Ed Bott asked how one could buy Apple computers at discounted prices. I myself recently faced this same question, and I’m pleased to say that it is possible to buy Apple computers for below retail, despite the company’s strict attempts at pricing controls. I bought my own 15″ MacBook Pro last month for a full 25% less than the retail price. I learned a few things during my hunt – read on for my advice!
Do Not Want!
First, let’s talk about what not to buy:
- If you want the best price, do not walk into your local Apple or Best Buy store and pick up a system. They always charge full retail plus sales tax (where applicable). Of course, the friendly selection and purchase process at the Apple store might be worth a few hundred to some people, but my own visits were simply reconnaissance – helping me pick which model to buy and choose between the glossy and matte screens.
- Do not buy a model near the end of its life. Check the MacRumors Buyers’ Guide to see whether the model will be replaced soon. Your best deal will be on discontinued models, but if you want the latest system, remember that Apple generally does not discount current models as they age. A notable exception was the recent price drop on the top-of-the-line MacBook Air with the solid-state disk.
- Do not expect to get a dime knocked off a build-to-order system from Apple. You can sometimes get interesting configurations from resellers at some discount, however.
- Buy the minimum RAM configuration. Apple is notorious for gouging on RAM upgrades – they currently charge $200 for 4 GB of RAM, twice as much as you would pay for the chips alone. And it’s easy to upgrade RAM in almost all Apple systems.
- Don’t bother spending extra for a larger hard drive. Here again, you can get a much better deal if you shop around, and you can probably buy a bigger drive than anything Apple offers, too. My MacBook Pro is packing 320 GB, and it wasn’t that hard to upgrade.
- Don’t waste your time looking for a great deal on MacBook batteries or power adapters. These things are notoriously unreliable and never discounted much. Just buy them from Apple.
- Finally, since customer support is such a major factor in the Apple switch, only buy from authorized resellers. You don’t want to get shafted with a grey-market device when you need service.
Getting Your Deal
Ok, so what should you look for? Here’s my take:
- My best advice: Consider an “outdated” system. My MacBook Pro is the previous model, without the multi-touch trackpad or Penryn CPU, but it was manufactured in April, two months after the new model was introduced. Apple continues making old models, and MacMall and MacConnection blow them out for about 20% less than their original price. This is your best source for discounted Apple computers!
- Pick your system and configuration and stick to it. Find out the model number – I bought an MA895LL/A, which is a Late-2007 15″ MacBook Pro with a 2.2 GHz CPU and matte screen. It can get really confusing with different product generations sharing the same common name, but you can’t go wrong with the official MA/MB model number!
- Check the Holy Trinity: Amazon, MacMall, and MacConnection. Price the whole thing out, including shipping and tax if applicable. One of these three will almost certainly have the best deal.
- If you qualify for an educational discount, find out what the price would be and use this as a benchmark. For current systems, this is probably the best price.
- Apple’s online clearance store sometimes has good deals on refurbished systems. But you have to keep checking and act fast!
- Watch out for rebates. Although they’re unreliable, and you have to stay on top of them to make sure you get the money, this is the primary discount vehicle for Apple systems. So you have to grin and bear it.
- Consider bundles. Amazon offers discounted AppleCare, MacConnection offers free VMware Fusion, and MacMall offers free Parallels. If you want these things, this can seal the deal. But I bought Fusion and left Parallels on the table at MacMall, and you can add AppleCare at any time in the first year.