Buy a New Windows or Apple PC Now or Wait for Vista and Leopard?

Over at the Wall Street Journal Walt Mossberg has suggested you not buy a new Windows PC now, but rather buy an Apple box. Walt is a huge fan of Apple and I think that may have clouded his judgment as Windows buyers are different than Apple buyers and visa versa.

Hold off On Buying Apple Laptops

In general Apple products are very well built, but sometimes can still have problems; and Apple often isn’t very forthcoming on what the problem is. Right now they are having a shutdown problem with their laptop lines and have issued a firmware patch to correct it.

Now there are enough symptoms of this problem to suggest it may not actually be one thing. For instance in this article it sounds like bad memory or a bad memory controller (something I’ve been seeing a lot of on the Windows side of late). But in this other case it looks like an overheating issue.

Certainly firmware can fix a bad memory controller but all it can do in the case of overheating is to slow the processor down, which would be like GM turning off one or two cylinders to fix a reliability problem with their V8 engines. If they have a batch of bad memory, you may be able to determine which part is bad and turn it off, but I actually have never seen that done before in a PC and you would lose either speed or capacity with a patch. The right thing to do would be to replace the bad memory, but like the Sony battery issue, that could be expensive (particularly if the memory vendor couldn’t afford to fund the recall).

Now there is no doubt the problem will eventually be fixed on the line, in fact it may already be fixed on the line, but because Apple hasn’t been forthcoming on exactly what the problem, or problems are, we can’t really determine whether they are even fixable with the current laptop line. Now I’m not seeing any activity suggesting problems with the desktop Apple products but I sure wouldn’t buy a new Apple laptop until I was sure I knew what this problem was and when it would be fixed.

I’m hearing enough chatter around Apple to suggest they have something big planned at MacWorld in early January. It looks likely that this may be an early release of Leopard coupled with some Viiv related technology from Intel. Every indication is this will be an attempt to do the iPod thing again with special Apple PC hardware. If they hit, buyer’s remorse could be particularly big for those that bought Apple products in the 4th quarter. So what I suggest is take the money you would typically spend on an Apple PC, put it in the bank, then once you see what MacWorld has to offer, decide if you want the new stuff or an incredible deal on the old stuff as Apple purges inventory.

Note: I’m not saying change and buy a Windows box, I’m suggesting you hold until we know what the Apple problems are and what MacWorld is likely to bring to the table before you buy to minimize your risk.

Windows: Buy Now, Don’t Wait

With Microsoft, the information we need to make a decision is largely known and many of us have been messing with Vista for months. The latest release candidate is a good product but I’m not expecting most Windows folks to move to the platform until late 2007 or 2008. Windows XP is fine for most and will continue to be fine after Vista launches. And historically, Microsoft’s installed base moves slower than Apple’s.

But right now the vendors are hungry, very hungry and you can get a Vista upgrade for free. Think of it as an additional $200 discount on your new PC. You can then install this upgrade any time you like after Vista releases. So if you want to wait (as many will) until the second half of the year or if you want to install it on the first day you get it, you have that choice.

Once Vista ships you will need to choose which way you get your PC when you purchase it and most will be preloaded with Vista or will require you choose at first boot which OS you want and probably won’t let you change your mind later.

Now, if you don’t need a new PC, there is really no reason to suddenly panic and run out and buy one. But if you have an old box that is giving you problems, then for the next two months the best deals you are likely to get will be on the market. Granted you will want to choose a Windows Vista Ready box and compare the Vista offerings from vendors (many are completely free like Gateway’s, while some are not). You’ll also want to buy in the mid-range as both the top-end and the low-end cost machines will probably become obsolete the fastest (at the high-end, the DirectX 10 stuff hasn’t hit the market yet and the low end systems may only run Windows Vista Basic. Aero is actually worth the extra cost).

Getting Ready for Vista

I’ve now done Vista upgrades with a number of Beta and Release Candidate versions of the product. Without a doubt the best way to do the upgrade is as a new OS installation, you don’t have to format the hard drive but you will need to make sure that all viruses and non-Vista compliant utilities are off the box otherwise you will probably have installation or reliability issues. This will give you the greatest reliability, but it will also mean you’ll have to reload your applications and move the data from the backup folders Vista creates when it is installed in this way.

Keep all your software manuals in one place. Vista has a strong emulation section and much of what you have may actually run without updates, but you’ll need the software and the software keys required to install the products.

Finally, there has been a lot of bad memory floating into the market over the last year or so. If you have an XP machine that is a little flakey and it is a memory problem (almost impossible to diagnose) Vista will discover this right off. So if you are planning on buying more memory (other than as part of a system purchase) and are planning on moving to Vista early, do both at the same time so you can return the memory if it turns out to be bad (memory generally has a 15 day return warranty).

So fundamentally I disagree with Walt, for Windows this is a regular holiday season with some unique incentives and for Apple there are some risks this quarter and what appears to be a huge reason to buy in early January so I’d hold on Apple and do whatever you were already planning on doing with Windows and get a little gift for the future from Microsoft.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Product Review

Want to see how powerful the Snapdragon 855 chip is? Just rev up the Xiaomi Mi 9

How fast do you want to go? If the answer to this is “as fast as possible,” then take a long look at the Xiaomi Mi 9. It’s one of the highest performance smartphones you can buy. It’s a real monster, and we’ve been using it.
Computing

In 2019, laptops are better than ever. Here are the best of the best

The best laptop should be one that checks all the boxes: Great battery life, beautiful design, and top-notch performance. Our picks for the best laptops you can buy do all that — and throw in some extra features while they're at it.
Gaming

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Computing

Dodge the biggest laptop-buying mistakes with these handy tips

Buying a new laptop is exciting, but you need to watch your footing. There are a number of pitfalls you need to avoid and we're here to help. Check out these top-10 laptop buying mistakes and how to avoid them.
Gaming

EA is losing out on the true potential of Titanfall studio with ‘Apex Legends’

Apex Legends is a solid battle royale game, but one can’t shake the feeling that its creation was dictated by Respawn’s new owners: Electronic Arts. In the process, the studio’s soul could be lost.
Gaming

The 'Anthem' demo's crash landing raises more questions than answers

Bioware bravely allowed gamers to see a large chunk of 'Anthem' over two demo weekends, but it backfired. Lackluster missions, performance issues, and muddled messaging over micro-transactions leaves the game with an uphill battle.
Computing

In the age of Alexa and Siri, Cortana’s halo has grown dim

In a sea of voice assistants, Cortana has become almost irrelevant. The nearly five-year-old voice assistant is seeing little love from consumers, and here’s why it is dead.
Gaming

Apex Legends proves battle royale is no fad. In fact, it’s just getting started

Apex Legends came out of nowhere to take the top spot as battle royale in 2019, and it now looks as if it'll be the biggest game of the year. Its sudden success proves the battle royale fad still has plenty of life left in it.
Home Theater

How the headphone jack helps Samsung out-Apple the king

Samsung’s latest flagship phones and wearables unveiled at the Galaxy Unpacked event had plenty of exciting new tech. But one of the most useful features Samsung revealed is also the oldest: The mighty headphone jack.
Gaming

Age of Empires II thrives 20 years later. Here's what Anthem could learn from it

Age Of Empires II is approaching its 20th birthday. It has a loyal following that has grown over the past five years. New always-online games like Anthem would love to remain relevant for so long, but they have a problem. They're just not…
Gaming

Devil May Cry is Fantastic, but I still want a DmC: Devil May Cry sequel

Capcom's Devil May Cry 5 is one of the best games of 2019 and a welcome return for the series, but its success should not discount just how wonderful Ninja Theory's DmC: Devil May Cry really was.
Smart Home

Alexa may be everywhere, but it’s Google’s Assistant I want in my home. Here’s why

The Amazon Alexa may have the Google Home beat in quantity of skills and compatibility with other products, but does that really matter when Alexa falls flat for day-to-day conversation?
Gaming

DMC 5’s greatness is a reminder of all the open world games that wasted my time

Devil May Cry 5 modernizes the stylish action combat while retaining its storied PS2 roots. More so, though, it reminded me that we could sure use more linear, single player games to combat the sea of open world games.
Gaming

Don't get the hype over Fortnite? Let us change your mind

Fortnite arrived very quietly but after launching Battle Royale mode it became a cultural phenomenon. Today, Fortnite is one of the most content prolific online games and it's starting to change the meta.