This article was first published on 2007-07-26. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.
If you want a Mac, you want a brand spankin’ new top of the line Mac. But chances are, your wallet won’t like the price tag: it only goes up from $1,000. You could get the Mac Mini, but at $600 with no monitor, keyboard, or mouse, it hardly qualifies as what you want. What you’re going to have to do is go in search of a used Mac. This article will tell you what you can get for each kind of budget.
When looking at a computer auction or sale online, there should always be a section, usually called the “Tech Specs” or technical specifications, with info such as processor speed and amount of RAM. This is a very important block of text, and if you don’t see it anywhere, you shouldn’t buy the computer. To realize what these “Tech Specs” mean to you, you need to know some computer terms, which I’ll list here:
Processor Speed: This is how fast the computer runs. Speeds are measured in Megahertz (MHz), and Gigahertz (GHz). Depending on what you want to do with your Mac, these speeds matter. If you will be browsing the Internet, emailing, and writing Word Documents, you could squeak by with a 700 MHz machine. These tend to be really cheap, because most machines today run around 2000 MHz, or 2 GHz. If you are going to be doing anything more, such as creating PowerPoint presentations or watching a lot of DVDs or videos, then you’ll probably want at least a 1GHz machine. 1GHz Macs still run pretty cheap. If you are an experienced computer user and are going to be using photos, editing movies, or more, then you will probably want a 1.6 GHz Mac or better. These start getting up in price.
|700 MHz or lower||Internet, email, photo browsing||$30-$100|
|800 MHz||All of the above plus video editing||$200-$500|
|1 GHz||All of the above, but much faster||$500-$900|
|1.25 GHz||More heavy-duty programs, video.||$700-$1,800|
|1.6 GHz and higher||Much faster, handles Professional programs well.||$750-$2,000|
Two computers might both say “1.25 GHz,” but the type of processor is important. The kinds that you will see will be PowerPC G3, G4, and G5 processors, and Intel Core Duo or Core 2 Duo processors. If you use your computer for nothing besides checking email and Internet and other small tasks, then a G3 might work out. Otherwise, you will need a G4 or better. Also, keep in mind, teh next OS, Leopard, will probably not work on G3 chips. The G5s are the fastest of the PowerPCs and will be plenty fast for most users.
The benefit to getting an Intel Processor machine as opposed to a PowerPC machine is that all new Macs are Intel and so your computer will be more compatible longer, plus the Intel chips are the fastest processor yet on the Mac. What this means is that when software stops being written for the PowrPC chips, your Intel Mac will still be work with the latest versions.
|PowerPC G3||Internet, email, photo browsing||$30-$100|
|PPC G4||All of the above plus video editing||$200-$500|
|PPC G5||All of the above, but much faster||$500-$900|
|Intel Core Duo||Up to twice as fast in some cases.||$700-$1,800|
|Intel Core 2 Duo||No noticeable difference from above.||$750-$2,000|
RAM, or memory, is also important. You will see, usually right near the Processor Speed, the amount of RAM. The usual amounts are 256 megabytes (MB), 512 MB, 1 GB, 1.25 GB, 1.5 GB, and 2 GB. Under no circumstance should there be less than 512 MB of RAM in a computer if you want to run modern software. 1 GB is better.
Last, but not least, see what version of Mac OS X, the computer’s operating system, comes with it. If your computer is a G3 or a 700 MHz G4 or lower, then Mac OS X 10.2 “Jaguar” will be best. If your computer is any higher, then make sure Mac OS X 10.3 “Panther,” or optimally, Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger” is on the computer.
If all that was confusing, then this is what you need to know: If you are going to be checking email and the Internet and not much else, and you have $500 to spare, then get a Mac with an 800 MHz G4 processor or better. If you are going to be editing home movies and photos, then get at the very least a 1.25 GHz G4. If you have the money, any G5 Mac will be good for you. And lastly, DON’T BUY A MAC WITH LESS THAN 512 MB OF RAM.
What Model of Mac to Buy
If you have a small amount of money to spend, but want a computer that you can use for at least 5 years to come for things like internet, home movies, email, etc., then you should get the eMac. The eMac runs from 700 MHz (good for email, light video editing, photos, etc.) up to 1.42 GHz (Fast enough to run Photoshop and iMovie with big files.) Even at top speed, I have never seen an eMac be more expensive than $250 on eBay. In general, the eMac will run between $100 on eBay to as much as $399 at Used Mac retail sites. The eMac comes with built in speakers, monitor, disc drive, and more.
If you’re in the market for a desktop computer and have a bit more money, then the iMac G4 is your computer. The iMac G4 runs between 700 MHz and 1.25 GHz. It usually costs from $300 up to $500. The iMac G4 comes in many different varieties. You can choose a 15 inch, 17 inch, or 20 inch LCD flat screen. The screen hovers in the air attached by a movable metal arm to the semi-spherical base. The iMac G4 takes up relatively little desk space, is a beauty, and gives good performance for the money.
If you have $600-$800 to spend on a desktop, you’ll want an iMac G5. The G5s are extremely fast for anything most users would want to do. The G5 takes up the least desk space possible. It is essentially a screen on an aluminum foot. The computer is packed in behind the screen, and yet the screen is less than 2 inches thick. Some iMac G5s come with a built in iSight webcam and an Apple Remote control to play your videos and music. These G5s will run about $100 more expensive, but they are a little faster. IMac G5s without the camera run from 1.6 GHz to 1.8 GHz, while iMac G5s with the camera run 1.8 to 2 GHz. The iMac G5s come in either a 17 or 20-inch widescreen flat display.
The iMac Intel Core Duo computers look the same as the iMac G5s with iSight. They have a few key differences, though. First of all, they cost from $750 to as much as $1,600 for the most expensive model. The Intel iMac comes in four basic versions. There is a 17 inch version that runs at 1.83 GHz, a 17 inch version that runs at 2GHz, a 20 inch version that runs at 2 GHz, and a 24 inch version that runs at 2.16 GHz. The Intel machines are only really worth it if you really know computers and care. Otherwise, an iMac G5 works quickly and well for the average user and costs quite a bit less.
As for the Pro Desktops, I won’t go into much detail because if you are looking for a pro desktop, you probably know what you want. The same principal applies here: Intels are the best, G3s are the worst, and G5s are the best cost-cutting alternative. There are four models of Pro Mac you’ll find used: The Power Mac G3, Power Mac G4, Power Mac G5, and Mac Pro (the Intel Power Mac.) Pro Macs are great for heavy duty hi-definition video editing because they can hold vast amounts of info. For instance, the Mac Pro can hold up to 16 GB of memory, 3 TB (terabytes, or 3000 Gigabytes) of hard drive space, and it has up to a dual 3 GHz Intel Xeon chip. Once again, to the casual user, this is not the computer for you. Depending on the model, a good one costs from $1,000 to $3,000 depending on what has been added. A Power Mac G3 or G4 can go from $300 to $1,000 if there are a lot of extras added in.
Now, for the laptops. I’m only going to go over the laptops that are worth talking about. I will not talk about the iBook G3s, except to say that if you want portability but don’t need to do much with your computer, an iBook G3 may be good for you. They are pretty cheap, between $100 and $300.
The iBook G4s are when storage space began to get good. With the G4s you can do the same things you might do with an iMac G4, but storage is a bit less. The iBook G4s range from 800 MHz to 1.42 GHz, and have screen sizes of 12 or 14 inches. They have a wide price range, from $200 to $600, depending on the model.
The PowerBook G4s were the pro version of the iBook. There were “Titanium” and “Aluminum” PowerBooks. The Titanium runs at slow speeds from 400 MHz up to 1GHz (Perhaps the only one worth getting). The Aluminum PowerBooks run from 867 MHz to 1.67 GHz. With the PowerBooks, you can do home video, photos, and most everything else on the go. Although it was designed for pros, it is not a good pro machine anymore. PowerBooks come in 12, 15 and 17 inch models and cost from $350 for the Titaniums all the way up to $1,500 for the very best Aluminums.
MacBooks are the current Mac laptop, and for an unexplained reason have been taking a price dive on eBay. I just bought a 5-month-old MacBook, with no damage, for $650. That’s compared to its brand-new price of $1,300. MacBooks are very fast, at 2 and 2.16 GHz. They come with a 13.3 inch widescreen display. You can do almost anything on them, including gaming, editing DV movies, and much more. They come with the built in camera and remote. On eBay, they are running as of this writing (July 25, 2007) from $700 to $1,000.
MacBook Pros are true pro machines. They have 15 or 17 inch screens. They are Razor Thin, and they come with fast 2.2, or 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processors. They also have the built in camera. MacBook Pros can handle most anything thrown at them, and are the most powerful Apple Computer besides the Mac Pro. They cost from $1,500 to as much as $4,000 depending on added extras.
So there is your list of viable used Macs. Here is my bottom line: if you are a person who will surf the web, do photos, home videos, and email, get the iMac G5 or the iBook G4 or MacBook. If you are on a tight budget, go for the fastest eMac you can find.
Continue with Part II of this series, Where to Buy Your Used Mac.
Adam Fisher-Cox is a long time Mac user. Visit him online at adamfishercox.com.
Did this help you decide which used Mac is right for you? Do you still have questions? Let us know in the Comment section below!