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NUS Notebook Tender 2014

The National University of Singapore (NUS) notebook tender for this year is now available. With the new academic year coming just around the corner, NUS students might be keenly watching out to snag a deal. As a Mac user, I’m particularly interested in the MacBook offerings. Are the prices any good? Let’s find out.

First things first. Apple just refreshed their line of Retina MacBook Pros on Monday. Good news for buyers, bad timing for NUS. It’s just a small bump in processor speed across the board. All 13″ models now come with 8GB RAM, while all 15″ models come with 16GB RAM. Previously, the lower end 13″ and 15″ models had 4GB and 8GB of RAM respectively.

More significantly, Apple has also cut prices, mostly by $100. The discount, however, stretches to $300 for the highest end base configuration of the 15″ Retina MacBook Pro which has 16GB of RAM and 512GB of flash storage. That’s a sizeable discount if you’re looking at that top end model.

The NUS notebook tender webpage does not yet reflect the new specifications of the Retina MacBook Pro update. I understand that they are suspending sales of the affected models while awaiting the distributor to refresh their offer with NUS.

Apple’s quite well known to control their pricing. In the past, the tender pricing remain attractive because of services and software bundling. The bundling at one time included AppleCare Protection Plan, Microsoft Office, and Adobe Creative Suite. If you happen to want everything in the bundle, the tender offered a sweet deal. However, if you just want the Mac notebook, then, buying directly from Apple Online Store could be the better option.

This year, the Apple offer from the NUS notebook tender is somewhat stripped down. There’s still AppleCare Protection Plan, but there’s no bundled software anymore. You do get a Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter, a Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter, some sort of mouse, UTP cable, and carrying case.

How does the NUS offer stack up, compared with buying from Apple Online Store? In the following table, I’ve listed the 13″ MacBook Pros with Retina Display for comparison. The prices from the Apple Online Store includes the two adapters ($38 each), and AppleCare Protection Plan ($278).

NUS Price Apple Online Store Price
MacBook Pro 13″ 2.4GHz with Retina Display, 4GB/128GB (8GB from AOS) $2007 $1902
MacBook Pro 13″ 2.4GHz with Retina Display, 8GB/256GB $2204 $2202
MacBook Pro 13″ 2.6GHz with Retina Display, 8GB/512GB $2574 $2602
MacBook Pro 13″ 2.4GHz with Retina Display, 16GB/256GB (not base configuration) $2429 $2454
MacBook Pro 13″ 2.4GHz with Retina Display, 16GB/512GB (not base configuration) $2799 $2854

Now, before anyone gets all excited, may I please remind that NUS will presumably have to refresh their offerings to match the new Apple updates. It’s not just a simple processor speed bump and RAM upgrades in some base configurations. There is also a price cut. We cannot presume any sensible mapping from old to new. So bear in mind the remainder of this discussion is based on incomplete and non-current information.

So what’s the deal? The prices are close. Real close. But you know what?

  • You can save about $50 getting AppleCare Protection Plan from other sources. I will not vouch for their reliability or legitimacy, but I’ve great personal experience. You can get AppleCare Protection Plan any time within the first year of getting your Apple hardware, so there’s no rush to get it right at the start.
  • You can definitely save on the adapters from 3rd parties. Reasonably 50% off. So, that’s $38 less for both together. Actually, if you think about it, do you really need that Gigabit Ethernet adapter?

With those discounts in mind, you can expect $88 savings by buying only the Mac itself from Apple Online Store, and the other items elsewhere.

NUS throws in a UTP cable, which, even if you do need one, it ought to cost next to nothing. You also get a carrying case from NUS. But do you really want their carrying case? I’ve not seen it, but I don’t fancy any “thrown in for free” kind of bag. You’d likely already have, one, or have an idea of what you want to get.

The NUS offer is in my opinion just about on par with what you can get on your own. If you don’t mind forgoing the Gigabit Ethernet adapter, or both of the adapters, and if you’re comfortable getting AppleCare Protection Plan from elsewhere, you could save quite a lot more by just buying only the Mac from the Apple Online Store. To be clear, the prices are educational pricing from the Apple Online Store, which, if you can buy off the NUS tender, you’ll certainly qualify for.

Let me remind again that NUS needs to refresh their offer before we can make a sensible comparison. Hence, we need to wait for NUS to make its move. If you can’t wait, then go with the Apple Online Store in the meantime. If you can wait, I believe NUS will offer a sweet deal, but don’t expect a big discount.

Now, the next big question, is this the time? That is, should you get a Mac notebook now?

This is never an easy question to ask. I usually tell people, if you need a notebook now, just go get one. If you wait for the next big hardware update to come, by the time it does, you’ll be wanting the next subsequent big update.

Apple MacBooks are using Haswell processors now. The next round of processors are codenamed Broadwell. It was supposed to be available by the end of this year. However, news came that the chips were delayed till 2015. Then again, Intel’s Q2 earnings call shared a promise of Broadwell based products on the shelves by the holidays this year. Alright, so we could see a Broadwell update to Apple’s MacBook Pro line at the end of this year. But wait, Intel is likely referring to Asus’ Transformer Book T300 Chi. That one uses the Core M processor variant. The Broadwell U chips, the kinds that will go into MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros, won’t come till 2015 (see cpu-world). That could explain the need for Apple to refresh their MacBook Pro now.

Let’s recap the significant hardware updates to the MacBook Pros in the recent years. New processor families were introduced as follows:

  • Sandy Bridge in early 2011
  • Ivy Bridge in mid 2012
  • Haswell in late 2013

Make a guess when a Broadwell based MacBook Pro will come. I think end-2014 will be too early, but it’s really hard to say for sure about these things. Will there be a Core M in the MacBook Air or whatever new 12″ Retina notebook that is rumoured to come? Probably not likely either.

I’ll still stick with the advise: Just go get it if you need one now. For NUS people, however, just stick around for the campus updates to see what NUS can bring to the table.

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