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Which Mac should you buy?

When it comes to purchasing a Mac, we've got the lowdown on each model to help you make a buying decision.

Which Mac should I buy?

If you’re reading this article, 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, iMac, and Mac Pro. While our advice for each Mac model provides guidance as to which model you should buy, you might actually consider waiting through the first half of next year to see if Apple releases a new Mac mini, iMac, or Mac Pro. In some cases, it’s been years since Apple released an update, so it’s worth waiting to see if new desktop Macs are coming.

This buying guide provides an overview of all the Mac models available, and what each model is best suited for. To get more details, you can read the full review for each Mac model by clicking the “Read our complete review” links.

MacBook Air

Models for sale were originally released March 2015.

13 inch macbook air 2015

MacBook Air

What is it? The MacBook Air is Apple’s affordable line of laptops. Apple currently offers two 13-inch models.

The company used to sell an 11-inch MacBook Air, but it is no longer available to to general public. If you really want an 11-inch model, you can try looking in Apple’s Certified Refurbished Store or Amazon. (The 11-inch 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 1.6GHz dual-core Core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM. All MacBook Air models come with integrated Intel HD 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 $999 model has 128GB of flash storage, while the $1,199 model has 256GB.

How do I connect stuff? The MacBook Air has built-in 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 on the Apple Store).

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 2.0. If you have a FireWire 800 drive, you’ll need to buy a Thunderbolt-to-FireWire Adapter ($29 on the Apple Store).

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 the MacBook Air is 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.)

Ready to buy a MacBook Air? Go to the Apple Store

MacBook

Models for sale were originally released April 2016.

MacBook in three colors

MacBook

What is it? The MacBook is Apple’s latest entry in the ultra-portable laptop market. It’s actually lighter than the MacBook Air and smaller than the 13-inch 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 12-inch model available in rose gold, space gray, gold, or silver.

There are two models of the MacBook. The $1,299 model has a dual-core 1.1GHz Intel Core M processor and 256GB of flash storage. The $1,599 model has a dual-core 1.2GHz Intel Core M processor and 512GB of flash storage. Both models include 8GB of memory and an integrated Intel HD Graphics 515 processor.

The MacBook has a Retina display, which means it has an ultra-high resolution display that’s capable of showing crisper images than on the MacBook 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 adapters, or anything else. If you have older USB peripherals, you need to use a USB-C to USB Adapter ($19 on the Apple Store) 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 Adapter ($29 on the Apple Store). If you want to connect an HDMI display and USB devices, you need to get the USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter ($49 on the Apple Store). Or if you want to connect a VGA display, you need the USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter ($49 on the Apple Store).

How fast is it? The Intel Core M processor in the MacBook is made to be efficient and cool. That means it’s not a top-performing processor, though our benchmarks show it does keep up with the MacBook Air.

That being 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 adapters if you have to make connections. The MacBook seems like a good indicator of what direction Apple plans to go with its laptop line: thinner with fewer connectors. Even if you decide not to go with a MacBook, it’s good to take a look at it and prepare yourself for what’s coming.

Ready to buy a MacBook? Go to the Apple Store

MacBook Pro

Models for sale were originally released October 2016

What is it? The MacBook Pro features 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 inches and 15 inches.

There are three 13-inch models:

  • $1,499 model: 2GHz dual-core Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, 256GB of flash storage, Intel Iris Graphics 540 integrated graphics, and no Touch Bar.
  • $1,799 model: 2.9GHz dual-core Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, 256GB of flash storage, Intel Iris Graphics 550 integrated graphics, and the Touch Bar.
  • $1,999 model: 2.9GHz dual-core Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, 512GB of flash storage. Intel Iris Graphics 550 integrated graphics, and the Touch Bar.

Apple has two 15-inch MacBook Pros:

  • $2,399 model: 2.6GHz quad-core Core i7 processor, 16GB of memory, 256GB of flash storage, Intel HD Graphics 530 integrated graphics, 2GB Radeon Pro 450 discrete graphics, and the Touch Bar.
  • $2,799 model: 2.7GHz quad-core Core i7 processor, 16GB of memory, 512GB flash storage, Intel HD Graphics 530 integrated graphics, 2GB Radeon Pro 455 discrete graphics, and the Touch Bar.

The 13-inch Retina display has a native resolution of 2560x1600, and OS X offers a scaled resolution up to 1680x1050. The 15-inch 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.

Important: The Touch Bar is not available on the $1,499 13-inch 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 Wi-Fi 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 $1,499 13-inch MacBook Pro has 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 adapter. We have a separate MacBook Pro Thunderbolt 3 adapter 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 are, to no surprise, the fastest laptops Apple has ever released, but the increase in performance over the previous MacBook Pro models are in the modest 5 to 8 percent range. We did see more dramatic speed gains in graphics performance, especially in the 15-inch models that are equipped with discrete AMD graphics chips.

The $1,499 13-inch MacBook Pro and 13-inch MacBook Air make for an interesting comparison. In multi-core tests, the $1,499 MacBook Pro has a significant advantage—25 percent faster—over the 13-inch MacBook Air. If you use professional apps (Final Cut, Logic Pro, other production apps), you’re better off with a MacBook Pro instead of a MacBook Air. The story is a little different with single-core apps—the software most people use every day, like a web browser, email, or even iMovie and GarageBand. The MacBook Pro is up to 16 percent faster. You may not notice a difference in speed in your browser or writing app.

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 13-inch model, the $1,799 Retina MacBook Pro hits a sweet spot for price and performance. The money that separates the two 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro models is a hefty chunk of change; the $2,799 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.

Ready to buy a MacBook Pro? Go to the Apple Store

Next page: Mac mini, iMac, and Mac Pro

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