47 Comments

Summary:

The new MacBook Air is guaranteed to be on many a Christmas list this year, and I’ve been dead set on getting one ever since it was announced. So how did I end up typing this on a four-year-old black MacBook that I bought on eBay?

macbook-black-feature

The new MacBook Air is guaranteed to be on many a Christmas list this year, and I’ve been dead set on getting one ever since it was announced. So how did I end up typing this on a four-year-old black MacBook that I bought on eBay?

Price

I won this MacBook on eBay for $330, minus shipping. The starting price for the MacBook Air is $1000. Like many potential Mac buyers, I’m a full-time college student. Buying the MacBook saved me $670 that I can spend on other stuff, like tuition, or food, which helps me remain alive.

Upgradability

One of the biggest complaints I hear about the new MacBook Air is that you can’t upgrade it yourself. The battery can’t be removed and you can’t upgrade the memory or flash storage after purchase.

I can do all of that on my used MacBook. I’ve already ordered a 1GB stick of RAM, and I’m looking at getting a 40GB Intel SSD. Currently, it has a whopping 150GB, 512MB of RAM, and a speedy 2 GHz Core Duo processor. Even if right now it’s not winning any speed races, when I put the extra RAM in and upgrade to an SSD, it should perform almost as well as a new MacBook Air.

And yes, those upgrades will drive the price up by about $100, but that’s far less than what I’d spend on an Air.

Need

I’m not a graphic designer, or a computer gamer, nor do I do any kind of video work. I’m a writer, and writing doesn’t take much in the way of resources. My entire documents folder on my main machine takes up about 30 MBs of space. I used to write on a substandard Dell with broken hinges, and I managed. It’s nice to have the latest tech, but it’s also worth taking a step back and evaluating whether it’s also necessary, given your usage habits.

What About the iPad?

I’ve been using my iPad to take notes in class for the last few weeks, and it’s been frustrating at times. I’m not fast enough on the virtual keyboard to take effective notes, and then it’s annoying to have to go back and correct all the typos I make. That said, I do love how light the iPad is and how easy it is to stow it away. But that doesn’t make up for its deficiencies. For all the good an iPad provides, it still doesn’t have the power or versatility of a Mac running OS X.

Conclusion

I won’t pretend I don’t still want the MacBook Air, or that I don’t drool over it when I pass by the Apple kiosk at Best Buy. But I’m also happy with my decision, since my Mac is doing exactly what I need it to do, and doing it well.

What do you think? Am I insane for using an older computer rather than getting the fastest and shiniest new thing? Or is choosing the right machine for your current habits a better policy than investing in the latest and greatest? Tell us in the comments.

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  1. Why don’t you get the keyboard for your iPad. At least to use it in class?

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    1. I was going to suggest the very same! :D

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    2. If simplicity was the point, then it seems like carrying around a separate dock defeats the purpose. Doing it well with a decent case and that keyboard gets you at least halfway to what he paid for the MacBook.

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      1. carting a separate keyboard around does seem likea hassle, but you can buy a case with a built in keyboard, if you have $99 to spare. Personally, I am quite happy with the built in keyboard. I have the Apple BT keyboard for when my Macbook is connected to a monitor in my office and have used it a couple of times with the iPad, but it kind defeats the purpose of the iPad.

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    3. I do have the keyboard dock, and I don’t envy it poking into my back in my backpack.

      Plus I can’t help but feel like I’d look like a total doofus using a keyboard dock/Bluetooth keyboard in class.

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    4. This is very much what Merlin Mann would call a first-world problem, but the iPad plus keyboard combination is great in principal, but it’s difficult to decide exactly how to do it. The keyboard dock is nice, but you always have the problem of the dock bit sticking out and maybe breaking (though it seems pretty sturdy). A wireless keyboard is nice, but then you need a separate stand. A case with a keyboard built in is nice, but a bit expensive, and do you get a second case for when you don’t need the keyboard? And after all of that, if you occasionally need to do something that the iPad can’t handle, you may need to buy a laptop anyway.

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  2. what you’re really missing is the performance from the upgraded integrated circuitry. Better integrated graphics, faster FSB, faster and more efficient processor (even at the same
    GHz, you notice a difference.

    Your arguments for the cost savings are warranted, but if money is really a crucial concern, you shouldn’t care about the ssd. 2GB of ram a must though IMO, (dirt cheap: http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE&N=100007609%20600000397&IsNodeId=1&name=2GB%20(2%20x%201GB))

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    1. Te cost factor is why I went with the 40GB SSD, which I’ve asked for for Christmas.

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  3. I’m still working on a 5-year-old G4 Powerbook with a titanium body. It’s pretty beat up and I can’t go any further on OS upgrades, but I’ve had three people offer me my purchase price because it make a good diagnostic computer. If you keep it in good shape, there is no reason you can’t make a mac las for some time

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  4. Does anybody invented a pen which is able to write down on the Ipad and than translate in formatted characters?

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  5. I believe you made the right decision. There truly is something to be said for buying something according to need and not putting yourself in debt or tossing money away for something new and flashy when something else will perform the job just as admirably. And honestly, until Apple can put a newer processor in the 13.3″ line, I’m not buying a new notebook. I hope the MacBook serves you well.

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    1. Hear, hear, on the newer processors. I keep waiting for Apple to move beyond Core 2 Duo, which seems to have been going forever.

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    2. I am with you on the Core 2 Duo issue. Apple does not want it this way and when Intel and NVIDIA settle their lawsuits we should be able to have newer processor/video card combinations that support OpenCL and do not have to be on slower Intel motherboards. I am drooling over the MacBook Air too but I am holding out for something better in 2011. I want to put my early 2008 MacBook Pro into server duty.

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  6. Kudos to you Alex! Getting the right machine for your purposes is totally the way to go. I do agree with @Dave though. The keyboard dock might have served your note taking purposes in class for a mere $69 instead of the $330 you ended up spending on your Macbook. Unless of course, you needed something new to sync that iPad of yours with? ;-)

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  7. Great article…very well said!!!

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  8. I don’t think you’re insane for buying what you could afford. After you graduate and leave your (presumably) left-leaning ideals behind, you’ll start to make money. With money, your perceptions of what is a good “value” will change.

    I graduated University – I know what it’s like to live on a shoe-string budget.

    I promised myself that when I finally had money from working, I would never bother myself over the price on the menu of delicious-looking food. Yes, I can get a hamburger for $1. I can also pay $10 dollars and get a much better tasting hamburger in a more pleasing environment.

    The same is true for the computer. Yes, you can get a Macbook (or any other computer) for less money. But when you start making 40, 50, 60 thousand a year, and before you have a wife and kids, you’re not going to think $1000 is a lot for a new Macbook Air.

    You get to $100k a year or more, and it’s not even worth looking at the price tag of the machine you want. It’s what you want – you work hard – you earned it. If it’s the top-of-the-line 13″ air with 256 GB of hard-wired flash goodness, so what?

    So no – you’re not crazy. You’re just at a point in your life where the budget guides your decisions. Work hard enough, for long enough, and you’ll move beyond that.

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  9. Your BlackBook is about 5 years old. Is it under warranty? If it breaks down, then you are out $330. The one advantage of buying new is you get the warranty. Besides, as a student, you can get a good discount from Apple, or your school.

    You have already spent $500 for the iPad and $330 for the MacBook, and $100 for the upgrades, or a total of $930. For $20 more, or $950, you can get the basic 11″ MacBook Air from many online retailers.

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  10. I was wondering what this article was really about since it has no message or purpose, and then realized it true meaning: it’s a slow news day, let’s fill up space with useless tripe.

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    1. I didn’t force you to read it.

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      1. Andrew MacDonald Monday, December 6, 2010

        +1 for Alex. Totally agree.

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      2. Definitely agree. This is one of the better articles I have read on GigaOM in a while. My MacBook Pro is almost 3 years old and it runs extremely well.

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      3. That’s a ridiculous (and childish) statement, Alex. If you go to a movie, how do you know it’s going to suck or not unless you sit through it? If you walk out in the first ten minutes, you don’t know whether it was worth your time or not. Same when reading an article. But, if you’d like me to take your advice, I’ll refrain in the future from reading any article with your name on it, on the assumption that it will be some lame personal opinion about pretty much nothing. What’s next? What you chose for lunch today, and why?

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    2. I don’t understand people that just complain to complain. This person knocks the article because of a “slow news day”, but not only read the “slow news day” article, but then negatively commented on it.

      And no message??? The message seemed loud and clear to me. If you don’t need the latest and greatest that Apple offers, even though you’d really like to have it, don’t waste the money and go for the cheaper alternative. I would have to fully agree. I would LOVE the new Macbook Air. I have a 2008 MBP and still love it and will keep loving it until I can afford a new MBP or MBA.

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