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Last-gen Macs: Better deals than new Macs?

Last-gen Macs are on sale at steeply discounted prices while current-gen models are replacing them on store shelves. If it's time to buy, which would you prefer?

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
5 min read

This story has been corrected. See below for details.

AppleInsider is reporting that Apple is engaging in an aggressive sale in many of its brick-and-mortar stores to eliminate its leftover inventory of last-generation Macs.

The updated MacBook Pro. CBS Interactive

According to the report, last-gen MacBook pricing has been reduced by $100 to $300; MacBook Air prices were reduced by $400 to $800; and MacBook Pros are being offered at $400 to $500 off original retail prices.

"Our MacBook family has been updated, and all current stock of MacBook and MacBook Pros need to be sold," Apple wrote in an e-mail to stores and other partners cited by AppleInsider. "All current in-store computers are on a first-come, first-served basis."

I called a few local Apple stores to confirm the report. According to store employees, Apple is, in fact, selling last-gen Macs at those discounted rates.

When Apple announced the release of its new family of MacBooks on Monday, the decision might have been simple for some of us: buy the new stuff. But with steeply discounted pricing, that decision might not be so easy. It's always nice to have new products, but at what cost? If you could get a Mac--one that was just fine for your needs last week--for less than what's currently being offered, would you?

It's a tough decision to make. So let's take a quick look at the product updates to help you make your decision.

Apple's new lineup of MacBooks feature the same aluminum unibody design we have come to know and love. You won't see much difference in the design of the last-gen model and the current generation of MacBooks. Apple focused mainly on component upgrades.

Living with the battery
Apple's new line of MacBooks sport a better battery life. According to Phil Schiller, the company's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, the new MacBook Pro line features a built-in battery that will last seven hours. The 17-inch MacBook Pro has a battery that will last eight hours. It can be recharged 1,000 times before it needs to be replaced.

CNET News Poll

Value play
With steep discounts, is now the time to buy a last-gen Mac?

You bet! I want to save some cash.
No way. I want the best Apple has to offer.
I'm waiting for Snow Leopard to be released.
I'm a Windows user. No Macs for me.

View results

Schiller said MacBook batteries will now last 40 percent longer than those of previous generations.

Power and features
There's no debating that the new generation of MacBooks are more powerful than their predecessors.

The MacBook Pro line now features Macs with processing power of 2.26GHz on the 13-inch model and up to 3.06GHz on the 15- and 17-inch models. Each product in the lineup was updated slightly from that of its predecessor. Previous-generation MacBook Pros had processors up to 2.93GHz installed.

The MacBook Air was also updated slightly. The base model now has a 1.86GHz processor, 2GB RAM, and a 120GB hard drive. The more advanced version comes with a 2.13GHz processor and a 128GB solid-state drive.

The unibody aluminum MacBook is now part of the "Pro" series. As mentioned above, it's slightly faster than its predecessor. It also adds a FireWire 800 port.

But the big hardware news from the Worldwide Developers Conference is the inclusion of an SD card slot on the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros. The 17-inch MacBook Pro will be keeping its ExpressCard slot.

The green initiative
There's no doubt that with this new line of MacBooks, Apple is looking to better market itself as green. According to the company, its new line of MacBooks is the most environmentally friendly yet. They're "highly recyclable," ship with reduced packaging, and thanks to its improved battery life, reduce the harmful effects of battery power on the environment.

Last-gen pricing is more affordable, but the deals aren't as drastically different from current-gen pricing as you might think, thanks to Apple's new pricing structure.

If you plan to buy a current-gen MacBook Pro, look to spend as little as $1,199 for a 13-inch model or up to $2,499 on a 17-inch model. The MacBook is retailing for $999. The MacBook Air is now priced from $1,499 to $1,799.

Last-gen Macs, even with the aforementioned discounts, are, in some cases, just a few hundred dollars cheaper than current-gen models. For example, the last-gen 15-inch MacBook Pro is retailing for $1,999 at my local Apple store. It was originally priced at $2,499. And it's $300 cheaper than its comparable counterpart in the current lineup. It's a substantial savings--one that might make some think more carefully about their decision.

The analysts
It's perceived value that matters most when making a buying decision. And industry analysts believe that the new MacBooks provide more value.

"Overall, the update strikes us as fairly remarkable in its breadth, if not depth," Oppenheimer analyst Yair Reiner, said in a release to investors. "Skeptics may worry that the new price cuts will pressure margins. We believe they are more likely to lead to stronger demand."

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said he is "surprised by Apple's aggressive reductions (in MacBook price)" and is "increasingly confident" in Apple's Mac success, going forward.

Before you run out and pick up a new Mac, you can't forget about Apple's demo of Mac OS X Snow Leopard, due out in September. It's the latest refresh to the Mac operating system, promising improvements in speed and capabilities.

Is Snow Leopard's upcoming release a strong enough reason to hold off on buying a MacBook? On one side, consumers will be forced to pay $29 (or $49 for a family five-pack) to upgrade from Leopard to Snow Leopard. They will then need to install it on their Macs. Sometimes, those installations can go horribly wrong. If they buy now, Apple will provide a cheaper upgrade from Leopard for $9.95. If they wait, they can buy a new MacBook with Snow Leopard preinstalled. It's a simpler solution that comes with a higher hardware cost.

The bottom line
In the end, making the decision to buy a last-gen MacBook or a current-gen model isn't so easy. They both have their benefits, and with Snow Leopard thrown into the mix, their own complications. So, whether the last-gen Macs are better deals than current models is up for debate. And deciding which (or when) to buy is an individual decision.

So what would you do? Let us know in the poll above and the comments below.

Corrected at 9:43 a.m. PDT: A sentence was deleted to accurately reflect the processors in the new MacBook models.

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