View Full Version : Switching to Mac On The Cheap

2nd June 2010, 09:21 AM
<a href="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap01_Macbook.jpg"><img class="alignright size-full wp-image-7208" src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap01_Macbook.jpg" alt="" width="225" height="176" /></a>Being a Mac user doesnít have to be expensive. The perception that Apple's computers are for upper class snobs and pretentious musicians has long been present and pervasive, and maybe in the past this has been more true than today. But for as long as Iíve been a Mac user (about eight years now), Iíve wondered what all the fuss is about.

With a long hardware life, cheap equivalent software (not in all cases, but in many) and a rich and vibrant freeware community, itís not hard to get by very successfully while spending hardly a dime after the initial purchase of your shiny masterpiece. There are even some unique opportunities as a Mac user to come out on top of your PC-loving friends in terms of long term cost.

These days weíre all trying to save a buck, so letís look at a few ideas on how to switch to the Apple camp without selling your ankles to get there.<!--more-->
<h2>You Donít Need What You Think You Need</h2>
Letís start with some advice thatís not only true for Apple products, but for any computer-related purchase. When it comes to product selection, many seem to have the idea that if they donít choose a mid-level or high-level product from a manufacturerís range, theyíre getting something sub-standard or something that may not perform well after a couple of years. Something <em>second best</em>. This simply isnít the case; <em>especially</em> for Mac.

Similarly, in terms of horsepower many seem convinced that they need a veritable supercomputer to send their emails, play their music and movies and edit their family photos on, but Iíve got good news for you doubters; All current Macs are fast - <em>really</em> fast - and more than capable of effortlessly performing these tasks. And unless you plan on doing heavy or professional media work or serious 3D gaming, youíll get many good years out of even a bottom of the range Mac model, especially if you give it a memory bump half way through its life.

I recently had a somewhat frustrating conversation with a friend who was convinced that she needed a top-spec 15 inch MacBook Pro to mark her studentsí exams and perform general web tasks on. I tried and tried to talk her down to a cheaper model (for her own financial good), but to no avail. When I probed her further about why she needed to buy such a powerful machine, her answer was ďMatt, I need something that will <em>last</em>Ē. She was convinced that a lower-spec model would somehow slow down or become useless after a couple of years and sheíd end up regretting not buying something better. In her mind, spending literally <em>twice as much money</em> as she realistically needed to was a good idea because it would give her twice as much life and performance. This couldnít be further from the truth.

Shake off your past Windows experiences. Your Mac wonít be significantly slower 12 months after purchase than it was right out of the box. If a model is a little more than enough for you right now and youíre not likely to change your general computing habits any time soon, youíve found the right machine for you.
<h2>Base Models + 3rd Party RAM</h2>
<a href="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap01-1_RAM.jpg"><img class="alignright size-full wp-image-7209" src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap01-1_RAM.jpg" alt="" width="150" height="150" /></a>A good rule of thumb in terms of maximizing bang-for-buck is to buy the bottom spec Mac of whichever model you're looking at (basic 13Ē model, basic 15Ē model etc), then upgrade the RAM using third party RAM immediately if this falls short of your requirements. This gives you great long term performance for minimal cost.

RAM is often the bottleneck in the lower spec Mac models. For example, the brand new refresh of white MacBooks (released May 18th) still comes with only 2GB standard. For a modern operating system running modern software, this is will be insufficient for any but the lightest user in the long run.

Purchasing RAM from a good third party vendor is usually much cheaper than adding it to a Mac at the point of order, plus you have to wait longer for shipment if you get Apple to add this on.

Buying bottom spec is also helpful in terms of resale. Just like buying a car, a basic model will give you much better proportionate resale compared to the optioned-up and specíd-out version of the same machine. Check out <a href="http://www.ramcity.com.au/">RamCity</a> for great deals on extra RAM for your Mac. And donít worry, you wonít get substandard performance, reliability or compatibility using third-party RAM rather than the Apple-installed RAM. Apple donít manufacture their own RAM, they buy third party modules just like everyone else. I personally recommend Kingston and Corsair brands (Iíve had a flawless run with both).

As already stressed, the 13Ē MacBook or MacBook Pro are both far more machine than most people actually need, meaning they can still offer the same long life people are after and have the headroom to run the consumer software that will be released in the coming years. The same is true for the entry level 21.5Ē iMac.

In truth, the only reason Iím writing to you from a Pro-model Mac right now (13Ē MacBook Pro) is because Iím a musician and a lot of my favourite recording equipment uses FireWire, which is now only available on Pro model laptops. If not for that fact, Iíd be more than happy on a basic MacBook with extra RAM, even as the power user, compulsive tinkerer and digital media whore that I am. My last 2 Mac laptops were both regular MacBooks (which offered firewire in their previous generations) and served me well.

For instructions on how to install additional memory in your Mac, visit <a href="http://support.apple.com/manuals">support.apple.com/manuals</a> and download the manual for your model. All manuals include a friendly illustrated walkthrough.
<h2>Buy Refurb</h2>
<a href="http://www.s2d6.com/x/?x=c&amp;z=s&amp;v=936518"><img class="alignright size-full wp-image-7210" src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap02_Refurb.png" alt="" width="200" height="90" /></a>Yes, really. If the word Ďrefurbishedí leaves a bad taste in your mouth, you canít be blamed. Many refurbished products are supplied in an as-is state after substantial use by a previous owner and restocked at a not-so-discounted rate by an opportunistic reseller whoíd like to tell you itís still in Ďgreatí condition. Itís hard to get that new car feeling when you pick up a piece like that.

<a href="http://www.s2d6.com/x/?x=c&amp;z=s&amp;v=936518" target="_blank">But Apple refurbs are different.</a> They are meticulous. They have teams of polished white hamsters hunt down every last potential issue - functional or aesthetic - and resolve them to perfection before resale. Every microscopic scratch or spec of dust is gone. Iím on my fourth refurb Mac right now, and every single unit has been delivered in brand new condition. You very quickly forget you bought a refurb unit at all. And theyíre generally about 15% cheaper than retail price and always come with a full warranty. Thatís nothing to sniff at.

Just make sure youíre aware of which generation of product youíre buying (current model, last gen, etc) as sometimes the only reason you get a higher discount percentage is because the original price of that model was quite high; meaning, <em>in its time</em> it was a higher-spec model. A current gen machine of a <em>lower level</em> may beat it out in specs at a lower price point, so be sure to do plenty of comparing before taking the plunge.

In truth, you can even think of refurb units as having gone through a second layer of quality control. Whatever was wrong in the original unit (these are usually units which were sent back in the first few weeks of their life because of a minor issue like faulty power supply, keyboard issue etc) will be replaced in the refurb, but in the process of replacing it an actual person performs additional checks to ensure the full working condition of the unit. This can make it less likely that youíll have a suspect or faulty part on the unit in the future.

Over the past week there have been refurb MacBooks on the the <a href="http://www.s2d6.com/x/?x=c&amp;z=s&amp;v=936518" target="_blank">Apple Store</a> for $979. Any way you look at it, thatís a cheap way to go Mac. There are also 27Ē iMacs selling for $1,849 currently. Itís a ridiculous price for that much computing beef and beauty.

Use <a href="http://refurb.aussiegeek.net/">MacTalkís Refurb Store feed</a> to stay up to date with Refurb Store availability.
<h2>The Economy of Frequent Trades</h2>
I havenít paid for a Mac in about 5 years now; theyíve paid for themselves. Actually, thatís not quite true... Iíve actually <em>made money </em>from trading up to a new model on more than one occasion. How is this possible? Itís a simple combination buying replacements quite frequently (roughly every 12-18 months) and the exploitation of two equally awesome facts;
<li>Mac resale value is ridiculously high</li>
<li>There are many tax breaks to be had if you have a nerdy job</li>
Letís look at Mac resale value. In 2006 I bought a base-model MacBook on the Refurb store for $1250 (RRP at the time was $1599). I sold the same MacBook on eBay two years later for $930. Yep, it only lost $330 value over 2 years thanks to the lower refurb price tag. This is typical for Mac resale, and Iíd be happy enough if the story ended with this. Imagine what youíd get back for a Dell Inspiron after 2 years of use... maybe enough to buy a nice carry case for your next machine?

But on to part two; tax breaks. First up, Salary Sacrifice. If your job allows you to salary sacrifice a laptop, just do it. It's too good to miss. Not only does it allow you to cut about 25% off the price of the laptop (once you factor in the tax not paid over course of the payroll year), it allows you to pay off the purchase in more friendly blocks, the total period depending on the generosity of your employer of course. Suddenly, the Laptop I bought for $1250 only cost me about $880 in real dollars. Iíve <em>already</em> broken even when reselling two years later. All I had to do was use the money earned from the auctioned unit to put into my next Mac, then wash, rinse, repeat.

But then, thereís always depreciation. If you spend any time at all on your laptop doing loosely work-related study or reading, be sure to claim that percentage of total use on your tax return. This can only be claimed for the first year of the laptopís life but can be a considerable refund. The more often you trade up, the more often you get to enjoy this. On my last tax return I got an extra $400 back from the ATO for this. If you have a nerdy job (Iím in accounting software support, perfect) anything you read online thatís tech-related is loosely connected to your work and you can claim it. You may be able to claim anywhere from 30-70% of your laptopís depreciation based on this alone.

Lastly, thereís another huge benefit to trading often; warranty coverage. Rather than forking out big money for AppleCare, I resell shortly after the expiration of the standard warranty. Not only does this hardly effect resale value (which is puzzling), it also means you naturally get a fresh 12 months every time you repurchase and experience only occasional bouts of time with no warranty coverage. If you can be bothered trading every 11 months, this Ďun-coveredí time will be nil, and you can sell the unit with a month of warranty left, a selling point in itself.
<h2>Software Alternatives</h2>
Switching from PC software to Mac alternatives doesnít have to cost you the earth, either. Many common Windows applications have superior counterparts on the Mac with smaller or sometimes non-existent price tags. Here are a few of my favourite Mac applications which reflect this:
<a href="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap03_iWork.jpg"><img class="alignright size-full wp-image-7211" src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap03_iWork.jpg" alt="" width="112" height="110" /></a>Unless you have a specific need for some very particular features of Word or another of Microsoftís Office apps, you can do better than to buy Office for Mac when you make the big switch. Not only better in terms of design, but in terms of price.

Iím a huge fan of iWork, Appleís own solution to the all-in-one office suite, which includes Pages, Keynote and Numbers for the sweet price of $129. This substantially beats out Office for Mac on price ($229 for Home and Student Edition, $599 for Business Edition) and even though it only includes three applications, when you combine these with Appleís built in software (Mail, iCal, Address Book) itís a effectively full replacement for MS Office. Even Publisher is replaced, as Pages doubles as a publishing and word processor. Each Apple app is compatible with files created in their Microsoft counterpart (.doc, docx, xls etc. are supported, but not .pub).

It's a much more intuitive and attractive option than Office for Mac and offers much better overall performance. <em>Keynote</em> in particular blows the doors off PowerPoint in most every department. Although granted, that may not be so hard to do.
<h3><a href="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap04_OpenOffice.jpg"><img class="alignright size-full wp-image-7212" src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap04_OpenOffice.jpg" alt="" width="123" height="123" /></a>OpenOffice / NeoOffice</h3>
A great freeware office suite with equivalents to all of MS Officeís apps (except Outlook) thatís completely free. Lacks the polish of iWork and lags a little in launch speed (and overall performance), but itís hard to argue with the price. Like iWork, OpenOffice is compatible with files generated in Office apps.

<a href="http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/15797/neooffice">Download it Here.</a>
<h3><a href="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap05_Bean.png"><img class="alignright size-full wp-image-7213" src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap05_Bean.png" alt="" width="120" height="120" /></a>Bean</h3>
A great lightweight word processor that sits between TextEdit and Pages in terms of features. Also free. Basically, it's a rich text editor with a nice UI, and it's very fast.

Recommended, especially if you donít really need a full-featured editor like OpenOffice/iWork. <a href="http://www.macupdate.com/info.php/id/24881/bean">Download it Here.</a>
<a href="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap06_iLife.jpg"><img class="alignright size-full wp-image-7214" src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap06_iLife.jpg" alt="" width="120" height="116" /></a>Most everybodyís familiar with iLife so I wonít labour on these. This great home media suite makes it easy to create and manage movies, DVDs, photos, music and web sites and comes it at only $129, but youíll only have to pay that if you want to upgrade to a newer version later down the line as it comes free with any Mac. Yes, free. Youíll probably never need another app again for home media creation/management/manipulation tasks.
<a href="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap07_Pixelmator.jpg"><img class="alignright size-full wp-image-7215" src="http://www.mactalk.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/MacCheap07_Pixelmator.jpg" alt="" width="111" height="111" /></a>Itís natural for many to reach for Photoshop when they buy a Mac, but seriously, the vast of majority of us really donít need it. Iíd argue that choosing Photoshop is a bit like choosing Windows; you should only really do it if you <em>have to</em>. Itís helpful that itís an industry standard and most professionals know it well, but itís hardly an intuitive or consumer/prosumer-friendly interface and takes an unnecessarily long time to master. Its archaic menu-driven UI still reeks of 1990.

I finally picked up Pixelmator a few weeks ago and have been experimenting and reading through the manual (yes, Iím a manual-reading guy) and itís been like a revelation just how simple all the commands, shortcuts and functions are after getting used to the beastly nature of Photoshop's tools and menus. It doesnít quite have all the same perks, but that compromise is more than worth the price of entry, which is only $60 USD. Yep, Pixelmator is sixty bucks. Awesome.

<a href="http://www.pixelmator.com/">Download the free trial here</a>.
<h2>More Freeware</h2>
Thereís plenty more quality Mac freeware out there. Try the links below for some top apps in all software categories:

<a href="http://www.thriftmac.com/">Thriftmac</a>
<a href="http://www.opensourcemac.org/">OpenSourceMac</a>
<a href="http://macapper.com/2008/01/10/mac-os-x-freeware-list/">MacApper Freeware</a>

Any favorite freeware apps of your own? Share them in a comment!

2nd June 2010, 09:33 AM
Great Article..If i wasn't a Mac user already, i would have switched now :)

2nd June 2010, 09:38 AM
Great article. Agree on the super computer. I reckon 90% of people are using their machines at about 50% of capacity, maybe 60% if they are lucky, but they'll buy a super computer for the one time a month when they decide to convert a video so it takes 5 minutes instead of 7 at a cost of about $500/minute if they look realistically at the performance difference.

If you're working on a laptop 100% of the time all day for business, by all means, max your machine to optimise performance, in fact, put an SSD in it, but if it isn't your job, you really don't need it.

Incidentally, on the salary sacrifice, you can get up to 50% off if your tax bracket is over $70K. GST comes off (10%) because the company can claim this back so realistically, you're actually getting about 40% off 90% of the actual cost. You can legally sacrifice a laptop every tax year (May to April) so if you are smart about it, you can replace your laptop every year or potentially upgrade it to a higher model if you do it every 12 months because the resale value of the old one should be at least 50% of the value of the new one.

Sample calculation for you:

$2000 laptop = $1818 after GST is taken off.
Less 40% for PAYG on over $70k per annum = $1090 you pay for a $2000 laptop.

Obviously it depends on the tax bracket but in this case, the more you earn the better the deal.

2nd June 2010, 09:43 AM
For the reason below, they stopped the salary sacrificing scheme for notebooks at my work last year. But one nice perk they still offer is the Microsoft Home User Program.

As a result of the changes to Fringe Benefits Tax (FBT) law, announced on Budget night, Tuesday, 13 May 2008, MY COMPANY will no longer be able to offer salary sacrifice for notebook computers. The previous FBT exemption for notebook computers as part of a salary sacrifice arrangement has been tightened and is now only available where the notebook will be primarily used for business purposes. As all employees are issued with notebook computers upon commencement of employment, this exemption is no longer available to XXX employees and as such the program does no longer offer a viable benefit. In accordance with the current policy, you can still request to salary sacrifice a notebook computer purchased prior to 13 May 2008 during the next scheduled application period (1 July to 15 July 2008).

Microsoft Home Use Program - Only $15.00 for Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010. The software suite includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, Access and more! (http://www.microsofthup.com/hupau/home.aspx?culture=en-AU)

For the cost of media + shipping (about $30) I got a fully functional, legit copy of Office 2008 for my Mac at home. Noice.

2nd June 2010, 10:33 AM
As the previous poster said, the tax advice regarding salary sacrificing laptops in the article needs to be handled with caution.

As of the 2008 budget, to salary sacrifice a laptop it needs to be "primarily" for business use.

Did Kevin Rudd kill laptop salary sacrifice? (http://apcmag.com/did_kevin_rudd_kill_laptop_salary_sacrifice.htm)

2nd June 2010, 11:15 AM
i'll add my vote for pixelmator. i'm no artists and only have a small amount of need for a decent image editor and pixelmator is absolutely perfect. it does all i need to do and there seems to be a big enough community that any time i search on how to do something i find a simple solution quickly. highly recommended.

2nd June 2010, 11:30 AM
As the previous poster said, the tax advice regarding salary sacrificing laptops in the article needs to be handled with caution.

As of the 2008 budget, to salary sacrifice a laptop it needs to be "primarily" for business use.

Did Kevin Rudd kill laptop salary sacrifice? (http://apcmag.com/did_kevin_rudd_kill_laptop_salary_sacrifice.htm)

Thanks, this is worth emphasizing for sure - my laptop IS primarily used for work so this hasn't been an issue for me, but I forgot to mention the legal change.

In the end, though, it's up to the employer to issue these at their discretion, and their fault if they get it wrong ;) the line of 'primarily' can be pretty liberally fudged, too. I 'primarily read tech articles', for example, which can be seen as work-related for anyone with a technical job... this is why I stated those with a nerdy job should go for this; but these SS deals are not available to everyone anymore, thanks to our good friend the K.Dog!!

2nd June 2010, 11:40 AM
I know it's probably the least popular Mac model right now, but I've found there's always good deals on high end Mac Pros on eBay. They're usually loaded with at least 8GB of RAM, and sometimes with professional software pre installed.

For example: an 8-core Mac Pro, 2.8GHz Intel Xeon, 10GB RAM 1.64TB HDD (http://cgi.ebay.com/Mac-Pro-8-core-2-8GHz-Intel-Xeon-10GB-RAM-1-64TB-RAID-/150449197684?cmd=ViewItem&pt=Apple_Desktops&hash=item2307789274#ht_2308wt_978). 20 minutes left before the auction ends. Currently going for $1775 US.

EDIT: Sold for $2,355 USD.

2nd June 2010, 11:42 AM
I agree. If your laptop is used at work during working hours there is no legal reason not to, it just may be company policy.

2nd June 2010, 01:13 PM
Also note that currently the highest marginal tax rate of 45% + 1.5% Medicare Levy (total 46.5%) only applies if your income is over $180,000.

2nd June 2010, 02:36 PM
But then, thereís always depreciation. If you spend any time at all on your laptop doing loosely work-related study or reading, be sure to claim that percentage of total use on your tax return.

However, this can no longer be done in conjunction with salary sacrifice. The rules were tightened up in 2008. See Fringe benefits tax - exemption for eligible work-related items (http://www.ato.gov.au/taxprofessionals/content.asp?doc=/Content/00143392.htm&fe=0)

2nd June 2010, 08:03 PM
Good Blog MTB

I thought I was compromising by buying a 27" iMac from the Refurb store so I bought from Myer with 10% discount and a Gift card, but I'm now looking for an new Notebook some 2 months later and I'm strongly eyeing off the current Macbook and MBP 13" as very good value in the refurb store.