When to buy a new computer?

I bought my PowerBook G4 in 2005, and it’s been great. But more and more I find that I’m butting up against its limitations. It was made about six months before the new Macs with the Intel chips became available. Not a problem then, but nowadays everything required OS X 10.5 or greater. That’s beyond the capabilities of this machine.

I bought this computer because I was involved in a studio and wanted to be able to use Final Cut Pro. It turned out that I was doing a lot of shooting and the owner was doing the editing, and I never really learned how to use it. (Also, it was slower than his quad-core G5.) Part of the reason I haven’t done any video since the studio closed is that. Now I have some ideas that I’d like to shoot. I could use this machine, but it would be a lot easier on a newer, faster one with more memory.

Beyond that, there are the compatibility issues I mentioned. I suspect a friend and I will by skyping, and it would be nice to have video. But the cameras I looked at require 10.5 or greater. And a MacBook Pro comes with a built-in camera. There are other things I’d like, which don’t come to mind at the moment, that require the Intel processor.

Now here’s the thing: I just missed out on a refurbished older-model 17" MacBook Pro for $550 from the local Apple dealer. Something like that would give me all of what I need and most of what I want for much less than a new computer. OTOH I can get no-interest (for 12 months) from Apple on a new computer. $250 a month? Barring ‘emergencies’ I can swing that.

By the time I pay it off, it will likely have been superseded by a better computer. At least with a refurbished one I’m paying 1/5 the price. OTOH, I’m still using the computer I bought in 2005. What do I care if something better comes out? I could go for a refurbished machine and get the latest and greatest later. Probably much later, based on how long this computer has lasted.

So… When do I pull the trigger on a new computer?

Years ago I saw a great cartoon. Two shops next to each other.
One said, “New Computers!” and the other said, “1/2 Off Day-Old Computers”.

I had my last laptop computer for over 7 years and it almost died on me. I was able to fix it but it scared me enough to go out and buy a new laptop. My old laptop cost me about $1700 (I had money back then) and the new one cost me about $500 with about triple the memory and other bells and whistles.

I think the problem with Mac is that you don’t have as many options for upgrading as you might need in the future, whereas many PC’s do allow switching out memory for larger, newer versions of chips. Plus, lots more options for PC prices. But if you are hard core Mac person, you won’t care about that.

So, when to buy? Usually it is about the time you start asking “When to buy…” as that is a sign you have outlived the features and need more.

I was afraid of that.

Back when I had a PC that I built and a Mac side by side in my home office, I always thought the PC would have a better upgrade path. Little did I know that every new processor that I was interested in would have a new form-factor socket, meaning that I had to replace a perfectly good motherboard as part of the upgrade. After two iterations of that process I was finished.

Now using Mac and PC laptops at work, I find them both equally un-upgradeable. But no matter, all of my laptops have conveniently met a catastrophic end (stolen, dropped down stairs, butchered by an incompetent tech) right about the time I’d want to upgrade anyway. Life with a traveling freelancer can be tough on hardware.

Now for my personal opinion: given that my laptops are at least theoretically a money-generating tool for me, I never buy less than near-top-of-the-line. A used machine or a generation back refurb is cheaper, but I end up frustrated with it much sooner too. My current MacBook Pro is from the unibody generation. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to kill it. It’s stout.

Six months ago, I got tired of my 5 year old desktop. I bought a new one, but not top of the line. I got a decent hard drive, enough memory, and good, but not gaming quality cpu and video.

It was a lot less than the high end machine, and easily does everything I need it for. I expect it to last me many years.

Figure out how much of a computer you want…and wait until a deal comes along. If you can wait, take that $250/month and just start saving it. When a deal comes along, you’ll have the money already…and not have to enter into a longer term payment plan.

IMO, of course.


If you are looking for upgradability, you have to make choices that will allow it. Buy motherboards with 4 RAM slots, 8 sata ports, and a broadly supported socket.

AM3 for example runs from some fairly piddly chips up though some serious x4 and x6 chips. With a good board and a cheap CPU, you can have a machine that is cheap now with the potential to be very upgradable. Problem is many people do not know how to ask for the right kind of stuff when they do the initial build.


yeah, they all suck for that

You know how when you buy a brand new car it depreciates a great deal, for no reason, once you drive it off the car lot?

Well computers become obsolete the minute they are removed from the box and plugged in. You might as well just recycle them while they are still in the box and buy another one, saves cardboard that way.

It is always time to buy a new computer.

If your computer is 5 or more years old, and you think it’s probably time to buy a new one, it’s time to buy a new one.

The MacBook Pros were updated two months ago with faster graphics chips and a slight speed bump. According to rumors, Apple will be introducing a thinner, Air-like Macbook Pro 15" sometime this summer, and it’s almost certain that they will be upgrading all of their computers to Intel’s new Ivy Bridge chipset, which will be faster (of course). There’s also a chance that they will double the resolution of the screens. And if they do that, it might be a wash as far as graphics performance goes.

But if you need a computer with a webcam that can run Final Cut Pro, there’s no reason not to buy a MacBook Pro today. Yes, it will probably seem slow in five years, but that’s about as good as it gets in computing. And if you put an SSD in it, it’ll really scream. (NOTE: I don’t have any personal experience with SSDs from that company, but I’ve heard good things.)

My MacBook is going on 5 years now and doing fine but if I get the urge to upgrade, I’d go with an Apple refurb to get a good deal. I wouldn’t touch a used one however.

If you don’t need the portability, check our used or refurb Mini’s.

Are you aware that current Intel Macs or any with Snow Leopard no longer run PowerPc applications?

I think Snow Leopard will run PowerPC apps. Lion won’t.

I’m in the same boat at the OP: I bought the very last of the line of G4 PowerBooks. It becomes 6 years old this spring. When I buy a new model I’m going to buy two identical machines (and learn quickly how to switch the HD from one to the other) because I absolutely can’t tolerate having my environment out of commission & unavailable to me just because I’m having hardware problems. A paired set of MacBook Pros is going to run me a bundle but I don’t want any that can’t still run Snow Leopard (I don’t own a single Intel application as far as I know) so my window of opportunity is finite.

I’m not sure if this suits your needs, but VMware Fusion now lets you virtualize 10.5 and 10.6 installs within Lion. Could be a best of both worlds situation for you.

And to continue the hijack, why would you need to swap hard drives between two identical machines? I feel like there’s got to be a better way to do what you’re looking for here.

Yeah, that’s what I meant. :smack:

Buy a brand new Mac laptop. This is my professional opinion.

that has been my experience as well.
You do need to move off the G4. It just isn’t supported any more.
refurbed machines (either cars or computers) make the best financial sense. Unless you like the new car smell, or the latest thunderbolt, go for a refurb.

I disagree completely. My last laptop lasted for over 5 years. I replaced it a few months ago because the optical drive died and it was having some minor issues with the battery (that weren’t fixed by replacing the battery). It’s still powerful enough to do anything I want, if I want to stay plugged in and not use the optical drive.

That’s very cool. I don’t suppose I could virtualize a 10.4 environment as well? Not that it greatly matters in the Intel world. (Yes, I’m not only concerned about being able to run PowerPC apps, I have some CLASSIC apps I use… hell, I even have some 68K apps I use on occasion!).

Machine 1 goes into the shop. For one reason or another they don’t fix it as I wait but expect me to leave and go about my business sans computer while days tick by. That’s not an option. I need my entire environment to be up and running. I could boot from the external drive to which I do my backups, but that ties me to the workstation area, not ideal for a laptop. Whereas if I swap hard drives, Computer 2 effectively BECOMES Computer 1. (this is of course assuming that the hard drive isn’t the problem itself, but then I would not be putting my MacBook into the shop to get the hard disk swapped out, I’d do that myself)

The simplest upgrade path for Macs is to buy a new one that has the features/specs you want and sell the old one on Craigslist. Macs tend to have a reasonably good resale value, so this sometimes ends up being the cheapest upgrade path as well.

I buy a new Mac laptop every 2 years or so, selling the old one. I either buy a recent model refurb or I buy during the Black Friday sale (which is basically the only time Macs ever go on sale). Over the last 8 years, this has cost me about $150/year for my computer. My computer is usually quite close to new, is in warranty half the time (the new macs come with a 1-year warranty), and the cost is comparable to buying a new computer and using it for 6-7 years.

I don’t know about 10.4 virtualization, but 10.5 still has Rosetta so you should be covered.

As far as the hard drive swapping goes, I get it now. I have a similar philosophy, but approach it differently. I have two backup drives. One for Time Machine that handles the hourly differential. Time Machine is great for going back and picking up accidentally deleted files, but is a bit cumbersome for full restores as it’s thorough but slow. For the full restore, I have SuperDuper make a full bootable clone twice a day. It’s actually faster to have SuperDuper clone from the backup to laptop #2 than to open both machines and swap, I suspect.