Planning to buy a new Mac in the run up Christmas? Now comes the hard part: which Mac should you buy? That’s where we come in. We’ve tested every standard-configuration Mac model currently in Apple’s lineup, and we know each model inside and out. We’re happy to help you make a decision.
This buying guide explains all the Mac models available and which is best suited to which purpose.
The MacBook Air has become Apple’s marquee laptop. Its thin, lightweight design makes it an ideal portable computer, and you no longer have to accept the feature compromises that older MacBook Air models required.
Since Apple discontinued the MacBook in July 2011, the MacBook Air is also Apple’s lowest-priced laptop at £849.
The 2012 MacBook Air line uses Intel dual-core Core i5 processors, a vast improvement over the Core 2 Duo processors used in previous models. All come with flash storage and Intel HD Graphics 4000. It’s the graphics capabilities that let this lightweight laptop down, meaning it’s not really suitable for high-end gaming.
Past MacBook Air models had just USB 2.0 connectivity; but the latest MacBook Airs feature Thunderbolt, a high-speed connector that widens the range of peripherals you can use.
There are four MacBook Airs: two 11in models and two 13in models. The entry-level 11in MacBook Air has a 1.6GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of flash storage for £849. The other 11in MacBook Air has the same processor, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of flash storage for £929. Both 11in models feature a high-resolution, backlit, glossy, LED display with a 1366x768 (native) resolution.
The only difference between the two 13in MacBook Air models is the amount of flash storage. Both 13in models feature a 1.8GHz Core i5 processor, but the £999 13in MacBook Air has 128GB of flash storage, while the £1,249 13in MacBook Air has 256GB.
The MacBook Air is quite capable of handling everyday tasks, such as emailing, web browsing, using office applications, and more. You can even use it for editing short videos, and working with JPEGs from your iPhone or point-and-shoot camera. The 11in MacBook Air and entry-level MacBook Pro are among the slowest in Apple’s lineup (only the entry-level Mac mini is slower) but the 11in Air is still no slouch, thanks in part to its flash storage.
Macworld’s buying advice: Previous MacBook Air generations were thought of as niche laptops. But the latest MacBook Air is the ideal laptop for most Mac users. It’s a great combination of performance and portability. We wholeheartedly recommend it for all but the most intense processing demands. Sure, it has less storage than other Macs, but an external drive can fix that issue.
The most recent MacBook Pro line was released in October 2012. The MacBook Pro continues to sport the aluminium unibody design that was introduced in 2008. The current models feature Core i5 and Core i7 processors and Thunderbolt ports that can be used to daisy-chain up to six devices at 10Gbps.
The 13in and 15in MacBook Pros feature integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 and a discrete AMD Radion graphics chip. The 13in models use just an integrated Intel graphics processor, like the MacBook Air, but they have more features and processing power than that model.
There are eight standard configurations of the MacBook Pro. The entry-level 13in MacBook Pro, with a dual-core 2.5GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive, costs £999. The 13in MacBook Pro with a dual-core 2.9GHz Core i7 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 750GB hard drive costs £1,249.
There are two standard 15in models. For £1,499, you get a quad-core 2.3GHz Core i7 processor, a 500GB hard drive, and a NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M with 512MB of GDDR5 memory along with the integrated Intel graphics. The next model up (at £1,799) has a quad-core 2.6GHz Core i7 processor, a 750GB hard drive, and a NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M with 1GB of GDDR5 memory along with the integrated Intel graphics.
Apple also offers four standard configurations of the MacBook Pro with Retina display, available in 15in models and now a choice of 13in models. The 2.5GHz MacBook with Retina display costs £1,449 for the 128GB flash storage model and £1,699 for the 256GB flash storage version. The 15-in 2.3GHz MacBook with Retina display with 256GB flash storage costs £1,799, while the 15in 2.6GHz MacBook with Retina display with 512GB flash storage is £2,299.
The 15in non-Retina display MacBook Pros are the only Apple laptops that offer an antiglare screen option, which costs an extra £80 for either the £1,499 or 1,799 model.
As you might expect, the Retina MacBook Pros offer a significant boost over their non-Retina counterparts, but all MacBook Pro options impress.
Macworld’s buying advice: The MacBook Pro with Retina display sets the new standard for MacBooks although at a price that is a significant investment. If your budget is limited or your not a heavy user who doesn't require a lot of power or a high-resolution Retina screen, then the 13in MacBook Air is a worthy compromise.
Designwise, the 2012 Mac mini hasn’t changed much compared with its predecessors. It’s still a small, aluminium square that sits modestly on your desk.
The Mac mini has a high-speed Thunderbolt port, it also has an HDMI port, which hints at its suitability as a TV-attached media centre. There’s also a FireWire 800 port, four USB 3.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, an SDXC Card slot, and analogue/optical-digital audio input and output minijacks.
The £499 Mac mini has a dual-core 2.5GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics. The £679 Mac mini has a dual-core 2.3GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 1TB hard drive. You have to supply your own keyboard, mouse, and display.
There is also a server version of the Mac mini for £849, which is perfect in a home or work environment with multiple clients to be managed as well as files to be shared. Apple now offers a Fusion Drive option, which combines 128GB of flash storage with a traditional hard drive. This option, available on the 2.3GHz Mac mini model only costs an affectional £200 for a 1TB Fusion Drive.
The 2012 Mac minis are significantly faster than the previous year’s model. However, the £499 Mac mini is the second-slowest Mac in Apple’s current lineup, due to slow hard drives, limited RAM, and integrated graphics.
The Mac minis lag significantly behind the iMacs, but for general-purpose use and editing of moderate-size videos and photos, the Mac mini will do fine.
Macworld’s buying advice: The Mac mini continues to be a nice, affordable computer for new Mac users and people on a budget. It has enough power for everyone except professionals who demand top performance. Be sure to shop around for an external disc burner if you really need an optical drive, which may be the case if you were planning to use the Mac mini as a media centre device.
As for the Mac mini server, Apple stresses the personal server aspect of the Mac mini, describing potential uses in small businesses, classrooms, design studios, and so on. There’s a more powerful option in the Mac Pro Server but at a basic price of £2,499, that comes in at almost three times the Mac mini server’s £849. In most cases, the Mac mini server is more than enough.
Apple have refined the design of its aluminium all-in-one desktop computer with a recent update, elegantly fitting the components and display into an increasingly slim, iconic form, which now means no space for a SuperDrive.
The iMacs are available with 21.5in and 27in widescreen displays. All iMacs come standard with 8GB of RAM, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Gigabit Ethernet, a FaceTime HD camera, four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, an SDXC Card slot, audio in and out jacks, and built-in speakers.
There are two 21.5in iMacs. The first 21.5in iMac has a 2.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, a 1TB hard drive, and NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M with 512MB for £1,099. The second 21.5in iMac has a 2.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, a 1TB hard drive, and a NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M with 512MB for £1,249. Each 21.5in iMac has two Thunderbolt port.
There are two 27in iMacs. The 27in model with a 2.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, a 1TB hard drive, and a NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M with 512MB graphics card costs £1,499. Then there’s a 27in iMac with a 3.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz processor, a 1TB hard drive, and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 675MX with 1GB graphics card; it costs £1,699. Each of the 27in iMacs again come with two Thunderbolt ports.
The four 2012 iMacs are considerably faster than the systems they replace, at least the 21.5in models we had in our hands. We expect to run the usual Macworld bench tests on the two 27in iMacs early in 2013.
Macworld’s buying advice:
Many may miss the lack of a SuperDrive, but the new, even slimmer iMacs appear to impress, with the 27in model due for review soon.
The Mac Pro hasn’t had a significant update since August 2010, although Apple's Tim Cook hints all that will change in 2013.
The £2,049 Mac Pro has a 3.2GHz quad-core Xeon processor and 6GB of memory. The £3,099 Mac Pro provides two 2.4GHz six-core Xeon processors (for a total of 12 processing cores) and 12GB of memory. Both models include a 1TB hard drive, a SuperDrive, and ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics hardware with 1GB of video memory. A Mac Pro Server configuration costs £2,449.The Mac Pro is the only Mac that is not equipped with Thunderbolt, despite being the model you would assume would best suit users of Thunderbolt-ready devices.
The real attraction of the Mac Pro is its ton of build-to-order options: you can add more RAM – up to the 33GB for each Mac Pro; fill four drive bays with additional hard drives or solid-state drives, and even configure them as a RAID; add a second SuperDrive; upgrade the graphics card; and more.
The Mac Pros excel when running software that takes advantage of multiple processing cores, such as high-end video-editing programs, 3D graphics applications, image editors, professional audio software, and such like.
Macworld’s buying advice: Despite the lack of recent upgrades, the Mac Pro is still ideal for the most demanding user, one who uses high-end applications and wants hardware expandability and the ability to upgrade the graphics card, for example. Yes, the machines are expensive, but they’re well worth it for professionals, and if you can wait until sometime in 2013, we should see something new and exciting from Apple for pro users.