Apple's Mac computers come in a dazzling range of sizes, speeds and prices. Almost all Macs are brilliant computers, but some (like the Mac Pro) offer extreme speeds. But how fast does your Mac need to be? The answer depends on why you want a Mac. The best Mac for video editing, for example, is different to the best Mac for web design. In this feature, we look at common tasks like gaming, music making and programming and determine which Mac you should buy. Read next: Mac buying guide 2016
The Mac you buy should be fast enough to perform the task you need to do. While you can never have too much Mac, so to speak, you can get more Mac than you need. You don’t need a new Mac Pro costing £2,495 just to use Facebook. However, you might want to consider it if you’re in the business of video editing as time is money.
So, the type of Mac needed depends on the task you want to do with your Mac. We’ve put together a list of common usage tasks and the Mac, and speed of Mac you should consider.
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How fast does my Mac need to be: For video editing
Video editing is one of the most demanding tasks you can perform with a Mac. A faster Mac will enable you to render video more quickly. If you’re looking to edit HD video in Final Cut Pro X we advise you to go for Macs with Intel i7 processors. Final Cut Pro X makes good use of the Hyper-Threading in the Intel i7 CPU to render video faster. You’ll also need a Mac with a large amount of fast storage space, so opt for either 7800RPM hard drive, a solid state drive or a Fusion Drive. A good budget option is the 2.6GHz Mac mini (£569) with an i7 processor (+£230) and 8GB of RAM.
The mid-range 27in iMac with 5K Retina Display (3.2GHz) is a great option for video editing and is what we use to edit videos at Macworld UK – although we’ve slightly tweaked the setup. We switched out the supplied 1TB Fusion Drive with a 256GB solid state drive (+£80) and upgraded the RAM from 8GB to 16GB after purchase as you can pick up 8GB of RAM for much cheaper than £160, plus it’s easy to install. If extra storage is needed, you have the option of using an external HDD with a Thunderbolt connection.
However, if you’re looking to professionally edit multiple streams of 4K video and generate complex graphics, then you should consider the more powerful Mac Pro (starting from £2,499).
One thing to note is that you don’t need any of these high-end systems if you just enjoying editing home video in iMovie. If you just want to edit video clips you’ve recorded on your iPhone, something basic like a Mac mini 2.6GHz i5 is perfectly capable of handling most basic video tasks, including light editing in Final Cut Pro X.
Read next: Apple Mac i5 vs i7 processor buying advice
How fast does my Mac need to be: For audio recording and editing
Audio recording and editing doesn’t require the latest Intel i7 Mac. So you can get away with a much more lightweight model, like the Mac mini or a MacBook. A mid-range Mac mini (£569) is perfectly good for audio recording, and with 4xUSB 3.0 ports, 2xThunderbolt 2, audio in, audio out and an SDXC card slot, the Mac mini has a great array of connections. This makes it ideal as a recording device.
The entry level 1.6GHz 12.5in iMac is also a good choice if you want an all-in-one system for audio recording. However, many audio recording engineers prefer a MacBook Pro because they can carry it to studios more easily. You don’t need the Retina Display model, and we’d be tempted to go for the 13-inch 2.7GHz model (£999). This has a good range of connections, including 2xUSB 3.0 ports, 2x Thunderbolt 2 ports and 1x HDMI out port.
Read next: Best Mac for making music
How fast does my Mac need to be: For gaming
Gaming itself covers a wide spectrum of experiences. However, typically gamers want the fastest system possible. If you’re into gaming you’ll probably want a fast Mac, but you don’t gain much from the i7 processor. Instead, it’s better to focus on the CPU with a faster clock rate and combine it with a machine with a separate graphics card (this is separate from the Intel CPU, many Macs combine the CPU with an Integrated graphics card).
Essentially, you need a 27in 5K iMac or 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (the top of the line model of each with an AMD Radeon R9 M3905 or AMD Radeon R9 M370X respectively). Couple this with at least 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD/1TB Fusion Drive and you’ve got something more than capable for Mac gaming.
Read more: Best Mac for gaming
How fast does my Mac need to be: For artists and designers
Everybody wants to be able to design faster, but you don’t need an Intel i7 for Photoshop as it doesn’t really get much from it. So we’d focus on picking one of the cheaper models and taking the RAM up to at least 8GB and replacing the stock drive with a fusion model (if it isn’t already). If you get a mid-range Mac Mini (£569) and add a 1TB Fusion Drive (£160) you get a great little design machine for £729. You can now spend any other money on a decent display and any additional accessories you might need.
How fast does my Mac need to be: For 3D image modelling
This is another one of those areas where you just want the fastest Mac available. If you are into 3D modelling, especially 3D animation, then you might want to consider going all out for a new Mac Pro (£2,499). If money is no object, then the £3,299 Mac Pro offers dual graphics cards with 3GB GDDR5 VRAM each. The time it saves in rendering may quickly pay for itself. If you can’t afford a new Mac Pro, then get the fastest iMac you can afford.
How fast does my Mac need to be: For web design
Web design is another area that you don’t need a truly fast Mac. Some designers like a large display so they can manage multiple sites and editing tools at once, so we’d advise picking up an entry level 1.4GHz Mac mini (£399) and combining it with a large display.
How fast does my Mac need to be: For programming
Programming is a varied task, and it largely depends on the programming you are doing. If you’re learning to program using tools like Xcode and Python, then a MacBook Air is a great choice. It’s easy to carry a MacBook Air around and it is a fully-fledged Mac OS X capable of running Xcode and other development environments.
Read more: MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro
If you’re working on thousands of lines of code, then you’ll want a Mac with more clout than the MacBook Air. We’d suggest a 2.6GHz i5 Mac mini costing £569. Assembling code makes good use of the i5 processor, and if you need a bit more power you can boost to a 3.0Ghz i7 for an extra £230. You can also upgrade the Mac mini's drive up to a Fusion Drive for £160. It’s £729 in total, which is a good all-round price to pay for this great programming box.
How fast does my Mac need to be: For creating business documents
If you spend most of your time using a Mac in a business environment, using programs like Mail, Keynote and Microsoft Office, then you won’t really need a top-of-the-line iMac. Instead, we’d focus on portability by going for a MacBook Air. It’s great to be able to carry your Mac around the office. The 11.6in model is fine for working on the go, but the 13in MacBook Air offers a little more screen estate for working with continuously. We’d go for the 13-inch 128GB MacBook Air at £849.