Buying a new Mac in late 2014

After yesterday’s incident, I spent all of last evening and most of this morning looking over my options for a replacement to my mid-2010 Macbook Pro. It’s been a far bigger struggle than I previously thought. Apple’s late 2014 lineup makes it very difficult for someone like myself, between an every day user and a power user, to find the right fit at a reasonable price. With us doing a complete revamp of our finances, I’m also worried about taking on debt and we have lots of big plans in the next couple of years.

The Dilemma

Every Mac I have ever owned has lasted 4+ years. This is because a combination of being upgradable and rock solid reliability, for reasonable prices. I paid $1,050 for my mid-2010 Macbook Pro, plus several hundred over the years for upgrades. How can I replicate that with the late 2014 Mac lineup?

The first issue is the Apple Store doesn’t carry anything other than base models, all which have 4GB or 8GB of RAM and very small hard drive sizes (or worse, in the case of most iMac, spinning rust hard drives) at low price ranges or are well into the $2,000s for base models with higher RAM and SSD (or Fusion) drives.

The second issue is that even when you build your own MacBook on Apple’s site, throw in 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD plus AppleCare (in the case of laptops) and suddenly you’re likely well into the $2,000s again.

Then I started thinking. Is there really a need for me to have a MacBook? I do a lot of my basic computer tasks on my iPhone and iPad. My wife almost exclusively uses her iPad every day, she only uses a Mac when she has a big project she’s working on. We almost never bring the MacBook away from home. Could an iMac do the job?


  • Must be shared by myself and my wife.
  • 16GB of RAM (built in) or the ability to upgrade ram in the future.
    • There is no way 4GB or 8GB of RAM is going to have acceptable performance in 2018.
  • Minimum of 256GB SSD, preferably 512GB SSD.
    • Fusion drive acceptable for iMac models.
    • 256GB means a much larger reliance on services like iTunes Match and the upcoming Photos service to store data in the cloud and not on the HD.
  • Goal is 4+ years of productive use.

Options have been divided between base models (available for pickup at the local Apple Store) and Built to Order (BTO) models that would need to be shipped to me.

Models Rejected

I looked at every base model (except Mac Pro) that Apple offers. They were almost all rejected for these reasons:

  • Base Mac Mini models all have spinning disk drives and only 4GB of RAM.
  • Base iMac models all have spinning disk drives. If the boot drive isn’t SSD, I’m not interested.
  • Base 13″ MacBook Pro Retina models are stuck at 8GB RAM.
  • Base 13″ MacBook Pro (non-Retina) is pathetic at this point.

Base Models that meet my requirements

  • 15″ MacBook Pro Retina (no upgrade available, max 16GB RAM)
    • 2.2 GHz Quad-Core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD model – $1,999 + $349 for AppleCare = $2,348
    • 2.5 GHz Quad-Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD model – $2,499 + $349 for AppleCare = $2,848
  • 27″ iMac Retina 5K (max of 32GB RAM)
    • Base Model – 3.5 GHz Quad-Core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB Fusion Drive – $2,499

Built to Order models that meet my requirements

  • 27″ iMac Retina 5K (max upgrade of 32GB RAM)
    • 3.5 GHz Quad-Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, AMD Radeon R9 M295X 4GB GDDR5 – $2,749
  • 27″ iMac (max upgrade of 32GB RAM)
    • 3.2 GHz Quad-Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, NVIDIA GeForce GT 755M 1GB GDDR5 – $1,999
  • 21.5″ iMac (max upgrade of 16GB RAM)
    • 2.7 GHz Quad Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Intel Iris Pro Graphics – $1,499
  • 13″ Macbook Pro Retina (non-upgradable RAM and hard drive)
    • 2.8 GHz Dual-Core i5, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD – $1,999 + $249 for AppleCare = $2,248
    • 2.6 GHz Dual-Core i5, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD – $1,699 + $249 for AppleCare = $1,948
  • Mac Mini (non-upgradable RAM and Hard Drive as of latest generation)
    • 2.6 GHz Dual-Core i5, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD – $1,099 + $799 refurb Thunderbolt Display = $1,898


What struck me is how little differences there are in prices. If you want 16GB of RAM and bare minimum SSD or Fusion drive, you pretty much have to start at $1,898, unless you decide on the smaller screen size (21.5″ iMac) or in the case of the Mac Mini use a non-Apple monitor. If you want a larger SSD you basically start at $2,248. And if you want a Mac today no matter what, acceptable models start at the local Apple Store at $2,348, which brings you amazingly close to base model iMac Retina 5k territory.

My first take of narrowing down my options looks like this:

  • BTO: Mac Mini with 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD & refurb Thunderbolt Display ($1,898)
  • BTO: 27″ iMac, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD ($1,999)
  • BTO: 13″ Macbook Pro Retina with 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD ($2,248)
  • Base: 27″ iMac Retina 5K with 8GB RAM, 1TB Fusion Drive ($2,499)

With the desktop models (Mac Mini, 27″ iMac, 27″ iMac Retina 5K), I get the flexibility of upgrades in the future, especially with the two iMac’s. Either iMac can be upgraded to 32GB of RAM and basically unlimited storage via external hard drives, since they are limited to the desk I put them on. It’s probably not unreasonable to expect 5 or 6 years of main service out of either one, with a follow up life as a home server or spare computer for a future kid of mine. Plus having a desktop Mac probably means more focus for me when I use it, since it will be in my home office. Much fewer distractions and just random surfing the web.

With the 13″ Macbook Pro Retina, I get portability at the sacrifice of expandability and probably extended longevity. The 15″ Macbook Pro Retina is just too expensive. While it’s possible to add external hard drives, I’m not connecting one every time I want to view my photos. This means a total reliance on things such as iTunes Match and the upcoming Photos service extend these MacBook’s life, for better or worse. These MacBook’s will probably get a good 4 years of service before either becoming outdated or an accident kills it (hopefully not sooner than that). As yesterday showed, accidents happen randomly and laptops don’t handle them well.

I’m going to eliminate the MacBook Retina from consideration. Given that the Mac Mini is based off of the same guts as a the MacBook Retina more or less plus it’s lack of RAM upgrade possibilities, I’m also going to eliminate that from consideration.

The Decision

So it’s between a BTO 27″ iMac with a 256GB SSD or the base model 27″ iMac Retina 5K with a 1TB Fusion Drive.

Either would need a RAM upgrade sometime in it’s future, although probably not today. The 27″ iMac would need an external drive connected immediately to handle my data, while the Retina 5k could hold all of my data for probably quite awhile. Then there is the screen. Oh, the screen.

For me, the future is now. Base iMac Retina 5K is the choice.

I changed my mind.

After all I wrote about above, when I arrived at the Apple Store and tried out the iMac Retina 5K, I just wasn’t feeling it. The screen is just massive, gorgeous but massive. Then I tried the 15″ MacBook Pro Retina, but it’s price wasn’t right for me.

Finally I went back to the 13″ MacBook Pro Retina, which I already use for my day job. It I just feels perfect. Thinking through my use cases, I kept thinking about whether 8GB RAM is enough. I decided it would be worth a shot. I went with the 512GB SSD and AppleCare. And then paid with Apple Pay. $2048.

Let’s see how it goes the next few days. But the 13″ is the perfect size and I think I made the right choice.