Which Mac should you buy?
When it comes to purchasing a Mac, Roman Loyola has the lowdown on each model to help you make a buying decision
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re thinking about buying a new Mac and may be in need of a little guidance. Fortunately, we’re quite familiar with Apple’s Macs, and we’re happy to help you choose the right Mac for you.
Before we proceed, we should specifically address Apple’s desktop Macs. It’s been a while since the company has updated the Mac mini and Mac Pro. While our advice for each Mac model provides guidance as to which model you should buy, you might actually consider waiting to see if Apple releases a new Mac mini or Mac Pro, or consider buying an iMac.
This guide provides an overview of all the Mac models available, and what each one is best suited for. All prices are correct at the time of writing.
What is it? The Air is Apple’s affordable line of laptops. Apple currently offers two 13in models.
The company used to sell an 11in MacBook Air, but it is no longer available to the general public. If you really want an 11in model, you can try looking in Apple’s Certified Refurbished Store (tinyurl.com/ ybopp226). (The 11in model is only available as a bulk purchase by educational institutions.)
Who’s it for? The MacBook Air is ideal for the budget conscious. It’s also for anyone who is always on the go, doesn’t want to be bogged down by a regular-size laptop, and needs a computer that’s more versatile than an iPad.
What are the specifications? The two MacBook Air models have the same 1.8GHz dual-core Core i5 (Broadwell) processor and 8GB of RAM. All MacBook Air models come with integrated Intel HD
How do I connect stuff? The MacBook Air has builtin Wi-Fi for connecting to a network. It also provides built-in Bluetooth for wirelessly connecting a mouse or other peripheral. If you want to connect to an ethernet network, you’ll need a USB ethernet Adapter (£29 from fave.co/2t35WQh).
Thunderbolt 2 is the MacBook Air’s high-speed connector. The laptop also has a pair of USB 3.0 ports, which can work with devices that use USB Graphics 6000 technology. Apple claims 12 hours of battery life for both wireless web and iTunes movie playback. The main difference between the laptops is storage. The £949 model (available from fave.co/2t2PZtf) has 128GB of flash storage, while the £1,099 model (available from fave. co/2sOU67Z) has 256GB.
2.0. If you have a FireWire 800 drive, you’ll need to buy a Thunderbolt-to-FireWire Adapter (£29 from fave.co/2t32ULC).
How fast is it? The MacBook Air is quite capable of handling everyday tasks, such as sending and receiving email, browsing the web, and using office applications. You can even use it for editing short videos, or for working with JPEGs from your iPhone or point-and-shoot camera.
Macworld’s buying advice: The MacBook Air is a great affordable laptop for someone who does general-purpose work and moves around a lot, such as a student or a self-employed person. Since it’s at the lower end of Apple’s laptop lineup in terms of price, you won’t find the Retina display that’s on the Retina MacBook Pro or the MacBook. Also, you can’t easily upgrade the storage after purchase, so you should buy the model with the largest amount of storage you can afford. (After-market storage upgrades are available, but Apple does not provide support for such upgrades.)
What is it? The MacBook is Apple’s entry in the ultra-portable laptop market. It’s actually lighter and smaller than the 13in MacBook Air.
Who’s it for? The MacBook is made for users who prioritize mobility over everything else, including features and performance.
What are the specifications? The MacBook comes in only one size: a 12in model available in rose gold, space grey, gold or silver.
There are two models of the MacBook. The £1,249 model (available from fave.co/2sZW1Lc) has a 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core m3 (Kaby Lake) processor and 256GB of flash storage. The £1,549 model (available from fave.co/2tJhLs4) has a 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 (Kaby Lake) processor and 512GB of flash storage. Both models include 8GB of memory and an integrated Intel HD Graphics 615 processor.
The MacBook has a Retina display, which means it has an ultra-high resolution screen that’s capable of showing crisper images than on the Air, which has a standard display. The MacBook has a native resolution of 2304x1440
and offers scaled resolutions of 1024x640, 1280x800, and 1440x900.
How do I connect stuff? The MacBook has Wi-Fi for connecting to a network and Bluetooth for your devices. There’s only one USB-C port for connecting storage devices, printers, external displays, power adaptors, or anything else. If you have older USB peripherals, you need to use a USB-C to USB Adapter (£19 from tinyurl.com/ yb44r7aw) that will allow you to connect USB 3 and USB 2 devices to the MacBook. Want to connect to ethernet? You need the USB-C to USB Adapter and the USB ethernet Adaptor (£29 from fave. co/2t33Hw6). If you want to connect an HDMI display and USB devices, you need to get the USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter (£49 from fave.co/2t32gOg). Or if you want to connect a VGA display, you need the USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter (£49 from fave.co/2t3hnr6).
How fast is it? The processors in the MacBook are made to be efficient and cool. They’re not a top-performing processors, though we’ve found that the MacBook outpaces the Air. Compared to previous MacBook generations, the current version provides a much needed performance boost. It’s a better value than it has been, thanks to the Kaby Lake processor. That said, it can handle everything your typical user does on a daily basis. It can even handle some high-end, professional production tasks. It just won’t be the fastest to the finish line.
Macworld’s buying advice: The MacBook is for anyone who’s constantly on the go and seldom needs to connect devices – be prepared to carry a bunch of adaptors if you have to make connections.
What is it? The MacBook Pro has a high-density display with so many pixels that images and text look especially smooth and clean. At normal viewing distances, you can’t discern individual pixels.
Who’s it for? The MacBook Pro is for the demanding user who wants a portable computer that also performs well. MacBook Pro models sit at the top of the performance chart of Mac laptops. What are the specifications? The MacBook Pro is available in screen sizes of 13- and 15 inches.
There are four 13in models:
• £1,249 model (from fave.co/2t3gPS7): 2.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 (Kaby Lake) processor, 8GB of memory, 128GB of flash storage, Intel Iris Graphics 640 integrated graphics, and no Touch Bar.
• £1,449 model (from fave.co/2t3eUNg): 2.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 (Kaby Lake) processor, 8GB of memory, 246GB of flash storage, Intel Iris Graphics 640 integrated graphics, and no Touch Bar.
• £1,749 model (from fave.co/2sPiYwE): 3.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 (Kaby Lake) processor , 8GB of memory, 256GB of flash storage, Intel Iris Graphics 650 integrated graphics, and the Touch Bar.
• £1,949 model (from fave.co/2sOTLlQ): 3.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 (Kaby Lake) processor, 8GB of memory, 512GB of flash storage, Intel Iris Graphics 650 integrated graphics, and the Touch Bar.
Apple has two 15in MacBook Pros:
• £2,349 model (from fave.co/2tJybAw): 2.8GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 (Kaby Lake) processor, 16GB of memory, 256GB of flash storage, Intel HD Graphics 630 integrated graphics, 2GB Radeon Pro 555 discrete graphics, and the Touch Bar.
• £2,699 model (from fave.co/2tJWXjO): 2.9GHz quad-core Core i7 processor, 16GB of memory,
512GB flash storage, Intel HD Graphics 630 integrated graphics, 4GB Radeon Pro 560 discrete graphics, and the Touch Bar.
The 13in Retina display has a native resolution of 2560x1600, and OS X offers a scaled resolution up to 1680x1050. The 15in Retina display has a native resolution of 2880x1800, and OS X’s highest scaled resolution on those laptops is 1920x1200.
These high-scale resolutions can accommodate the workspace of a larger-screen standard Mac laptop on a smaller Retina MacBook Pro if you can tolerate the smaller icons, text, and other graphics on the screen. If you use a third-party app such as QuickRes, you can set the Retina screen to use resolutions higher than the scaled settings OS X offers, including the native resolution.
The MacBook Pro does not have a SuperDrive, so if you need one, you’ll have to buy an external USB optical drive.
What is the Touch Bar that’s mentioned in the specs above? The Touch Bar is a new input device. It sits on top of the keyboard, and it’s basically
a narrow touchscreen. The button and controls available on the Touch Bar change depending on the software you are using. Learn more about the Touch Bar.
Note: the Touch Bar is not available on the £1,249 and £1,449 13in MacBook Pro. That model has the traditional function keys.
How do I connect stuff? No need to worry about wireless connectivity: The MacBook Pro has WiFi and Bluetooth.
It’s the wired connectivity you need to be concerned with. The MacBook Pro has only Thunderbolt 3 ports, which are compatible with USB-C. The £1,249 and £1,449 13in MacBook Pro models have two ports, while every other MacBook model has four.
If you have a Thunderbolt 3 device, you can plug it in directly. The same goes for any USB-C device. However, if you have wired devices that aren’t USB-C or Thunderbolt 3, you’ll need an adaptor. We have a separate MacBook Pro Thunderbolt 3 adaptor guide to help you decide which ones you’ll need. Unfortunately, be prepared to shell out a good amount of extra cash.
How fast is it? The MacBook Pro models are, to no surprise, the fastest laptops Apple has ever released. They are significantly faster than the MacBook Air. The 2017 MacBook cut the difference down, thanks to its Kaby Lake processor. But if it’s processing power you seek, it’s the Pro you want.
Macworld’s buying advice: For the most demanding mobile Mac user – someone whose work requires a lot of processing power – the MacBook Pro is the ticket. If you’re looking at a 13in model, the £1,749 Retina MacBook Pro hits a sweet spot for price and performance. The money that separates the two 15in Retina MacBook Pro models is a hefty chunk of change; the £2,699 MacBook Pro is the top-of-the-line Mac laptop, offering the strongest performance. If your work mostly involves Internet access and other productivity tasks, however, go for a MacBook Air.
What is it? The Mac mini is Apple’s entry-level desktop Mac. It’s slower than Apple’s other desktop computers – the iMac and the Mac Pro – but it remains fast enough for general-purpose use.
Who’s it for? Apple targets first-time Mac users with the Mac mini. If you’re switching from a PC, you can use your PC’s keyboard and mouse with the Mac mini. The Mac mini is also ideal as a secondary Mac in your home, and it can integrate into your home entertainment centre.
What are the specifications? What makes the Mac mini stand out is its small size. It doesn’t take up a lot of desk space. Apple sells three Mac mini models. The £479 (from fave.co/2sPo4Jl) model has a 1.4GHz
dual-core Core i5 CPU, a 5,400rpm 500GB hard drive, 4GB of memory and an integrated Intel HD Graphics 5000 GPU. The £679 model (from fave. co/2t2J03w) includes a 2.6GHz dual-core Core i5 processor, a 5,400rpm 1TB hard drive 8GB of memory, and Intel Iris Graphics. The £949 (from fave.co/2t3k6AQ) model has a 2.8GHz dual-core Core i5 processor, a 1TB Fusion Drive, 8GB of memory, and Intel Iris Graphics.
The Mac mini does not include a display, keyboard, or mouse, so you’ll have to provide your own – or you can customize your order to include these devices as extra-cost options.
Since the Mac mini lacks an optical drive, you need to buy an external USB optical drive if you want to read or burn CDs and DVDs.
How do I connect stuff? Like Apple’s other Macs, the Mac mini has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It also has four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, and an SDXC card slot. It also has a gigabit ethernet port, in case you want to connect to a wired network.
To connect a display, you can use the HDMI port or a Thunderbolt 2 port. You might have to buy an adaptor if your display doesn’t have either HDMI or Mini DisplayPort (which connects to the Mac mini’s Thunderbolt port). If you own a display with VGA and/or DVI output, you’ll need either the Mini DisplayPort-to-VGA Adaptor (£29 from fave. co/2sP2jcj) or the Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI Adaptor (£29 from tinyurl.com/ybg4z95w).
How fast is it? The Mac mini won’t set any speed records – it’s among the slowest Macs in Apple’s line-up. But don’t judge its performance too harshly. For general use (writing, email, web, social media) and for editing short videos, the Mac mini does just fine.
Macworld’s buying advice: For new Mac users switching from a PC, the Mac mini is an excellent machine, if you don’t mind not having the latest processors. It’s a great choice for shoppers on a budget, or for someone who wants a second computer in the home. It handles everyday usage well. If, however, you want to use a Mac as a production machine for video editing or some other task that requires substantial processing power, consider an iMac.
Apple has two versions of the iMac. Let’s go over the standard model first, followed by the iMac with Retina display.
What is it? The iMac is Apple’s iconic all-in-one computer. Made of aluminium, the iMac has a builtin display and looks stately as it sits on a desk. It also offers top-notch performance.
Who’s it for? The iMac is great for both novices and demanding users. It can handle general-purpose and heavy-duty tasks equally well. It’s ideal for someone who needs to buy a complete computer
setup (keyboard, mouse or trackpad, and display) and wants to maximize workspace efficiency.
What are the specifications? One standard iMac model is currently available with a 21.5in 1920x1080-resolution display. It has a 1TB hard drive. (Apple no longer makes a 27in iMac with a standard display – more on that later).
The entry-level 21.5in £1,049 iMac (from fave. co/2sPpkfr) has a 2.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor and Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 integrated graphics. The hard drive in the 21.5in iMac models is a 5,400rpm drive.
You can’t upgrade the 21.5in iMac yourself after you buy it, so consider paying an extra £180 at the outset for a memory upgrade to 16GB. If you want to add more RAM later, you need to bring the iMac in to an Apple store. The 21.5in iMac also offers
a Fusion Drive or a flash storage upgrade. The iMac comes with Apple’s Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2. If you order online from the Apple Store, however, you can switch the keyboard to a version with a numeric keypad, and switch the mouse to a wired Apple Mouse or a Magic Trackpad 2 (£50). You can opt to get both a Magic Mouse 2 and a Magic Trackpad 2 for £129 extra.
The iMac does not have an optical drive. If you want to read or burn CDs and DVDs, you need to buy an external USB optical drive.
How do I connect stuff? Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are built-in. All iMacs have four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a gigabit ethernet port, and an SDXC card slot.
If you want to connect a FireWire device, you’ll need to use a Thunderbolt-to-FireWire Adaptor (£29 from fave.co/2t32ULC). USB 2.0 devices can connect to the iMac’s USB 3.0 ports.
How fast is it? The iMacs are among Apple’s fastest computers, however, the £1,049 iMac is Apple’s slowest iMac. Also, if the iMac has a hard drive, it’s a performance bottleneck. If you can upgrade to a Fusion Drive or flash storage, you’ll gain a significant performance boost. The £1,049 version has an attractive price, but you make huge sacrifices in performance. Macworld’s buying advice: For new Mac owners, the £1,049 iMac is a good alternative to the Mac
mini, providing a nice performance increase. If performance is your top priority, consider a Fusion Drive upgrade. On a 21.5in iMac, the 8GB of RAM should be fine, but buying the RAM upgrade at the point of purchase could help you avoid some hassle in the future.
iMac with Retina display
What is it? The iMac with Retina display is like Apple’s standard iMac, but with an ultra highresolution display.
Who’s it for? The Retina iMac is designed for professionals who work with high-resolution videos, photos, or images. Or it’s for the demanding user who wants the best image quality for everyday use.
What are the specifications? Apple calls its two 21.5in models the 21.5in iMac with Retina 4K display. These iMacs have a 4096x2304 resolution screen. The £1,249 model (from fave.co/2sPn6wE) has a 3GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB 5,400rpm hard drive, and 2GB Radeon Pro 555 graphics. The £1,449 model (from fave. co/2t3csqa) has a 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 1TB Fusion Drive, and 4GB Radeon Pro 560 graphics.
Apple’s 27in iMacs (called the 27in iMac with Retina 5K display) come with a 5120x2880resolution Retina display. Apple offers three models of the 27in Retina iMac. The £1,749 model (from fave.co/2t3ejvb) has a 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core
i5 processor, a 1TB Fusion Drive, and 4GB Radeon Pro 570 graphics. The £1,949 model (from fave. co/2t3raxh) has a 3.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, a 1TB Fusion Drive and 4GB Radeon Pro 575 graphics. The £2,249 (from fave.co/2sP565x) model has a 3.8GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, a 2TB Fusion Drive, and 8GB Radeon Pro 580 graphics.
Users can upgrade the RAM on the 27in iMac easily. The machine has four RAM slots, accessible through the back. Apple installs the standard 8GB as a pair of 4GB memory modules, so you can add more RAM after you buy the system. Or if you prefer, you can upgrade the RAM at the point of purchase to 16GB (£180) or 32GB (£540). How do I connect stuff? W-Fi and Bluetooth are built-in. All Retina iMacs have four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a gigabit ethernet port, and an SDXC card slot.
If you want to connect a FireWire device, you’ll need to use a
Thunderbolt-to-FireWire Adaptor (£29 from fave. co/2t32ULC). USB 2.0 devices can connect to the iMac’s USB 3.0 ports.
How fast is it? The Retina iMacs are among Apple’s fastest computers when it comes to singlecore performance. When it comes to multi-core speed, the Mac Pros with more than four cores are faster machines. You can improve the multicore performance by opting for the 4.2GHz Core i7 upgrade in the £1,949 and £2,249 in the 27in models, or the 3.6GHz Core i7 upgrade in the 21.5in model – you’ll pay more, but it may be worth it to your for the performance boost.
Macworld’s buying advice: The allure of the Retina display is strong; you’ll love the way it looks. You may not love the way the price looks, however. If you are hesitant about the price, it won’t take long to get over it, once you’ve used the Retina iMac for a couple of weeks.
Who’s it for? This is the computer for people who with the most demanding tasks. It’s targeted at creative professionals, scientists, and software developers.
What are the specifications? Apple hasn’t specified which processors are in the iMac Pro, but rumour has it that they will be Intel Xeon processors. Apple has stated that the processors will be available with
8, 10, or 18 cores. The iMac Pro will comes standard with 32GB of 2666MHz DDR4 ECC memory. You can configure it to 64GB or 128GB. The storage device is a 1TB SSD, with options for 2- or 4TB. The graphics card is a Radeon Pro Vega 56 graphics processor with 8GB of HBM2 memory.
Apple has not released configurations. Pricing will start at $4,999 (£TBC). The iMac Pro comes in an aluminium space grey case. It also has matching space grey Magic Keyboard with numeric keyboard and Magic Mouse 2.
How do I connect stuff? Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are included for wireless connectivity. The back of the iMac Pro has four USB 3 ports, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, a 10-gigabit ethernet jack, and a SDXC card slot.
How fast is it? Benchmarks of the iMac Pro are not yet available. The machine will be a multiprocessing beast, designed to working with pro-level apps that demand multiple processing cores.
Macworld’s buying advice: This will probably be the fastest available Mac in Apple’s lineup when it is released. If you want the fastest processing speed available, this is the Mac to get. There doesn’t seem to be a Mac Pro coming in the near future, despite what Apple said about it. So if you’d rather wait for a new Mac Pro, you might be waiting for a while.
The Mac Pro (2013)
What is it? The Mac Pro is Apple’s workstation. It’s designed for professionals who need a powerful and flexible machine.
Who’s it for? The Mac Pro is ideal for professionals who work with applications that use as many processing cores as possible – video-editing applications, image-editing software, 3D applications, and the like. What are the specifications? You’ll find two standard-configuration models. The £2,999 Mac
Pro (from fave.co/2t3dKRO) has a 3.5GHz 6-core Xeon E5 processor, 16GB of memory, and dual AMD FirePro D500 graphics processors with 3GB of video memory each. The £3,899 version (from tinyurl.com/yd2bcy6z) provides a 3GHz 8-core Xeon E5 processor, 16GB of memory, and dual AMD FirePro D700 graphics processors with 6GB of video memory each. Both models include 256GB of flash storage.
The Mac Pro offers buyers some appealing build-to-order options. You can add up to 64GB of memory, upgrade to 512GB or 1TB of flash storage, upgrade the graphics, or upgrade the processor (to a 12-core CPU). How do I connect stuff? Unlike the previous Mac Pro, the new Mac Pro has no internal options for connecting PCI expansion cards or internal storage drives. The new Mac Pro relies on its six external Thunderbolt 2 ports for add-ons. If you have an old Mac Pro tower and PCI cards and/or drives that you want to use, you’ll need to buy a Thunderbolt
expansion chassis for the cards and external cases for the drives.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth come built-in on the new Mac Pro. The machine has four USB 3 ports, dual gigabit ethernet jacks, and HDMI. Audio professionals should know that the Mac Pro has a combined optical digital audio input and analogue\ output minijack. The computer doesn’t have FireWire connections.
How fast is it? Apple says that the new Mac Pro is a “video editing powerhouse” capable of handling 4K video editing, that 3D applications will see “ultrafast rendering”, and on and on. And our first set of tests reflects that. If you use Final Cut Pro X, you’ll see huge performance gains. If you use applications that can take advantage of as many processing cores as are available, then the Mac Pro really shines. However, if you’re more of a ‘prosumer’ than a professional – someone who is an expert Mac user, but doesn’t use high-end apps – then you’re not going to see a big jump in performance. You’re probably better off with an iMac, especially if you use the iLife apps a lot. iLife actually performs better with the processors in the iMac than those in the Mac Pro.
Macworld’s buying advice: In April 2017, Apple provided some much-needed insight into the Mac Pro. Originally released in 2013, the Mac Pro hasn’t received a serious upgrade since then. The current models were originally offered as build-to-order
options for the models released about four years ago. So the current model still has old technology.
Apple admitted that the Mac Pro’s design severely limits what the company can do with the machine in terms of upgrades, and that, as Apple VP Phil Schiller puts it, they are “completely rethinking” the Mac Pro.
The next Mac Pro will be better able to support the latest CPU and GPU technologies, according to Apple. But you’ll have to wait until next year for the new, redesigned Mac Pro to make its appearance.
In the meantime, should you buy the Mac Pro that’s currently available? If you are doing professional work and require extreme multiprocessing capability, and you’re using a old pre-2013 Mac Pro or an older iMac, you’ll definitely see a performance boost with the current Mac Pro.
But if you already have the 2013 Mac Pro, there’s no reason to buy what Apple is selling now, unless you are making a significant jump in the number of processing cores (say, from a four-core to a 12-core CPU). Try to hold out for next year.