisy? Would a laptop be a better solution for your needs than your big desktop unit? If these or other dissatisfaction issues obtain, it may well the time for a new Mac, although some shortcomings might be dealt with via the component upgrade route. Perhaps a new LCD monitor or a larger hard drive.

Could you do things with a new Mac that your present machine just can't handle?

This could be particularly compelling if there is something work related that a faster, more powerful Mac would open the door to.

Your Mac is broken.

If you've suffered a hardware failure, you are faced with the choice of whether to fix your current machine (likely paying someone to do it) or cutting your losses and getting a new (or newer) Mac. The thing to do is analyze the relative costs in the cold light of logic. It makes little cents to spend $500 repairing a 233 MHz iMac, however beloved, when you can buy a used or refurbished iMac with more power and features for that much money.

Indeed, since you can still buy a new CRT iMac with a 600 MHz processor and a 40 GB hard drive and a full Apple warranty for $799, it's hard to make a case for spending serious money repairing a less capable machine that may have other hardware failures lurking in the wings. Computers aren't quite throwaway items, but it's wise to scrutinize the cost/benefit ratio of repairs vs. buying a new system very closely.

You just want a cool new Mac.

If you can afford it, why not? Get your new machine and enjoy. Keep the oldie for a backup, give it to your kids, or donate it to a worthy cause or charity.

As I said, aside from catastrophic system failure emergencies, there is rarely an objectively right

time to upgrade to a new computer. Ultimately, you have to decide when it's right for you.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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