I was wondering where the best deals would be for a new Mac would be? I want to start looking over the next few months for either an iMac like the one I use here, a Mac mini or an eMac. Any suggestions?
I just want to kick this one off, and ask for anyone reading to post their own thoughts on the matter. I'm going to ramble a bit now, but if you want to know how to buy a new Mac, I intend this to be a good place to start.
Which Mac Should I Buy?
Just poking around, I found this great Buyer's Guide, which will give you some idea (not gospel, just suggestion) about whether it's a good time to buy the particular model of Mac you have your eye on.
N.B.: I've said this before, but RAM, RAM, RAM! Don't buy a new Mac with less than 2Gb RAM. You certainly don't have to buy the RAM direct from Apple. I have all of my clients go to Crucial for much cheaper, and lifetime-warrantied, memory. Crucial actually makes the RAM that Apple puts in its computers, but they sell it for a lot less.
So, the eMac is dead, long live the educational-level iMac. But it's severely crippled -- it lacks Bluetooth and other stuff, so let's skip past that one.
The Mac mini is a fantastic product, for certain applications. I use mine as a media server and to back up my home computers. They are also great for office administration and clerical work, kids, and some basic document production. Don't consider them an option for more heavy-duty graphics or multimedia work. Factor in price of keyboard, mouse, and monitor if you don't already have 'em.
The iMac or MacBook are right in the pocket for a household, and I know many graphic designers and photographers who have landed on the iMac as their main production machine.
If you will use your Mac for any pro-level production, or you like a big screen, or you're a gamer or other sort of speed freak (wait, that's maybe not the best choice of phrase ;-) or you purely want bragging rights, you should think about a Mac Pro or MacBook Pro.
Where Should I Buy It?
It's very clear that, unless you're a bit of a geek and want to mess around with an older machine, you should buy your Mac new. That includes Apple-refurbished units. You can buy used Macs at from SmallDog or PowerMax, or even eBay, but Macs hold a pretty good resale value through at least the first 3 years, so you simply won't save all that much buying used.
Rejoice in refurb: Go to http://store.apple.com and look in the right column for "Looking for a great deal?" next to the "SAVE" sticker. On the ensuing pages, you'll find refurbished Macs, and as long as you buy AppleCare with them (which you must do anyway), any of those are great.
Before you make a purchase, please allow me to put you in touch with my friends at the Apple Store at La Cantera. Also, Apple has finally set up a small-business sales department, which seems to be doing some pretty aggressive outreach. I have a contact on that team as well, but I've been really grateful to the folks at La Cantera for the service they've given every one of my customers.
By the way, if you haven't been out to that store, it's really worth it. They've established themselves on the forefront of the Apple Retail division.
Lastly, if someone in your household currently haunts the halls of academia, the best discounts on Macs are for educators and students. Go to the Education version of the Apple Store
That's all on this for now. I'm anxious to hear some other opinions.