Apple’s computers are well known for their long-lasting nature; this is down to their exceptional build quality and hardware-software integration, ensuring the device is working fine years after your purchase. In 2021, as a student, having a computer is an integral part of your education, and knowing that your device will get you through years of use while maintaining a high degree of performance is reassuring. So, to help you make the right purchase decision, this guide will be looking at the best MacBook and Mac desktop options for students.
Most Value for Money: M1 MacBook Air
The MacBook Air has always been a popular device due to its thin and light design, but low-powered Intel processors held it back from performing intensive tasks. With the introduction of the M1, Apple revamped the device, and it’s now capable of handling 4K video editing and other similar intensive workloads.
The base model, which features an eight-core processor, seven-core GPU, and 8GB RAM, will be perfect for students who need a device that can handle word processing for hours at an end and seamlessly switch between browser tabs and open applications. Having used the laptop, I can vouch for its performance in apps like Premiere Pro, where moving through a timeline is a breeze, but the long export times can hamper your creative process.
M1 MacBook Air 2020
A thin and light device, perfect for students and offers a good level of cost to performance ratio.
Perfect for Creatives: M1 MacBook Pro 13-inch
With the M1 MacBook Pro, you’re effectively paying more towards improving your user experience. The higher cost is visible in a brighter display panel, better speaker system, the Touch Bar, and a thermal system that uses fans to maintain extensive workloads for extended periods.
Unlike the M1 MacBook Air, the base model features an eight-core processor and eight-core GPU but still has only two Thunderbolt USB-C ports. So this device is ideal for those who tend to use creative programs because the 500 nits panel can help accurately map color. A gain in performance, enabled by the fans, may become apparent in some applications but shouldn’t be significant.
M1 13-inch MacBook Pro 2020
A brighter panel and improved performance under intensive workloads. Perfect for students in a creative field.
For Intensive Creative Workloads: Intel MacBook Pro 13-inch
While Apple’s ARM-based M1 laptops will replace their Intel counterparts in the coming months — due to the advantages offered by vertical integration — devices powered by the x86 chips still have access to higher storage capacities, increased RAM, and USB-C ports.
This version of the MacBook Pro has configurations that allow it to have 32GB of RAM, a 4TB SSD, and four Thunderbolt 3 ports, two of which can power external displays, unlike the limitation of one with the M1 device. So if you’re a creative student who needs access to more screens, additional RAM and wants better performance than what the M1 chip may offer with some software, this version of the MacBook Pro is for you.
Intel 13-inch MacBook Pro 2020
This device offers all the goodness of a Mac with the ability to use Bootcamp, a variety of RAM and internal storage configurations, and the ability to power two external displays.
For Professional Students: MacBook Pro 16-inch
If there’s one thing, apart from the differences in internals, the M1 devices don’t offer, it’s the availability of a MacBook Pro with a larger screen. This 16-inch laptop is the device to pick for professionals who need the raw power a discrete graphics card can provide and would prefer to have a device capable of handling any workload thrown at it.
While the larger MacBook Pro is likely to get a refresh later this year, for students looking to buy a device that can handle niche software or hyper-specific workloads, this device is a great choice. The laptop’s various configurations allow it to have a maximum of 64GB RAM, 8TB of internal storage, and an 8GB graphics card. Its compatibility with Bootcamp makes it perfect to use otherwise unsupported software too.
Intel MacBook Pro 16-inch 2019
Perfect for those studying an engineering major. The device offers great graphical performance in an easy-to-carry form factor.
For at Home Learning: M1 Mac Mini
Similar to the previously listed M1 devices, this version of the Mac Mini can offer performance that can keep up with a student studying from home. But what makes this device perfect for those based out of their homes or a dorm is the ability to mix and match components like displays, mechanical keyboards, and wireless mice.
The Mac Mini provides the reassuring performance of a Mac at a lower entry cost — provided you’re looking for a desktop and a more robust port selection. Otherwise, going with the MacBook Air could be the better choice.
M1 Mac Mini 2020
Customizable in terms of hardware, this is a perfect choice for a student who wants to use specific components to create their ideal setup.
Intel Mac Mini
The line that separates the Intel-based Mac Mini and the M1 is quite blurry; so choosing between the two can be difficult. But it boils down to whether or not you need the extra hardware capability of the x86 version, and if the software you need to use depends upon this particular processor.
This device is perfect for students who intend to extract every ounce of performance from their computer. The availability of Bootcamp makes this perfect for students in case they need software the M1 doesn’t feature.
Intel Mac Mini 2020
This device offers all the advantages of the M1 Mac Mini and the ability to use niche software. Configurability of RAM to 64GB is a bonus.
The Family Computer: M1 iMac
With its 24-inch screen, thin and light design, and M1-powered performance, this device from Apple is another model that wouldn’t be out of place in a design student’s dorm or somebody’s home.
The M1 iMac is a device that, while powerful, is more suited for creative workloads or light school work, something a younger child would appreciate. The new and improved microphone array reduces the need for an external setup, and the 1080p webcam also makes it perfect for classes.
So this is a device perfect for a family, especially if building a setup around the Mac Mini is not an option.
M1 24-inch iMac 2021
The ideal all-in-one setup for kids studying from home. Its welcoming design, bright display, and performance will ensure their needs are satisfied.
A Desktop for Creatives: iMac 27-inch
The 27-inch iMac is a device that received a refresh in 2020. With its 5K Retina Display and 10-core Intel processors, this device can handle any task, be it graphically-intensive gaming or editing multiple streams of 4K video. It’s also the only other device to feature Apple’s nano-textured glass, which helps reduce glare in a variety of lighting conditions. This iMac is another desktop perfect for a creative student because it provides an all-in-one package with the ability to have 128GB of RAM and 8TB SSD, providing enough headroom for work.
Intel 27-inch iMac 2020
A 5K panel that offers great detail and a graphics system that'll ensure no workload is affected by lack of performance.
The Desktop for Professional Students: iMac Pro
While the iMac Pro is now being phased out and isn’t available on Apple’s website, it offers one of the most powerful combinations of hardware that the Cupertino giant has ever delivered. Its Intel Xeon W processors combined with Radeon Pro Vega graphics can deliver performance that can breeze through any 3D renders and exports thrown at it. It’s a workstation-level computer that works great for programs like AutoCAD and is the ideal device to have for engineering majors.
The ability to deck it out with 256GB RAM also gives it headroom that most users may never end up requiring.
Intel iMac Pro
The machine that can handle any task asked of it without a hitch.
If you’re heading to college, buying the M1 MacBook Air is an easy decision to make. It offers a cost-effective setup that has the power to handle almost any work a student may ask of it and the assurance of long-term support due to its Apple-made silicon. It’ll be perfect if you’re studying in high school or majoring in a degree. The M1 MacBook Pro takes this performance a step further and becomes the perfect choice for a design student. The brighter panel can make a significant difference in the way colors represent themselves on the screen, and the ability to notice even the tiniest details is a bonus.