July 23, 2007

Day 2: Which model?

Having decided that we wanted some Macs for the office, our next job was to decide which sort of Macs to buy. Compared with the PC market, with its infinity of brands and endless customisation options, this was relatively straightforward: Apple only make five models:-

  • Mac Mini – a low-powered system unit with no monitor, keyboard or mouse.
  • iMac – an all-in-one unit with the system built in to the monitor, available in three different screen sizes – 17”, 20” and 24”.
  • MacBook – a notebook with a 13.3” screen.
  • MacBook Pro – a more powerful notebook with a 15” screen and metal rather than plastic construction
  • Mac Pro – a powerful workstation in a tower case with very high performance

Each model can be configured to some extent, but the choices are refreshingly limited compared to, say, the Dell web site where there always seem to be more choices to be made. The Apple store simply lets you choose your processor speed, add more memory if you wish, and select a couple of accessories. Nothing complicated.

So which to choose? For us, this was actually very straightforward. We ruled out the Mac Mini because it seemed under-powered – it’s a Core Duo system, not a Core 2 Duo – and because in value for money terms, it didn’t stack up well next to a MacBook. There’s only £170 difference between a bottom of the range Mac Mini and a bottom of the range MacBook, and that £170 is getting you a screen, a keyboard, a trackpad, a camera and a faster system overall. Unless money is too tight to mention, it’s hard to see why anyone would choose a Mac Mini over a MacBook. (Given that it’s been quite a long time since the Minis have been refreshed, perhaps there’ll be a bump in the specs soon.)

We also ruled out the Mac Pro at the top end because it would just be overkill for our fairly simple requirements. It’s clearly intended for power users working with big projects and big datasets.

The iMac all-in-one model looked appealing, but we decided against it for two reasons: (1) It’s desirable for us to be able to easily take the Macs from place to place so that we can try them out in the office, the meeting room, the lecture theatre, a colleague’s office, at home, etc. And (2) it’s fairly widely rumoured that the iMac range is just about to be updated, so it seemed prudent to avoid a model which may be at the end of its lifespan.

So that left the MacBook and the MacBook Pro, and they both seemed appealing; both fairly recently updated, both with a reasonable hardware spec, one a bit smaller, the other bigger but more powerful. So we ordered two of each.

Tomorrow: First impressions when the machines arrived.

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