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.
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?
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 !
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.