Apple’s current lineup of Mac hardware is a confusing mess of very capable machines, especially after the arrival of its in-house M1 silicon. At the top of the food chain is the MacBook Pro a.k.a. the ‘cheese grater Mac’ targeted at professionals who seek upgradability and peak performance. Then you have a machine like the MacBook Air, which has been lauded as one of the most reliable – and powerful – portable computing machines out there. Sounds like a win-win scenario for Apple, right? But for buyers, the situation is a bit tricky when it comes to choosing the right Mac.
Let’s start with the laptop form factor. Before zeroing in on a MacBook model, you have to ask yourself few questions such as how much does portability matter to you? How many ports do you want on your machine? What kind of work are you aiming to do on your MacBook? Is a 13-inch screen big enough for your creative work? And oh the budget too, because these Apple machines don’t come cheap.
Best Overall: M1 MacBook Air
In his review of the MacBook Air with M1, Pocketnow’s Jaime Rivera called it “the best computer for most people”, and that it’s the best ‘bang for the buck’ computer on his recommendation list. There’s a lot to like here actually. You get the familiar metallic build that’s as eye-pleasing as laptops can get, except there is one more surprise – the fan-less design. The 13.3-inch Retina display with a resolution of 2560×1600 pixels is crisp, bright, and offers acceptable viewing angles.
On the inside, the M1 chip keep things running, and thanks to the advantage of a new circuitry headlined by an ARM-based SoC, the battery life has gone up. Apple touts up to 15 hours of wireless web browsing and a maximum 18 hours of video playback on a single charge. Port selection is still rather slim, as you get only two USB Type-C Thunderbolt ports that support the USB 4 standard. Thankfully, the Touch ID fingerprint sensor is there to handle authentication, while Wi-Fi 6 support ensures a smooth connectivity experience.
The big upgrade is, of course, the M1 chip based on the 5nm process and octa-core architecture. In case you’re worried about its prowess, Apple claims a CPU performance gain of 3.5x compared to a MacBook Air powered by Intel’s Core-i7 processor. Additionally, Apple claims that its in-house chip delivers 3x CPU performance per watt, while the integrated octa-core graphics engine doubles the graphics performance. Need to know more about the machine? Check out this resource page.
The MacBook Air starts at $999 for the base configuration with a 7-core GPU, 8 gigs of RAM, and 256GB of onboard storage. But do keep in mind that the internals are non-upgradable, which means you’re probably better off spending a few extra hundred dollars to double (or quadruple) the storage based on your requirements.
Best desktop: 24-inch iMac
Looks are only half the picture here. Apple redesigned the iMac after years of carrying the same aesthetic profile. Aside from an impressively thin design, the new 24-inch iMac also comes in a choice of some vibrant colors that include Blue, Green, Pink, Silver, Purple, Orange, and Yellow. But there’s a lot more to talk about, so let me briefly summarize it all here.
The 2021 iMac offers a 24-inch 4.5K Retina display that covers the P3 color gamut, offers 500 nits of peak brightness, and is backed by the in-house True Tone technology. Beneath the slim chassis is the Apple M1 chip that’s said to offer up to 85 percent faster CPU performance, 2x faster GPU performance, and up to 3x faster machine learning performance courtesy of the new 16-core NPU. One major upgrade is the 1080p front camera, now backed by an ISP on the M1 chip.
Just like the MacBook Air mentioned above, the new M1-powered 24-inch iMac is also up for grabs in two models – a base model with a 7-core GPU, and a more powerful version with an 8-core GPU. You can pair that up with up to 16 gigs of RAM and 2TB of onboard storage. Talking about port selection, you get up to 4 USB-C Thunderbolt ports and a Gigabit Ethernet port depending on the model you buy. Complementing the six-speaker system is support for Spatial Audio when watching Dolby Atmos content.
To get your hands on the new 24-inch iMac, you’ll have to spend at least $1,299 for the base configuration with a 7-core GPU and a paltry 256 gigs of onboard storage. For the more powerful 8-core model, you need to shell out a minimum of $1,499 for that additional graphics brawn and a redesigned Magic Keyboard with a Touch ID button.
Best on a budget – Mac Mini
My sister recently asked me for advice regarding the appropriate Mac hardware to help with her programming course in college. After consulting a few developers I know, the general consensus I arrived at was that the new M1-powered Mac Mini is a terrific machine, especially for those entering the software and app development game, and want to have a taste of Apple’s ecosystem without making any major compromises in terms of raw firepower — or incinerating their wallet.
The new M1-powered machine delivers brute power in the same ballpark as the new M1-powered iMac or the MacBook Pro. Configurable with up to 16 gigs of RAM, 2TB of storage, and a choice between a 7-core and 8-core GPU variant, the new Mac Mini is the perfect Mac machine for you if you don’t seek portability, and you plan to hook it up with a monitor (and other accessories) of your choice.
Armed with two Thunderbolt ports that can drive a 6K display or two 4K panels, an equal number of USB-A ports, an HDMI 2.0 port, and a gigabit Ethernet port as well, the M1 Mac Mini won’t have you worrying too much about port selection either. The best part about the M1 Mac Mini is that it’s priced significantly lower at $699, while the cheapest M1 MacBook Air will set you back by at least $1,000.
I’ve got the machine hooked up all day long to my LG monitor and trusty Logitech mechanical keyboard, and from what I’ve experienced so far on a daily basis, it would be a tough decision for me to work on another machine. For me, this is the best combination of affordability and power that Apple has offered in a while now, and you should definitely consider this one.
Best for creators – 16-inch MacBook Pro
Touted to be the most powerful laptop ever built by Apple, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is nothing short of a creator’s dream machine. One of the last MacBooks to still rock an Intel chip and the divisive Touch Bar, this machine packs enough power to chew through anything you throw at it with ease. Did l mention that there’s also a physical ‘Esc’ key on the keyboard deck?
The 16-inch Retina display with a peak brightness of 500 nits and P3 color gamut coverage is a treat for tasks like media editing, while the studio-grade six-speaker sound system is among the best you’ll find on a laptop out there. But let’s address the elephant in the room here – raw power.
You can equip this bad boy with up to an octa-core Intel Core i9 processor that can be paired with up to a massive 64GB of DDR4 RAM and up to 8TB of storage. In the graphics department, it goes all the way up to AMD Radeon 5600M graphics with 8 gigs of HBM2 memory. Remember and check out this collection of the best Mac accessories that you’ll find out there.
So, whether you’re running Logic Pro X, Autodesk Maya, or Maxon Cinema 4D, this machine can handle it all, and also has an ample amount of storage to store all your files. Apple claims that the 100Wh unit fitted inside the machine will last you up to 11 hours on a single charge. For connectivity, this machine offers four Thunderbolt ports with a 40Gbps throughput and support for handling two 6K monitors simultaneously.
If you’ve made up your mind to get this machine, check out our compilation of the best docking stations for the Macbook Pro as well as the best protective cases to keep it in pristine shape.
Best desktop upgrade: iMac 27-inch
What if you want the best Apple machine to adorn your desk, both in terms of looks and raw firepower? Well, look no further than the 27-inch iMac. This is is also due for an in-house Apple silicon upgrade soon, but the current model with an Intel chip inside is still a beast on its own.
At the front, you’re greeted by a gorgeous 5K Retina panel that offers 500 nits of peak brightness, True Tone tech and P3 color gamut coverage. Plus, this one borrows the nano-texture glass coating from the Pro Display XDR to reduce glare. In my personal experience, I haven’t come across an AIO with a display as gorgeous as this machine. But there’s a lot more to this computing beast than just meets the eye.
You can equip it with up to a 10-core Intel Core i9 processor with a peak clock speed of 5.0GHz. Plus, you can pair that fire-breathing Intel silicon with up to a massive 128 gigs of RAM and 8TB of fast SSD storage. Graphics, on the other hand, go all the way up to an AMD Radeon Pro 5000 series GPU with 16 gigs of GDDR6 memory. Needless to say, be it 3D graphics rendering or video editing, this machine can handle it all without a hiccup.
Port selection on this Apple-branded AIO is not too bad either, as you get a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports, four USB Type-A ports, a Gigabit-class Ethernet port, a SDXC card slot, and a 3.5mm headphone jack as well. You won’t have to struggle with poor quality video calls either, as the 1080p front camera and the studio-quality three mic-array will ensure a great experience.
Apple’s current Mac portfolio is brimming with powerful devices, each serving its own target audience. But one device that has really managed to impress me with its terrific value is the new M1-powered MacBook Air. Not only does it offer a major boost in performance and battery life, but also retains the familiar MacBook Air look and feel. All that starting at $999.
If you look over to the Window ecosystem for thin and light machines that offer a comparable processing power, you’ll find options like the Dell XPS series and Microsoft’s Surface Laptop family, both of which cost significantly more. Overall, Apple has succeeded at offering a great balance of power, performance, and pricing with the new MacBook Air.