Why Not to Buy a Mac (Now)

The simple if unsatisfying answer to the question of when to buy a new Mac is when you need one.

There’s nothing a Mac bought a year ago can’t do today, and nothing a Mac bought today won’t be able to do a year from now, just not as well.

That’s the problem for those seeking to maximize the value of their next purchase. If one believes the hype from none other than Steve Jobs himself, Macs are going to “take Apple to the next level” in 2010, and who doesn’t want to level up with Steve?

But even without the hype, there are three–well, really, two good reasons and one forlorn hope–to wait a while before purchasing your next Mac.

While Steve Jobs just pronounced Apple a “mobility” company at the iPad event, it’s actually been one for awhile. More than two out of three Macs sold are laptops, and if you are in that majority you should definitely wait for Arrandale.

That’s the mobile CPU from Intel launched at CES under the Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 variants. Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost technologies for improved parallelization and increased speed on demand have resulted in double-digit performance increases without a decrease in battery life.

Regarding performance, the desktop Core i5 and Core i7 can already be found in the high-end iMac, which admittedly are quad-core versus dual-core for the mobile versions. Nonetheless, Macworld found the that the “2.66GHz Core i5 iMac is the fastest standard configuration Mac we’ve ever tested,” and can be as fast as Xeon-based Mac Pros.

This is the kind of upgrade worth waiting for, and the wait shouldn’t be long. The MacBook Pros and the MacBook Air were last updated in June, meaning they are due for an update even without significant new technology. Keep in mind the MacBook, last updated in October, may continue to use a Core 2 Duo for market segmentation purposes. Since the iPad is set for launch in late March, and companies like HP are already selling Arrandale laptops, expect an update within weeks, possibly even sooner.

There’s something else HP is selling, the Envy 15 laptop with USB 3, and that’s the second reason not to buy a Mac right now. USB 3 has transfer rates of up to 4.8Gbps, though real world rates won’t be nearly that high, but then USB 2 doesn’t reach its theoretical maximum of 480Mbps, either.

We can expect that USB 3 will be multiple times as fast as USB 2, which is the kind of benefit instantly recognizable to anyone downloading images from a camera or backing up to a USB drive. While there are very few USB 3 devices available today, that will change quickly this year.

As to when to expect USB 3 Macs, a recent rumor in DigiTimes suggested Genesys Logic is sampling device controllers for Apple now, a claim which the company denied. Whether there’s truth in the rumor or the denial, Apple is undoubtedly working on USB 3 for Macs. The new bus could conceivably be part of the next round of updates in the spring, but if not then expect USB 3 Macs in the fall.

Something not to expect this spring, and that is suspect this year, would be Macs with Blu-ray. Just last month, it was attributed to Steve Jobs that Blu-ray is still a “mess,” and that Apple is waiting until Blu-ray sales “take off.”

According to market researcher In-Stat, that could be about 2013, if by “take off” one means exceeding sales of DVD players. Unfortunately, the predicted adoption rate for Blu-ray in PCs is even worse. Metrics firm iSuppli projects that by 2013 only 16 percent of PCs will come with Blu-ray drives.

If, like me, you are waiting for a Mac mini with Blu-ray, you probably won’t be buying this year. However, for those who plan on keeping their next Mac for one to three years, a Mac mini with Core i5 and USB 3 can likely be had this year.

The same can be said for every other Mac, too. While 2010 may or may not take Macs to the “next level,” both Intel’s new Core processors and USB 3 are significant upgrades. That’s why if you need a Mac today, buy one, but if not, tomorrow is definitely worth the wait.