Update: As we’ve recently refreshed our computing buying guide ranking methodology, we’ve rearranged our list in a new order that reflect not only the star rating of each of the best Macs, but their TechRadar award status as well.
Buying a new Mac isn’t as straightforward a decision as picking up the latest iPhone. Unlike with Apple’s mobile devices, Mac users tend to keep their systems up and running for years on end. With a wide variety of form factors and configurations to choose from, there’s a lot more to consider. Portability, power and design preferences are just a few on the shortlist.
While the Mac lineup is easily digestible, the options still feel endless. If you want a desktop, there’s the petite Mac mini, the all-in-one iMac and Mac Pro workstation to choose from. On the laptop front, you have the choice between the entry level MacBook Air, the 12-inch featherweight MacBook and the productivity-focused MacBook Pro.
Even if you gloss over the build-to-order options, there are dozens of possibilities ranging from $499 (about £325/AU$646) all the way up to $3,999 (about £2,610/AU$5,181). That said, every Mac – regardless of custom specs – ships with the latest Apple operating system, macOS Sierra, complete the now Touch Bar-supported GarageBand.
By no means should you buy a Mac on impulse. As you don’t want to be stuck with the wrong choice for the next five years, we’ve combed through every Apple logo-inscribed computer in order to help you find your perfect match. With two fingers on the trackpad, scroll with us as we dive in and find the best Mac for your needs.
1. 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display
Apple’s biggest iMac puts everything on display
CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i5 – Core i7 | Graphics: AMD Radeon R9 M380 – R9 M395 (2GB) | RAM: 8GB – 32GB | Screen: 27-inch Retina 5K (5,120 x 2,880) IPS | Storage: 25GB – 1TB PCIe Flash; 2TB – 3TB Fusion Drive | Dimensions (H x W x D): 51.6cm x 65cm x 20.3cm
Core i7 costs extra
No Target Display Mode
If you want the big screen of an iMac with the precision of a Retina display then there’s only one iMac for you: the iMac with 5K Retina display. It comes with a choice of two quad-core Intel Core i5s at 3.3GHz and 3.5GHz respectively, a 1TB hard drive or Fusion Drive and it’s so pretty we want to marry it.
If you’re dropping more than a grand and a half on an iMac you might as well go the whole hog and get the faster, Fusion Drive-packing model, replete with a 5K Retina Display, 3.5GHz processor and Fusion Drive for £1,849 ($2,299).
For designers and video creators looking to make the move to ultra pixel-heavy content, the 5K iMac pairs an illustrious display with a heaping deal of screen real estate to boot. It may not have the expandability of a Mac Pro, but hey, at least you don’t have to worry about buying a separate monitor.
What’s next for the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display?
Apple is unlikely to change anything big on the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display in 2017, making way for other models—like the MacBook Pro—to get the limelight. Nevertheless, with Microsoft’s Surface Studio catering to artists and designers with a full-on touchscreen, the iMac is starting to feel like yesterday’s news.
Read the full review: 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display
2. 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina display
A gorgeous 4K display on a compact all-in-one
CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i5; i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Pro Graphics 6200 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 21.5-inch UHD (4,096 x 2,304) IPS | Storage: 256GB – 512GB PCIe Flash; 1TB HDD; 1TB – 2TB Fusion Drive | Dimensions (H x W x D): 45cm x 52.8cm x 17.5cm
Fusion drive not standard
Chunky display bezel
If 27 inches is too much for you, Apple’s 21.5-inch 4K iMac is much smaller but bears an equally sharp display. It goes toe-to-toe with the 27-inch 5K iMac’s when it comes to pixel density, and it similarly supports the DCI P3 colour gamut allowing for accurate, vibrant colour.
The 4K iMac starts at £1,199 ($1,499) and can be upgraded with features such as a faster processor, more RAM and faster, more capacious storage.
It isn’t much more affordable than the entry-level 27-inch iMac once you’ve ramped up the configuration, so it’s worth bearing in mind whether spending the extra money would be worth getting hold of a larger display and much more powerful graphics capabilities.
If those aspects aren’t important, Apple’s smaller iMac is still a capable machine and features one of the best 4K screens around. And, if you don’t need an Ultra HD display, there’s a 1080p model as well.
What’s next for the 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina Display?
As with the 5K iMac, it’s highly unlikely that Apple will launch a new 4K model in 2017. Nevertheless, it will surely benefit from an upgrade to macOS Sierra 10.12 thanks to new features like Siri and Universal Clipboard.
Read the full review: 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina display
3. 12-inch MacBook
Small, but perfectly formed
CPU: Dual-core Intel Core m3 – Core m7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 12-inch Retina (2,304 x 1,440) IPS | Storage: 256GB – 512GB PCIe Flash | Dimensions (W x D x H): 28.05cm x 19.65cm x 1.31cm
Apple’s 2015 MacBook refresh wasn’t for everyone and, despite being rosier and “goldier” than ever, that contention hasn’t changed with this year’s upgrade. While both models supplanted the MacBook Air as the lightest and smallest laptop, the extra portability came with compromises.
Most notably, Apple replaced the standard USB 3 and Thunderbolt 2 ports with the brand-new USB-C protocol. While it’s cool that a single cable can now handle both power and all sorts of data transfer, Mac users who are used to plugging in a variety of devices may find themselves frustrated picking through the various hubs and adapters required to complete even the most basic tasks.
There’s also the keyboard. When the PowerBook debuted in 1991, Apple caused a stir by pushing the keys closer to the screen to create a natural palm rest and room for a trackball. Apple has attempted to change the game once again with the new MacBook, this time by re-engineering every key to be thinner and far less springy to the touch.
It feels quite a bit different than any other laptop we’ve ever used, so we recommend trying one at an Apple Store before making a decision. If those two concerns (and the loss of the glowing Apple logo) aren’t an issue for you, the MacBook is pretty great.
Even though its 1.1GHz, 1.2GHz dual-core or 1.3GHz Intel Core M processor has nowhere near the power of the Pro or even the Air, the laptop is more than capable of running iMovie, Photos, and even Photoshop with ease, much thanks to the smooth-as-butter macOS Sierra.
It’s also easy on the eyes with a stunning design that’s available in silver, space gray, gold in addition to a new rose gold finish, and it comes jam-packed with the latest in portable technology, from the 2304×1440 retina display to the Force Touch trackpad. An affordable $1,299 (£1,049/AU$1,799) gets you 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and an improved 10-hour battery.
What’s next for the 12-inch MacBook?
This year’s MacBook model was the tock to last year’s tick, meaning it didn’t get quite the performance boost it deserved. Even with the welcome touch of an elegant new color option, the MacBook could undoubtedly benefit from a set of full-on Core i processors. Check out our 12-inch MacBook release date, news and rumors article for all of the latest updates on potential upcoming models.
For now, though, Apple has the iPad Pro, which weighs 1.57 pounds and measures 6.9mm thick, for those who don’t want the power of a Mac, meaning that the MacBook needs to be more powerful to remain attractive.
Because it runs iOS, though, the iPad Pro isn’t compatible with certain apps, namely legacy programs designed for macOS, meaning that there is still a market for a laptop that can also be transported easily.
Apple also has to consider the MacBook Air, which has a 13-inch screen and is aimed at professionals who are on-the-go but need a powerful laptop.
Read the full review: 12-inch MacBook
4. MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2016)
Still the most capable MacBook there is
CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 530; AMD Radeon Pro 450 – 455 | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 15.4-inch Retina (2,880 x 1,800) IPS | Storage: 256GB – 2TB PCIe Flash | Dimensions (H x W x D): 1.49cm x 30.41cm x 21.24cm
Touch Bar smartly designed
Loads of USB-C ports
Touch Bar needs more app support
Direct light washes out Touch Bar
After an extensive wait period, we finally have the MacBook Pro overhaul we deserve. Complete with a thinner, sleeker design, a Space Gray color option and an OLED-backlit Touch Bar in place of the function keys, the late 2016 MacBook Pro isn’t quite the same notebook we’ve come to know and love. In due time, it may even be better.
While it’s pricier than what we’ve seen in the past, starting at $2,399 (about £1,970, AU$3,170), the revitalized MacBook Pro is still more affordable than the desktop tower that shares its surname. If you’re looking for more of a desktop replacement than a road companion, it’s definitely the way to go.
For almost $1,000 less, sure, you could treat yourself to the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, but then you’ll miss out on the Touch Bar as well as the added screen real estate. Plus, by default, the 15-inch MacBook Pro ships with an i7 processor and an AMD Radeon Pro 450 graphics processor – with four USB-C ports to boot.
There’s a lot to love about the 15-inch MacBook Pro, including 16GB of RAM, the option of up to 2TB of SSD storage space and a massive trackpad. Sure, you’ll be shelling out an extra wad of cash for this model, and the butterfly mechanism used in the keyboard isn’t exactly flawless, but it’s the best MacBook Pro money can buy, made better by cutting-edge tech.
The USB-C ports, for instance, are Thunderbolt 3 compatible, meaning you can transfer up to 40Gbps with a compatible device. Plus, at long last, you can use the MacBook Pro in conjunction with up to two 5K monitors, making it a suitable iMac stand-in too. You can even use any one of the four Thunderbolt 3 ports for charging since support for MagSafe adapters has finally been dropped.
Stacked with either a 2.6GHz or 2.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor and a Retina 2880 x 1800 display, the MacBook Pro is a screamer whether you’re editing videos in Final Cut Pro or making music with Garageband.
Of course if you want the tricked out, built-to-order 2.9GHz MacBook Pro with all the specs maxed out, you can expect to pay – wait for it – $4,299 (about £3,540, AU$5,670). Ouch.
What’s next for the 15-inch MacBook Pro?
This year was all about playing catch-up to Microsoft’s Surface devices. While the MacBook Pro was the first laptop to get the Retina display in 2012, it’s continuing to cater to users who want a lot of power on-the-go.
The Skylake processors featured in the latest MacBook Pros make it possible to power two 5K screens at once, and while that’s everything we could have ever wanted from the MacBook Pro, the added Touch Bar needs some work.
Right now, it’s less of a superior alternative to touchscreens and more of a workaround to avoid adding touch support to macOS. Of course, this could all change given the proper support from app developers, but we’ll find out for certain over the next year.
Read our full review: MacBook Pro (15-inch, Late 2016)
5. 13-inch MacBook Pro (Late 2016)
Thinner, faster and Space Gray-er than before
CPU: Dual-core Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 540 – 550 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 13.3-inch, (2,560 x 1,600) IPS | Storage: 256GB – 1TB PCIe Flash | Dimensions (H x W x D): 1.49cm x 30.41cm x 21.24cm
Two USB-C ports forces compromise
Keyboard too shallow for some
About a year and a half out from its 2015 variant, the late 2016 13-inch MacBook Pro was well worth the wait, though it comes with a handful of prominent changes. While a high-end configuration introduces an OLED Touch Bar to the mix, a standard MacBook Pro still remains for the manageable cost of $1,499 (£1,449, AU$2,199).
Even without the Touch Bar, though, the late 2016 MacBook Pro is a sight for sore eyes. It resembles the featherlight 12-inch MacBook, thanks to its sleeker exterior design and the notable absence of that glowing bright Apple logo we’ve all come to know and love. The non-Touch Bar models are equipped with just two USB-C, Thunderbolt 3 ports.
For those who value the look and feel of traditional function keys to the (currently unproven) gimmicks of the Touch Bar, this is the model for you. Of course, all of your older accessories will most likely require adapters to be used with the MacBook Pro’s quirky new inputs. Not to mention the “butterfly” mechanism featured in the MacBook Pro keyboard isn’t for everyone.
Nevertheless, on the inside, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has a full set of 6th-gen Intel Core i5 processors, which can be swapped out for an i7 chip if you order from Apple’s website. All of this is complemented by up to a whopping 1TB of PCIe-based SSD storage, up to 16GB of RAM and a vivid Retina display that only Apple can deliver.
The MacBook Pro may be ill-equipped with a smaller range of ports this time around, but ultimately it’s the future-proof notebook we’ve been desperately craving to get Thunderbolt 3 on a roll.
What’s next for the 13-inch MacBook Pro?
Although the current MacBook Pro just came out not long ago, we’ve already begun to hear rumors develop about its successor. Next year, for instance, it’s been suggested that another hardware refresh is in the works and will sport up to 32GB of RAM in addition to a full-size OLED display.
At the same time, Apple was a bit late to the game when it came to Skylake. The 6th-generation processors featured in the latest MacBook Pro lineup will assuredly be outpaced by Kaby Lake in the coming months. The new CPU chips from Intel are not only more powerful, but also more energy efficient than those which came before them.
Lastly, while we’d like to see a proper touch panel on the next round of MacBooks, Apple doesn’t exactly sound fond of the idea. Competing head-on with Microsoft’s Surface lineup, according to Phil Schiller, would fragment the macOS ecosystem even further. So while we shouldn’t expect a touchscreen MacBook Pro, Apple can’t hold back forever, right?
Read the full review: Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016)
6. 13-inch MacBook Air
It’s now possible to grab big Air for less
CPU: Dual-core Intel Core i5 – Core i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 6000 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch HD (1,440 x 900) | Storage: 128GB – 512GB PCIe Flash | Dimensions (W x D x H): 19.7cm x 19.7cm x 3.6cm
The MacBook Air is in an interesting spot. While it’s still one of the most popular and well-known notebooks around, the launch of the slimmer, lighter 12-inch Retina MacBook has stolen some of its thunder, and we have to assume one of two things: either a major update is in the works, or it will soon be made obsolete by an expanding MacBook line.
We wouldn’t recommend going for the 11-inch MacBook Air, which is well past its sell-by date, but the MacBook Air will still give you all-day battery life, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt ports and an SDXC card slot. Not that you should need all those ports once USB-C gains traction.
Even without a Retina display or Force Touch trackpad, the 13-inch MacBook Air is a very capable machine, complete with a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB flash drive.
Either model can be found for less than a grand, and with identical specs, choosing between the two sizes comes down to preference, with just $100 separating the $899 (£749/AU$1,249) 11-inch version and the $999 (£849/AU$1,399) 13-inch one.
What’s next for the MacBook Air?
The MacBook Air, which launched in 2008 and was then updated in 2010, is in need of a refresh—and while rumours have long suggested Apple was going to give it one, it seems as though it’s being phased out completely.
The Retina display, a branding term Apple gives to its highest-resolution displays, has not yet made it onto any of the Air models and the internals—which are currently made up of Intel’s Broadwell CPUs from 2014—undoubtedly need the Kaby Lake treatment.
The Air currently occupies an awkward, but necessary, spot in Apple’s lineup between the Pro—which is aimed at people who don’t need to use intensive applications like Photoshop or Final Cut Pro but do want to write or edit photos—and the MacBook, the less powerful option made for portability and longevity.
The Air is Apple’s best selling model, according to supply chain estimates, and continues to be the cheapest (and now only) way of getting a laptop with a glowing Apple logo on the back.
The company is evidently not obsessed with keeping it bang up-to-date. Notwithstanding, the 13-inch model is still available in its current state – albeit with double the RAM at 8GB – at the same entry-level cost.
Read the full review: 13-inch MacBook Air
7. Mac mini
Apple’s most affordable Mac
CPU: Dual-core Intel Core i5 – Core i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics | RAM: 4GB – 16GB | Storage: 500GB HDD; 256GB – 1TB PCIe Flash; 1TB – 2TB Fusion Drive | Dimensions (W x D x H): 19.7cm x 19.7cm x 3.6cm
Impossible to upgrade
The Mac Mini is Apple’s cheapest computer and has, for a long time, been its least powerful. Fortunately, Intel’s processor technology allows the desktop to be used for heavier tasks and Apple has brought the low-end model up to a decent specification.
The desktop is popular both because of its price—which undercuts the cheapest MacBook Air by $400—and its design, which is small, sleek, and simple.
The Mini comes in three variants: a $499 option with a dual-core i5 CPU, a spinning hard drive, and 4GB of RAM; a $699 option with a more powerful processor, an SSD, and 8GB of RAM; or a $999 model which is comparable to the iMac at the same price.
The top-of-the-line Mac mini bumps the processor up to 2.8GHz and adds a Fusion Drive in place of the 5400-rpm spinner, but at $999, we wouldn’t recommend it.
If you’re willing to spend over a thousand dollars on a desktop computer, you’ll be better served by moving up to an iMac. In the UK, the Mac mini runs from £399 to £799, while in Australia it starts at AU$699 and tops out at AU$1,399.
What’s next for the Mac mini?
The youngest Mac mini will celebrate its third birthday later this year, but Apple could be looking to update it so that its low-end users get a decent experience when running macOS, which became more graphically intense with macOS Sierra, the latest version.
A 2017 model would, while unlikely, include Intel’s Kaby Lake chips, yielding major performance improvements alongside other, newer internals, like faster and larger RAM and an SSD options for the low-end model.
Read the full review: Mac mini
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article
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