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I work for a software company. My bosses have started telling our clients we can support Mac systems, but none of us techs have any experience running OSX (because our software only runs on Internet Explorer - it is ASP based) but they figure they can give the clients a remote desktop account into a webserver running the application and the platform the client has no longer matters.

The problem is that us techs don't really think when something goes wrong we can say "oh well - the RDP server appears fine - it's your system - you fix it" - we are going to have to troubleshoot the remote system which means knowing OSX. The company figures learning new skills is our problem, not their problem so they've nixed providing us with Mac systems to learn on. So, what is the cheapest version of the Mac laptop I can buy to learn OSX but without limiting common things?

For example, if I bought a netbook running Win7 Starter, there are compromises - no changing the background, screen size normally too small (our software runs on min 1024x768.) Blah, blah, blah. Are there any such limitation on the Mac platforms or could I just start with the cheapest like the plastic Mac Book and learn virtually everything? Speed and performance and other factors don't really matter, but it needs to be able to dual boot Windows or else run Bootcamp or something similar (since some clients have this sort of setup.) Laptop only - must be portable. My needs aren't sophisticated, just boot, be able to navigate, learn all normal aspects of desktop and app operation and limited troubleshooting skills. This isn't to develop on, run gaming or anything else.

Thanks for any help.

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closed as off topic by ChrisF, Wuffers, Sathya Apr 22 '11 at 12:31

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There are two well-known RDP clients, the official Remote Desktop Client from Microsoft, and CoRD, an open source project. Once you get your Mac, you could try the latter, see if it works better. – Daniel Beck Apr 22 '11 at 10:53
Shopping recommendations are off topic. However, asking for "lowest spec" would also be too localised (in time). – ChrisF Apr 22 '11 at 11:09
up vote 3 down vote accepted

If you want to run the current major version of Mac OS X, 10.6 "Snow Leopard", you'll need to fulfill these system requirements:

  • Mac computer with an Intel processor
  • 1GB of memory
  • 5GB of available disk space
  • DVD drive for installation
  • Some features require a compatible Internet service provider; fees may apply.
  • Some features require Apple’s MobileMe service; fees and terms apply.

All Intel-based Macs (produced since early to mid 2006) are able to handle this. They changed the name of the laptop line to "Macbook" and "Macbook Pro" with the Intel switch, so get any of these (not an iBook / Powerbook), possibly used, and you should be OK.

There are only two editions of Mac OS X, regular and Server (which is regular + additional management tools, AFAIK). There's no such thing as "Home edition", or "Starter". If your used Mac comes with an earlier version (10.4 or 10.5) you can buy the 29 USD/EUR/GBP update to 10.6.

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Be aware that later this year, 10.7 "Lion" will be released. Its system requirements could be stricter (it seems it requires a 64 bit processor, i.e. Core 2 or up). In my experience, Mac users are generally more enthusiastic about major OS updates than Windows users; so you probably shouldn't get an early 2006 model just to save 20 bucks. Both Macbooks and MBP's started to have 64 bit CPUs in Oct 2006. – Daniel Beck Apr 22 '11 at 10:59

In contrast to Windows, there's only one version of OS X which has all functionalities.

If you want to learn OS X, buy the cheapest hardware you can find. Whatever kind is okay (The white Macbooks, or even Mac minis are very portable).

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The current Developer Previews of the upcoming Mac OS X 10.7 Lion require a 64-bit Intel CPU. This requirement might certainly persist through release. The one way this might impact you is that the very first Intel Macs in each product line used the Core Duo processor, which is a 32-bit CPU. They were soon followed by the Core 2 Duo, which is 64-bit. Later and current models use the Core i-series: i3, i5, i7.

So get the cheapest one you can find. But if you're buying used -- since the clients might be running Lion soon, make sure it's not one of those first ones, with the Core Duo. (One early model of Mac mini used the Core Solo -- definitely don't want that either.)

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