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Mac buyers' guide: What you need to know before heading to the Apple Store

Michael deAgonia | Sept. 19, 2012
If you're not sure what to get, here's what you need to keep in mind before heading to the Apple store.

Cons: No USB 3; hard drive cannot be upgraded using standard parts; screen is prone to glare

Mac mini:

At $599, the Mac mini is the least expensive Mac on this list, and is perfect if you're looking for a Mac and already have a display and keyboard/mouse. This machine's small footprint takes up very little room, and its size makes the mini the best choice if you're looking for a TV-connected Apple media server.

The Mac mini comes in a 7.7" x 7.7", 1.4" tall, 2.7lbs aluminum case, and is powered by 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 and 2GB of memory. If you want to customize later, memory can be upgraded by twisting open the bottom cover and installing your own; it's very easy to do so.

The mini isn't the most powerful machine, but it will certainly get the job done without fuss. The internal 500GB hard drive spins at 5400-rpms, but can be configured to a solid state drive on the online Apple Store. If you choose the SSD route, the mini's performance increases significantly for day-to-day tasks.

Standard on the mini are gigabit Ethernet, SDXC card slot, FireWire 800, HDMI, four USB 2.0 connections, and Thunderbolt. Like the other Macs, the mini has wireless N networking and Bluetooth 4.0.

Pros: Small footprint; multiple monitor support

Cons: Lacks expandability beyond ram/hard drive; no optical drive; no USB 3

Every computer mentioned in this article is capable of running all of the latest Mac software capably -- but some models just perform the tasks faster than others. Remember: you can't make a bad choice; just balance out the features that are most important within your budget.

iPad:

The iPad is an interesting item to consider for work and study. The starting price? $399 for the iPad 2, which comes in a .37" thick aluminum frame and weighs less than a pound and a half. The iPad also offers instant-on, has an all-day battery life without any clever power management, has a vibrant third party accessory and app ecosystem, and offers instant document syncing and backup with iCloud (as well as other online services). I've been using the iPad since day one, and I have to tell you: the iPad is the most convenient computer I have ever used, with unprecedented reliability; the machine is virtually maintenance-free.

Here's my advice: opt for the $499 Retina display model. The densely packed pixels forming the screen dissolve into an image rivaling high quality magazines: images appear as backlit photographs, high resolution movies look nearly like film, and text looks crisp and rich.

Granted, the iPad isn't as flexible as a machine running the full version of Mac OS X, but for many people, it doesn't need to be. Make sure to check that the applications required to get work done are ready for the iPad, or have equivalents available, before making this purchase. I'm sure you will be surprised at the wealth of high quality iPad apps that are currently available.

 

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