Since you’re reading this article, you’re probably thinking about buying a new Mac, and you may be in need of a little guidance. Fortunately, we’ve tested (almost)">

Mac Buying Guide – How to pick the right computer

Roman Loyola
5 March, 2014
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Since you’re reading this article, you’re probably thinking about buying a new Mac, and you may be in need of a little guidance. Fortunately, we’ve tested (almost) every standard-configuration Mac model currently in Apple’s lineup.

This buying guide provides an overview of all the Mac models available, and explains what each one is best suited for. 

 

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MACBOOK PRO WITH RETINA DISPLAY

What is it?

The Retina MacBook Pro has a high- density display – images and text look especially smooth and clean on it. Apple updated this model in October.

Who is it for?

The demanding user who wants a portable computer that performs well – it’s the fastest Apple laptop in our tests.

What are the specifications?

The Retina MacBook Pro is available in screen sizes of 13in and 15in. Apple sells the 13in model in three versions with Intel Iris Graphics integrated graphics processors.

The $1599 model has a 2.4GHz dual-core Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory and 128GB of flash storage.

The $1849 model has a 2.4GHz dual-core Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory and 256GB of flash storage.

The $2199 model has a 2.6GHz dual-core Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory and 512GB of flash storage.

Apple has two 15in Retina MacBook Pros. The $2499 model has a 2.0GHz quad-core Core i7 processor, 8GB of memory, 256GB of flash storage and Intel Iris Pro integrated graphics.

The $3199 model offers a 2.3GHz quad-core Core i7 processor, 16GB
of memory, 512GB of flash storage, Intel Iris Pro integrated graphics and a discrete 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 750M graphics processor.

Buying advice.

If you need power and mobility, the Retina MacBook Pro is the ticket.

 

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MACBOOK PRO

What is it?

The MacBook Pro has a standard, non-Retina display.

Who is it for?

The user who wants a portable computer that doesn’t sacrifice a lot.

What are the specifications?

The update to the MacBook Pro line in October reduced the non-Retina models to one laptop.

That laptop is a 13in model with a 2.5GHz dual-core Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory, a 500GB, 5400-rpm hard drive and an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics sub- system. You can customise your order with a faster processor, more memory, a larger hard drive or a solid-state drive.

The standard MacBook Pro is the only laptop with a built-in SuperDrive (for optical discs). It comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. But it continues to offer ports that Apple has phased out of its MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro lines, such as a FireWire 800 port and a gigabit Ethernet port. This model has two USB 3.0 ports.

The 13in standard MacBook Pro is slower overall than the 13in MacBook Air – the MacBook Pro’s hard drive can’t keep up with the MacBook Air’s flash storage. However, the MacBook

Pro has a tremendous performance advantage over the MacBook Air on tasks (such as video editing) that are processor-intensive and on tasks that don’t involve reading or writing much to a storage device.

Note: A standard MacBook Pro was not available for formal testing at press time.

Buying advice.

The hard drives create a performance bottleneck, so if you want to get the best performance, consider replacing the hard drive with an extra-cost SSD. If you want a laptop for travel and can’t decide between a standard MacBook Pro and a MacBook Air, go with the MacBook Air unless you really need built-in FireWire; you might also consider a Retina MacBook Pro.

 

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MACBOOK AIR

What is it?

The MacBook Air is an ultrathin, ultralight laptop with two screen sizes: 11in (1.08kg) and 13in (1.35kg).

Who is it for?

Anyone who is always on the go, who doesn’t want a regular-size laptop, and who needs a computer that’s more versatile than an iPad.

What are the specifications?

All four MacBook Air models have the same 1.3GHz dual-core Core i5 processor and come with 4GB of RAM and integrated Intel HD Graphics 5000 technology. Apple claims a battery life of nine hours for the 11in versions, and 12 hours for the 13in models.

The versions differ mainly in storage. The 11in model ($1099) and the 13in model ($1249) have 128GB of flash storage, whereas the 11in model ($1349) and the 13in model ($1449) have a more generous 256GB.

The MacBook Air has Wi-Fi for connecting to a network and Bluetooth for wirelessly connecting a peripheral. Connecting to an Ethernet network requires an Apple USB Ethernet Adapter.

Thunderbolt is the Air’s high-speed connector. The laptop also has two USB 3.0 ports, which can work with USB 2.0 devices. To accommodate a FireWire 800 drive, you’ll need a Thunderbolt-to-FireWire adapter.

Besides everyday tasks, you can use the Air for editing short videos or for working with JPEGs from your iPhone or camera.

Buying advice.

This is a great laptop for someone who does general purpose work and moves around a lot. You can’t easily upgrade the storage after purchase, so you should buy the model that has the largest amount of storage you can afford.

 

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MAC MINI

What is it?

The Mac mini is Apple’s entry-level desktop Mac. Though slower than Apple’s other desktops, it’s still fast enough for general purpose use.

Who is it for?

First-time Mac users. The Mac mini is also ideal as a secondary Mac in your home.

What are the specifications?

What makes the Mac mini stand out is its small size. Apple sells two Mac mini models. The $749 model has a 2.5GHz dual-core Core i5 CPU and a 5400-rpm, 500GB hard drive.

The $999 version has a 2.3GHz quad-core Core i7 processor and a 5400-rpm, 1TB hard drive. Both come standard with 4GB of memory and an Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics processor.

The Mac mini doesn’t include a display, a keyboard or a mouse, so you must supply your own, or customise your order to include them, at extra cost.

The Mac mini has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, plus four USB 3.0 ports, one Thunderbolt port, an SDXC card slot, a FireWire 800 port and a gigabit Ethernet port.

To connect a display, you can use either the HDMI port or the Thunderbolt port. If you own a display with VGA and/or DVI output, you’ll need either the Mini DisplayPort-to-VGA Adapter or the Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI Adapter, which cost $35 each.

Buying advice.

For new Mac users switching from a PC, the Mac mini is an excellent machine. It’s a great choice for shoppers on a budget or for a person who wants a second computer. If you need a Mac for heavy-duty work, consider buying an iMac, instead.

 

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iMAC

What is it?

The iMac is Apple’s iconic all-in-one model. Made of aluminium, it has a built-in display. It also offers top-notch performance.

Who is it for?

Both novices and demanding users. The iMac is ideal for someone who needs to buy a complete computer setup (keyboard, mouse or trackpad, and display) and wants to maximise workspace efficiency.

What are the specifications?

Four models are available, along with certain upgrades. Two have 21.5in displays; the others have 27in displays. All iMacs come standard with 8GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive.

The 21.5in, $1599 iMac has a 2.7GHz quad-core Core i5 processor and Intel Iris Pro integrated graphics.

The 21.5in, $1849 iMac includes a 2.9GHz quad-core Core i5 CPU and a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 750M graphics processor with 1GB of video memory.

The 27in, $2199 iMac has a 3.2GHz quad-core Core i5 processor and a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 755M graphics processor with 1GB of video memory.

The 27in, $2449 iMac has a 3.4GHz quad-core Core i5 CPU and a discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 775MX graphics processor with 2GB of video memory.

Buying advice.

For new Mac owners, the $1599 iMac is a good alternative to the Mac mini. If performance is your top priority, consider investing in a Fusion Drive upgrade. The 27in iMacs are ideal for demanding users.

 

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MAC PRO

What is it?

The redesigned Mac Pro, Apple’s workstation, is a powerful and flexible machine.

Who is it for?

The Mac Pro is ideal for professionals who work with applications that can use as many processing cores as possible – video-editing applications, 3D programs and the like.

What are the specifications?

The Mac Pro comes in two standard configurations. Both have 256GB of flash storage. The $3999 version has a 3.7GHz quad-core Xeon E5 processor, 12GB of memory and dual AMD FirePro D300 graphics processors with 2GB of video memory. The $5299 Mac Pro has a 2.5GHz six-core Xeon E5 processor, 16GB of memory and dual AMD FirePro D500 graphics processors with 3GB of video memory. Various build-to- order options are also available.

Unlike the previous Mac Pro, the new model has no internal options for connecting PCI expansion cards or internal storage drives. It relies on its six external Thunderbolt 2 ports for add-ons.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth come built-in. The machine has four USB 3.0 ports, dual gigabit Ethernet jacks and HDMI, but no FireWire connections.

Apple says that the new Mac Pro is a ‘video editing powerhouse’ capable of handling 4K video editing, that 3D applications will see ‘ultrafast rendering,’ and so on.

Our initial tests substantiate those claims. If you use Final Cut Pro X, you’ll see huge performance gains. For applications that can take advantage of the maximum number of processing cores available, the Mac Pro truly shines.

Buying advice.

If you do professional work calling for an extreme processing capability, the Mac Pro will serve you well. If you’re a power user who doesn’t need expansion capability, and uses iLife often instead of pro apps, consider an iMac or a Retina MacBook Pro instead.

One caution: the Mac Pro is in short supply. It may take a while to arrive.

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