Welcome to our Mac buying guide UK for 2017. If you're wondering which Mac to buy, you've come to the right place. Here, you'll find everything you need to know about Apple's range of Macs, including the iMac, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini and Mac Pro, with expert buying advice to help you choose the Mac that's right for you.
Apple makes six different types of Mac, and within each of those categories there are sub categories and variations in the specs and features, so things can get pretty complicated. That's where this complete guide comes in, helping you make the right decision.
In this feature we will take you through each Mac that is currently available from Apple; which Mac is best suited to which type of user; the Macs that are the fastest, and the Macs that are the cheapest; and the Macs that offer the best value for money.
And if after that you are still stumped there is even a Which Mac is best for me? quiz that you can take at the end.
You can skip to any particular Mac you're interested in by using the table of contents above.
We also have a Best Mac Deals page where you can find the best deals on Apple products, so when you've decided which Mac you want you could check out that page to see whether you can purchase the Mac for less money.
Or, if you're wondering whether you should go for a brand-new, secondhand or refurbished Mac, take a look at these two articles: take a look at these two articles: Should I buy a refurbished Mac? and Best place to buy a Mac.
We've updated this guide to include the most recent versions of each of Apple's Macs as unveiled at WWDC 2017, and have also added the new iMac Pro, which has yet to be released but has already been teased.
Apple's newest Mac comes in the form of the stunning iMac Pro, but it isn't available yet. This beauty won't be coming out until December, but we wanted to mention it first to help you decide whether it's worth waiting for the powerful all-in-one, or whether you're better off continuing with our buying guide to find a new Mac that you can purchase now.
Unveiled at WWDC 2017, the iMac Pro comes in a sleek Space Grey, with a 5K Retina display, Xeon processors with up to an incredible 18 cores (that makes it the most powerful Mac ever made), up to 128GB of RAM, up to 4TB of SSD storage, amazing graphics, powerful ports and more.
That doesn't come cheap though. The starting price is £4,949, and we expect that to reach a significantly higher figure if you upgrade the specs.
You can find out everything we know so far about the iMac Pro here, but if it's too powerful or pricey for you, read on to discover the rest of Apple's Mac line-up.
MacBook (aka 12-inch MacBook)
The first of the new-style MacBook models went on sale on 10 April 2015 (having a machine called simply 'MacBook' isn't entirely new, but this was a resurrection of a brand that fell by the way side a few years ago).
Apple introduced it as a sylish and portable machine for those who aren't as concerned about some of the practicalities and power. It has only one port and a basic processor. But it does have a Retina display, and comes in gold, silver, Space Grey and pink, just like your iPhone.
Apple then updated the 12-inch MacBook in April 2016, followed by a second update in June 2017 at WWDC.
Check out our comparison review of the MacBook Air and the MacBook, to find out which is the best lightweight laptop.
There are two standard MacBook models available, both with a 12in screen (measured diagonally). Dimensions for both units are identical: 28.05cm by 19.65cm, and 3.5mm at the edge tapering to 13.1mm thick (the MacBook Air tapers from 17mm to just 3mm). The MacBook weighs less than a kilogram at 920g.
The key difference between the two models is the amount of storage available, and the speed of the processor.
There are four colour choices for both: gold, silver, rose gold and space grey, just like the iPhone.
The entry-level MacBook unit offers a 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core m3 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3GHz), and 256GB PCIe-based flash storage. The other MacBook unit offers a 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core m5 processor (Turbo Boost up to .32GHz), and 512GB PCIe-based flash storage. Both models offer 8GB RAM and Intel HD Graphics 615. You can upgrade the processor further at checkout using the build-to-order options, too.
It's thanks to these chips that the MacBook is so slim and light. The Core M chip doesn't require fans, and by slimming down the logic board Apple has been able to utilise every last corner for battery.
Even the Retina display is the thinnest screen ever on a Mac. It offers a 16:10 aspect ratio and a resolution of 2304 x 1440. It also uses less energy than Retina displays on other Macs.
The newest MacBook sports a Force Touch trackpad as well as a new keyboard with a second-generation butterfly mechanism for more natural and comfortable typing.
Apple admits that the MacBook is designed for the wireless world, and it has to be: there is only one port. This USB-C port supports power in and out, so you can charge your MacBook from it, as well as plug in a hard drive or other peripherals.
Provision of just one port is the trade-off required for Apple to create such a thin Mac. The single USB-C port on the MacBook should be capable of 10Gbps data transfer via USB 3.1, but can only manage 5gbps currently. Later versions of USB C support Thunderbolt 3 as well as USB C because both standards use the same shaped port - the USB-C port on the MacBook Pro, for example, supports Thunderbolt 3 data transfer at up to 40Gbps and USB data-transfer at up to 10Gbps.
The port on the MacBook offers charging and DisplayPort 1.2 connectivity, but you will need an adaptor for the latter. If you want to plug more than one thing in at a time you will need a USB C hub. See: Best USB Type-C accessories for the Retina MacBook.
The MacBook offers 802.11ac Wi-Fi, but like the MacBook Air, the MacBook doesn't feature an Ethernet port, so if you want to plug it into a wired network you will need to purchase an adaptor.
How fast is the MacBook?
The MacBook is certainly not Apple's fastest Mac, however, it does at least feature a SSD drive to speed things up a bit. In our Geekbench tests, the 2016 mode of the MacBook scored higher than the 2015 models, and slightly faster than the current, 2015 MacBook Air. With a price tag as high as the MacBook's, we'd like to see a bit more speed to set the laptop further apart from its Air sibling, but it's the price you pay for the gorgeous, sleek and stylish design.
Who is the MacBook best for?
There are many Mac users for whom the MacBook will not be ideal. This is not a particularly powerful computer and it is no replacement for the MacBook Pro. Nor is it necessarily a replacement for a MacBook Air while it is possible to upgrade to faster MacBook Air models for a lot less money.
If the majority of what you do on your Mac is everyday tasks, such as sending and receiving email, browsing the web, and using office applications, the MacBook should be quite capable of meeting your needs. If you're wanting to edit movies using Final Cut Pro, this Mac won't cut the mustard.
That said, the MacBook's speed has significantly improved since its first iteration. The 1.2GHz model scores 7091 in our multi-core Geekbench 4 processor test, compared with 5860 for the same model last year.
Should you buy a 12in MacBook now or wait?
We'd advise buying a MacBook now, as it's as new as you can get. It won't be updated again for a year at least.
The MacBook Air had always been the thinnest and lightest Mac laptop available until the MacBook came along. It is still the cheapest, though, and remains a popular choice.
While historically it has come in two screen sizes, 11-inch and 13-inch, Apple stopped selling the 11in model in October 2016. The MacBook Air was first launched in 2008 and was Apple's first laptop to feature an SSD (flash storage).
The current models were launched in March 2015, although there were slight modifications in April 2016 when Apple made 8GB RAM standard across all configurations of the 13in model - the previous limitation to 4GB seriously hampered these Macs so it was a good move.
They were then updated again in June 2017 but all they got then was a processor bump from 1.6GHz to 1.8GHz. So essentially they've remained the same as the March 2015 MacBook Air models but now have better RAM and processors even if you opt for the cheapest.
If you like the MacBook Air but think it's a bit above budget, check our roundup of the best alternatives to the MacBook Air for some similar options.
MacBook Air specifications
There are two standard MacBook Air models available. The only real differences between those different models is the amount of storage available, either 128GB (£949) or 256GB SSD (£1,099).
Both 13in MacBook Air units offer a 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and Intel HD Graphics 6000 as standard.
There are also various build-to-order options which allow you to add a faster 2.2GHz i7 Intel processor (for an extra £135) and 512GB storage (for £150).
The 13in MacBook Air offers 12 hours battery life, which should be enough to last the length of a long haul flight, or a day's work. It weighs 1.35kg, and the dimensions are 32.5cm by 22.7cm.
The MacBook Air offers 1440x900 pixels at 16:10 aspect ratio, that's 128 pixels per inch - that display is incomparable to the 13-inch Retina model, which offers 2560x1600 Retina resolution at 227 ppi.
The MacBook Air doesn't have a great deal of ports, that's the trade-off necessary for such a thin Mac (although it has more than the MacBook does). The MacBook Air doesn't feature a Ethernet port, for example, so if you want to plug it into a wired network you will need to purchase an adaptor. However, the MacBook Air does offer built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi so it's unlikely that in today's wireless world you will need to plug it into a network.
Like all Macs, the MacBook Air lacks an optical drive. We don't have much use for an optical drive these days, but if you really think you need one there is always the option of purchasing Apple's USB SuperDrive for £65.
There are two USB 3 ports, but you can also connect accessories (including external storage and monitors) to your MacBook Air via the Thunderbolt 2 port. The 2014 MacBook Air had a Thunderbolt 1 port, which is slower than the Thunderbolt 2 port on the new model, but still faster than USB 3 (20Gbps for Thunderbolt 2, compared to 10Gbps for Thunderbolt 1, compared to 5Gbps for USB 2). You can purchase various adaptors that let you plug in FireWire 800 hardware, for example, into this port.
The MacBook Air models feature the following ports and standards
- Mini DisplayPort
- Thunderbolt 2 port
- 2 USB 3 ports
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Stereo speakers
- Dual microphones
- Headphone port (including support for the iPhone headset with remote and mic)
- Full size backlit keyboard with ambient light sensor
- Multi-Touch trackpad
- SDXD card slot
How fast is the MacBook Air?
We've yet to run benchmark tests on the most recent model of the MacBook Air, but it's not the slowest Mac laptop you can buy. However, whether that matters depends a lot on what you will be doing with it, and what your priorities are when looking for a new Mac.
If the majority of what you do on your Mac is everyday tasks, such as sending and receiving email, browsing the web, and using office applications, the MacBook Air is quite capable of meeting your needs. Even beyond that kind of use, you can happily use the MacBook Air for editing short videos, or for working with photos from your iPhone or point-and-shoot camera.
For most people the MacBook Air is plenty fast enough. This is partly thanks to its flash storage, which speeds things up considerably. Flash memory is better because it is faster at reading data. This makes a huge difference when running your Mac: opening documents, starting programs and even booting up all happen much faster.
Who is the MacBook Air best for?
The MacBook Air is perfect for anyone who frequently needs to carry their laptop with them, especially students, commuters, and hot-deskers.
Because it's so tiny it's also a great option if you want a Mac to use at home or at work that doesn't take up a whole lot of space. You can always plug it into a monitor on your desk, or even plug it into a TV screen (via an adaptor) if you feel you would benefit from a bigger display.
If you don't wish to spend a few pounds more to buy a Retina MacBook Pro then you won't be disappointed with the MacBook Air. But beware that the screen quality of the Air is no equal to the Retina display of the MacBook Pro, or for that matter the new MacBook.
Should you buy a MacBook Air now or wait?
The MacBook Air might be about to be retired by Apple so if you really want to buy one you may not have the opportunity to do so later this year. However, it hasn't been significantly updated in some time, so our advice is to either wait for Apple to update it, or look for an alternative Mac laptop - we hope that if Apple does discontinue the MacBook Air, the price of the MacBook will be reduced.
Available from: Apple
Last updated: WWDC 2017 in June
Price: From £1,249
Apple updated the MacBook Pro in June 2017, after an October 2016 update that added the new TouchBar to the line-up. Prior to that, Apple hadn't updated the MacBook pro for 18 months.
The new models are thinner, lighter, include USB-C, and those with the Touch Bar incorporate a fingerprint scanner integrated into the power button.
As the Pro part of the name suggests, this is a more powerful machine than the MacBook Air or MacBook, but that's not all. The 2016 MacBook Pro series also featured a redesign, with the MacBook Pro not only thinner than its predecessor, but the 13in model is now thinner and smaller than the MacBook Air equivalent.
One of the key selling points of these Mac laptops is the Touch Bar, which provides users with contextual controls depending on the app they're using at the time - for example, using Final Cut Pro X will offer shortcuts for different functions, while in Safari it'll offer shortcuts to your favourite websites.
The MacBook Pro range also has the Retina display (which the MacBook Air lacks), so called because it hits the sweet spot where our eyes are unable to actually detect any more pixels, so it's about as precise as you can get, ideal for creative work.
MacBook Pro specifications
There are actually seven MacBook Pro options available in two different sizes - four 13in versions. And three 15in versions.
One of those seven models isn't new - Apple is still selling a 15in version of the 2015 MacBook Pro, so it is still possible to buy a relatively powerful machine at a lower price point, if you are happy that the Mac features an older generation processor.
The 2015 15in models costs £1,899 and offers a 2.2GHz i7 processor, 16GB RAM and 256GB storage. It offers two Thunderbolt 2 ports and Intel Iris Pro graphics. It doesn't have the new Touch Bar feature.
Also available without the Touch Bar are two new 13in MacBook Pro models. They have Intel's new Kaby Lake processors to speed them up a bit, but still keep lower price points for those who aren't bothered about having the Touch Bar features.
The £1,249 model of MacBook Pro, which is the cheapest one available, has a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 processor with 128GB storage and Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640. There are two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and it's available in Space Grey or Silver.
The only difference between that base model and the £1,449 model of the 13in MacBook Pro is the storage. You'll get the same 2.3GHz processor, 8GB RAM, design, ports and graphics, but you'll get 256GB of storage rather than 128GB.
There are two more 13in models that do incorporate the Touch Bar. Both offer the Kaby Lake Intel processors, which are 3.1GHz duel-core Intel Core i5, and both have 8GB RAm with Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650.
The difference between the £1,749 model of the 13in MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and the £1,949 model is, again, sotrage. With the cheaper model you'll get 256GB, and with the more expensive model you'll get 512GB.
Regarding displays, the 13-inch display offers 2560x1600 Retina resolution at 227 pixels per inch, while the 15-inch model offers 2880x1800 resolution at 220 pixels per inch.
If you need a bigger screen, there are two 15in models that we haven't mentioned yet, both of which offer the Touch Bar. One has a 2.8GHz i7 processor while the other has 2.9GHz i7 processor. In the 15in range the prices are considerably higher: with one model costing £2,349 and £2,699.
There are lots of build-to-order options available for all of the MacBook Pro models mentioned, including a processor boost, additional storage and better graphics.
Aside from the non-Touch Bar 15in model of the MacBook Pro, each of the six new models have removed the USB-A and SD card slots, opting to replace them it with Thunderbolt 3 ports. The Thunderbolt 3 specification supports USB-C and thus, a single port can handle charging, data transfer, A/V and more but requires an adaptor to use legacy accessories.
Like the MacBook Air and the MacBook, the MacBook Pro doesn't feature a Ethernet port, but it does have built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi and if you need to plug into a wired network you will be able to purchase an adaptor separately.
Wondering which MacBook is best for you? Check out our Which MacBook buying guide.
How fast is the MacBook Pro
If you want the fastest Retina MacBook Pro you really need to look at the 15in models. The 13in models have a dual core processor, while the 15in models have a quad-core processor.
Those quad-core processors mean than the 15in models were around 60 percent faster than their 13in counterparts. Not that the 13in model is a slouch at all - you'll still be able to achieve more powerful tasks with the 13in MacBook Pro models than you would with the MacBook Air or MacBook models.
Who is the MacBook Pro best for?
The MacBook Pro is a great choice for creative pros and Mac users looking for more power from a laptop.
One of the key selling points with these Macs is the Touch Bar, which provides users with contextual controls depending on the app they're using at the time - using Final Cut Pro X will offer shortcuts for different functions, while in Safari it'll offer shortcuts to your favourite websites.
One complaint about the MacBook Pro is the fact that it only offers 16GB RAM with no option to increase this. There are calls from creative professionals who have need for more power and speed for Apple to sell a MacBook Pro with 32GB RAM.
For now, if you need more RAM the MacBook Pro may not meet your needs. However, there are suggestions that, at least in 2018, there may be a model available with 32GB RAM. Read more about the future of the MacBook Pro here.
The main selling points of the 2017 MacBook Pro aside from the aforementioned Touch Bar with built-in Touch ID are the high res screen, powerful processors, and the fact that you get all that in a compact and light body.
Battery life is better than that of the MacBook Air, and should suffice for daily use. We think the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is perfect for anyone who needs a powerful laptop that they can carry around without damaging their back, with a special focus on creatives.
As for whether you should buy the 13- or 15-inch model, this depends foremost on what you will be using it for, and secondly on how often you will be carrying the laptop around. If what matters most to you is having a laptop that is light enough to carry with you on your commute, but powerful enough to use for power hungry applications, then the 13-inch will suit you.
If your needs are a little more advanced, the 15-inch MacBook Pro will serve you well. With some of the best Speedmark scores of any Mac, and significantly higher than the 13-inch models, the 15-inch models are capable of pretty much anything.
And if you are wondering whether an iMac might suit you better because it has a bigger screen, remember you can always plug into your 30-inch monitor and use that when you are at your desk.
Should you buy a MacBook Pro now or wait?
The MacBook Pro was updated in June of 2017, so don't expect to see another MacBook Pro until at least mid 2018.
The Mac mini is Apple's compact desktop computer first introduced in 2005. It's also Apple's cheapest Mac, starting at just £479. One of the best features of the Mac mini is its HDMI port, which helps to make this Mac an excellent option for a home media centre as you can plug it directly into your TV screen.
Mac mini specifications
The other two Mac minis offer Intel dual-core i5 2.6GHz and 2.8GHz processors with Intel Iris Graphics. These might sound like fast processors, in comparison to the processors in Apple's newer MacBook models, but inside these laptop Macs if faster flash storage and newer generation processors, which will give these models a boost.
The Mac mini offers only Intel i5 dual-core processor options as standard, there are i7 processors available at point of sale, but these are still only dual-core.
The Mac mini weights 1.22kg and the dimensions are 19.7cm by 19.7cm. It's just 3.6cm tall.
When it comes to the amount of space the unit will take up on your desk, its footprint is similar to that of the 12in MacBook, at least in terms of width, with dimensions of 28cm by 19.65cm.
The top of the range Mac mini has various build to order options, topping out at a 2TB Fusion Drive for an extra £90 when you buy the £949 model, you can also add 16GB RAM for an extra £180. Only the top of the range model has this option.
If you think you might need the extra RAM we recommend that you purchase the extra RAM when you buy the Mac mini, many years ago it was possible to upgrade the RAM in a Mac mini but the RAM in the current Mac mini is soldered on.
We would recommend the Fusion Drive option as the SSD part of the storage will speed things up considerably, while the extra capacity of the hard drive is likely to come in handy.
If you are setting the Mac mini up as a home media centre you may miss the fact that it lacks an optical drive, but you can always purchase a SuperDrive for £65, and continue to play DVDs and CDs that way.
The previous 2012 Mac mini server version offered a 2TB hard drive, which made it a popular choice among those looking for a media server, so Apple's decision to offer this 2TB fusion drive is likely a reaction to this. Read also: Mac mini vs MacBook Air and Mac mini vs MacBook Pro
The Mac mini also offers an HDMI port, and perhaps for this reason it is a very popular Mac for those wishing to set up a Mac media centre in their living room. You will also find four USB 3 ports, an SDXD card slot, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, and even an IR receiver for use with a remote. The Mac mini features an Ethernet port and built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
If you were hoping to use your Mac mini to play DVDs you'll be disappointed. No current Macs offer a optical drive. We don't find we have much use for an optical drive these days, but if you really think you need one there is always the option of purchasing Apple's USB SuperDrive for £65.
The Mac mini used to offer a FireWire 800 port, which will be important to those who have previously made big investments in FireWire peripherals, although you can purchase a Thunderbolt to FireWire adaptor and continue to use them (there are two Thunderbolt 2 ports on the Mac mini which offers a throughput of 20Gbps). SInce Apple discontinued the non Retina version of the MacBook Pro, no Mac offers a FireWire port.
All the Mac mini models feature the following ports and standards
- 2 Thunderbolt 2 ports
- 4 USB 3 ports
- HDMI port
- SDXC card slot
- Gigabit Ethernet
- Audio in/out
- IR receiver
- 802.11n Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.0
How fast is the Mac mini?
The Mac mini is Apple's slowest current Mac, however, it may be speedy enough for you, and it costs just £479.
Who is the Mac mini best for?
The Mac mini is a great second Mac, or perfect for anyone who uses their Mac for browsing the web and writing emails, and doing general office work. It's powerful enough to do a good job with photo and home video editing (although we wouldn't recommend using it to create the next Hollywood blockbuster). If you are looking for a Mac that will just sit on your desk, or in the study, the Mac mini is a great option.
The Mac mini is also a popular choice for a living room Mac. A lot of people plug it into their TV screen via an HDMI cable (the Mac mini retains its HDMI port).
When the Mac mini stopped featuring a optical drive back in 2011 there was a bit of an outcry from those who though it was an ideal home entertainment centre. All these years later DVDs aren't as popular as they were then, so chances are you won't miss the lack of an optical drive, but if you think you would benefit from one in your living room, you can always purchase a Super Drive for £65. You won't be able to play a Blu-ray movie via the SuperDrive but it's more than likely that you'll find that there is a digital version of the movie available on Netflix or another streaming service. Read: Connect your Mac mini to a TV: turn a Mac mini into a media hub.
The mini has an IR receiver so you can use it with Apple's remote (£19), that way you can controlled it from the sofa. You could also use an Apple Wireless Keyboard or a Magic Trackpad for more control. Alternatively download the Apple Remote app on your iPhone.
Should you buy a Mac mini now or wait?
The Mac mini was last updated in October 2014, so there could be a new model soon.
There were fears that Apple would discontinue the Mac mini, but in a recent discussion about the future of the Mac Pro, Apple's Phil Schiller did briefly refer to the Mac mini (in response to a question about it's future) saying that it was still important to Apple.
If Apple is going to update it you can expect to hear around September or October. Read new Mac mini 2017 update rumours.
Apple's iMac is probably its most famous Mac. First introduced in 1998 and causing shockwaves in personal computing, over the years the iMac has lost its old bulky CRT monitor, and slimmed down. Now it is incredibly thin, but the whole computer is still concealed behind that gorgeous display (there is no tower to hide away under your desk).
There are two different sizes of iMac available: the 21.5-inch iMac and the 27-inch iMac. When Apple updated the iMac range in October 2015 it introduced a 4K Retina display 21.5-inch model, and the latest updates with more power than ever came in June of 2017. Read: Which iMac should I buy
The full iMac range was last updated in June 2017 with new Kaby Lake processors across the board that will speed the machines up significantly.
The entry-level iMac, which costs £1,049, features a 2.3GHz dual-core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640, and a 1TB hard drive.
Next up is an iMac that for another £200 gives you a faster 3.0GHz i5 processor, 8GB RAM, Radeon Pro 555 graphics with 2GB video memory, a 1TB hard drive and even the 4K Retina display, at £1,249 (we'd highly recommend spending the extra £200 on this model if you can).
For another additional £200, the top-of-the-range 21-inch iMac offers a 3.4GHz i5 processor, 8GB RAM, Radeon Pro 560 graphics with 4GB video memory, a 1TB Fusion Drive (which is faster than the hard drives in the previous two models mentioned here) and the 4K display for £1,449.
The 27-inch iMacs also offer i5 processors (unlike the 15-inch MacBook Pros which introduce i7 processors at the high-end). However, the processors in the 27-inch iMacs are quad-core, so you can expect more power from them compared to the smaller iMacs.
The entry-level 27-inch iMac features a 3.4GHz quad-core i5 processor, it also features 8GB RAM, Radeon Pro 570 graphics with 4GB video memory and a 1TB fusion drive. Plus, the bigger models also offer 5K displays with 5120 x 2880 pixels. This entry-level 27-inch iMac is £1,749.
For £200 more there is the mid-range, also with a 3.5GHz processor and RAM as standard, it offers a slightly better Radeon 575 graphics and a much faster 1TB Fusion Drive.
The top-of-the-range iMac, which costs £2,249, offers a 3.8GHz Quad-Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM as standard, Radeon Pro 580 graphics with 8GB vide memory, and a 2TB Fusion Drive.
There are various RAM configurations available for the 27in models. While they ship with 8GB RAM, you can upgrade this to 16GB or 32GB. The 21in models offer 8GB or 16GB RAM options.
You may be wondering why the iMacs don't yet feature SSD flash drives as standard (with the exception of the Fusion Drive in the mid-range and top-of-the-range 27in iMacs - Fusion Drives combine flash storage and hard drive). Knowing how much of a boost an SSD gives to a Mac we find it surprising that Apple continues to include hard drives as standard in its iMacs. Luckily there are various build-to-order options which allow you to add Fusion Drives and flash storage. We would like to see Fusion Drives as standard across the range. For example, read why we recommend that you
Luckily there are various build-to-order options which allow you to add Fusion Drives and flash storage. We would like to see Fusion Drives as standard across the range. For example, read why we recommend that you buy the Fusion Drive to go with the iMac here.
The power of the iMacs is most comparable to the MacBook Pro models. Both Macs feature a Retina display, but the MacBook Pro has a more modern processor, and the flash storage, which should speed things up.
Obviously a big part of your decision if you are choosing between the two will be your need for portability. Remember that if you choose a laptop you can always plug it into a screen when you are at your desk.
Wondering how much space the iMac will take up on your desk? The 21.5-inch iMac dimensions are 52.8cm wide by 45cm high. The 27-inch iMac dimensions are 65cm wide and 51.6cm high. The screen is just 5mm thick (or should that be thin). The base at the bottom of the iMac measures 17.5cm on the 21-inch and 20.3cm on the 27in. The iMacs weigh 5.68kg or 9.54kg, so we don't recommend carrying them around.
Like many Macs, the iMac offers an SDXC slot, USB slots, 802.11ac WiFi, and Ethernet. Now that all the models have been updated they all feature Thunderbolt 3 ports.
There is no FireWire port on the iMac, if you want a dedicated FireWire port you're only option is the Mac mini – but you can plug a FireWire adaptor into one of the two Thunderbolt ports. You will find four USB 3 ports, which is the same number available on the Mac mini and Mac Pro.
The iMac lacks an optical drive, Apple traded in the built in SuperDrive when it slimmed down the monitor to a super-thin 5mm. We don't find we have much use for an optical drive these days, but if you really think you need one there is always the option of purchasing Apple's USB SuperDrive for £65. You can buy a SuperDrive here.
All the iMac models feature the following ports and standards
- 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports (USB-C)
- 4 USB 3 ports
- SDXC card slot
- Gigabit Ethernet
- Headphone port (with support for Apple iPhone headset with microphone)
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.0
How fast is the iMac?
The Retina iMac is still one Apple's fastest Macs, even comparable to the Mac Pro. In fact we would tend to recommend the Retina iMac over the Mac Pro thanks to it's gorgeous 5K Retina display (an equivalent display would cost around £1,500 on top of the price of the Mac Pro).
There is the upcoming iMac Pro to consider, though. However, the iMac Pro is so powerful that we don't expect many users will need one yet. It's more for future-proofing, and with a starting price of £4999 it's a bit too pricey for most. You can find out more about the iMac Pro, set to arrive in December, here: iMac Pro latest news.
Who is the iMac best for?
It's a desktop Mac, so the iMac is obviously best for someone who doesn't mind being tied to their desk. Or perhaps you already own a laptop and need a decent work machine. The great thing about buying an Apple computer is that because everything is tied to your iCloud account all your Safari bookmarks, iCloud documents, and applications will be available to you on all of your Macs.
The type of person for whom the 21-inch iMac is ideal will be different to the type who would require a 27-inch iMac.
The 21-inch iMacs are great options for most general use. If you are a gamer we would steer you away from the £1,049 iMac as the graphics card doesn't support many popular modern games.
For professionals who need a powerful Mac the 27-inch models are excellent options. It is likely that for this category of user the choice will be between the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, iMac, and Mac Pro.
The Mac Pro is obviously even faster but it's also a lot more expensive, and as we note above, you can upgrade your iMac and spend less and get a machine gives the Mac Pro a run for its money. For more about the Mac Pro versus iMac read this.
The difference is the fact that you get a 27-inch screen with the iMac, but many professional Mac users will already own a 30-inch display that they can plug into a MacBook Pro.
The Retina iMac is ideal for those who work with video and images, it's also great for gaming.
Should you buy an iMac now or wait?
As mentioned above, the iMac range was last updated in June 2017 so it's safe to buy now, unless you're interested in the hugely pricey and powerful iMac Pro which is coming later this year.
The Mac Pro is Apple's professional Mac with a price tag to match, starting at £2,999, up from its original £2,499 price tag. It's a fully fledged workstation aimed at those who need the ultimate in power, or the true Mac fanatic.
Apple's Mac Pro gained a whole new design back in December 2013, however, the response to that redesign hasn't been great, and Apple has now admitted it was a bit of a mistake, primarily because it backed itself into a corner, making it impossible to update it.
With the current Mac Pro it is not just users who can't update the box, a particular bug bear of professional users wanting to add new graphics cards, for example. Even Apple has been unable to update the unit, because the compact design made it too difficult to keep it cool if new components were added.
In fact the only 'update' to the Mac Pro has been to discontinue the entry-level model, moving the top of the range model into that price bracket, and adding the build to order options to make a standard top of the range model. So prices have come down, but nothing else has really changed.
Apple has said that it is working on a whole new Mac Pro but we shouldn't expect to see anything before 2018. Read more: Mac Pro release date rumours
Mac Pro specifications
Having neglected the Mac Pro for a few years, Apple in 2013 updated the Mac Pro. For many this 2013 Mac Pro didn't ship until spring 2014 though due to manufacturing delays. Apple assembles the Mac Pro in the United States and it appears that back then it was unable to produce the new Mac quickly enough to keep up with demand.
At launch there were two standard Mac Pro models, a quad-core 3.7GHz Intel Xeon E5 (was £2,499, updated to £2,999) and a 6-core 3.5GHz Intel Xeon E5 (was £3,299, updated to £3,899). Prices increased when Apple adjusted prices in October 2016 due to currency fluctuations (and, we suspect, Brexit).
In April 2017 Apple changed the pricing of the Mac Pro again, but this time the quad-core 3.7GHz model was discontinued, and the 6-core version became the entry level model at £2,999, and a new 8-core 3.0GHz version was added (that had previously been available as a buy-to-order option) for £3,899.
Both Mac Pro models features 16GB RAM (the discontinued quad-core model offered just 12GB RAM). The £3,899 model offers a faster graphics card, the Dual AMD FirePro D700 with 6GB GDDR5 VRAM each, rather than the Dual AMD FirePro D500 with 3GB. The discontinued model offered the Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM each. Note that those are dual graphics cards, one of the selling points of the Mac Pro.
Apple claims that with the additional power, users will be able to “seamlessly edit full-resolution 4K video while simultaneously rendering effects in the background - and still have enough power to connect up to three high-resolution 4K displays.”
Both standard units also feature 256GB flash storage, with build-to-order options for 512GB (£180 extra) or 1TB of flash storage (£540 extra).
Other build-to-order options include 32GB RAM for £360, or 64GB RAM for £1,080. There is a 12-core model available for an extra £1,800.
Most people buying the Mac Pro will be choosing from the various build-to-order options, of which there are many. If you were to build the ultimate Mac Pro it would cost you £6,059 - which is a lot, but before Apple dropped prices in 2017 all the build-to-order options added up to £7,299, so Apple's price drop saves you £1,240, enough to buy a MacBook too.
Wondering how much space the Mac Pro will take up on your desk? The Mac Pro has a diameter of 16.7cm and is 25.1cm tall. It weighs 5kg, a fraction less than the 21-inch iMac. The old aluminium Mac Pro is a giant in comparison.
You'll need to invest in a separate screen, unlike the iMac which comes with its built in 5K display. We have some 4K monitors that you could use with the Mac Pro here.
The Mac Pro offers six Thunderbolt 2 ports – that's enough to drive three 4K displays or six Thunderbolt displays, if you wanted to. You'll also find Dual Gigabit Ethernet – two Ethernet controllers, each connected to it's own lane, ensuring that there is enough bandwidth to operate at full speed. As you would expect the Mac Pro also offers 802.11ac WiFi.
There is no FireWire port on the Mac Pro, but as we've already mentioned above, you can get a Thunderbolt to FireWire adaptor. There are four USB 3 ports, the same number as you will find on the Mac mini and iMac.
The Mac Pro lacks an optical drive. We don't find we have much use for an optical drive these days, but if you really think you need one there is always the option of purchasing Apple's USB SuperDrive for £65.
All the Mac Pro models feature the following ports and standards
- 6 Thunderbolt 2 ports
- 4 USB 3 ports
- Dual Gigabit Ethernet
- HDMI 1.4 UltraHD
- Headphone port
- Microphone port
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.0
Apple has said that it plans to redesign the Mac Pro for 2018. Read more about what we expect from the 2018 Mac Pro here.
How fast is the Mac Pro?
As you would expect from what was intended to be Apple's flagship Mac, the Mac Pro is fast. The surprising fact is that if you bump up your iMac when you buy it with build to order options you can get a pretty speedy Mac for your money that rivals the six-core Mac Pro model.
However, there is more to the Mac Pro than the speed and many users will be attracted to many of the advanced technologies that come with it, such as the dual GPUs and the super-fast flash storage. For many the build-to-order options will allow them to build a professional and powerful workstation that will be able to do things an iMac user could only dream of.
We tested one build-to-order model with the 8-core set up and the ultimate graphics card (it would have cost £5,219 at the time of review). For now that is the fastest Mac we have ever tested. But if we manage to get our hands on the 12-core version we expect to be astounded.
Who is the Mac Pro best for?
The Mac Pro is supposed to be for the Mac for professionals who need extreme processing capability, except that unfortunately it dosen't really meet the needs of these people.
If you are a power used the Mac Pro might intrigue you, but you will likely find that the iMac or Retina MacBook Pro are sufficient for your needs.
Should you buy a Mac Pro now or wait?
We suggest waiting until Apple updates the Mac Pro in 2018 before purchasing one.
Upgradability: Upgrade options for Macs
Unfortunately over the years Macs have become nigh on impossible to upgrade other than at point of purchase when a variety of upgrade options are availbale. User upgrades are not possible because, in its efforts to slim down the units, Apple has glued components in place. This also makes fixing a broken Mac difficult.
Apple is also notorious for using its own proprietary standards, so if you were to attempt to update your Mac with an third-party SSD drive, you should expect to be stumped. The only upgrades available are those build-to-order options Apple offers when you buy the Mac.
The best advice is to build the Mac you need for the future when you purchase it from Apple. Our first recommendation would be to always upgrade the RAM to as much as you can afford. And where available opt for an SSD or a Fusion Drive. You can always plug in an external hard drive or use a wireless NAS drive if you need more space.
Interestingly, the RAM in the 27in iMac is user accessible, and while Apple limits RAM to 32GB as a build to order option, you can get 64GB from third parties. But beware that you might void your warranty if you open up the Mac to fiddle about. Here's how to install extra memory in a Mac.
Macs also support the following standards, but you will need to purchase an adaptor to use them:
- DVI output using Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter (sold separately)
- VGA output using Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter (sold separately)
- Dual-link DVI output using Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter (sold separately)
- HDMI audio and video output using third-party Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter (sold separately)
- Apple Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter (sold separately)
- Apple Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter (sold separately)
Take our 'Which Mac is best for me?' quiz
Wondering which Mac is best in your line of work? We have the following:
- Best Mac for graphic design
- Best Mac for making music
- Best Mac for video editing
- Best Mac for app development
- Best Mac for students
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If you've already got a Mac and are looking to sell, read: Which Mac do I have: How to identify model, year and serial number and How to check your Mac's tech specs