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Summary:

The simple if unsatisfying answer to the question of when to buy a new Mac is when you need one. There’s nothing a Mac bought a year ago can’t do today, and nothing a Mac bought today won’t be able to do a year from now, […]

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The simple if unsatisfying answer to the question of when to buy a new Mac is when you need one.

There’s nothing a Mac bought a year ago can’t do today, and nothing a Mac bought today won’t be able to do a year from now, just not as well.

That’s the problem for those seeking to maximize the value of their next purchase. If one believes the hype from none other than Steve Jobs himself, Macs are going to “take Apple to the next level” in 2010, and who doesn’t want to level up with Steve?

But even without the hype, there are three–well, really, two good reasons and one forlorn hope–to wait a while before purchasing your next Mac.

While Steve Jobs just pronounced Apple a “mobility” company at the iPad event, it’s actually been one for awhile. More than two out of three Macs sold are laptops, and if you are in that majority you should definitely wait for Arrandale.

That’s the mobile CPU from Intel launched at CES under the Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 variants. Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost technologies for improved parallelization and increased speed on demand have resulted in double-digit performance increases without a decrease in battery life.

Regarding performance, the desktop Core i5 and Core i7 can already be found in the high-end iMac, which admittedly are quad-core versus dual-core for the mobile versions. Nonetheless, Macworld found the that the “2.66GHz Core i5 iMac is the fastest standard configuration Mac we’ve ever tested,” and can be as fast as Xeon-based Mac Pros.

This is the kind of upgrade worth waiting for, and the wait shouldn’t be long. The MacBook Pros and the MacBook Air were last updated in June, meaning they are due for an update even without significant new technology. Keep in mind the MacBook, last updated in October, may continue to use a Core 2 Duo for market segmentation purposes. Since the iPad is set for launch in late March, and companies like HP are already selling Arrandale laptops, expect an update within weeks, possibly even sooner.

There’s something else HP is selling, the Envy 15 laptop with USB 3, and that’s the second reason not to buy a Mac right now. USB 3 has transfer rates of up to 4.8Gbps, though real world rates won’t be nearly that high, but then USB 2 doesn’t reach its theoretical maximum of 480Mbps, either.

We can expect that USB 3 will be multiple times as fast as USB 2, which is the kind of benefit instantly recognizable to anyone downloading images from a camera or backing up to a USB drive. While there are very few USB 3 devices available today, that will change quickly this year.

As to when to expect USB 3 Macs, a recent rumor in DigiTimes suggested Genesys Logic is sampling device controllers for Apple now, a claim which the company denied. Whether there’s truth in the rumor or the denial, Apple is undoubtedly working on USB 3 for Macs. The new bus could conceivably be part of the next round of updates in the spring, but if not then expect USB 3 Macs in the fall.

Something not to expect this spring, and that is suspect this year, would be Macs with Blu-ray. Just last month, it was attributed to Steve Jobs that Blu-ray is still a “mess,” and that Apple is waiting until Blu-ray sales “take off.”

According to market researcher In-Stat, that could be about 2013, if by “take off” one means exceeding sales of DVD players. Unfortunately, the predicted adoption rate for Blu-ray in PCs is even worse. Metrics firm iSuppli projects that by 2013 only 16 percent of PCs will come with Blu-ray drives.

If, like me, you are waiting for a Mac mini with Blu-ray, you probably won’t be buying this year. However, for those who plan on keeping their next Mac for one to three years, a Mac mini with Core i5 and USB 3 can likely be had this year.

The same can be said for every other Mac, too. While 2010 may or may not take Macs to the “next level,” both Intel’s new Core processors and USB 3 are significant upgrades. That’s why if you need a Mac today, buy one, but if not, tomorrow is definitely worth the wait.

  1. Update already! Sheesh! I was hoping for an update at the end of the year, then again in the end of January. Now im waiting for an update by the end of Feb! I need my MacBook Pro ! Hahahaha

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  2. This is just what I wanted to hear. I’ve been holding out on going mobile for the past few months in hopes for a processor bump at the very least. The news of USB 3 is just icing on the cake.

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  3. I wonder if the Express Card slot will return to the 13″ and 15″ MBPs? One can only hope.

    I also remain concerned about the CPU hit of USB 3, there have been rumours about this for a while.

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    1. I have a 17″ with, obviously, an express card slot. But I’ve no idea what I’m to do with it. Any suggestions?

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    2. Same. I’m not going to upgrade until I know there will be a 15″ macbook pro for me with an Express Card slot. I use the Express Card all the time and it’s an invaluable part of my workflow.

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    3. Exactly…. In fact, me, and many of my collegues are looking to switching to windows 7 on a PC laptop with a professional set of ports, once the processing power of our 15″ MBPs (with expresscard slots) doesn’t cut it anymore.
      With an expresscard slot I have direct access to the buss, and the flexibility to use any external hardware I encounter, while in the field.

      As a reply to Nik….

      I can get cards that:
      1) allow my to access a large number of different memory cards. (most importantly Compact Flash, which professional DSLR cameras use.)
      2) connect to various different drive interfaces including esata.
      3) true professional grade Multichannel audio interfaces (Apogee Symphony Mobile for example)
      4) Give me GPS capabilities
      5) 3G network cards
      6) TV tuners (not for pro use but it gives you an example)

      Maybe this lightpipe will become a standard, but why remove the expresscard and leave us with no current usable alternative on the 15″ MBP ? Sorry but a `17″ is way too big for use on the road.

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    4. Thank you Robert =]:

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    5. You are welcome Nik.. :)

      I think that may be the biggest issue..
      The average user is not aware of what the slot can be used for. Therefore Apple removed it.

      The 2 big advantages are flexibility and speed.
      You can get cards that do just about anything. ($15 for a card reader that supports multiple formats, including SD, for example)

      As for speed… It’s a fast connection to the buss.. think “PCI card”
      I get about 4-5 Times the sustained transfer speed of the FW800 port in real world use. When I’m in the middle of a photo shoot and need to dump the images from the CF Card.. that speed makes a big difference. A single image is 35-40 megs.

      A couple other great uses I should mention are…
      -SSD Drives (super fast osx boot and store the data on the normal harddrive)
      -Expresscard based external videocards of various types.

      I’m all for new technology, but until there is a viable alternative for the true pros out there, the lack of expresscard is currently a showstopper.
      Sure… USB 3.0 will be good.. maybe lightpipe will be… but I need to do work now… with hardware that is available now… unfortunately that meant I had to buy a used 2008 15″ MBP instead of a new 2009 model :(

      I’m the market for a second laptop right now.. If apple brings out a 15″ i7/i5 MBP with “professional” grade ports on it.. I’ll be buying one immediately.. otherwise I regret it may end up being Windows 7 and a wholesale switch of all my software. As you can probably tell….it’s not about cost.. it’s about getting work done and keeping my business running.

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  4. This HP laptop sounds like it has all the stuff I’d want from a new MacBook.

    *duck*

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    1. except they don’t run OS X!

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    2. Jim…. but it runs Windows 7 which is not bad… not matter wut fanboys say. In fact I may end up being forced to switching to that.

      then again… give at a while and you will likely see a post on some tech blog saying that someone has OSX running perfectly on one

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  5. I tend to agree. My rule has been to buy one when I need one and buy the highest end I can afford. That said, when it comes to ensuring that my machine will “last”, do the opposite of the hype.

    When I bought my 400Mhz PowerMac G3 in February, I was assured that the G3 had plenty of life and that this was a “safe” purchase. Four months later, a new set of PowerMac G3s came out and my 400Mhz was now the lowest end, but that’s sort of to be expected. Four months later? G4, baby! I was now one generation behind after only eight months!

    When I got my dual 2GHz PowerMac G5 (I use the inverse Star Trek rule–the odd numbers are the good ones), everyone said that I was crazy. “They’ll have 3GHz machines by next year! Steve said so!” So what happened? The G5s sat at 2GHz for a couple of years. Yeah, it moved down the scale (as to be expected), but even after 2 years, Apple was still selling a dual 2GHz machine.

    The take-away here is to ignore the conventional wisdom. When you need a machine, buy it. Personally, I’m saving my pennies for a Mac Pro. When I have enough, I’ll buy one.

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  6. Blu-ray will never come. Get over it. The only change that is going to happen in the future is the removal of the optical drive. Not the addition of a blu-ray one…

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    1. Well, even were optical drives removed from MacBooks tomorrow, that in itself wouldn’t preclude the use of Blu-ray drives. I expect Blu-ray drives in Macs by the end of 2011. That’s my guess, and I think it’s more likely than never.

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  7. Louis Wheeler Monday, February 8, 2010

    There is an issue which you didn’t cover; Apple is migrating to new technologies in the next six months. It is as great a technology move as when Apple moved to Mac OSX, PowerPC and to the Intel chips. It sets the stage for Apple obsoleting the technologies which holds it back. If you buy a PC, you will miss out on those benefits.

    The greatest technology move which Apple is presenting is booting into the 64 bit kernel, by default, around June or July. Apple has been waiting for when the developers get the bulk of the Mac applications upgraded to 64 bit Snow Leopard code.

    The first benefit from that upgrade is increased security, not that Apple has a security problem now. The next benefit is increased speed. Partly, this is because a better utilization of the extra registers in Intel’s Core 2 processor chips. The speed boost, from that alone, should be between 25 to 50% faster.

    The rest of the speed increase is from applications optimized for multiple cores in the CPU and GPU through the use of Grand Central Dispatch, OpenCL, LLVM and squirrelfish. The use of Cocoa Applications, or its run time apps like Ruby on Rails, will give a speed increase from 200 to 1200%. This will be self evident when you are running the same application in Mac OSX or in Windows Seven in a separate partition on a Mac.

    The final benefit is that the Mac will finally become a fully object oriented computer as the Carbon API’s, which helped Apple migrate from the old Mac OS to Mac OSX, are phased out. Snow Leopard is lean, mean, fast and flexible now, so it is bound to become more so in Mac OSX 10.7. Who would want to miss that to stay with boring old Windows?

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  8. Stupid title and stupid advice.
    The time to buy ANY computer is when you need it. You can never get ahead of the curve. What is being sold now is what was engineered 6 months ago with ‘as then’ technology – cpu, memory, the lot .
    Same goes for Dell, Lenovo, HP, Apple… etc
    Unbelievable dumb posting.

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    1. Assuming you are going to own you next computer two to three years, there are instances when it’s possible to maximize value over the time frame. Waiting a few days or weeks for a Core i5 or Core i7 MacBook Pro will be better than buying a Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro today two years from now. Having USB 3 a year into the future will be better every time you need to download from a camera or use a USB hard drive.

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  9. Louis Wheeler Monday, February 8, 2010

    I was responding to Charles jade’s second sentence.

    ‘There’s nothing a Mac bought a year ago can’t do today, and nothing a Mac bought today won’t be able to do a year from now, just not as well.”

    I am saying that a fundamental change IS coming; the Mac will be doing things which it couldn’t do before. And certainly, things which Wintel can’t. Again, this not about the hardware, since Mac’s and PC’s use essentially the same components and you can run Windows OS and Apps on a Mac. But, there will be advantages for using Mac software.

    There is no reason to be blindsided by coming events. But if you are skeptical, then wait for it to happen. But, there is no problem with buying now based on expectations, if you are in the market.

    The skids are greased for the change; the problem is that Apple has good reasons to say very little until just before it upgrades. There is no reason for knowledgeable computer users to remain misinformed, biased or ignorant. The information is available.

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  10. [...] Why Not to Buy a Mac (Now) The simple if unsatisfying answer to the question of when to buy a new Mac is when you need one. There’s nothing a [...] [...]

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  11. Stephen van Egmond Tuesday, February 9, 2010

    NOBODY REALLY CARES ABOUT BLU-RAY.

    If I got a computer that had such a drive, I’d resent the licensing tax.

    I’m so over buying physical disks. I’d prefer to rent or pirate.

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  12. Apple should just put blue ray at least in the 17in macbook pro since that one costs 2499 it should bring it for 100 dollars extra or something.

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  13. In order ay your your experience, and expectations, what specifications could have the new mac mini, and when?

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  14. I need some advice from anyone willing to give it, I wanna buy a macbook pro but ive done some research and everywhere I go tells me to wait for new updates. Yet no one knows when these updates are coming. What should I do wait a few months or buy one now>?

    Any advice would be great..

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