This article was first published on 2007-07-12. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.
So you are planning to buy or just bought a new Mac and you are wondering if you need to get anything else to go along with it. Can you really get away with just buying a Mac? I’ll break down what else you will need to get and some other things you may want to buy to round out the whole Mac experience.
First of all, I should say that you can get by with your Mac right out of the box if you need to. So the Need to Have list is really a "should have" list, but we all would like to think they are "needs" when we buy them, Right? Also, you can buy all of this stuff online using price comparison sites to get the best price. See the Dig Deeper section below for more.
Need to Haves
RAM. This is the best use of extra money when getting your Mac. All computers ship with the minimum amount of RAM to get by. This allows you to do a few basic functions at the same time, but nothing really demanding. You should look to double the base amount RAM when you purchase your Mac. Apple charges a significant amount to get more RAM, but if you do it later with a 3rd party supplier, you usually wind up replacing the RAM that came with your Mac because you are advised to add chips in pairs. Compare 3rd party prices before you buy your Mac.
Software. The biggest question is whether you will need to buy Microsoft Office. We discuss this question and alternatives in What Other Software Do I Need? You probably won’t need to buy any other software right away, although you will want some free programs right off the bat.
AppleCare. This is a hotly debated issue. In general, extended warranties are cash machines for electronics and computer companies. That’s why you’ll notice pressure from sales people to buy them at all the big box stores. Some people swear by AppleCare, but I’ve never bought it and never needed it later for a repair that cost more than the AppleCare itself. Many people claim it’s the peace of mind that you buy, which makes it worth it. As an alternative, take a look at your credit cards to see if they will double the standard 12 month warranty.
Printer. If you don’t already have one, you will probably want one. If you have one for another computer, go to the manufacturer’s website to see if they have a driver to download for Mac OS X 10.4. If you are running a network, your Mac may be able to use it over the network through printer sharing.
Blank CDs/DVDs/Thumb Drive. Sharing files via email or the internet is a primary way to give and share small files, but sometimes with large files or dozens of smaller ones you will be better off just giving someone a disk. For those times, keep a pack of blanks on hand. CDs usually get you about 600MB and DVDs almost 5GB. Prices are low these days, so it doesn’t hurt to just keep a few in the drawer.
Sometimes when I want to move big files between computers, I find it easier to just use a thumb drive, or flash drive to copy to and then put on the other computer. No network settings to check and it’s usually faster than my wireless if I’m moving over 1 GB.
USB Cable. For your printer. Check the included items before buying a printer and make sure to get a long enough one. They often don’t come with them. Cheap bastards.
USB Hub. It’s likely that you will start acquiring devices that use a USB connection with your Mac and use up all the USB ports on your Mac. Get a hub and not only will you get the extra ports you need, but it will clear up your work space. I’ve got one mounted under my desk so I don’t even see all the cords going into it.
Like to Haves
External Drive. The sooner you get a back up plan into action, the better. Many people back up to an external drive because these drives are cheap and you can store overflow files there that eat up your primary hard drive, like movie files. Buy one that is at least 150% the size of your internal drive.
.Mac. This service from Apple is really overpirced for what you get. There are free ways to get most of these, but not in one neat integrated package like .Mac. If you plan to use the website hosting and all the sharing and group features that integrate so nicely with iLife, it may be worth it. If you are just looking for an email address and a few other features, compare it to Google.
Laptop Bag. Protect your new Mac when you travel and carry your gear in it.
Still Digital Camera and Video Camera. Because you have a Mac, creating with pictures and movies is a snap. Feed iPhoto and iMovie. They get hungry. When shopping for a video camera, make sure to get a miniDV one with FireWire or USB output.
Camera Card Reader. It’s really a shame that Apple hasn’t built these in the Mac cases like every other computer manufacturer. You’ll save your camera’s battery with a card reader. You may be able to get a combo card reader/USB hub if you look around.
iPod/iPhone. Odds are you are getting a new Mac because you already have one or both of these, but if not, it’s not too late to join the 21st century. The iPod reinvented mobile music and the iPhone is like having a good chunk of your Mac in your pocket. The iPhone syncs your Mac’s email accounts, photos, movies, Address Book, Safari bookmarks, and music. If you don’t have an iPod, the iPhone will do nicely; that is, if you can afford it.
Nice Speakers. I’ve sold off my stereo and now just use my iPod or Mac for music around the house and at parties. Use the stereo sale proceeds to buy nice powered speakers and a 6′ 1/8" male-to-male mini-jack cable to connect to your computer for everyday use.
Extra Printer Cartridges. Have them on your shelf so you don’t need to run out and pay full retail when you run out of ink.
Power Strip. You probably already have extra power strips hanging around the house. If you don’t, get one with an easy to hit switch. You’ll want to plug all your external devices like printers, speakers, monitors, etc. into a strip so you can shut them down all at once. If if they are in standby mode, these devices still will use electricity. You don’t have to turn you Mac off all the time, but turning off the rest will help save energy.
What else do you think a new Mac buyer should have or would like to have? Do you have any buying tips to share? Let us know in the Comments section below.