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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.

Cons: More expensive than other Apple notebooks; networking is wireless-only unless an adapter is purchased; this display literally makes other displays look bad; memory cannot be upgraded

A note about Apple's portables: every mobile computer sold by Apple comes with a sealed in battery that is not user-swappable; at least, not on the fly, and in some models, not at all. Don't forget to factor in battery life when shopping for the Mac that fits you best.



The iMac follows along the spirit that debuted with the original space egg: after all this time, the all-in-one iMac continues to offer super-easy set up and configuration. Because it's not bound by mobile power constraints, this machine is able to offer more power compared to mobile machines. Like the Air and MacBook Pro, the iMac comes in two distinct models, the 21.5" iMac for $1,199, and the 27" iMac for $1,699. Both models offer LED-backlighting, quad-core performance, 4GB of memory (expandable to 16GB), built-in camera for FaceTime and Skype calls, Thunderbolt ports for fast I/O (1 on the 21.5" model; 2 on the larger one), Mini DisplayPort for external video, FireWire 800, four USB 2.0 ports, SDXC card slots, gigabit Ethernet, wireless N, Bluetooth 4, and a SuperDrive for CD/DVD burning.

All models come equipped with AMD-based graphics processors -- AMD Radeon HD 6750 with 512MB on the low-end entry model, the AMD Radeon HD 6770M graphics on the entry level 27" iMac -- which should be more than fine for powering through most games and graphics-intensive programs. The quad-core Intel Core i5 chipset offers good performance, and both models can be custom-configured to a quad-core i7 (recommended, if the budget allows).

This machine is great for all types of projects, from writing to managing and creating media, but there is a warning regarding storage. The hard drive on these iMacs cannot be upgraded using off-the-shelf parts. Apple included a thermal sensor in the iMac hard drives, and hard drives bought from store shelves lack that sensor. The result? The iMac revs up its fans, producing consistent fan noise at a volume that is just not acceptable. Be mindful of this when deciding how much storage you need.

Otherwise, the iMac is a great home machine. I only have two real complaints: this iMac lacks USB 3.0, which is unfortunate; and the display is prone to glare.

One last thing: the iMac can be used as a monitor for laptops or other computing devices using Target Display Mode. In this state, the iMac can continue to process events even as another machine uses the display. It's a nice touch.

Pros: All-in-one for easy set-up; desktop power; nice display; optical media support; iMac can be used as a monitor for laptops or other computing devices


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