Mac Musings

Tiger Means Don't Buy a New Mac Until April 29

Dan Knight - 2005.04.12 - Tip Jar

Thinking about buying a brand new Mac? If at all possible, postpone that purchase until April 29. That's when Apple begins shipping Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4).

Catch a Tiger

If Apple follows form, the only people who won't have to pay full price for Tiger are those who buy a new Mac between now and April 29. They'll be able to upgrade for just US$20. The rest of us are expected to pay US$129 - unless we can find a better deal. (Hint: Amazon.com is offering a US$35 rebate on Tiger.)

In the past, Apple has offered a five-user family pack for US$199. I hope they'll do so again, as we have three eMacs, two PowerBooks, two iBooks, and a couple 333 MHz iMacs in the family. [Update: Apple is offering a family pack. Amazon.com is selling it for US$199.99 shipped and offers a US$50 mail-in rebate.]

Although it's disappointing that Apple doesn't offer any kind of discount when upgrading (yes, I know that we're beating a dead horse), that also means that we'll be free to put (or leave) OS X 10.3 on five of the Macs that didn't ship with it. (The 1.25 GHz eMacs came with 10.3.) After I pick up a family pack (fingers crossed that Apple will offer it!), I may finally try 10.3 on the beige Power Mac G3 using the XPostFacto installer.

Buy Your Mac with a Tiger

If you wait until April 29, Mac OS X 10.4 should be included with your new Mac. So if you've been sitting on the fence regarding new hardware, you could view it as saving you US$129 by getting Tiger included with your new Mac.

I have a feeling that this will open the floodgates for Mac mini sales. Mac fans have known that Tiger was due in the first half of 2005, and I'm sure some have postponed buying a US$499 mini so they could stretch their dollars and get 10.4 for free with the computer.

I know that I've used Tiger as an excuse to not seriously consider the Mac mini. It's a tempting machine, especially for someone who moves every week (bird's nest custody - one week home with the boys, one week away from the house). I go through a fair bit of work keeping work files synchronized on two eMacs (home and apartment) and my PowerBook G4/400.

Flat Panel Display Rant

A Mac mini with a nice 19" CRT or a widescreen 17" flat panel display (Do they exist? They all seem to offer the same squarish 1280 x 1024 resolution. So do most 15" and 19" LCDs.) would be the cat's meow. (Or Tiger's roar?)

To get a widescreen LCD, you need to spend US$999 and up, with Apple's Cinema Display (1680 x 1050 resolution) the least costly I can find. That kind of kills the idea of a low-cost Mac mini setup with a widescreen display.

Oddly enough, you can buy a whole 1.6 GHz G5 computer with a 17" 1440 x 900 pixel display for just US$300 more than the 20" Cinema Display. Or a 20" iMac G5 with the same LCD for US$1,899.

Practical Solutions

I work with a PowerBook G4 with a 1152 x 768 widescreen display, and I find that small. I'd probably be happy with the 1280 x 854 screen of the current 15" PowerBook G4, but that's a US$1,999 computer.

As I see it, there are four options for my situation:

  1. Stick with the 1.25 GHz eMacs and 15" PowerBook G4/400.
  2. Stick with the eMacs and find a 15" aluminum PowerBook G4.
  3. Keep the 15" PowerBook G4, buy a Mac mini, pick up a display for each location.
  4. Keep the 15" PowerBook G4, buy a 17" iMac G5, and move it from place to place.

The AlBook

Even used or on close-out, 15" aluminum PowerBooks start at US$1,500. That would give me a much nicer portable computer. In fact, it might be nice enough that I'd retire the eMac at the apartment. (The one at the house is the family file server, so it's probably going to stay no matter what I decide.)

I'd definitely want 1 GB of RAM, so add another US$55-60 for that. And if the hard drive is less than 60 GB, I'd want to replace the hard drive as well. US$150 and up for a 5400 rpm 80 GB hard drive.

The Mac mini

The basic Mac mini with an 80 GB hard drive sells for US$549. Add about US$200 to reach 1 GB of RAM. Keep using my wireless Kensington mouse and keyboard. All ready to go at US$750 - except for a display.

If I'm going to have 1280 x 1024 resolution regardless of screen size, I may as well save a little money and some space with a 15" flat panel display. I've seen prices as low as US$140 (after rebate) with VGA input. To get DVI input, I've seen some deals on 17" displays at about US$200 (after rebate).

That puts us at about US$950 with one display, $1,150 with two.

The iMac G5

That 17" 1440 x 900 display on the iMac G5 would give me the widescreen display that you can't find affordably in a separate LCD. It ships with a paltry 256 MB of RAM - but also with a fast 7200 rpm 80 GB hard drive. You can buy a 1 GB RAM kit (a matched pair of modules) for about US$80.

Total price: US$1,379. And I'd probably use the original Apple box to transport it from place to place.

Comparo

The AlBook is the most expensive option. The screen is good, portability is very good, but US$1,700 is a fair bit of money. Selling off one eMac and the PowerBook G4 would help, perhaps netting US$1,200. End cost - about US$500.

The Mac mini is cute, compact, and pretty affordable. I wouldn't be gaining any speed over my eMac, though, and even 5400 rpm laptop drives feel slow compared with 7200 rpm desktop drives. I'd have to keep my PowerBook, but I could sell one eMac, netting maybe US$550. End cost - about $400 with one display, $600 with two.

The iMac G5 is the fastest of the bunch and has the highest resolution display. It already includes a fast hard drive, so all I'd need to add is RAM. I'd want to keep the PowerBook for field work. I would sell of one eMac for US$550 or so. End cost - about $830.

Decision

This is Low End Mac, I'm comfortable with what I have, and I'm not ready to make a purchase yet. The best option is probably a 15" 1.33 GHz PowerBook, either at close-out price or refurbished (if Apple has them again). The new PowerBooks seem to have some teething problems, so I'd avoid them for now.

The iMac G5 is tempting, especially since Apple sometimes has refurbished ones for just US$1,099, slashing US$200 from the usual price. Nice as it is, it just isn't as portable as a PowerBook or Mac mini.

I'd really gain nothing with the Mac mini solution. It's no faster then the eMac; no more portable than my iPod, which is how I synchronize files between my three Macs; and it just doesn't make sense to spend US$400 (after selling one eMac) to break even.

Tiger or not, I'm not yet ready to make a decision. I don't need more speed than my eMacs offer, but I would like a quieter desktop computer with a higher resolution display (the eMac tops out at 1280 x 960). A flat panel eMac (take the 17" iMac G5 design but use a 1.4-1.5 GHz G4 motherboard) would do it....

My 400 MHz PowerBook is a bit long in tooth. It's feeling sluggish. The screen isn't very bright. The resolution is low compared with newer 15" models. AirPort range is poor (so I use a PC Card instead of Apple's AirPort). Mine doesn't even burn CDs!

An interim step might be a 667 MHz or 800 MHz DVI PowerBook G4, two generations later than mine. A higher resolution, brighter screen. Better video support (Radeon 7500 with 32 MB to fully support Quartz Extreme). A Combo drive. Even a PC Card slot for my wireless card, since that model still uses titanium.

Then again, that won't include Tiger....

But what I've got works well enough. I don't need to upgrade, so despite the temptation and thought experiments, I won't. Yet.

Not until something really compelling comes along. Like a widescreen 15" iBook. Or a flat panel eMac. Then I'll have to think it all over once again.

At least the new models will come with Tiger.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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