Whether to buy an Apple Mac desktop or laptop is a question many of our readers like to ask. After all the price range is mostly similar, but they offer wildly different features. Apple desktops offer more features, but chain you to a desk; while it’s notebook range lets you roam free but at what cost?
In this feature we’re going to take a look at Apple’s desktop and notebook range of computers, and see which one is right for you...
Apple’s Mac desktop range
Apple makes three different types of desktop computer. The first and most famous is the all-in-one iMac with its built in display (either 21.5-inch or 27-inch). There is also the diminutive Mac mini which needs a separate screen, keyboard and mouse but offers the latest power but is small enough to fit in a handbag. Finally there’s the upcoming new Mac Pro which offers incredible speed in an all-new style of cylindrical design.
Prices start at £499 for the Mac mini (although you’ll need to factor in the cost of a screen if you haven’t got one) and £1,099 for the iMac. The Mac Pro doesn’t have a price yet although we’re expecting it to be north of £2,000.
Apple Mac laptop range
Apple’s laptop range is more popular than its desktop range (at least they sell more). Apple has three different models to choose from. The MacBook Air is its most popular model, with its super-light and super-small design (either 11-inch or 13-inch screen). It’s no slouch though and the latest model offers a tremendous amount of battery life (up to 12 hours according to Apple).
The MacBook Pro comes in two models. A non-retina model just called the MacBook Pro and a version with the new Retina Display. This super-high resolution display makes compatible apps (most Apple apps plus stalwarts like Adobe Photoshop) look amazing. The MacBook Pro models are available with 13-inch and 15-inch screens.
Prices start at £849 for a MacBook Air, £999 for a MacBook Pro and £1,249 for a MacBook Pro with Retina Display.
Apple desktop vs laptop features
Comparing a desktop to a laptop throws up some pretty straight-forward differences. The first being that a desktop (especially the iMac) is clearly designed to sit on a desk; the laptop is designed to be carried around with you.
It’s worth noting that with ubiquitous Wi-Fi this doesn’t doesn’t just affect your ability to take the computer to a local coffee shop, a MacBook can be quickly moved into meeting rooms for presentations, and if you’re at home you can move from the desk to the couch and carry on using your computer.
Having said that there are also a number of key differences between an Apple MacBook and Desktop.
Screen size. The screen on the MacBooks starts at 11-inch and moves up to 15-inch. On the iMac it ranges from 21.5-inch to 27-inch (you’ll end up with comparable sizes for the Mac mini or Mac Pro). Don’t underestimate screen size as a factor in productivity. This Apple study shows that large monitors provide productivity gains of between 50-65 per cent.
Processor. The MacBook Air starts with a 1.3GHz dual-core processor; whereas the iMac starts with a 2.7Ghz quad-core CPU. Although there’s some crossover between the MacBook Pro and Mac mini, it’s clear that you get a lot more processor bang for your buck on the desktop range. This isn’t just a nicety: the faster speed will make a lot of difference if you’re using Photoshop and 3D imaging software, or video editing. It also extends the lifespan of the machine, ensuring it’ll be able to run newer software for longer.
Storage. On the surface it’s clear that you get more storage for your money with a Desktop. Apple’s Mac mini starts with 500GB and the iMacs have 1TB across the board and they can be upgraded to 3TB. The MacBook Air on the other hand starts at just 128GB, and going to 256MB is only on the higher-end models (each costing an additional £180. Going to 512MB is an additional £240 more). It’s the same story on the MacBook Pro with Retina display, although the non-retina model has a 500GB hard drive as standard.
But wait. This is because the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina Display comes with Flash storage built into the logic board, and this is much faster (between 5-10 times faster) than a traditional hard drive.So although you get less storage you get much faster performance.
You can upgrade to an SSD hard drive on the iMac and Mac mini, although this costs £240 to go for a 256MB SSD or £200 to move to a Fusion Drive. There’s a speed versus space issue here but it depends on your function. If you’re going to be editing a lot of video then the larger internal hard drive will make a lot of difference.
Upgradability. Apple computers are notoriously difficult to upgrade, and the latest range offers even more restricted computing than ever. The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina Display both have soldered RAM and hard drives: they are basically non-upgradable, what you buy is what you’ll use forevermore. The MacBook Pro without Retina Display still enables you to upgrade the RAM (up to 16GB) and swap out the hard drive. The iMac 21.5-inch is technically upgradable but so hard to strip down that it might as well not be, but both the iMac 27-inch and Mac mini allow you reasonably easy access to the RAM and hard drive.
Upgradability is a mixed bag. On the one hand there are size, weight and performance advantages to having everything soldered inside the machine. But you can easily extend the life of a Mac by updating the RAM and hard drive as prices fall. Again the Mac mini and iMac 27-inch offer longevity.
Should you buy a Mac desktop or laptop
It may sound trite but in the most case it really does come down to ‘how portable do you want your computer to be?’ If you need a machine to carry around with you then the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro offer this feature.
But if you don’t need it you get much more from a Mac desktop than just a bigger screen. The faster innards, and upgradability options (at least on models other than the 21.5-inch iMac) will allow you to buy a machine with more potential lifespan. And don’t underestimate the productivity gains of working on a large 27-inch display.