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Refurbished Mac prices

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

A friend asked me about the prices for refurbished Macs (Apple Store).[1] In case anyone else is thinking about doing it, here’s my $.02.

Is refurbished OK?

I can’t think of a reason why a refurbished Mac wouldn’t be a good idea. it’s good for the Earth, at any rate. My initial impression is that the price advantage is negligible—you can get last year’s model (June 2012) for only a 15% savings off of the price of a new MacBook. It’s impressive how little Macs depreciate. Still, 15% is better than nothing.

Retina display?

The retina display is going to blow your budget. I’ve never used nor had one and I manage to do quite a bit on the various machines that monopolize my eyeballs each day. I’m sure it’s lovely but if you’re on a budget, just forget it.

How much RAM?

More RAM is always better: 4GB is the minimum I would recommend; I have 8GB and only occasionally feel slowdowns when I run too many applications at once. On the other hand, Apple RAM is kind of expensive. You can order more RAM later from somewhere else and upgrade the MacBook yourself for much less money.

Why are some models cheaper?

There might be something lurking in the specs that you’re missing. Often a seemingly minor difference in the CPU or graphics card will have an influence on overall performance that bumps a machine into a different price class.

What about the MacBook Air?

The Air is a great machine but you’re paying more for less power. Generally the hard drive is much smaller; 128GB can easily be eaten up by a decent-sized music collection, to say nothing of movies. MacBook Airs are also eminently non-upgradeable (except for RAM). With lower starting specifications, you’re paying the same price to be locked into less storage and CPU horsepower.

On the other hand, they’re wicked light, if that’s important.

Recommendations for a light-to-medium-use non-programmer laptop

So, here’s how I would look at it:

13" laptops:

Option #1:

  • 500GB drive
  • 4GB RAM
  • 2.5GHz I5 (dual-core)
  • Intel 4000 GPU
  • $1019 (new = $1199)

Option #2:

  • 750GB drive
  • 8GB RAM
  • 2.9GHz I7 (dual-core)
  • Intel 4000 GPU
  • $1269 (new = $1499)

For $250 more, you get 50% more hard drive space, 100% more RAM and a faster/better/newer-generation CPU. That’s actually a good deal if you’re going to have this laptop for a while. On the other hand, you can get the cheaper one and spend a few bucks on a RAM upgrade instead.

15" laptops:

A 15-inch screen is, of course, lovely and I would get that for myself because I do a lot of work that requires screen real estate. But if you’re used to 13" screens and you don’t feel hemmed in now, don’t upgrade. A 15" laptop is going to be heavier and larger and less portable so don’t do it unless you think you need it.

They’re also much more expensive, even just to get in on the ground floor:

Option #1:

  • 500GB drive
  • 4GB RAM
  • 2.3GHz I7 (quad-core)
  • Intel 4000 GPU/NVidia 650M
  • $1529 (new = $1799)

For $510 more than the lower-end 13" model, you upgrade the chip considerably (lower speed, but more cores = better multi-tasking) and get a much more powerful graphics card. The high-end GPU will only really be useful if you’re into gaming (or video-editing, etc.). Compared to the higher-end 13" model, you pay $260 more but get a smaller hard drive and less RAM in exchange for the better CPU and GPU. This is probably not the choice you want to make unless, as I noted before, you need/want the screen real estate and slightly (only very slightly) higher resolution.

[1] Amazingly enough, it’s a “thing” on the Swiss Mac store as well, called Generalüberholter Mac.


#1 − MB?


MacBook Air: I think you Meran GB instead MB.