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It’s a truism: Macs cost more than PCs. It’s less obvious if you only compare Macs to well-built, business class laptops, but the cost-to-spec ratio a PC is going to win almost every time. Apple’s natural stranglehold on the Mac market means discounts on their hardware aren’t frequent.
That said, you can get a Mac for less — you just need to know where to look. And before you flood the comments with “GET A PC LOLZ!” know that there are reasons even budget-conscious consumers might want a Mac.
Maybe it’s the build quality of the hardware or the flow of the software. Maybe you want a system that integrates well with your iPhone. Maybe you want to develop for iOS, which (still) requires a Mac. If this sounds like you, you have three main options when it comes to cheaper Apple hardware:
- Apple’s official refurbished store: You’ll get the same Apple warranty as new laptops and great customer service, but smaller discounts than buying used.
- Used Macs from dedicated resellers: There’s usually some form of warranty from the seller (though not from Apple), but customer service quality varies. Expect better deals than Apple.
- Craigslist, eBay and other ways to buy directly from previous owners. No warranty or support whatsoever, but you could end up with a great deal. High risk, high reward.
Obviously all of these approaches have pros and cons, and you’ll have to decide for yourself which is right for you.
Find Out What Kind of Mac You Want
The first thing you need to do is determine which type of Mac laptop appeals to you. As of right now, there are three main lines:
- The Macbook Air, which starts at $900, is Apple’s most popular laptop and a great compromise between size and performance.
- The MacBook, which starts at $1300, is the latest line of Mac laptops and focused almost entirely on size and battery life (9 hours on a single charge). Pricey given the specs, but worthwhile if weight and battery life are your priorities (not to be confused with the previous, white plastic version of the MacBook, which Apple discontinued back in 2011).
- The MacBook Pro, which starts at $1300, is the most powerful and versatile line of Mac laptops. If you want higher specs for things like video editing and gaming, this is the line you’re looking for.
My advice — before you start this process — is to work out which of these models you’re interested in, as well as which size you want. Head to a nearby Apple Store, if you can, and try them all out (stores like Best Buy also have Apple laptops on display, if you can’t get to an Apple Store). Pay close attention to things you can’t get a feel for online – the keyboard, the display, the weight. Really try to work out which line best fits your needs and preferences. Ask any Mac owners you know about their experiences, and try their devices out a little if possible.
Once you know which kind of Mac you want, think about what you plan to do with the laptop – and what kind of specs you’ll need to do that. You can use Apple’s website to customise a laptop with those specs, and see what the retail cost would be. This will likely be a few hundred dollars higher than the lowest-cost version of any given model.
Macs Hold Their Value
Once you’ve got an idea of what you want, you can start looking for refurbished and used Macs. Macs hold their resale value extremely well, for reasons too complex to get into here. In many cases a five year old broken Mac will sell for more than a fully operational PC from the same era.
So there’s a good chance that, if you want to, you’ll get value back for your Mac later. The downside, of course, is that it’s hard to find a used Mac that can be called “cheap” – following my advice here won’t make Macs affordable. Still, you can find better prices than retail. Let’s go through the options.
Apple’s Refurbished Store: Literally Good As New
Apple’s official refurbished offerings should always be the first thing you check. You won’t find older, heavily discounted laptops here: typically the oldest model offered is from three years ago, and even then usually no more than 20 per cent cheaper than what you can buy new. But what you will find is effectively good as new, and tested extensively.
There are a few things you need to know about buying a refurbished Mac:
- Typically you’ll only see relatively recent models.
- The discount is usually between 10 and 20 percent.
- “Refurbished” Macs shouldn’t have any exterior blemishes or hardware problems – they’re rigorously tested.
- These Macs have the same warranty as a brand new Mac, meaning for one year you’re fully covered (and you can purchase Apple Care, if you think it’s worth it).
- The main downside: the box your Mac comes in won’t be as fancy as the one reality Macs come in (big deal).
You won’t be able to customize your Mac the way you can when buying new, but there are usually quite a few to choose from anyway. Be sure to re-create any models you find on Apple’s main store to work out how big the discount is.
Remember: the deals listed here change with some frequency, so check back regularly if you’re actively looking for a Mac. You might eventually find a deal you like, but if not there are other options.
For Prices on Older Models, Check Low End Mac
You’ll find information and history about all Mac product lines, along with lists of who offers the best deals on particular Mac laptops. The lists were last updated in March of 2015, which has of this writing is the last time Apple refreshed their Mac product line.
This is a great starting point if you’re looking to buy a used Mac. Check it out to get the feel for how much you can save by getting an older, used Mac – and possibly to find a link to the right deal for you.
Most of the vendors linked to by Low End Mac offer some sort of warranty, but this will vary – be sure to check before committing to a purchase.
Hard Mode: Diving Into Craigslist or eBay
Armed with the price range knowledge you got from Apple’s website and Low End Mac, the truly brave could spend time online looking for better deals.
I myself am typing this article on an early 2011 MacBook Pro I bought in mid-2012. After months of research, and trying out a few MacBooks from Craigslist, I ended up paying $500 below retail for my laptop – even though it had a few after-market upgrades (including a third party solid state drive).
Here’s the process I used:
- Check Craigslist or eBay every day for newly listed Mac computers. Set up Craiglist SMS notifications and customised saved searches on eBay — it can help.
- Get in touch with people quickly when something worthwhile shows up – you’re not the only person looking.
- Meet with the seller somewhere public and try the Mac out before committing. Coffee shops work well.
- Check the Mac’s specifications (click the top-left Apple, then About This Mac) to make sure everything lines up with the ad.
- Make sure all ports are working, along with the charger cable.
- Ask for the original box, if possible – it can help you resell the Mac later.
- Don’t be afraid to try negotiating a little on price, especially if something isn’t exactly as shown in the ad.
Buying online from a site like eBay is a little harder, because you can’t inspect the Mac in person before purchasing. Be aware of eBay scams, check the user’s profile closely, and make sure you know exactly what you’re getting before committing.
Mac Deals Take Time, But Are Worth It
When it comes to buying a used Mac at a good price, there’s no simple option. It’s going to take research – first to find out exactly what you want, then to find the best deal for it.
But with a little effort you should be able to get a Mac laptop for less than Apple’s asking price, and use the difference to buy yourself some of the best Mac software. Even then, you won’t need to spend much, because much of it comes pre-installed.
I’m wondering if you have any suggestions I’ve missed. Where do you look or discounted Mac laptops? Let’s talk in the comments below – I will even add resources to the article if they’re good enough.