My first ever laptop was a MacBook Air. However, the logic board stopped working, and Apple was going to charge $600 to fix it. Technicians have told me it is not worth fixing.
At this point in time I cannot afford to buy a new MacBook, so which PC laptop would you recommend? I am a third year social work student, and I won’t really be carrying it to class: it will mostly be used at home. I don’t run any special applications, and my budget is less than $1,000. Esther
If you have $1,000 to spend, then you can probably get a new 11in MacBook Air for $899 or a 13in MacBook Air for $999. You could even get a $1,099 13in MacBook Pro for less, if you look for discount offers on Amazon or at a local store. Or you could get a Mac Mini and add your own keyboard and screen for less than $1,000, though you would lose the portability of a laptop.
First, check with your university or college to see if you qualify for any educational discounts on Apple products. Next, look at refurbished and second-hand models. These tend to be expensive – Macs hold their value well – but you may get some of that back if you eBay your broken MacBook Air for “spares or repair”.
While you can afford $899 for an 11in MacBook Air, that’s the minimum price. Expanding the memory to the recommended 8GB adds $100, while three years of Apple Care support would add another $249, bringing the total to $1,248. For this price, you could buy five low-end Windows laptops and not worry about them breaking.
However, this not a particularly good time to buy a Mac, because the current line-up is rather old and, despite last year’s refreshes, needs updating. The 13in MacBook Pro, mentioned above, hasn’t been redesigned since 2012, and the Mac mini design dates from 2010. The 11in MacBook Air still has a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels, with Mac fans waiting for Apple Retina screens. Except for the overpriced ($1,299) MacBook, the MacRumors Buyer’s Guide rates them all “Don’t Buy”.
The shortage of new models seems to have depressed Mac sales in the USA, but you can expect an upsurge when Apple rolls out some new ones, or just refreshes the old ones. After that, you may be able to pick up an older MacBook for less.
Pro vs Air
The MacBook Air is aimed at people who need portability, and its performance is compromised. If you don’t need the portability, then I’d generally recommend a MacBook Pro instead. And while the cheapest non-Retina 13in MacBook Pro can justifiably be dismissed for being overpriced and out of date, it does have some advantages. It’s the only surviving MacBook where you can easily replace the memory, the battery and the hard drive, and I think it’s the only one that still has a proper Ethernet port, Firewire, and a built-in DVD drive.
With a 13in MacBook Pro, you can upgrade the memory for very little cost. You can swap the DVD drive for an SSD (solid-state disk), and replace the battery and the logic board if they fail. Of course, if you can’t do those things yourself, a repair shop will do the job, and you won’t be wholly dependent on Apple.
The 13in MacBook Pro’s reparability means it could outlast today’s soldered down, sealed-box designs.
As you have only used a Mac, I’d urge you to stick with Mac if possible: people generally like what they know. Even if, one day, you came to prefer Windows 10, you would still have had to learn new ways do lots of things.
There are two obvious approaches. The first would be to buy a very cheap Windows laptop to tide you over. In this case, your long-term aim would be to buy another Mac when new models appear and/or your finances improve. The second would be to buy a more powerful Windows laptop to use for several years.
Very cheap Windows laptops tend to have Intel Atom Z3735F or similar Pentium/Celeron processors, 2GB of memory, and 32GB eMMC flash drives (roughly the equivalent of an SD card, not an SSD). An example is the Lenovo IdeaPad 100S with an 11.6in screen, available from Amazon.com for $149.65. Alternatives include the Asus EeeBook X205TA, which I’ve seen as low as $140, and the HP Stream 11, which you can get for around $179 from Wal-Mart etc. There’s also an HP Stream 13 with a 13.3in screen.
These 2GB laptops are the modern equivalent of netbooks, designed for casual use. They are much less powerful than your MacBook Air, but they can still run Microsoft Office – which you should be able to get free, as a student – and handle web browsing and email. Although they are short of storage space, you can add a 32GB or 64GB SD card, and you can save files to a cloud drive. Microsoft OneDrive access is built in, but you can use Apple’s iCloud, if you already have that.
For a little more money, you could get a Windows 10 detachable or two-in-one with a touch-sensitive screen. These work as both laptops and tablets, running tablet apps downloaded from the Windows Store. I like the Asus T100Chi as it’s better made than most similar machines and has a “Full HD” touchscreen (1920 x 1200 pixels) for $188.24. The HP Stream X360 is an alternative at $262.92.
If you shop around, you can find plenty of similar machines from Asus, HP and Lenovo with 11.6in, 13.3in, 14in and 15.6in screens. The “best buy” may be whatever’s on special offer this week.
Windows 10 laptops
“Proper” Windows laptops have at least 4GB of memory (which is fine for Windows 10), faster Intel Core processors, and either an SSD or a traditional 500GB or 1TB hard drive. These will perform more like your MacBook Air. They will run several programs at once, and support many more browser tabs without slowing down.
They are also, of course, more expensive, but you will have to balance the price difference. For example, the Asus Zenbook UX305UA (or CA) is arguably a better laptop than the MacBook Air: you get a newer, better processor (2.3GHz Core i5-6200U), a better screen with touch sensitivity, 8GB and a 256GB SSD for around $750, where the 13in MacBook Air costs $1,119. But if you’re paying $750, you’re not far off the price of a low-end Mac.
A compromise might be something like a Lenovo Yoga 710 with 11.6in Full HD screen, 4GB of memory and 128GB SSD for $499. There are lots of versions of the Yoga 700 and HP Pavilion 13 around, and you can often pick up bargains.
If you are willing to move up to a less-portable 15.6in screen, the Asus X555LA is good value and looks quite MacBook-like. You get an Intel Core i3-5020U processor, 4GB of memory (expandable), a 1TB Hard Drive and DVD for $315.36. Again, there are several other models with slightly different specifications.
None of these laptops is as well made as a MacBook, and the trackpads and keyboards are rarely more than average, and they don’t run macOS. However, when at home, you can raise the screen to an ergonomic height and use them with an external USB keyboard and mouse. In practical terms, they’ll do the same job for a fraction of the price.
Have you got another question for Jack? Email it to Ask.Jack@theguardian.com