The Fun of Mac Hunting on a Tight Budget

by Chris Howard Apr 29, 2009

In tougher economic times, the price of the more expensive Apple technology becomes a bit of an issue. If you're somewhat stretched but still need a new Mac now, what do you do? Because that's the situation I fin myself in.

My income has hovered around the AU$10,000 mark for the last four years (three of those years have been as a student). In 2006 I did stretch myself and buy an Intel iMac. But now the time has come when I'm looking to upgrade the kids ancient eMac as I need to use it too and it has become too slow for them. However, this time I'm on a tighter budget so I'm determined not to spend over AU$1000.

What are my options?

New Mac
Only one option can be considered. The base model Mac mini at AU$949 (with education discount). But, really, it would need at least a memory upgrade to 2GB, and the 120GB HDD isn't going to last long. And because upgrading Mac minis is not for the faint-hearted, you'd rather have it done pre-purchase. Oh, and another problem, it would need a screen if I was to give it to the kids. Add another AU$200.

I could take the mini myself (I've got a second screen on my iMac - which by the way, no I'm not going to give to the kids) but it's specs aren't as good as my three year old iMac. It has less RAM, smaller and slower hard disk, and probably inferior graphics adapter.

So it's a catch-22. If I get it for me, I need to up the hard drive and memory, if I get it for the kids, it would need a screen. Either way, I'd have to spend at least AU$1200.

Secondhand Mac
So, what about a secondhand Mac?

There's plenty of G5 iMacs on eBay for under a AU$1000, and if you're patient, 17" Intel iMacs - which is what I have now and am still quite happy with (well, after I'd upgraded it to 3GB RAM). And what about a laptop? You can get plenty of PowerBooks and iBooks for under an Aussie grand.

Secondhand is a great solution for those on a tight budget looking for a Mac. But...

I have a spanner to shove in the works. Whether for me or the kids, I also need a Mac that will run Windows, and run Adobe Creative Suite 3, and some time in the future, CS4. This means an Intel Mac is my only option, and, on my budget, also counts out MacBooks - which I wouldn't have minded considering a laptop.

Actually, it counts out a secondhand MacBook on two points: one the price, and two the graphics. From all reports, Photoshop doesn't run too flash on the previous generation MacBooks or older. The graphics adapter  also counts out older Mac minis.


And really, if you want to maintain compatibility with Apple's software in the next few years, a PPC Mac wouldn't be a good choice.

There is an option three. The hackintosh option. I have discussed the legality of those before and, through our readers, accepted that it is unlawful (under civil law), but the cost and effort wouldn't be worth it for Apple to pursue it legally, and instead Apple will be more likely to address it with DRM in Snow Leopard.

The tinkerer in me would love to fiddle with a hackintosh, but I'm not interested in buying a PC in the hope it would firstly run OS X okay, and secondly be stable enough to run CS3. The last thing I want is a computer that crashes regularly or has other issues or is not compatible with future Apple software.

Of course... what about option four? The dreaded Windows PC (insert spooky music here).

I did seriously think about it for a while. I can easily match a PC to the specs of a Mac mini - actually, for the same money, the specs of a PC blow away the Mac mini. But that's for another article.

However, yet another catch, I would then have to fork out for Adobe CS4 for Windows. The absolute cheapest I could get that for is about AU$3000 - so there goes my budget again.

Linux PC
What about option five you might ask, i.e. a PC with Linux. More complications, of course. Number one being Creative Suite doesn't run on it and the alternatives, although I could get the job done, would require some relearning and won't have all the functionality of the CS equivalents. Oh, and some of them have been beaten mercilessly with the ugly stick. One, that shall remain nameless, looks like more like a Visual Basic app, circa 1995.

So, from that list, my real options are the secondhand 17" Intel iMac for the kids (if I can find one) or a new Mac mini for the kids with me sacrificing my second screen for a while until I can afford a new one.

A Linux or Windows PC is not a reality simply because I've got so much data not compatible with them, and in particular, my iPhoto and iTunes.

Looking for a Mac on a budget is an absolute pain in the proverbial! It's no wonder Microsoft is targeting that in its latest ads, showing the plethora of choice makes it easy to buy a new PC.

A secondhand Mac is a great option for people who want a Mac but not at the prices they are new. The biggest complication though has been the Intel switch as it means you have a much more limited range if you want a computer that is still going to be compatible with Apple's latest software in three to five years time.


  • Legal issues aside, a hackintosh can be easily done.

    “EFI-X™, created by EFI-X™ R&D;team, is a revolutionary new hardware device with updatable and exchangable Firmware.” -

    “This device, which connects directly to a PC motherboard’s USB connector, is a complete implementation of the Extensible Firmware Interface specification, which Apple uses as the boot environment for Intel Macs. EFI specifies an interface between operating system and firmware, and the EFI firmware, in turn, communicates with the underlying hardware.” -

    Khürt Williams had this to say on Apr 29, 2009 Posts: 45
  • I’m in this same boat and it can be very frustrating as a Mac user.  I had to switch to my PC machine after my iLemon died, leaving me with only one Mac in the house.  Right now, my Mac mini is functioning as a sort-of media center, meaning that it’s the best I’ve got even though it’s woefully underpowered, and a sometimes editing machine.

    So I need a new Mac to handle editing going forward since my Mac mini will be useless with HD.  But I’m on a budget, which means that I either have to make do with a new Mac mini, or try out a Hackintosh.  My only hesitation is that I don’t know anyone in person who has done it.  Hadley gave some pretty good instructions but that was a netbook, which won’t cut it with video editing.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Apr 29, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • Holy cow, Khürt, I think that’s the solution I’ve been looking for!  Thanks for the link!

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Apr 30, 2009 Posts: 2220
  • Yeah, well said, Beeb! It is way interesting - hypothetically of course… wink

    (Chris whispers: btw Beeb, let us know how it goes if you get one.)

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 01, 2009 Posts: 1209
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