If you are looking to buy a new Mac the Apple Store (online or on your high street) is definitely the place to go. The price will be fair if not cheap, and you will get all the support that comes with buying direct from the manufacturer. Go into a physical Apple Store and you will get good advice, too (albeit the advice will include 'buy more Apple stuff'). And you will walk away with the device you want. But what you will not get from the Apple Store - online or in store - is a cheap Mac. For that you need to do some legwork.
Apple discounts some of its Macs every year for one day - Black Friday. That's next Friday, so make sure you look out for cut-price Macs that day. The discounts are usually quite small.
How to buy cheap Mac, iMac and MacBook: Direct from Apple and other retailers
We recommend that you visit the Apple online store only to find out the price, and the specification, of the latest Macs, MacBooks and iMacs, this way you will not fall for any suggestion that you are buying a discounted current generation Mac only to find that it was last year's model. See also: Retina 5K iMac review.
The first thing you should do is check what is on offer from third-party retailers. There are two approaches here, and it depends on how picky you are as to which one to take.
Just do a Google shopping search for 'iMac' or 'MacBook' and you will likely find some reasonably cheap offers. Even ignoring second-hand deals, my 'iMac' search found a 21in iMac that costs a little less than Apple's list price. Or at least it did until delivery and VAT were added on. Another offer actually was cheaper, but it was an end-of-line model from a previous generation. Bought new from a respectable retailer with a warranty, that may be a good deal for you. But if you want the latest and greatest iMac it won't be.
Because Apple is strict with its own pricing and the margin third-party retailers can make, it is rare that you will find a genuine bargain when buying new from someone other than Apple. And that's why you should first visit Apple's online store to find out what is on offer from the mothership, and make sure that if you are buying an outdated SKU you are doing so knowingly. Copy down the specification and product code you want, and take that in to your search. Read How to sell your iPad
And as well as price comparison, check out what is on offer from respected retailers you know such as John Lewis and PC World, or Apple premium resellers including the likes of iStore, Stormfront, Solutions Inc, Western Computers and KRCS. They do have sales, and although Apple bargains are rare, they do come along occasionally. Indeed, if timing is not critical wait until just after Apple refreshes its line of your chosen Mac. Sometimes PC World, John Lewis and the rest will have unsold stock that they need to discount to shift. And if you know what to look for and when you could grab a bargain. But it isn't easy when buying new. (See also: Best place to buy an Mac.)
How to buy cheap Mac, iMac and MacBook: Second hand and reconditioned
Second hand Macs can be a treasure-trove of value, however. Indeed, you can buy and sell second-hand Macs right here on the Macworld UK website. With our partner Mresell we run a service via which you can sell your unwanted Macs, iPhones and iPads. Once a price is agreed we either pick up your Mac, or you can take it to a certified Apple reseller after which payment is made. Either way the Mac, iMac or MacBook is then thoroughly checked, refurbished and reconditioned, and listed for sale on the Buy/Sell section of this website. (For more on buying second hand, see also Should I buy a second-hand Mac?)
We would always recommend checking what we have for sale in the Buy/Sell area of Macworld UK, not least because we know it is a risk-free way of buying second hand. We buy the device and check it, and then you buy from us, so there is no risk of getting stiffed by someone dodgy. Everything is thoroughly checked out with the Mac, MacBook or iMac, and if anything goes wrong it is on us to rectify the issue. (It's also a great, simple way of selling your old Apple kit, by the way.)
If you can't find what you want in the Macworld UK Buy/Sell listings, your next step should be a trip back to Apple's online store. But this time go past the main store and head for Apple's 'Special Deals' section, in which it sells refurbished Macs, iMacs and MacBooks.
You get all the benefits of buying from Apple, with some decent discounts. It will be typically a little more expensive than other second hand and refurbished sales, but as with buying from Macworld's Buy/Sell listings, you are paying for peace of mind.
Here are some current refurbished deals from Apple:
- Refurbished 11.6-inch MacBook Air 1.4GHz Dual-core Intel Core i5, £749
- Refurbished 15.4-inch MacBook Pro 2.0GHz Quad-core Intel i7 with Retina Display, £1,189
- Refurbished 15.4-inch MacBook Pro 2.2GHz Quad-core Intel i7 with Retina Display, £1,359
Here are some current deals from Macworld:
- Mac mini 2.53Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo (4GB/320GB) Late 2009, £199
- Mac mini Server 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (4GB/2x500GB) Mid 2010, £295
- Mac mini 2.7Ghz Intel Core i7 (8GB/750GB) Mid 2011, £330
- iMac 27″ 3.2Ghz Intel Core i5 (8GB/1TB) Late 2012, £1,130
We will now delve into the marginally murkier world of buying second hand, direct from an actual human. The risks are greater without the protection of Apple or Macworld UK, but so are the potential rewards in the shape of a bigger discount. Just remember that if it breaks after purchase, you are on your own.
If you don't find what you want in either Apple's nor Macworld's second hand stores, you should check out your local independent computer store - should such a thing exist. The benefit being that you will be able to look in the eyes of the person who is selling you the Mac, and head back there if anything goes wrong.
Beyond that we definitely recommend looking at eBay, Gumtree and the rest. You will find Macs at all prices, of all ages, and in all conditions. The key thing is - as always - to know exactly what you want, and exactly what you are getting. Get it all in writing, and if at all possible view the device you are buying, and use it, before you purchase. Always use a credit card to make expensive purchases, or a secure payment service such as PayPal. This will make it much easier to chase up if there is a problem. And remember, if it looks too good to be true it probably is: you really want to see proof of purchase before you buy a second hand Mac, to ensure it isn't stolen. (See also: How to get an education discount from Apple.)