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.

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If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re thinking about buying a new Mac computer 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.

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 by clicking the product name in the product boxes that have mouse ratings.

For great holiday deals on Apple gear see our roundup of the best Cyber Monday deals on iPads, AirPods, Watches, MacBooks, and more.

MacBook Air

Models for sale were originally released November 2020.

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

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 Apple's M1 system on a chip, which features an 8-core CPU, 16-core Neural Engine, and 8GB of RAM (upgradable to 16GB). Apple claims 15 hours of battery life for wireless web and 18 hours Apple TV app movie playback.

The main difference between the models offered is the GPU and storage. The $999 model has a 7-core GPU and a 256GB SSD, while the $1,249 model has an 8-core GPU and a 512GB SSD.

How do I connect stuff? The MacBook Air has only a pair of Thunderbolt/USB 4 connectors. If you want to connect USB-A devices, you need either a USB-C to USB adapter, like Apple’s $19 one, or a USB-C hub that has USB-A ports.

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MacBook Air

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 peripherals. If you want to connect to an ethernet network, you’ll need an adapter.

How fast is it? The MacBook Air is one of the fastest laptops around, period. The M1 provides performance that is leaps and bounds faster than what was previously found in the MacBook Air. It's plenty fast enough for general purpose use. But because it doesn't have a fan to keep the computer cool, it may throttle down its speed during long processing sessions, such as video editing or compiling code. But even then, it's still plenty fast.

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. You can’t easily upgrade the storage or memory after purchase, so you should buy the model with the largest amount of storage you can afford.

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

MacBook Pro

M1-based 13-inch models were released November 2020. Intel-based 13-inch models were released May 2020. 16-inch models released November 2019.

What is it? The MacBook Pro is Apple's high-performance laptop.

Who’s it for? The MacBook Pro is for the demanding user who wants a portable computer that also performs well.

What are the specifications? The MacBook Pro is available in screen sizes of 13 inches and 16 inches. All laptops include the Touch Bar interface at the top of the keyboard.

There are four 13-inch models:

  • $1,299 model: Apple 8-core M1 system on a chip with 8GB of memory, an 8-core GPU, and a 16-core Neural Engine; 256GB SSD, two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • $1,499 model: Apple 8-core M1 system on a chip with 8GB of memory, an 8-core GPU, and a 16-core Neural Engine; 512GB SSD, two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • $1,799 model: 2.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (10th generation) processor, 16GB of memory, Intel Iris Plus Graphics integrated graphics, 512GB SSD, four Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • $1,999 model: 2.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (10th generation) processor, 16GB of memory, Intel Iris Plus Graphics integrated graphics, 1TB SSD, four Thunderbolt 3 ports

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

Apple has two 16-inch MacBook Pros:

  • $2,399 model: 2.6GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 (9th generation) processor, 16GB of memory, 512GB SSD, Intel UHD Graphics 630 integrated graphics, 4GB Radeon Pro 5300M discrete graphics, four Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • $2,799 model: 2.3GHz 8-core Intel Core i7 (9th generation) processor, 16GB of memory, 1TB SSD, Intel UHD Graphics 630 integrated graphics, 4GB Radeon Pro 5500M discrete graphics, four Thunderbolt 3 ports

The 16-inch Retina display has a native resolution of 3072x1920, and macOS’s highest scaled resolution on those laptops is 2048x1280.

What is the Touch Bar? The Touch Bar is a input device that sits on top of the keyboard. It’s basically a narrow touchscreen. The buttons and controls available on the Touch Bar change depending on the software you are using. Learn more about the Touch Bar.

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 $1,299 and $1,499 13-inch MacBook Pro models have two ports, while every other MacBook model has four.

If you have a Thunderbolt 3 device, you can plug it directly into the laptop. 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.

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MacBook Pro

How fast is it? The MacBook Pro models are, to no surprise, the fastest laptops Apple has ever released. If it’s processing power you seek, it’s the MacBook Pro you want.

There is a thing you need to consider regarding the MacBook Pro. In November 2020, Apple updated the $1,299 and $1,499 models with its own M1 system on a chip, replacing the Intel processors used previously. The M1 is fast—it makes these two laptops faster than the $1,799 and $1,999 Intel-based models, and in some situations, it's faster than the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

What about the 15-inch MacBook Pro? Apple replaced the 15-inch model with the 16-nch MacBook Pro in November 2019. If you really want a 15-inch model, try looking in Apple's Refurbished and Clearance Store.

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. However, the MacBook Pro is in a transition period because of Apple's switch from Intel processors to its own system on a chip. As of this writing, only two of the six different models are available with Apple's M1. And the M1 outperforms the other MacBook Pro models.

If speed is you priority over everything else—port connectivity and screen size aren't serious considerations—get a $1,299 or $1,499 13-inch MacBook Pro with Apple's M1 system on a chip.

If you want speed, but also want more ports, consider the $1,799 13-inch MacBook Pro or the 16-inch Macbook Pro. They're still fast and they offer more ports than the M1 models.

Apple will update the other MacBook Pro models with its system on a chip, so if you can wait, the wait will pay off. You'll get a really fast laptop.

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, iMac Pro, and Mac Pro

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