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Best MacBook: Which Mac laptop should you buy?

MacBook Pro vs. MacBook Air. Here’s what you need to know to pick the right one.

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You’re planning on buying a new Mac laptop. So you head over to your local Apple store, or you peruse the pages of Apple’s website, and you find yourself with money to spend but no idea on which MacBook to buy.

Don’t worry! That’s why we’re here. In this guide, we’ll go over Apple’s current MacBook lineup, point out their differences and similarities, and provide you with the information you need to pick the right MacBook for you.

The affordable choice: MacBook Air

Longtime Mac users may remember when the MacBook Air made its debut years ago as Apple’s entry into the ultra-portable laptop market. But times have changed, and starting in 2015, the MacBook was repositioned as Apple’s affordable laptop.

How many models can I choose from? Apple offers two standard configuration models.

What are the prices for the MacBook Air? $999, and $1,299.

What are the MacBook Air specifications?

Here are the specifications for the laptops. These are the most current MacBook Air models.

$999 model: 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i3 processor (tenth generation) with Turbo Boost up to 3.2GHz, 4MB L3 cache, 8GB of 3733MHz LPDDR4X memory, 256GB SSD storage, Intel Iris Plus Graphics

$1,299 model: 1.1GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor (tenth generation) with Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz, 6MB L3 cache, 8GB of 3733MHz LPDDR4X memory, 512GB SSD storage, Intel Iris Plus Graphics

Both models have:

  • 13.3-inch LED-backlit Retina display with a 2560x1600 resolution
  • Two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports
  • Headphone jack
  • Weighs 2.75 pounds

What is it good for? The MacBook Air doesn’t use Intel’s most powerful processors, but it’s strong enough to handle typical tasks, like internet access, writing, spreadsheets, presentations, and other productivity-related jobs. It also has enough processing punch for using Apple Photos to edit and manage your pictures, or to create short YouTube videos in iMovie.

Save some money and buy refurbished: Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance online store has a few MacBook Air models for sale. While not brand new, these gently-used laptops have been refurbished to Apple’s strict guidelines and are like new.

Learn more about Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance online store. You can buy brand-new laptops by clicking on the View button in the product.

Macworld’s buying advice: The MacBook Air is a capable laptop for your everyday work—and it won’t take up a lot of room in your bag.

The lightweight choice: MacBook Air

Okay, we know, we just got done talking about how the MacBook Air was originally released as Apple's lightweight solution, and how it's been repositioned as the company's affordable laptop. Here's the thing: It’s also Apple’s smallest laptop, able to fit in most backpacks, briefcases, satchels, and bags. And it's a tad lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro while being about the same size.

How big is it? Here are the specifics on the MacBook Air.

  • Height: 0.16 to 0.63 inch
  • Width: 11.97 inches
  • Depth: 8.36 inches
  • Weight: 2.8 pounds

For comparison, here's the specifications for the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

  • Height: 0.61 inch
  • Width: 11.97 inches
  • Depth: 8.36 inches
  • Weight: 3.1 pounds

Why pick the MacBook Pro instead: If you want more processing power, go with the 13-inch MacBook Pro models that were released in May 2020. The $1,799 and $1,999 use tenth-generation Intel processors that are faster that those found in the MacBook Air. You also get more RAM. The $1,799 MacBook Pro comes with a 512GB SSD, while the $1,999 MacBook Pro has a 1TB SSD.

The $1,299 and $1,499 MacBook Pro each have a 1.4GHz quad‑core Core i5 processor, but it's an eighth generation chip—a couple of generations older than the processor in the MacBook Air.

Save some money and buy refurbished: Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance online store has a few MacBook models for sale. While not brand new, these gently-used laptops have been refurbished to Apple’s strict guidelines and are like new.

Learn more about Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance online store.

Macworld’s buying advice: If you’re road warrior and size and weight are a priority, the MacBook Air will be a nice travel partner.

The choice for heavy-duty workloads: MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro is Apple’s top-of-the-line laptop. If you want a laptop that can handle any task you throw at it—and you don’t have a constraining budget—the MacBook Pro is the laptop you want.

macbook pro microsoft powerpoint 2019 Apple

How many models can I choose from? Apple offers six standard configuration laptops: four 13-inch models, and two 16-inch versions. Each model is available is Silver or Space Gray.

What are the prices for the MacBook Pro? The 13-inch models go for $1,299, $1,499, $1,799, and $1,999. The 15-inch models are $2,399 and $2,799.

What are the MacBook Pro specifications? Here are the specifics on each model. We’ll start with the 13-inch laptops and then list the 16-inch ones.

There are four 13-inch models:

  • $1,299 model: 1.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (8th generation) processor, 8GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory, 256GB SSD, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 integrated graphics, two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • $1,499 model: 1.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (8th generation) processor, 8GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory, 512GB SSD, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 integrated graphics, two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • $1,799 model: 2.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (tenth generation) processor, 16GB of 3733MHz LPDDR4X memory, 512GB SSD, Intel Iris Plus Graphics integrated graphics, four Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • $1,999 model: 2.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (tenth generation) processor, 16GB of 3733MHz LPDDR4X memory, 1TB SSD, Intel Iris Plus Graphics integrated graphics, four Thunderbolt 3 ports

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
  • $2,799 model: 2.3GHz 8-core Intel Core i9 (9th generation) processor, 16GB of memory, 1TB SSD, Intel UHD Graphics 630 integrated graphics, 4GB Radeon Pro 5500M discrete graphics

What is it good for? If you have a heavy workload, the MacBook Pro has the power to handle it, no sweat. Video production, graphics and animation, serious data crunching—you name it, the MacBook Pro is built for it. The MacBook Pro isn’t as powerful as a desktop computer, but it is strong enough to serve as your only computer.

All this processing prowess comes at a price—the MacBook Pro is Apple’s priciest laptop. And it’s also its heaviest, with the 16-inch models pushing just past 4 pounds. That may not sound like a lot, but imagine yourself on the road, meeting with people, working remotely. The weight wears on you as the day goes on.

Save some money and buy refurbished: Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance online store has a few MacBook Pro models for sale. You can also check for stock of the 2019 15-inch MacBook Pro. While not brand new, these gently-used laptops have been refurbished to Apple’s strict guidelines and are like new. Plus, you can save some money. The inventory fluctuates a lot, however, and it’s possible that you wil only find older models.

Learn more about Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance online store.

Macworld’s buying advice: Picking a MacBook Pro is a little complicated, not just because of the size differences, but the differences between the features offered within each size category.

macbook pro touch bar with function keys Leif Johnson

The MacBook Pro Touch Bar.

The 16-inch $2,799 MacBook Pro is the laptop with all the bells and whistles. It’s the one for the most demanding users, who will like the hefty discrete graphics card.

Because the new MacBook Pros rely on Thunderbolt 3, you’re going to need to stock up of adapters to connect items like an external display, hard drive, and more. We have a MacBook Pro Thunderbolt 3 adapter guide to help you find the ones you need.

As for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the $1,299 and $1,499 models use older processors abd slower memory than the $1,799 and $1,999 models. If processing power is your priority, spring for the pricier models, which also come with more RAM, better graphics performance, support for 4K, 5K, and 6K displays, and two more Thunderbolt ports.

Why should you choose the $1,299 or $1,499 13-inch MacBook Pro over the MacBook Air? The MacBook Pro's screen is a little brighter, it supports the wide color P3 color gamut, and the Pro has better speakers. If these features don't seem necessary for you, consider the MacBook Air.

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