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Would it make more sense to buy a Mac with a better processor, or with a better graphics card, or a SSD?

For general computer use, mainly word processing and Chrome/Safari.

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9 Answers 9

My suggestion is to always take the second fast processor available and invest the rest of your budget in RAM. The fastest processor is usually too expensive. You don't get much more speed for the price difference between the fastest and second fast.

And don't upgrade the RAM in the Apple Store. Find a local reseller, who delivers your System readily build with non-apple brand RAM with warranty. You could get twice the RAM for the same price. But never ever use discount RAM. It's not worth the hassle.

EDIT Oct 12:

bmike's comment is right. The SSD is right now the single most important component for your Mac's speed.

So take the SSD. Even if you can then only afford the slowest processor.

BTW. Are there still Mac models w/o SSD?

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In the past, this has proven to be a great long term strategy. The SSD/HD balance is so overwhelmingly out of balance, that I would say get the SSD you can afford and only then worry about the processor. For any general person / average task, the CPU can't outrun a slow HDD except for benchmarks and jobs that run for tens of hours each week. Take the entry 11 inch air and it will install Lion, boot, sleep or reboot on par with the mid level Mac Pro. –  bmike Jul 29 '11 at 3:05
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Do you plan to buy an iMac or a MacBook ?

If you buy a MacBook, you should take a SSD because it's better for a portable device (more resistant). If you buy an iMac, SSD is not really necessary because you don't move your computer every day, so you can take a better processor and/or RAM.

If you don't manage to choose, juste take a better processor and a SSD :)

Hope this helps !

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A SSD is not only more reliant, but also faster, as there are no spinning things, so there may be some gain in putting it in an iMac –  Tom H Aug 18 '10 at 11:25
    
Indeed, I forgot this aspect too ! –  Ermiar Aug 18 '10 at 11:33
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While this is true, it's also a much easier upgrade to think about at a later date. The benefits of a faster processor in a desktop certainly outweigh those of an SSD. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Aug 18 '10 at 14:12
    
If I was to get an SSD, it wouldn't be for the reliability - the speed & responsiveness is the main advantage they offer. @LessPop, that is the sort of stuff I was looking to hear, but what do you have that backs that up? I would have assumed it would almost certainly be the other way around. –  tobeannounced Aug 18 '10 at 22:07
    
@LessPop For the given use-case of web browsing and word processing, a faster processor would make no difference. An SSD, on the other hand, would have an immediate and stark difference. Your PC would boot in less than 30 seconds, for instance. –  Adam Lassek Aug 18 '10 at 22:58
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The speed gains from an SSD drive are awesome, but they're still much more expensive.

Also, OS X always sees significant boosts from adding RAM, so get as much as you can afford (but not from Apple!).

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Confirmed. I have got a SSD in my desktop and I still get those moments where I think "hang on, that should have taken much longer - surely something went wrong". But nothing went wrong - it worked just very fast. –  bromfiets Aug 18 '10 at 21:45
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Given those three I say processor.

Given an alternate option I say processor then RAM. Always buy the most "powerful" processor you can at the time. You're probably going to keep the computer for a few years. With upgrades and new versions coming out it is hard to stay on top. Might as well be as close to the top as possible to start with.

OS X and some programs (cough Firefox) love RAM. Get the stock amount and upgrade later.

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For general computing the most "bang for your buck" would come from RAM as tonklon states. Get as much as you can given your budget and specs on the computer. The next item would be up the hard drive to SSD.

This can get quite expensive but I've heard nothing but good things about certain SSD drives.

If cost not an issue then do both. If it is then upgrading RAM is your best bet. Keep in mind that Safari is a memory HOG. I've seen it take over 1G of RAM with just a few browser tabs open.

Default graphics card should be more than adequate for your stated needs.

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I've found RAM and SSD are usually the ways to go. However, it depends upon your current configuration. If you currently only have 1gb or less of RAM, then you should definitely load up on RAM at the expense of other things (if there need be a tradeoff). But if you've got 2gb already, then SSD will likely do much more for you (given your stated needs).

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As Jeff Atwood says in his post, "no CPU or memory upgrade can come close to touching that kind of real world performance increase" as an SSD.

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SSD and RAM for me. But buy them from OWC or Crucial. Don't use the Apple one! And second display is always a nice upgrade, even a small 7 inch USB display.

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Consider that Hard drive is a bottleneck (physical speed) and limited ram enforces the usage of the Hard Drive (swap!). With those two parameters, you need to find a balance between the two.

If you get 32GB of RAM, yes, you will be using a “slow” hard drive, but the swap to drive will be close to zero. If you go with less ram but an SSD, those swapping times will be way way faster.

I’d chose memory over anything else, because swap is not a substitute for RAM, and no free RAM = bad things occur.

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