Is now a bad time to buy a first laptop?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by DVvM, Apr 23, 2007.

  1. DVvM macrumors newbie

    Apr 23, 2007
    I'm a graduate student, and I recently determined that my life would be markedly easier if I owned a laptop, something I have never done before. I've been an Apple computer user for as long as I've been a computer user, so I shopped the Apple store and figured that probably the mid range MacBook was right up my alley. Deciding to do some research, I stumbled upon the buyer's guide here and it recommended only buying a MacBook or a MacBook Pro, which recommends that one should only buy one of these laptops if they need one. However, I've never owned a laptop period so it's hard for me to really gauge how much I need one.

    I hear rumors that both lines are overdue for an update, and that Intel has some sexy new chip technology coming down the pipe, which would seem to point to "waiting" as a reasonable response to the technology. However, I freely admit to not being one of the most computer savvy folks to ever walk the earth, so I admit that I don't really understand the improvements that Santa Rosa et. al. would offer me over what I can currently get. On the other hand, like any consumer I'm always looking to get more bang for my buck if I can.

    So in the interest of specifics:
    1) How likely do you think that both MacBook lines will be updated soon? How soon? I know that WWDC is coming up soon, so that would be a reasonable time to update something at least. However, to my knowledge WWDC is usually when Apple rolls out high end products and I'm probably looking to buy on the low end (for an Apple.)
    2) How noticeable an improvement will the new MacBooks be over the current line (most probably)? Is this something I'm liable to notice if I'm a novice laptop owner and I don't really call upon the computer to do much heavier lifting than routine Mathematica calculations, for example?

    Ordinarily I'm a strong proponent of waiting for your old system to become inadequate before replacing it, but since I'm only supplementing my aging but beloved desktop (rather than replacing it) that maxim doesn't really hold here. So I'm mostly wondering if I'll likely have to wait longer than June or July, and whether waiting that long would be worth it.

    Any advice or information is sincerely appreciated.
  2. sushi Moderator emeritus


    Jul 19, 2002
    The first is always the hardest to get because there are so many unknowns. You don't know what will fit your needs.

    The key is to determine up front, what you are going to use your laptop computer for. Is it browsing the web and doing e-mail? Is it running a typical software suite such as Microsoft Office? Is it to run proprietary specific software involved in your degree area? Do you need to access a CD/DVD on the go? How important is battery life? Just a few questions to get you going.

    Personally, I have a PB15 with a G4 processor. However, about 2 months ago it went into the shop to be fixed. Ended up replacing the MB. While it was in the shop I started to use my Sharp laptop, which is much smaller and lighter than my PB15, full time and haven't stopped yet.

    With large thumb drives these days it is so easy to move/use data on different computers be it a Mac or PC. So I just keep the files that I need on my thumb drive. On a given day I may use 2-3 different PCs and 3-4 different Macs. Thumb drives are so convenient.

    I keep hoping that the rumors of a ultralight PB12 are true. That would be a perfect fit for what I need. Others would prefer the larger screen of the PB17. I think that key is to determine what you are going to use the laptop for primarily, and then evaluate the different models based upon your needs.
  3. robPOD macrumors 6502

    Jun 19, 2006
  4. thesnowman16 macrumors member


    Mar 24, 2007
    New Zealand
    The simple rule of thumb is that if you NEED it now then BUY it now, no matter what is coming just do it. There will always be newer and better things coming out, thats just the way it is.

    However, if you don't need it just yet and can hold off a couple of months (Maybe as late as July) then I would recommend waiting at this point in time.

    As far as what will be upgraded, well obviously we don't know any specifics, I don't think there has even been any official word from Apple that they will even be using these new chips, it's just assumed. However if they do use the Centrino Pro (Santa Rosa) chips then you should expect to see a slight speed increase (By slight I doubt it will even be noticeable), a better GPU (Graphics card), the current GPU in the macbook line is the weakest link in the macbook so expect that to be replaced with the new one that is coming with Centrino Pro, this will be a much better graphics chip.

    So there ya go, no real idea, but those are probably the most realistic expectations you should have at this point. But with Apple you never know what they are going to do till the day they realize it.
  5. Wolfpup macrumors 68030

    Sep 7, 2006
    Yup. The CPUs on the high end models may get bumped from 2.33GHz to 2.4Ghz...since that will be Intel's new high-end CPU.

    Hopefully the Macbook Pro will get a better GPU (and the Macbook will get better integrated graphics).

    It's possible we may see a redesign (especially of the MPB)'s case. Or a 15" Macbook.

    It's probably pretty likely Apple will include flash RAM/ROM in some of the models which will get used to cache stuff for faster loading, though it wouldn't really be supported until 10.5 comes out, and as long as you have enough RAM in the system.

    So, yeah, if you can wait a few months, hopefully at least the MBP will be out by then, or we'll have a better idea that it's "coming soon" or whatever.

    But unless you're running games on the system, you probably won't notice much of a performance difference between the current models and the new ones.
  6. Khryz macrumors 6502a

    Jan 7, 2007
    I'm curious about this as well. I was waiting for Leopard to be released within the next couple months, but now that it's been delayed I figure I should buy one as soon as I can. However, I fear now that since the apple computer lines are out of date, it would be wise to at least wait until the WWDC to see what they have planned for everything.

    I know I won't need anything like a graphics card or 4GB of RAM, so the Santa Rosa doesn't appeal to me unless Apple is going to release new features in the actual Macbook itself. Any chance of that?
  7. InlawBiker macrumors 6502

    Apr 6, 2007
    There are two questions here really - 1. Is a laptop a good idea, and 2. When to buy.

    I can answer #1 - I have an older work-issued laptop and a powerful home PC. I use the laptop 95% of the time for a number of reasons. I like undocking it and working anywhere in the house. I take it with me camping or on trips. It's much quieter and connects to an external monitor easily, giving me twice the work space. I take it to work at the cafe whenever I want (I work from home). I decided to replace my wife's PC and mine when the new Macbooks are released.

    #2 when to buy - I'm only waiting for the newer Macbooks because we don't need them right away. If I needed one now I wouldn't hesitate to buy. The 2ghz Intel C2D processors in the Macbooks are very powerful. Any increase in Mhz is bound to be minimal. They will probably also include the new WiFi 'n' spec, but that speed will not be common in cafes or schools anytime soon. The Intel 950 graphic processor is sort of a dog, but if you're not playing games it's a non-factor.

    In short, the mid-grade Macbooks are fine as they are. Looking at maybe 6 months until a new model comes out, I'd just buy now if you need to upgrade. I can see them lasting 3 years pretty easily.

  8. observer macrumors member

    Jan 26, 2007
    I think the order of updates will be iMac, Mac Mini, then MacBook Pro, and MacBook last. The Mini is very outdated, and will benefit dramatically from the new chipset, but it can’t be released before the iMac to avoid cutting into the iMac market. Also, there have been rumors of a major redesign of the iMac being essentially complete.

    The MBP really won’t benefit a lot from Santa Rosa – a little faster, and a higher limit on memory, but it already avoids the bottlenecks that the MB has. The MB will gain tremendously by the new integrated graphics, as well as picking up the minor speed improvements, and will have relatively much more to gain from Santa Rosa. But the MBP will be updated first, for marketing reasons.

    On the other hand, the current MB model (which I have) is great. Some report that it is sluggish running a large external screen. If both cores are busy, the fan runs fairly loudly, so maybe heat venting could be improved. Otherwise, I’m very pleased.

    Perhaps May for the iMac and Mini, June for the MBP, and August for the MB. My guess.

    So, buy or wait? The current laptops are very good indeed, and the next ones will be better. It will be more satisfying to buy soon after an update, but if that’s a long time away you miss out on using it. Your choice.
  9. Wolfpup macrumors 68030

    Sep 7, 2006
    New features like what? The "turbo cache" or whatever they're calling it, and better integrated video or GPUs will probably be the biggest changes beyond the speed bumped CPUs.

    Also, I agree with observer on the order of releases...unfortunately, because I have no interest in an iMac, but need a laptop soon!
  10. zioxide macrumors 603


    Dec 11, 2006
    The 64-bit of the Crestline chipset is going to benefit the MBP greatly. For Professionals who use the MBP for video/photo/graphic design, having 4GB+ of ram will be huge. If you don't need this type of power, than you don't need a Macbook Pro: the MB will be fine.
  11. Wolfpup macrumors 68030

    Sep 7, 2006
    Does the Macbook/Pro actually have a limit of 3GB, or is that a software issue? I've been wondering if 10.5 might bump it's limit to 4GB.

    Anyway, I don't need 4GB of RAM, but I do need the extra GPU and power of the Pro.
  12. DVvM thread starter macrumors newbie

    Apr 23, 2007
    How much of a liability is the current graphics graphics card in the Macbook? My desktop is one of the last few iMac G5s, and so has a Radeon 9600, I think, and I don't currently notice it being inadequate for my purposes in any way. I'm assuming that whatever the Macbooks have is an improvement, but of all things computery "graphics cards" are probably the things I understand the least well.
  13. iW00t macrumors 68040


    Nov 7, 2006
    Defenders of Apple Guild
    As a rule of thumb, there are only 4 months every year that are good to buy *any* Apple product - within the first 1-2 months of its release.

    After that, well if you can wait, something better is always round the corner for the same amount of money...
  14. Erasmus macrumors 68030


    Jun 22, 2006
    Hiding from Omnius in Australia
    It is not a software issue. It is a hardware issue. The platform can only recognise 4GB of, well, RAM. The problem is that this includes much more than jus our normal RAM, for example VRAM, among other things. This means the computer cannot see 4GB of physical RAM, only less. So, the most you can put in the two slots that it will see, is 3GB.

    Graphics cards put pixels on your screen. I believe they convert stuff the CPU sends to them into pixels, such as textures, polygons, etc. The benefit of the X3000 over the 950 or whatever it is now is it will be able to push more pixels, and support more complicated calculations. This means that it will be able to run the games that presently won't run on a 950 (which are a few high end ones) at higher frame rates. I'm pretty sure it will also connect to a 30" ACD, which I'm sure the 950 won't. They also help with some other graphics intensive programs, such as iMovie and Photoshop, I believe. I believe they also hold the information in a 3D CAD file, so good GPUs with lots of VRAM are good for CAD.

    Basically, if you only intend to use the software that comes on your Macbook (except maybe iMovie), plus say Office, you won't notice much, if any, improvement between the Macbook graphics card and the X3000, or the X1600, or the HD2600, etc.
  15. Wolfpup macrumors 68030

    Sep 7, 2006
    The Radeon 9600 is MUCH better than Intel's graphics. By Windows standards, it's a Direct X 6 part. If you just use it on the 13" screen you probably won't notice, but Intel's graphics are terrible for games, and apparently slow and sluggish if they're driving an external monitor on the Macbook just doing desktop stuff.

    Are you sure? I mean it is also a software limit, where like you describe it only has 4GB to use, and that has to include any virtual address space-but like using a 64-bit Windows OS lets you use the full 4GB of RAM on Windows PCs...but maybe not on every Intel chipset?

    Also supposedly the x3000 is the first Intel part with vertex shaders. While the current one is a direct X 6 part, the new one is *supposedly* Direct X 9 (SM 2.0). The problem is, while Intel's claimed it finally does that, my understanding is it isn't actually enabled in the drivers...making it seem like it could be defective.
  16. Erasmus macrumors 68030


    Jun 22, 2006
    Hiding from Omnius in Australia
    Consider this. Firstly, all macs except for the crappy Mac Mini are 64 bit, therefore should theoretically be capable of using 16EB of memory...

    Now consider... You can buy a copy of Tiger, and stick it on a Macbook Pro, or a Mac Pro. One will still be able to recognise 16GB memory, the other will fail to recognise 4GB. Tiger has 64 bit support either way.

    It is not a software issue. The CPU should be able to recognise 4GB of memory easily, but the platform, what you plug both the CPU and the RAM into, can't see 4GB RAM, so the CPU can't get to that extra gig, and doesn't even know it's there.
  17. zioxide macrumors 603


    Dec 11, 2006
    No they aren't. The only 64-bit computer in the Apple lineup is the Mac Pro. The Macbooks and iMac have 64-bit CPUs (Merom), but the chipset and everything else is 32-bit. Therefore, the maximum RAM they can address is 3.2GB due to hardware limitations. The Mac Pro's chipset and processors have a limit of 32GB (same as the Xserve).
  18. Erasmus macrumors 68030


    Jun 22, 2006
    Hiding from Omnius in Australia
    If you bothered to read my post, you would see that that was exactly the point I made.

  19. zioxide macrumors 603


    Dec 11, 2006
    Sorry.. i was reading fast. :p

    it seems that most people on here think the computers are fully 64-bit, while they're really not. glad to see someone else knows what they're talking about. :)
  20. Bad Paper macrumors 6502

    Apr 20, 2007
    graphite clamshell

    Now is a great time to buy a laptop! But a few months from now may be even better!

    You are a graduate student. Can I assume you aren't saddled with a heavy courseload for the summer? You probably want a machine (and be facile with it) by August.

    If 1) Santa Rosa is released, and 2) it makes it into Macbooks this summer, then I recommend you wait, if only for a few months. When SR hits the Macs, it will drive the prices in the used Macbook market down, and you could probably snag a good one for about a thousand bucks.

    I'm guessing there's about an 80% chance that the Macbook will be updated by mid-July. That's a good chance that prices on the current machines will be driven down by then. On the other hand, if the SR Macs look too good to pass up, you will still be able to get one, with your $100 student discount to boot!

    Beware that there is always a wait of several weeks for any new machine that Apple puts out, so even if the newer Macbooks show up a couple of months from now, it may take until August to fill your order anyway.

    On the other hand, you would not be foolish to get one right now. It's a great time to buy a laptop, remember? You would get it right away, and get a few months' use out of it that you would miss if you played the waiting game. Remember: a computer is obsolete as soon as you pay for it.
  21. j26 macrumors 65832


    Mar 30, 2005
    If it would make your life a lot easier, now is the time to buy.

    Whatever happens, you have an excellent machine.
  22. FFTT macrumors 68030


    Apr 17, 2004
    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
    Both of my daughters have new MacBooks and they are perfectly happy with them since both are configured with 2 GB RAM.

    Being a student, you are entitled to the education discount, so that's an important consideration too.

    You may not NEED more computer than a well equipped current model, but
    the next generation equipped with 45nm processors and other improvements
    should have considerably better battery life along with improved performance
    and lower operating temperatures.

    You also need to consider waiting as long as October for the new models equipped with OSX 10.5 Leopard, so I would hold off as long as possible if you can.
  23. Wolfpup macrumors 68030

    Sep 7, 2006
    Okay, yeah, I forgot that the Mac Pro can use more on 10.4!. Do you know what chipset the Mac Pro uses that it can use more RAM than the Macbook Pro? I really thought there were Windows notebooks that can use the full 4GB, but maybe not?
  24. jellomizer macrumors 6502


    Sep 12, 2006
    Upstate NY
    If you are getting the Lower End Macbooks. I wouldn't threat to much. If you get the middle specs Macbook you will probably be happy with it. Heck you should even look at the refurbished models and save some cash. I am an IT Professional and I used my Old PowerBook for 4 1/2 years as my primary Computer. When I upgraded it, it still could have a few years left before becomming udderly obsolute. When getting a Mac Don't skimp on RAM, get the Max Ram, and a good size drive as possible and you will be happy with it for a long time.
  25. andy89 macrumors 6502

    May 22, 2005
    Folkestone, England

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