How to Buy an Apple Computer


© Amit Singh. All Rights Reserved. Written in Early 2003

DISCLAIMER

I am not affiliated to Apple or any of its subsidiaries in any way. All information presented on this page is publicly available and was acquired as such. In fact, all information on this page is presented with the assumption that it is hypothetical. The author is not responsible in any way for any actions you take based on information on this page. Moreover, this information applies only to the United States, and the state of California is used as an example for tax purposes.

While most general information on this page may still be valid, note that the "numbers" (actual prices, discount percentages, and so on) will most likely not be valid anymore.

Looking Back

On August 12, 1981 IBM introduced its personal computer, the PC, a $1,565 machine with one 5.25-inch floppy disk drive and 16 KB of memory. Steve Jobs, the chairman of Apple at that time, confidently proclaimed that: "We are going to out-market IBM. We've got our shit together."

Less than two weeks later, on August 24th, Apple released an almost condescending full page advertisement in The Wall Street Journal that challenged IBM boldly - very boldly.

Welcome,
IBM.
Seriously.

Welcome to the most exciting and important marketplace since the computer revolution began 35 years ago.

And congratulations on your first personal computer.

Putting real computer power in the hands of the individual is already improving the way people work, think, learn, communicate, and spend their leisure hours.

Computer literacy is fast becoming as fundamental a skill as reading or writing.

When we invented the first personal computer system, we estimated that over 140,000,000 people worldwide could justify the purchase of one, if only they understood its benefits.

Next year alone, we project that well over 1,000,000 will come to that understanding. Over the next decade, the growth of the personal computer will continue in logarithmic leaps.

We look forward to responsible competition in the massive effort to distribute this American technology to the world.

And we appreciate the magnitude of your commitment.

Because what we are doing is increasing social capital by enhancing individual productivity.

Welcome to the task.

It might be debated how much, or how little things have changed in over two decades. Depending on how you look at it, Apple still might place a similar ad, and it wouldn't be out of context!

As you compare the latest top of the line IBM ThinkPad with the latest PowerBook, it is interesting to note that there are many ways to buy an Apple. Depending on which way you go, the time to acquire one and the money you spend in doing so can vary greatly.

This page is a summary of some of the common alternatives I have come across, and is meant to help the reader in figuring out the most appropriate way for them.

Contents

At the time of this writing, the flagship notebook offering from Apple is the 17" PowerBook. Let us take that notebook as an example, and compare various options of buying it. Let us first list the "Apple" retail prices of this computer and some key accessories/add-ons.

Item Retail Price
PowerBook G4 17" $2999
PC2700 DDR SO-DIMM 512 MB $300
Apple Care for PowerBook Enrollment Kit $349
Brenthaven Professional Backpack 17" $179
Microsoft Office v.X Professional Edition $499
Microsoft Office v.X Promotional Pack $199

Apple Retail Stores

According to Apple:

At the Apple Store you can experience the complete line of Macintosh computers and an amazing array of digital cameras, camcorders, the entire iPod family and more. The Apple Store is a place to ask questions and get answers. And it is the best place to learn about the Mac.

Apple did not have any retail stores of their own until 2001, when they opened their first in Virginia and California.

A retail Apple store might be the nicest place to get a first hand experience of Apple hardware and software. These stores also have various demonstrations, workshops and presentations that might be of help to some customers. They have a support "bar" (no, there are no drinks) where you can get tech-support. Most Apple store employees I have talked to come across as Mac enthusiasts (no surprises there), and to be fair to them, they have tried to help most of the time I visit them. Click here to find a retail Apple store (if any!) near you.

While a retail Apple store might be the place to visit to look at things, you might be able to buy cheaper from elsewhere, unless instant gratification is a top priority on your list. At a retail Apple store in California (state tax being 8.25%), a PowerBook G4 17" base system (henceforth referred to as PB17) would cost you $2999 ($3246.42 with 8.25% tax). If you want to maximize the amount of RAM by purchasing a 512 MB SO-DIMM, that's an additional $300 ($324.75 with 8.25% tax). They would most likely charge a $40 RAM installation fee as well. The total for RAM amounts to $340. Finally, AppleCare Protection Plan is $349 ($377.8 with 8.25% tax).

If cost is not an issue, you don't really need to read any of this. If you cannot get the item you are trying to buy from anywhere else faster, and if a nearby Apple store has what you want in stock, buying from there would probably be the best choice. Regardless of what your motivation for buying from a retail Apple store might be, there are some benefits (note that these might be inconsequential to some people, while very valuable to some others):

Of course, there are perhaps a greater number of reasons why you would not want to buy from a retail Apple store:

Note that if you are a student and possess an student ID (presumably belonging to a school, college or university recognized by Apple), then you can get educational discounts (these are not the same as "Student Developer" discounts) at the retail stores. A PB17 purchased in California using the educational discount is $2699 ($2921.67 with 8.25% tax). Extra 512 MB RAM is $270 ($292.28 with 8.25% tax), while AppleCare is $239 ($258.72 with 8.25% tax).

According to the Apple Education Store web site, the following education individuals are eligible to purchase using this discount:

Qualifying purchases per academic school year (July 1 - June 30):

For more information, please go to either the K-12 Store or the Higher-ed Store, as appropriate.

3rd Party Retail Stores

Most big name electronics and computer retail stores carry Apple computers. There usually is no major benefit (other than availability, of course) in buying from one of these place over an Apple retail store (unless your area does not have an Apple store).

Most of the pros and cons that apply to an Apple store would also apply to these stores (some places even have "real" Apple employees to "help" you).

It is common knowledge (I am not sure if this is alleged or a fact) that Apple does not allow retailers to re-price Apple systems arbitrarily. Therefore, the base price of a new Apple system would probably be the same, in some cases $5 less, no matter where you buy. These place do offer "bundles" though, in order to make their offering more attractive. Some examples of bundles include one or more of the following:

Some places in California (in addition to the Apple retail stores) where you can walk in an buy Apple computers are:

You can buy accessories, apparel, and software at the Apple Employee Store at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, but not computers.

For a longer list of Apple resellers, please visit Apple's "Where Can I Buy A Mac?" page, and in particular look at their list of Internet & Catalog Resellers.

Apple Online Store

Apple's Online Store might be a good place to place "early" orders (although the PB17 left a bad taste in the mouth), even though you would most likely be paying tax because of Apple's omnipresence. Moreover, you would typically be paying the MSRP. Education customers can buy from the K-12 Store or the Higher-ed Store. More importantly, the online store is the only place to buy if you want to use an ADC discount (more on this later). You can track your order, once placed, at Apple's Order Status page. Even if you do not buy from Apple's Online Store, it is a good place to configure a system. You wouldn't possibly get more complete and accurate specifications of current systems elsewhere.

3rd Party Online Retailers

As briefly mentioned before, you might benefit by buying from 3rd party retailers because:

Many Mac related web sites, such as powerbookcentral.com, track the best available deals and bundles. Click here for a longer list of Mac related web sites.

Some major Apple retailers include:

Apple maintains a (longer) list of Internet & Catalog Resellers.

Educational Discounts

If you are a student, life is good for you (at least from the point of view of buying an Apple). You can get an educational discount at least at the following places:

ADC Discounts

ADC stands for Apple Developer Connection. According to the Apple Developer web site:

The ADC Hardware Purchase Program allows ADC Members with ADC Hardware Discount assets (These are included in Premier memberships, Select renewals, and occasionally as part of special promotions) to purchase Apple hardware for development purposes at a discount of approximately 10-20%.

You can read about the detail of the ADC Hardware Purchase Program here. Here is a summary though:

Premier Membership costs $3,500 per year. Quoted verbatim: "ADC Premier members receive ten (10) "ADC Hardware Discount" assets each membership year. Each asset represents one system purchase. With each system purchase you may also include peripherals such as a monitor, adaptor, or an iPod (you are limited to one of each peripheral per system purchased). These hardware discount assets are transferable to other employees or contractors at your company. You may even transfer a hardware discount asset to a colleague in a different region."

Select Membership costs $500 per year. Quoted verbatim: "Hardware discounts are not included as a benefit of Select membership. However, Select members who renew their ADC membership after one year become eligible to receive one (1) hardware discount as a thank you for their commitment to Apple platforms. To qualify for this renewal hardware discount, Select members must renew before the expiration date of their current membership. If you let your Select membership lapse and join again at a later date, you will not be eligible to receive a Select renewal hardware discount."

You might want to read the ADC Membership FAQ, and the Terms and Conditions of the ADC Programs.

The PB17 with a 20% discount is $2399.2 ($2597.2 with 8.25% tax), 512 MB RAM is $240 ($259.8 with 8.25% tax) while there is no discount on AppleCare.

Moreover, it is useful to know that ONE ADC discount (the ones listed above and the ADC student discount) allow you to purchase ONE "system". According to Apple, a system is defined as follows:

In addition, you would get the same discount on certain peripherals and add-ons, such as iPod, additional RAM, and so on. However, you will not get a discount on products not made by Apple (such as the Brenthaven backpack).

Note that many people have reported that they managed to purchase a "system" consisting of a PB17 AND an Apple Cinema Display AND an iPod, etc. This might not work always though, but it doesn't hurt to try!

The "best" way to get access to an ADC discount, if it applies to you, is discussed next.

ADC Student Discount

Here is the summary: If you are currently a full-time or part-time student, and if you sign up online with ADC for a US $99 fee, you get ONE ADC discount (that's not one per year, but simply ONE). Please visit the ADC Student web site for more details.

As you can see, this is very enticing (after spending $99 you can buy a $2999 PB17 for $2399), but that's what makes this prone to misuse. You can easily find numerous people selling "information" (particularly on eBay) that tells you "how to get a 20% discount on Apple products"!

In practice, this is how it works:

  1. Sign up online with the Apple Developer Connection for U.S. $99. It is best to use a credit card to pay for this because that would make your "benefits" kick-in immediately. In theory, it shouldn't really matter if you use your own credit card or somebody else's, but Apple might get picky in order to avoid fraud, so if possible, use your own card/billing address. Note that you can use your discount IMMEDIATELY after purchasing the $99 ADC Student membership - simply buy online at the online store, and use your ADC user ID while checking out. If you do not follow instructions listed in the next step, your order is likely to get cancelled.
  2. Apple may or may not send you an email asking for a copy of your credentials. It is worthwhile (and would help your validation proceed faster) if you do what's mentioned in the following email (quoted verbatim):
    Dear XYZ,

    The Apple Developer Connection needs to verify your student status before we can fully activate your ADC Student membership.

    Please fax a copy of your picture ID (drivers license, passport, student ID, etc.) along with a current or upcoming course schedule or other official proof of enrollment from your college/university to a local fax number as listed below:

    Attn: ADC Student Program

    Japan: 001 800 2775 3248
    Europe: +44 (0) 131 458 6988
    Hong Kong: 800 908 212
    North America: 1 (408) 974-7683
    Australia/Singapore: +800 2775 3248

    The information will be used to confirm active student status only. Your account will be on hold until your student status is verified.

    Thank you in advance for your prompt response. If you have any questions or concerns about this request, or a local fax number is not listed above, please feel free to contact us directly at:

    http://developer.apple.com/contact/programs.html

    Best regards,
    Apple Developer Connection

Note that ADC is "different" from the Apple online or retail stores. In particular:

However, it is good to note that ADC orders apparently do not have a lower priority than "normal" (full price) orders.

You might have come across auctions and other offered sales on the Internet, particularly on eBay, where the seller is selling "information" on how to obtain a "big" (almost always up to 20%) discount on Apple computers. This is nothing else but the same information detailed above. In my opinion, auctions of this kind are not ethical, and are almost bordering on being scams. Please do NOT fall for such offers. Click here to see an example of such an auction on eBay.

Employee Discounts

Firstly, if you work for a "big" company (Oracle, for example), you might be able to purchase an Apple system at a discount.

If you happen to work for Apple, well, why are you reading this?

If you know somebody who works for Apple, you might be able to get a "good" discount through them. Apple employees are pretty consistent about not disclosing the logistics of these discounts, and I would not claim I know anything (I am not an Apple employee), but following are some "educated guesses".

There are broadly two kinds of Apple employee discounts:

Please understand that the more coveted Apple employee discounts are NOT available before or soon after a "hot" (newly released, say, such as the PB17 at the time of this writing) product becomes available. In such cases, the item would not even appear on the "internal" employee (online) store. It usually takes a long time, even months, while the said product becomes available in large enough quantities so as to have no backlog, after which employees can buy it using their "big" discount.

What about memory?

Even Apple employees I have spoken to have "recommended" that it is "better" not to buy memory from Apple. Of course, if you do buy RAM from Apple, you might have more peace of mind. For example, if you get AppleCare, it would cover the RAM as well, etc. Apple charges a premium price for memory though.

Consider the Made4Mac link on Apple's web site. You might see a "Kingston RAM Upgrades" link on that page. If you follow that link and eventually find pricing for a 512 MB PC2700 DDR SO-DIMM (for the PB17), you would find that the price thus found is much cheaper than Apple's price (on a certain date, the lowest Kingston price thus found was $120 as compare to Apple's $300!). Kingston is very reputable, and (sort of) endorsed by Apple, so it would be worthwhile (and not risky) to save money while buying RAM. "Unbranded" memory might be had for as little as $90 for a 512 MB PC2700 DDR SO-DIMM.

Moreover, if you are keen on finding the absolutely lowest price for RAM, you might want to try sites such as ramseeker.com and dealram.com, that occur reasonably up-to-date prices on various kinds of memory.

What about AppleCare?

AppleCare is highly recommended, particularly for notebook computers. It seems that a campus store might be the cheapest place to buy AppleCare (consider $239 at a University campus store (or the Apple Store with an educational discount) vs. $349 retail). Since AppleCare is not "bound" to a specific computer until you register it, you could in theory ask a student friend to buy it for you if you are not a student yourself. The ethics of doing so are left to the reader as an exercise.

What about Microsoft Office?

If you are buying Microsoft Office v.X along with an Apple computer, you might be able to get a big discount. For example, at the time of this writing, you can get Office for $199 (a discount of $300) if you buy it with an Apple computer.

Microsoft employees can get Office v.X for as little as $50, apparently!

Finally, for the example of the PB17, here is a comparison table of the (pre-tax) prices you can get if you are eligible:

Price Comparison

Purchase Method Apple Retail Price Educational Discount Stanford Store ADC Discount Employee Discount
Apple Retail Price $2999 0 300 300 600 >749
Educational Discount $2699 0 0 300 >449
Stanford Store $2699 0 300 >449
ADC Discount $2399 0 >149
Employee Discount < $2250 0
Price Price Differences Between Methods