Mini: all you need to upgrade from PC for $499!
WHERE TO GET THEM
The bad news is that Apple polices their dealers very carefully and encourages them to the very limits of the Sherman Antitrust Act to sell at full retail price. The only discounts you're likely to get is a spiff like some free RAM thrown in. There's only about 10% above-the-line profit in it for big dealers anyway.
The good news is that you may as well buy from the store with the best service. For me that's The Apple Store.
You can visit any retail Apple Store and drive any of these machines in Photoshop or most other programs for as long as you like before you buy. Bring in your photos or video files or whatever and drive the computers and applications to your heart's content. The retail Apple Stores have every machine connected to high-speed Internet and loaded with PhotoShop and more software than any of us could afford for display and test drives. Everyone working at an Apple Store is also ridiculously well informed; each of these people actually owns and uses Apples themselves. I've honestly never met any salesforce, including those of which I've been a part, as helpful as those at Apple.
That's how I selected my iBook. I played with everything in the Apple Store and clocked how fast things ran in PhotoShop.
Different Apple Stores will have different amounts of RAM installed in their machines. Some stores just have the base amount while other stores load them up. This is trivial to see, just click the Apple logo in the upper right and select ABOUT THIS MAC. That will tell you the operating system, processor speeds and how much RAM it has. Want to know more? Just click MORE INFO in that same window. Easy.
I avoid other places like CompUSA and Fry's for Apple. I've never met any knowledgeable people there and they have no internet connections or software loaded on the computers so you can't do anything on them to try. You may as well buy from the Apple Store since it's the same price.
I was in an Apple store on Sunday and the first guy I spoke to, like everyone there, had a real answer to every involved question I had. Later I went to a CompUSA store, where the well-intentioned but inexperienced and untrained sales help had to resort to looking at their newspaper ad to answer what machine cost what! Even worse, CompUSA's prices were the same, except that their demo models cost more than the demos at the Apple store, and of course the demo machines at CompUSA are useless because they aren't connected to the internet and they have almost everything locked out so you just can't try the Apples on display.
This is my experience being lucky enough to have an Apple store here in San Diego, California. Your results will vary: I hear there was a genuine Apple rep, Jack, at the CompUSA on North Blackstone Avenue in Fresno in 2005 who was fantastic. He knew everything and usually fixed any problems on the spot. If I was in Fresno that's where I would have gone, except that as of 2006 I'm told he moved to Bakersfield. I don't know if he's still is seen at CompUSA.
Just know if you're not getting the service you expect that you always can get it elsewhere.
WHEN TO GET THEM
With cameras we usually have a month or so between announcement and when we can get new products. I've never been bitten by buying a camera and having it become obsolete the4 next day without warning.
Computers come and go daily. If a product has been out a while then an upgrade could be right around the corner. Here's a great tabulation of how old each model is. This ought to guide you to know how fresh any model is.
Whatever Apple you buy you should enjoy it immensely. Any of them today will do all I need for anything.
I may prefer to have a hulking desktop system with 16 GB of RAM, but it's not needed. Your time and wallet are the deciding factors.
Even my over five-year-old dual G4 desktop still works great with the latest OS 10.4 operating system. Now you know why we Mac users spend so little time worrying about our hardware and just get work done.
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