Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro models are, once again, the cool computers for Back-to-School 2009. It’s not just the hardware, but also the total package of computer and the superb Apple OS X (10) operating system known as Leopard.  And in just a few months from now, the newest operating system, the successor to Leopard called Snow Leopard will be released.  New and recent Macs will be able to inexpensively upgrade to it.

Even with all the Windows PC ads suggesting price as the reason to get Windows over a Mac, I cannot agree.  This year, Windows has the new and much-improved Windows 7 operating system.  However, at the end of the day, and at the end of your students’ academic career, it’s still a Windows computer, unproven as capable of operating as trouble-free over time as does the MacOS on all Apple computers. Even with the promise of the upcoming upgrade to Windows 7, I cannot agree.  It is still Windows.  Yes, I know times are tough.  Still, if you want to get a computer that WILL in all likelihood remain a fun and productive device for your student even up to six years forward, I’d rather you buy a Mac than any Windows PC.  Barring unforeseen circumstances, there is not a Windows PC that would not experience crippling slowdowns, unrecognizable error messages, upsetting times whereby using it would cause stress beyond belief.  I’ve said it many times before and I will say it again here – most consumers would be better of with a Mac than with ANY Windows PC over the useful life of the computer. It’s my opinion and I am sticking to it.

Over the past year since I first put together this guide, I’ve received not one complaint from anyone taking my advice.  Not one.  I cannot tell you how often I am contacted with continuing Windows horror stories, however.  Just listen to the weekend radio tech shows to hear those horror stories for yourself.  There are just no Mac issues to compare.  And so . . .

Currently without virus worries, but I still recommend antivirus software for the Mac, I have yet to encounter anyone who gets one who does not let me know they should have made the switch long ago.  I think it’s just smart for most consumers to go with a Mac.

Start with this good news: Back-to-School: Buy a Mac for College and Get a Free iPod touch.  This is what we did for our college-bound daughter last year and what I have helped many friends do this year.  She loves her iPod touch, too.  It’s quite a deal.For a limited time (now through Sept. 8), college students can buy a Mac and get a free iPod. As more and more schools use iPod for language instruction, music and poetry classes, lecture review and more, there’s never been a better time to get a new iPod. iPods also make the perfect platform for recording lectures and using that recording as the basis for automatic note-taking, turning the spoken words of the professor into on-screen text with a high degree of accuracy.  There will be more information on this in the Step Two article!

This special back-to-school offer is in addition to everyday education discounts on Apple products, including Macs across the line, which are now faster, with more memory and storage than ever before, and are ideal for students to manage academic content and social life.

 

MacBook: The white MacBook is perfect for the students on a tight budget who want to have money left over for books (and for anyone else, as well). MacBook is perfectly, thoughtfully designed for a student’s mobile lifestyle with Intel Core 2 Duo processors, built-in iSight camera for staying in touch with friends and family, and a glossy 13-inch widescreen display, perfect for creating a winning presentation for a school project, or watching TV shows or movies downloaded from the iTunes store during downtime.  And let’s not forget about streaming Netflix movies and TV shows as well as Hulu and other TV show sources. Comes with Mac OS X Snow Leopard, iLife ’09, and 802.11n wireless networking. $999 suggested retail price.  However, if you click the link above to get to the Apple Store for Education and then select the college or university appropriate for your student, MacBooks start at $949.

Step One – basic ordering

My personal favorite is the “middle” one, in white, that features a 2.4GHz!  With a 2.13GHz Intel Core2 Duo processor, 2GB memory (RAM), 160GB hard drive and Double-layer SuperDrive, educational priced at $949.

Now, it’s time to customize.  This is my suggested way to order and the same way I have helped friends, family, viewers and readers to get the most and what I think is the best, all without a single complaint.

If you are moderately handy (or if you know someone who is not afraid of a screwdriver), do not upgrade from Apple beyond the 2GB that comes in this MacBook and order an upgrade to 4GB on the outside.  DO upgrade, however, and fill the MacBook with the 4GB of memory it can handle. Once the Select button is clicked, you’ll see the available options and upgrades.

My advice is to upgrade Memory to 4GB RAM ($90).  It’s just better that way.

Next, if the student is likely during the useful lifetime of the computer to load it up with music, photos and videos that he or she may create, choose a Hard Drive upgrade.  Go from the standard 250GB to 320GB ($45) or 500GB ($135).  What is the useful lifetime of a MacBook (or any Mac)?  It has been my experience that the purchase of a MacBook (or MacBook Pro) will find useful life for most users of at least five years.  That is, unless the user outgrows the computer, requiring faster processor speeds and other more modern architecture.  Durability should not present issues if the device is carefully respected in its daily handling.  Such has not been my experience with ANY Windows PC model.

I am a fan of Bento by FileMaker, a personal organization program unlike anything else, and for a pre-installed price of only $29.95, this is a savings over the after-sale cost of Bento, $49.

Next, Microsoft Office.  Your student needs this software, but it is less expensive to purchase separately and not from Apple.  Get it with free shipping from Amazon.com.

Skip the printer offers.  These are all inkjet printers that are quite costly to operate.

Finally, do get AppleCare, student priced at $183.  This provides the user with three years of operational assistance by phone as well as at Apple Stores and product repair of defects (NOT damage!). If a hard drive fails or some other mechanical malady afflicts the Mac, Apple will take care of it.  In all reports I’ve seen and in my own experience, Apple’s tech support is second to none.

Fully dressed as specified, this new student-priced MacBook’s maximum cost would be $1357.

Upgrading the hard drive is another option.  Everyone wants to know why.  Think long term.  Think about the use to which this MacBook will be put.  Is it going to be in service for at least four years or more? During its lifetime, will the user add more and more digital photos?  Is the current digital camera likely to be upgraded during the computer’s lifetime to one with more megapixels resulting in each photo having more megabytes of data?  Is the user likely to continue to add music and possibly videos to the computer?  And this says nothing about school or personal projects, but those are usually files that are quite small and do not necessitate a hard drive upgrade. You see where I am going here.  To those who will do more and get more out of the experience, such as what I mentioned here, the need for a larger than imagined hard drive is apparent.  My experience is that for students and others who catch the bug of doing more of these things, the hard drive fills up.  Replacing a hard drive in a MacBook or in any Mac is an easy job, as is migrating ALL data from the old drive to a new one and then simply restarting the computer.  It’s not difficult as it would be on a Windows computer.  It may take some time, but it is surprisingly easy and non-technical.

So, the choice is yours.  For about $100 Starting at $45 you can specify a larger hard drive during the purchase process, going from 160GB to the current largest size of 250GB.  Alternatively, you can BUY on the outside an ideally suited 500GB high performance mobile hard drive for about under $100, then swap it with the standard 160GB hard drive and get better performance and higher capacity than what Apple offers for about the same double the money.  The latter is what I do quite routinely.

To do the hard drive upgrade yourself, read here, or skip to the next section.  Here are Apple’s instructions for MacBook hard drive replacement.  Here is another set of instructions from a third party but you need not buy the software that is used in these instructions because Apple supplies the software as part of the operating system in a utility called Disk Utility. Apple’s Disk Utility software is used to format the new hard drive. You’ll be doing this BEFORE ever starting the Mac for the first time.

 

I found and have used excellent Western Digital Scorpio Blue 320GB Scorpio Blue 500GB drives for about $110 under $100 while shopping online shopping online. This high performance WD drive is at least as good if not better than what Apple puts in, and is of higher capacity with its own three-year warranty.  Users can install more photos over time and do more with the additional storage for about the same price as Apple’s upgrade to a smaller drive.  In about 10 minutes and with simple tools (Torx T8 and Phillips 00, the same one needed for the RAM upgrade above, both available from Sears for $4 each), I had installed the 4GB of Kingston RAM for the MacBook AND swapped out the hard drive or swapped out the hard drive for the larger capacity drive.  Next I connected the original hard drive to a NewerTech USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter which is available online for about $21 available online for about $28 and then to the MacBook’s USB port.  Any geek would want to have these tools and the NewerTech adapter on hand for additional uses.  Next, I booted the never-started MacBook from that “new” drive (now external) by holding down the Option key while starting.  I went through the entire startup routine for the new Mac using what was internal and was now external.  The next step after the basic new MacBook setup was to launch Apple’s Disc Utility application (inside the Utilities folder that is in the Applications folder) and then use the Restore tab to “restore” the new internal drive from the external drive. It worked perfectly and was not at all complicated.  Yes, it requires step-by-step procedures, but nothing difficult or requiring computer or mechanical skills.  In about 30 minutes the job was done. I shut down, disconnected the external drive, rebooted normally and I was up and running.  And that is how to easily do a hard drive upgrade on a MacBook!  It’s a job that CANNOT be done with this degree of ease on Windows PCs!  What can be done with that original hard drive?  Put it in the anti-static bag in which the new hard drive arrived and set it aside.  It can ultimately be used, for example, if you ever want to put it back inside the MacBook.  That drive is a useful snapshot in time that puts that MacBook in the precise configuration it was the moment it started that MacBook and was first placed in service.  It has nothing more and nothing less than that startup.  Alternatively, it can be used for ANY other purpose, such as reformatting it and installing it in an external enclosure, and then used as additional data storage of any kind.

Next, since the MacBook has never been started, the easiest thing to do is simply format the drive and use the two DVDs Apple supplies with the new MacBook and all Macs.  The first disc is used to start the Mac and to install the operating system.  Follow the instructions in the link above that also describe reinstalling the software, both the operating system and the applications that came on your computer. This is so easy, though this part takes more than an hour of waiting for the process to conclude. The difficulty factor is nil.

When completed put the original hard drive in the plastic anti-static bag in which the new one was packed and seal it with a piece of tape.  Put it away for a rainy day.  On that drive is everything but the larger capacity. It’s the computer as new and unused.  Perhaps you know someone who could use it?

Back to ordering a new MacBook

At this point, you have either clicked for Apple to do the memory upgrade and/or the hard drive upgrade or you are going to take my advice and do it after the fact for less.  You are ready for the next step.

I recommend ordering the Apple Remote control for about $20.  It’s fun, and why not get it for your student?  The remote provides sit back and relax access to Apple’s Front Row

Last up on the order form I recommend three years of Apple Care, which covers defect NOT damage.  Coverage is under $200 whether for students or civilians.  It’s what I get and I have had to use it, though not often.  In addition to the three years of Apple hardware coverage, this warranty also entitles the consumer to three years of telephone tech support.

That completes the order for most students’ needs and brings the Apple Educational Store price to about $1,421, including all the upgrades done by Apple.  You’d save about $100 and get more using my method that includes the do-it-yourself RAM and hard drive upgrade.

If you clicked to get the educational discount then you are also eligible for the free 8GB iPod touch in the form of a $229 rebate.  Don’t forget to get that free iPod touch or pay to upgrade the iPod touch to the 16GB or up to the 32GB model.  In any case, you will get a rebate check for $229.

If you state collects sales tax, you will have to pay that, but shipping is free.  Shop for a Windows laptop with the same processor and similar specs as the rest of the MacBook package and you will see that Windows PCs are about the same price as this Mac, if not more.

 

Or get a new MacBook Pro

Now, there are more choices with Apple’s new MacBook Pro line, a step up from the white MacBook.  My recommendation is for the basic 13-inch model (shown above). I’ve recently helped two friends get a MacBook Pro and follow my own advice – get the MacBook Pro and upgrade to 4GB RAM, the 500GB HD (both NOT from Apple, but as above, using Kingston RAM and Western Digital Scorpio Blue hard drive).

Here is an instructional video on adding RAM to this new Mac.  Here is Apple’s User Manual with instructions, too. Here is a link to the faster Kingston RAM for the new MacBook Pro.  Ignore the higher Kingston price shown and click to Add to Cart where you will see the lower price.  Now, you can choose to shop further online for the Kingston KTA-MB1066K2/4G part number of this RAM kit OR have order the Mac with it installed.  The cost may be close at this time, but since you’ll be inside to do the hard drive, the added labor time is negligible.  Once inside, it’s the same place to go to upgrade the hard drive (here is that instruction).  Do both at the same time.  The job is even easier on the new MacBook Pro than on the white MacBook.

Order similarly.  That is, order online and get the basic model for a price of $1199 (student pricing is $100 less).  Then, decide to buy the 4GB RAM upgrade from Apple as detailed above, or to order on the outside and DIY along with the hard drive. You’ll see that the new, faster, all aluminum 13-inch MacBook Pro is not so much more than the white one.  Other benefits to the new model, in addition to the sturdier construction and speedier operation include a battery that lasts longer per charge and should last, according to Apple, in excess of five years of normal use, backlit keyboard, crisp LED-backlit display, built-in SD card slot for offloading photos directly from the card and other more techie reasons.

I am so impressed with this model that I am buying one for myself!Student priced from just $1099, it begs the question, “What is the difference between the white MacBook and the basic MacBook Pro with only $150 between them?”

In comparing these 13-inch models, both have the same processor and the same up-to 10-hour battery life per charge.  The basic MacBook Pro comes with 4GB RAM, versus 2GB on the standard MacBook.  Only MacBook Pro is capable of upgrading to as much as 8GB RAM, which may be desirable for someone using Adobe Photoshop or editing videos using Final Cut Pro or Final Cut Express.

MacBook Pro also features a wonderful and useful backlit keyboard AND an LED backlit display that is nothing short of stunning.  In addition, MacBook Pro features an SD media card slot and a sturdier unibody aluminum chassis carved from a single piece of aluminum.

Configured similarly as the MacBook, the basic MacBook Pro with 4GB RAM, the 500GB 5400 rpm hard drive and AppleCare comes in at $1446.95, less than $100 more than the white MacBook.

Still, for the average student with more basic needs, the white, basic MacBook is going to handle all needs.

For students (and anyone!) requiring greater performance in a notebook computer, Apple provides faster, larger-screened MacBook Pro models, utilizing the newest, most modern Intel Core i5 and faster still Core i7 processors.  The sweet spot in price and performance in one of these powerhouses is going to be the 15-inch model with the Core i5.

What user requires more performance? Those who create music (with Apple’s fine, included GarageBand or Apple’s Logic Express), do considerable video editing (using Apple’s Final Cut Express or the industry standard Final Cut Pro) or who are creative types in the field of photography using Photoshop, Apple’s Aperture or other high-performance software qualify as benefitting from the more expensive and more powerful versions of MacBook Pro.

The 15-inch 2.53 GHz Core i5 model with standard 4GB RAM, upgraded to the 500GB hard drive, Bento and AppleCare comes to (student priced) $1894.

Some students at the highest level of creative endeavor will benefit from going all out, for the 15-inch MacBook Pro equipped with the brisk performance of an Intel Core i7 processor.  I’ll leave it to you to investigate pricing on this and the 17-inch Intel Core i5-equipped MacBook Pro, but these, too, are options needed by select few users.

I know your student will love the new MacBook or MacBook Pro, whichever model is selected!

Now, on to Step Two – additional software to consider.

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