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Mac buyers' guide: What you need to know before heading to the Apple Store

Michael deAgonia | Sept. 19, 2012
If you're not sure what to get, here's what you need to keep in mind before heading to the Apple store.

You've finally decided to purchase a new Mac -- whether it's your first, a replacement, or for school -- you'll need to consider a lot of things. Do you buy a notebook, emphasizing portability; or get an iMac, focusing on power in your home? Or maybe -- with an all-day battery in concert with instant-on reliability - all you need is an iPad? If you're not sure what to get, here's what you need to keep in mind before heading to the Apple store.

All Macs come with the basic software suite necessary to be productive out of the box. From word processing with TextEdit to photo archiving, sharing, and editing with iPhoto, to movie creation with iMovie, the built in software has you and your interests covered. For iPads, there's more than enough productivity software available on the App Store - both free and otherwise.

If you stick with a traditional computer, you should be aware that each Mac listed is capable of running a copy of Windows using Parallels or Fusion - perfect if you own a piece of software that requires Windows without purchasing a separate PC. With Apple's free iCloud service, documents can be synced and updated across all of your devices. The only remaining question is: how do you want your OS X packaged?


MacBook Air:

This is the lightest, thinnest notebook in our roundup. The MacBook Air comes in two sizes weighing less than three pounds: the 2.38lbs, $999 11" model, and the 2.96lbs, $1,199 13" model. Both models are .68" at their thickest point, .11 at their thinnest; and with the instant wake-from-sleep capability of OS X, the Air lends itself very well to situations in which portability is key. The compromise? The Air does not have a built-in optical drive - though software tricks allow for borrowing neighboring PCs or Macs that do.

Both models feature a backlit keyboard, a large multitouch trackpad, a magnetically latching power connector called MagSafe 2 -- which automatically disconnects when the plug is pulled too hard - two USB 3 ports, and Thunderbolt connectivity. Both models are equipped with the Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset -- which isn't close to the most powerful graphics card on paper, but should handle anything you'd use this machine for just fine.

The Air comes equipped with 4GB of memory by default, and the memory cannot be upgraded later; it's soldered onto the logic board. If you're having trouble deciding, here's the key to deciding how much memory you need: you're better off having too much than too little.

Where the Air models start to separate is in speed and storage. The entry-level 11" comes with 64GB, and the 13" comes with 128GB (both customizable to 512GB). The 13" model also comes with an SDXC card slot.


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