Best Mac for stu­dents

Whether you’re off to col­lege or back to school choos­ing the best Mac can be tricky. Mar­tyn Casserly is here to help

Macworld - - Contents -

A t first glance Macs might still seem ex­pen­sive, es­pe­cially when com­pared with the £300 lap­tops that you’ll find on of­fer in Tesco and PC World, but while those cheaper ma­chines are built down to a price, Ap­ple be­lieves firmly in cre­at­ing de­vices that are pow­er­ful and meant to last.

A Mac you buy for univer­sity should quite hap­pily see you through all the ad­ven­tures of your course

and still be some­thing you’ll want to carry on us­ing for a few years after­wards.

But de­cid­ing which model is best for you can be tricky. Some of this de­pends on what type of stu­dent you are, and of course your bud­getary ar­range­ments will be a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor.

To help you buy the right model we’ve gath­ered to­gether all the facts you need to know and cre­ated a stu­dent’s guide to buy­ing a Mac. We’ll con­sider what stu­dents are likely to need from their Mac, and what fea­tures you should pay more for.

We then take a closer look at Ap­ple’s range of Macs and the built to or­der op­tions avail­able that might be use­ful. Plus, we’ve also col­lected to­gether some ac­ces­sories, soft­ware and ser­vices that could come in handy dur­ing your course.

The first thing we want to men­tion be­fore talk­ing about any­thing else is Ap­ple’s Ed­u­ca­tion Store (­bbm). We look at this in more de­tail on page 25.

As the stu­dent life in­volves a far amount of mo­bil­ity – trav­el­ling to lec­tures, li­braries, the oc­ca­sional cof­fee shop, and so on – it makes sense to con­sider a lap­top rather than a desk­top de­vice.

While the screen sizes in MacBooks are smaller than iMacs, you can al­ways find an in­ex­pen­sive screen, or even your TV, and con­nect that to your MacBook when you need a larger dis­play. Then once you’re done with the big screen, you still have your mobile pow­er­house ma­chine and all your files.

One Mac that’s easy to take off your shop­ping list is the Mac Pro (if you haven’t done so al­ready).

At £2,999 (from fave. co/2t3dKRO) it’s overkill for nearly all stu­dent tasks and un­less you are in­volved in some heavy num­ber crunch­ing or pro­fes­sion­al­level video edit­ing, you won’t value its power.

Even in a field like com­puter science or 3D an­i­ma­tion you will get by on a high-end MacBook or iMac. In the vast ma­jor­ity of cases you would be bet­ter served sav­ing the money and opt­ing for a cheaper model, es­pe­cially when you con­sider that you’d need to buy a screen, key­board and mouse for the Pro.

Ap­ple’s line-up

If you’re look­ing for sta­bil­ity and a re­li­able op­er­at­ing sys­tem that won’t crash each time you try and save your work, then the MacBook range of lap­tops is truly im­pres­sive. Given Ap­ple’s pric­ing strat­egy, it might seem like they are ex­pen­sive ver­sus their Win­dows al­ter­na­tives, how­ever the added premium is jus­ti­fied.

MacBook Pro

Start­ing with the MacBook Pro, these lap­tops are seen as the most ex­pen­sive and pow­er­ful Mac

lap­tops. Ap­ple up­dated the range ear­lier this year to add more power and ef­fi­ciency thanks to new In­tel chips, so now’s a great time to buy, too.

The range starts at £1,249 (from fave. co/2t3gPS7) for the 13in non-Touch Bar ver­sion and goes up to £2,699 (from for the top-of-the-range 15in Touch Bar ver­sion.

The Touch Bar, while stun­ning, is still largely a gim­mick that most stu­dents can do with­out. If the 13in dis­play is big enough for you and you’re set on the MacBook Pro, we’d rec­om­mend opt­ing for the model priced at £1,449 (from

That model has In­tel’s 7th Gen­er­a­tion Kaby Lake dual-core i5 pro­ces­sor clocked at 2.3GHz, with 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD stor­age. There’s In­tel Iris Plus Graph­ics 640 and two Thun­der­bolt 3 (USB-C) ports. USB-C does cause a bit of an is­sue be­cause it re­places USB-A, but there are adap­tors avail­able that will help.

MacBook Air

If you’re look­ing for a MacBook that doesn’t break the bank, but still of­fers good porta­bil­ity, then the Air might be the per­fect fit.

It has a 13in screen, and comes equipped with a 1.8GHz In­tel i5 pro­ces­sor, 128GB or 256GB of stor­age, and 8GB 1,600MHz RAM. It costs £949 (from for the base model, or £1,099 (from for the 256GB model. View in the Ap­ple Store here.

The Air fea­tures the right ports too, with two USB 3.0 ports, a Thun­der­bolt 2 port, an SDXC card slot and a MagSafe 2 power port. This makes the Air cheaper than other Macs while also be­ing very por­ta­ble, and there­fore more prac­ti­cal for stu­dents to take to lec­tures.

One the down­side, it has a slower pro­ces­sor than the MacBook Pro and sig­nif­i­cantly less graph­ics power, but it’s un­likely you’ll no­tice a dif­fer­ence in ev­ery­day tasks.

12in MacBook

Along with the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, Ap­ple also of­fers a lap­top that’s sim­ply called MacBook. This 12in MacBook is ac­tu­ally thin­ner than the MacBook Air and fea­tures a gor­geous de­sign. But is it the right op­tion for stu­dents?

Start­ing at £1,249 (from, the MacBook is more ex­pen­sive than the Air, even though it has a weaker pro­ces­sor. The base model of­fers a dual-core 1.2GHz In­tel Core m3 pro­ces­sor, 256GB of stor­age, 8GB of RAM and In­tel HD Graph­ics 615.

It does have its de­sign go­ing for it though, as its in­cred­i­bly thin and light­weight, just 13.1mm at its thick­est, which is 24 per­cent thin­ner than the Air.

The next model in the range costs a cool £1,549 (from and bumps the

in­ter­nal mem­ory of the MacBook up from 256- to 512GB. Its pro­ces­sor is also given a slight bump up to 1.3GHz from 1.2GHz, but ev­ery­thing else (in­clud­ing its 12in screen) stays the same.

As men­tioned above when we dis­cussed the MacBook Pro, the fact that you’ll have to buy an adap­tor to use any ex­ter­nal hard drives, USB sticks, or even a wired In­ter­net con­nec­tion with your MacBook, and the fact that there are more pow­er­ful (and cheaper) lap­tops avail­able, makes it dif­fi­cult to rec­om­mend the MacBook for univer­sity stud­ies. Get a cheaper, or more pow­er­ful, Air in­stead.


The iMac might be one for con­sid­er­a­tion for a stu­dent, but it’s not a por­ta­ble com­puter, which might de­ter many stu­dents from pur­chas­ing one. You won’t be able to take it with you to lec­tures, but you will be able to work more ef­fi­ciently through its big­ger 21.5- or 27in screen.

The cheap­est model comes in at £1,049 (from­kfr). It has a 2.3GHz dual-core In­tel Core i5 pro­ces­sor, 8GB RAM, a 1TB hard drive, In­tel HD Graph­ics 6000 and a 21.5in 1920x1080 sRGB dis­play. We find the hard drive its weak­est point, as it slows down ev­ery­thing on the Mac – from sav­ing a doc­u­ment to pow­er­ing the Mac on. We would sug­gest pay­ing an ex­tra £90 for a 1TB Fu­sion Drive or even an ad­di­tional £180 for 256GB flash stor­age – this will greatly im­prove per­for­mance.

The slightly more ex­pen­sive iMac (£1,249 from is a much dif­fer­ent propo­si­tion.

It has a 3GHz quad-core In­tel CPU, 8GB RAM and a 1TB hard drive (we’d still rec­om­mend a Fu­sion Drive up­date if you can af­ford the ex­tra £90). It’s a great Mac for graphic de­sign­ers and video edi­tors alike, as it com­bines a lot of stor­age with a good pro­ces­sor and the ‘4K’ screen is ex­cel­lent. For £1,449 (from fave. co/2t3c­sqa) you can get a 21.5in iMac that’s even faster, with a 3.4GHz quad-core In­tel Core i5. It also has 8GB RAM and this time of­fers a 1TB Fu­sion drive. The price is nudg­ing up­wards, but it’s a beau­ti­ful ma­chine. At the top of the tree are the beau­ti­ful 27in iMacs with 5K Retina dis­play, which are hugely pow­er­ful, el­e­gant, and costs up­wards of £1,749 (from, which isn’t bad for what you get, but we feel this is above the bud­get and overkill for a lot of stu­dents.

Mac mini

We have mixed feel­ings about the Mac mini. On the one hand it re­mains an ex­cel­lent low-cost Mac, while on the other hand the re­cent up­grade has

taken away some of the things that made it such an at­trac­tive Mac.

Still, the en­try model Mac mini is only £479 (from, which makes it the most af­ford­able Mac by quite a dis­tance. It houses a 1.4GHz In­tel i5 CPU, that feels per­fectly fine for ev­ery­day tasks.

If you are on a real bud­get this is the way to go. Get an en­try-level model and ask around for an old key­board, mouse and mon­i­tor.

You may be us­ing sec­ond-hand ac­ces­sories but your Mac will sit at the heart of it all. You could also plug the Mac mini into your TV, al­though we wouldn’t rec­om­mend writ­ing your dis­ser­ta­tion on a TV screen.

Which Mac should you get for univer­sity?

Last year the best all-round choice for stu­dents was the MacBook Air, and this year it’s still our top rec­om­men­da­tion. It’s light, fast, and at £949 for the en­try model it of­fer good value for an ex­cel­lent ma­chine. If you’re look­ing to save a few pounds, then keep an eye on the Ap­ple Re­furb Store ( Airs turn up with great

fre­quency, and you can typ­i­cally get £50 to £100 off. Re­fur­bished Mac mod­els are fully checked and come with a one-year guar­an­tee.

The MacBook Air, might not seem like a worth­while pur­chase for most, given the Pro and reg­u­lar MacBook of­fer some­thing ex­tra in ei­ther build or per­for­mance, but with its in­cluded USB-A ports, light­weight de­sign, cheaper price, the MacBook Air is our top rec­om­men­da­tion.

If you can af­ford more, we would opt for the nonTouch Bar MacBook Pro model.

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