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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Mac mini

Models for sale were originally released November 2020.

What is it? The Mac mini is Apple’s smallest desktop Mac. It’s a nice combination of speed and affordability. It’s not only fast enough for general-purpose use, but its multi-core speed is quite good—if you use a professional app like a video editor, 3D software, or developer tools, the Mac mini can handle it, no problem.

Who’s it for? Because of its price and performance, the Mac mini is a great Mac for just about anybody. It makes for an ideal primary Mac for a home or small office. Professionals on a budget will be satisfied 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 center.

What are the specifications? Apple sells three Mac mini models:

  • $699 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
  • $899 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
  • $1,099 model: 3.0Hz 6-core Core i5 (eighth generation) CPU, 8GB of memory, integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU, 512GB SSD.

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.

mac mini 2018 Apple

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. The $699 and $899 M1-based Mac minis have two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, while the $1,099 Intel-based Mac mini has four Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports. All Mac minis have two USB-A ports, an HDMI 2.0 port, a headphone jack, and a gigabit ethernet port.

To connect a display, you can use the HDMI port or a Thunderbolt port. You might have to buy an adapter if your display doesn’t have either HDMI or a port that can connect to Thunderbolt.

How fast is it?  The $699 and $899 M1-based Mac minis are very fast. In fact, they are as fast as the 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro. As of this writing, the $699 M1 Mac mini gives you the best performance for the price of any Mac that Apple offers. It's impressive.

The $1,099 Intel-based Mac mini offers good speed, but it's not as fast as the M1 models. The Intel model is the only one that allows you to install 32GB or 64GB of RAM, so if you do heavy production work, it might be a better fit for you.

Macworld’s buying advice: The Mac mini is an excellent machine for most Mac users—new or experienced, professional or general consumer. For you’re on a budget or not, tt’s a great choice.

Ready to buy a Mac mini? Go to the Apple Store

iMac

Model for sale originally released in June 2017.

Apple has two versions of the iMac. Let’s go over the standard iMac first, followed by the iMac with Retina display.

What is it? The iMac is Apple’s iconic all-in-one computer. Made of aluminum, the iMac has a built-in 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 21.5-inch 1920x1080-resolution display. It has a 256GB SSD.

The entry-level 21.5-inch $1,099 iMac has a 2.3GHz dual‑core Intel Core i5 processor and Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 integrated graphics.

You can’t upgrade the 21.5-inch iMac yourself after you buy it, so consider paying an extra $200 at the outset for a memory upgrade to 16GB. If you want to add more RAM later, you need to bring the iMac to an Apple store. The 21.5-inch iMac also offers a 1TB Fusion Drive upgrade for no additional cost, but the Fusion Drive is slower than the 256GB SSD.

21inch imac standard display Apple

iMac

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/or switch the mouse to a Magic Trackpad 2. 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.

How fast is it? iMacs are among Apple’s fastest computers, however, the $1,099 iMac is Apple’s slowest iMac. Also, if you upgrade to a Fusion Drive, you get a significant amount of storage, but a Fusion Drive isn't as fast as an SSD. The $1,099 iMac has an attractive price, but you make sacrifices in performance.

Macworld’s buying advice: For new Mac owners, the $1,099 iMac is a good alternative to the Mac mini. On a 21.5-inch 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.

Ready to buy an iMac (with standard display)? Go to the Apple Store

iMac with Retina display

21.5-inch models for sale were originally released March 2019. 27-inch models for sale were originally released August 2020.

What is it? The iMac with Retina display is like Apple’s standard iMac, but with an ultra high-resolution display and faster components.

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 21.5-inch models the 21.5-inch iMac with Retina 4K display. These iMacs have a 4096x2304 resolution screen. More details:

  • $1,299 21.5-inch model: 3.6GHz quad‑core Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM, 2GB Radeon Pro 555X graphics, and a 256GB SSD
  • $1,499 21.5-inch model: 3.0GHz 6-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and 4GB Radeon Pro 560X graphics

Apple’s 27-inch iMacs (called the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display) come with a 5120x2880-resolution Retina display. Apple offers three models of the 27-inch Retina iMac. More details:

  • $1,799 27-inch model: 3.1GHz 6‑core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 4GB Radeon Pro 5300 graphics, and 256GB SSD
  • $1,999 27-inch model: 3.3GHz 6‑core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 4GB Radeon Pro 5300 graphics, and a 512GB SSD
  • $2,299 27-inch model: 3.8GHz 8‑core Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, 8GB Radeon Pro 5500 XT graphics. and a 512GB SSD
2019 imac04 Apple

Retina iMacs

Users can upgrade the RAM on the 27-inch 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.

The 27-inch $1,999 and $2,299 Retina iMacs have the option of standard glass or nano-texture glass ($500) in front of the display. The standard glass is glossy, while the nano-texture glass has a matte-like finish that produces less glare.

How do I connect stuff? Wi-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.

How fast is it? The Retina iMacs are among Apple’s fastest computers when it comes to single-core performance. When it comes to multi-core speed, the Mac Pros are faster machines, but the iMacs with 6-core processors have closed the gap. You can improve the multi-core performance by opting for the 3.6GHz 10-core Core i9 upgrade in the 27-inch $1,999 and $2,299 models, or the 3.2GHz 6-core Core i7 upgrade in the 21.5-inch 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.

Ready to buy an iMac with Retina display? Go to the Apple Store

iMac Pro

Models for sale were originally released December 2017.

What is it? The iMac Pro is an all-in-one computer like the iMac, but it contains workstation-class components for handling heavy-duty, complex computations.

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? The iMac Pro uses workstation-class Intel Xeon W processors. The processors are available with 8, 10, 14, or 18 cores.

The iMac Pro will come standard with 32GB of 2666MHz DDR4 ECC memory. You can configure it to 64GB or 128GB. The RAM is not user upgradeable, though; if you want to add more RAM later, you need to bring the iMac Pro to a service provider.

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iMac Pro

The storage device is a 1TB SSD, with options for 2TB or 4TB. The graphics card is a Radeon Pro Vega 56 graphics processor with 8GB of HBM2 memory, with upgrades available.

Pricing starts at $4,999 for the 8-core model with 32GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and 8GB Radeon Pro Vega 56 graphics.

The iMac Pro comes in an aluminum space gray case. It also has matching space gray Magic Keyboard with a numeric keypad 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 an SDXC card slot.

How fast is it? The machine is a multi-processing beast, designed to work with pro-level apps that demand multiple processing cores. Apple has issued different configurations of the iMac Pro to select users, including mechanical and aerospace engineer Craig A. Hunter, director and photographer Vincent Laforet, and YouTubers Marques Brownlee and Jonathan Morrison, and all of them say the speed is very impressive.

In our review of the iMac Pro, we confirmed that the new Mac is at its best with software that can take advantage of processors with multiple cores. And the iMac Pro’s graphics performance is spectacular, thanks to the Radeon Pro Vega

If you use software that’s geared for single-core performance (which includes many general consumar apps), you won’t see a marked increase. In fact, we found that the iMac Pro is similar in single-core performance to a 2014 Core i7 5K iMac. You’re better off with a new 5K iMac in this case.

Macworld’s buying advice: This is the fastest available Mac in Apple’s lineup, if you use multi-core software. There doesn’t seem to be a new 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.

Ready to buy an iMac Pro? Go to the Apple Store

Mac Pro

Model currently for sale originally released December 2019.

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 programs, audio editing, software developers, and the like.

mac pro 2019 Apple

2019 Mac Pro

What are the specifications? Apple doesn't offer standard configurations of the Mac Pro. You start with a base model and custom configure it to your liking. Here's a overview of the major specifications.

Processor: The Mac Pro uses Intel Xeon W processors. You can choose an 8- 12-, 16-, 24-, or 28-core CPU.

Memory: The Mac Pro uses DDR4 ECC memory, and has 12 DIMM slots. However, the memory configurations that Apple offers don't always fill all of the slots. The amount of memory you can opt for starts at 32GB (four 8GB DIMMs) and goes all the way up to 768GB (six 128GB DIMMs or 12 64GB DIMMs). If you get a 24- or 28-core processor, you can get up to 1.5TB of memory, which fills all 12 DIMM slots.

Graphics: The Mac Pro has room for two graphics cards. Apple has three different AMD cards from which to choose: an 8GB AMD Radeon Pro 580X, a 32GB AMD Radeon Pro Vega II, or the 64GB AMD Radeon Pro Vega II Duo. Apple will be offering soon a 16GB Radeon Pro W5700X, and a 32GB Radeon Pro W5700X Duo.

Storage: The Mac Pro has room for two SSD modules. You can get a single 256GB SSD, or you can get 1TB, 2TB, or 4TB of storage that's installed as a pair of SSDs. An 8TB storage option will be available soon.

Afterburner: Apple offers a special optional component with the Mac Pro called Afterburner. This is an accelerator card with a Field-programmable Gate Array (FPGA) designed for video production. According to Apple, Afterburner can handle up to six streams of 8K ProRes RAW video at 30 fps; up to 23 streams of 4K ProRes RAW video at 30 fps; and up to 16 streams of 4K ProRes 422 video at 30 fps.

How do I connect stuff? To connect external devices, the Mac Pro has two USB 3 ports and two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the back of the machine. The top of the Mac Pro has two Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Inside the Mac Pro, there are 8 PCI Express expansion slots. You can install up to two MPX modules, or up to four PCI Express cards. There is also three full-length PCI Express gen 3 slots (one x16 slot and two x8 slots).

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth come built-in on the new Mac Pro. The back of the machine also has two 10Gb ethernet jacks.

How fast is it? Apple says that the new Mac Pro is a “designed in pursuit of performance,” capable of handling 8K video editing, 3D applications, software development, and other production-oriented tasks.

Apple's Mac Pro website shows only benchmarks for the highest-end 28-core model. They claim the new Mac Pro provides three times the performance in ProRes transcoding over the previous 12-core Mac Pro using Final Cut Pro X. Apple also says you'll see more than triple the performance in task performed in Adobe Photoshop 2020, Autodesk Maya, Logic Pro X, MATLAB, and Wolfram Mathematica.

Macworld’s buying advice: The Mac Pro provides procesing power that the most demanding users need. We're talking about production environments, like TV and audio recording studios, animation houses, and software developers. If you feel like you can never have enough power, you're probably the professional the Mac Pro is aimed at.

If you’re more of a “prosumer” than a professional—someone who is an expert Mac user, but doesn’t use high-end apps—the Mac Pro is overkill. You're probably not going to be able to take advantage of what the Mac Pro has to offer. You also should take a look at an iMac Pro.

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

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