Buying a MacBook Pro in 2023: The Challenges and Tips for Saving
In 2004, I began my freshman year of college. During my first week, I realized that I needed a laptop that I could use to take notes in class, do homework on, and make dorm life more bearable in between. When I went to the school bookstore, I learned that all they sold were Apple computers. Having had some experience with Macs from my days playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego on floppy disks, I figured I could adjust to the operating system. On that day, I purchased a 12″ iBook G4 — and have proceeded to only use Mac computers ever since.
For as much as I love using Apple products, purchasing a MacBook Pro these days seems to be far more complicated than it once was. This is especially true for people like me who now need to consider the power of the machine for tasks, such as video editing, rather than just relying on it for casual use. What’s more, seeing as Apple has never been known for its affordability, buying a new Mac can be a major investment.
So, as someone who just went through the process of buying a new Mac, I wanted to share some thoughts on the process — from what MacBook Pro options are currently available to how you may be able to save some money when buying one.
What to Consider When Buying a MacBook Pro in 2023
The Latest and Greatest: Options and Expense
For whatever reason, Apple currently has some very different MacBook Pro models available. Specifically, there’s a 13″ model that bears a strong resemblance to previous Intel machines. Additionally, there are also 14″ and 16″ MacBook Pro models that include new designs.
Well get into more on why the 13″ model doesn’t really fit into this conversation in a minute — but, for now, I’ll just note that the first step in picking a MacBook is to select a screen size. This should seem easy enough seeing as you probably know whether you prefer bigger or smaller laptops. However, there may be more to consider, including battery life, performance, etc.
On top of that, I’d also advise buyers to not just focus on the screen size itself but also on the actual dimensions of the machine. That’s because, while the 13″ screen sounds like it’d be an inch smaller than the 14″, it’s really only 0.34″ wider since the bezels on the 13″ screen are larger. So, be sure to look over all the specs and, if you can, it’s also a good idea to check out these devices in person.
Chips and cores
In case you missed it, Apple recently moved away from using Intel chips and began making its own chips. This initiative started with the M1 chip and Apple has now started rolling out products with M2 chips. Actually, in addition to the regular M2 chip, there are also the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips.
One reason why the 13″ MacBook Pro doesn’t quite fit into the line-up is that it utilizes the base M2 chip. In contrast, the 14″ and 16″ base models use the M2 Pro and have configurations with the M2 Max. With each step up, you’ll get more processing power.
After you choose what chip is right for you, you may encounter machines with varying numbers of cores. In the case of the 14″ MacBook Pro, for example, the base model is a 10-Core GPY and 16-Core GPU while the mid-grade option is a 12-Core CPU and 19-Core GPU. Put simply, this is just another means of offering extra processing capabilities.
If you’re doing several tasks on your computer at the same time, there’s a chance that your machine will need to utilize all of the RAM — or memory — it has. This is especially true if you’re using intensive programs like photo or video editing programs. Because of this, power users may want to invest in more RAM when buying a new machine. And, in the case of MacBook Pros, you’ll need to do this at the time of purchase since the unibody design makes them un-upgradable.
Given this Mac dilemma, it’s common to hear the refrain that you should buy as much RAM as you can afford to get. While that’s not bad advice, the truth is that casual users may not need to overdo it.
FYI, the current 13″ inch MacBook Pro comes with 8 GB of RAM, the 14″ and 16″ base models have 16 GB, and the M2 versions of the 14″ and 16″ models start at 32 GB. But, in each case, upgrade options are available up to a certain threshold.
Lastly, when it comes to a laptop, how much storage do you need? If the answer is “a lot,” then you may need to pay a hefty premium to upgrade your computer’s solid-state drive. While Apple does currently allow customers to purchase MacBook Pros with up to 8 TB of internal storage, that upgrade option alone costs more than the base model of the 14″ computer! So, while it may make sense to move up a tier or two and get a good amount of internal storage, you may want to consider external storage options to supplement rather than sinking all of your cash into Apple’s SSDs.
Saving Money by Purchasing Older Models
One of the things about Apple’s transition to its own silicon is that, according to many reviewers, it’s been so successful that even the older models are still well ahead of previous Intel Macs. Thus, if you’re looking to save money, you might consider buying an M1 MacBook Pro rather than opting for the newer M2s. Of course, even in this realm, there are plenty of configurations to choose from as well as many different ways to buy.
Something to mention is that, when buying an older model, you’re still likely to come across multiple configurations. However, the customization probably won’t be at the same level. So, be sure to read all of the specs carefully so that you can not only ensure you’re comparing apples to apples (no pun intended) but also so that you can get exactly what you want.
Even though Apple usually stops selling older computer models on its site, you can find other retailers who are offering these machines. In fact, you may even be able to score a discount. For example, I’ve seen Best Buy selling the base model 14″ M1 MacBook for $400 off the retail price or $500 off the mid-tier model. Similarly, Amazon may have better prices from time to time.
Speaking of Best Buy, if you scroll down when viewing certain products, you may find open box options. Usually, these are returns but are still basically new in some cases. This is actually how I purchased my current computer (the one we just bought is my wife’s), saving me $150 on a computer that looked untouched. If you want to save even more, however, there may be slightly more worn options available for deep discounts.
If you don’t mind buying used, Apple has a certified refurbished store that could also save you some cash. As you’ll see on their site, these machines include a warranty and the “Apple Certified Refurbished promise.” This is where you’ll also be able to find previous models.
How much you’ll be able to save on your purchase will depend on the product — but it could be quite a bit. As I was writing this, I saw that Apple had a 14″ base model M1 MacBook Pro for $1,539 refurbished compared to the $1,999 list price. Of course, even with the “promise,” refurbished might not be right for everyone. However, for those willing to forgo the full Apple unboxing experience in exchange for hundreds of dollars, this could be a good option.
Researching MacBook Pros and How to Choose What’s Best for You
Tech review articles
Wondering what you should know about a given computer? Unfortunately, I am not the person. However, there are plenty of trusted tech review sites that can help. What’s more, in many cases, you can find direct comparisons between a couple of different machines you’re considering.
Honestly, the easiest way to find these sites is to simply Google what you’re looking for. From there, you can use your Internet savvy to decern between high and low-quality sites. Of course, you can also compare the stats being presented in their articles to what the Apple site itself says to confirm that you’re getting trustworthy info.
As great as tech review articles can be, I almost always prefer turning to YouTube instead. In fact, I can’t tell you how many computer reviews and comparisons I’ve watched in recent years. What I love about these videos is that you not only get a bit of someone’s opinion and insight but you can also get a better look at everything the machine itself has to offer. These days, there are plenty of great reviewers who make a plethora of videos pitting a variety of devices against each other. That said, I’d personally look for videos from creators who use chapters in their videos so that you can skip around and get the exact info you’re looking for.
Benchmarks vs. real world
Whether you’re reading or watching reviews, I do feel a need to mention the difference between benchmark data and “real world” results. It’s fairly common for tech reviewers to put the machines their testing through the wringer by using a number of benchmark tests. Although these results are meant to highlight different aspects of a computer’s performance, those on-paper differences may not really make a difference to all consumers.
When you’re spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a computer, it’s understandable that you’d want the absolute best. Yet, that might not be necessary depending on what you plan on using the computer for. Therefore, it’s important to be realistic about your usage and not let yourself get talked into buying the most powerful (and expensive!) machine on the market.
Our New MacBook Pro: What Route We Choose
Best Buy issues
After researching all of our options, comparing deals, and watching oh-so-many YouTube videos, my wife and I came to a decision: we would buy the base model M1 from Best Buy during the $1,599 sale. Having made our pick, I went to Discover and cashed in $95 of my earned rewards to purchase a $100 Best Buy gift card so I could bring the cost down just a bit. Finally, I headed to the Best Buy site and added the Space Gray model to my card. And then, things went wrong.
While I was able to add the device to my cart just fine, when I went to continue checking out, an error stated that the item was no longer in stock. I refreshed the page just to confirm that the listing was still there and even said I could order the machine to be picked up in nine days at my local store. Despite this, I continued to get the same error.
So, with that option off-limits, I tried the base model in Silver instead. This also resulted in an error — but a different one! For this one, it said that the item was no longer available for shipping. Naturally, the item also wasn’t available for pick-up anywhere near me. At this point, I decided “Screw, Best Buy.” Okay, maybe I didn’t say “screw,” but you get the idea.
I’m not sure what was up with this, but it left a really bad taste in my mouth. Thus, while I might have been able to opt for a different configuration or wait for another sale, we went back to the drawing board. Sigh.
The middle-tier machine
Seeing as we attempted to go with the lower-end pick only for things to fall through, after more consideration and research, we decided to basically go in the opposite direction. That is to say that we went for the upgraded version of the base model — so, essentially, a middle-tier option. Ironically, while I initially thought the SSD size was the last configuration I felt a need to upgrade, it rose up the list as I thought about how I’d better “future-proof” this expensive machine we were about to buy. Therefore, we went with the upgraded 12-core model with the standard 16 GB of RAM but with a 1 TB SSD in Space Gray.
Apple Card financing
Since we were purchasing directly from Apple, our purchase was eligible for the free 12-month financing the card offers. Even though we could just pay for the purchase upfront, the flexibility of financing is nice. With this option, we only paid around $180 in taxes, with the next payments due with my monthly Apple Card statement.
What’s pretty cool about this Apple Card feature is that you get the 3% Daily Cash right away. Also, while you can just stick to the 12-month payment plan, you are free to make additional payments whenever you want with no penalties. That’s probably what we’ll end up doing, but I think it made sense to finance it to give us more flexibility.
Finally, another reason why I saw it fit to go with a somewhat upgraded option was because we would be able to trade in my wide’s previous MacBook Pro for credit. To our surprise, her 13″ machine from 2017 allowed us to get $260 in credit. By selecting this at checkout, the credit was applied to our final financing figure.
I’ll be doing a separate post in the future all about how the trade-in system works — but, for now, I will say that it’s quite simple and convenient. Therefore, it is something I think is worth looking into if you don’t already have plans for your older device.
Navigating the purchase of a new MacBook Pro proved to be far more complicated than I was anticipating. That’s because there are simply so many different options available these days — both in terms of machines available and in ways to purchase. On top of that, there’s always the temptation to go bigger and faster, even if that doesn’t necessarily make sense for your situation.
Ultimately, if you’re considering buying a new Mac laptop, there are a few things I’d recommend. First, make sure you understand what the configuration options mean. Then, look around Google and YouTube for reviews and comparisons to help you narrow down your search. Finally, decide whether you want to buy from Apple directly or save some money by various other means. Hopefully, if all goes well, you’ll end up with a computer you’ll love at a cost you can live with.