It's well-known that Macs or Apple products in general aren't exactly cheap, at least compared with some of the Windows alternatives. But if you're on a tight budget and keen to go down the Apple route, there are some lower-priced options available.
In this article we will look at the Mac mini, MacBook Air and entry-level iMac, and ask whether they are really a sensible budget option or if you can get a better deal elsewhere. We examine each of our budget picks in detail, but you can check out our in-depth Mac buying guide for more information.
The cheapest Mac
If it's a brand-new low-cost Mac you're after, there are three to choose from:
Mac mini - starting at £799/$799 this is the cheapest Mac you can buy. There's also a £1,099 model. Buy the Mac mini here.
MacBook Air - starting at £999/$999 is the cheapest Mac laptop you can buy. Apple dropped the price by £100/$100 in July 2019 and by another £100/$100 in March 2020, so it's now an even better deal. Buy the MacBook Air here.
iMac - there is also an iMac you can buy £1,049/$1,099, however we really don't recommend that you do! There's a much better iMac that costs £1,249 and is worthy of consideration, even if you are thinking that £200 leap is a bit too much for you. Buy the iMac here.
That's what you can buy new - and we'll look at each option in more detail below - but if you really want a cheap Mac there are a few other avenues you should consider:
You could check out the current stock on Apple's Refurbished Store. Apple sells Macs that have been returned to it. These Macs are serviced (and repaired if necessary) and ship with a full warranty. You can get some fantastic deals on good-as-new Macs. Read why you should buy a refurbished Mac.
You could also take a look for the best deals and discounts here:
There is no need to pay the full price for a Mac!
Best cheap Macs 2020
The cheapest Mac is the Mac mini (the 2018 model is reviewed here - the 2020 model has the same spec, but has twice as much storage).
The mini has always been the cheapest Mac, but when Apple updated it in 2018 it got a price hike. The entry level model is £799/$799 up from the old version’s £479/$499.
Granted, it’s now a more powerful Mac with a 3.6GHz quad-core Core i3, but you might still consider that a lot for a computer that comes with no screen, keyboard or mouse. Then again, maybe you have a screen, keyboard and mouse already...
That base model has 8GB RAM, Intel UHD Graphics 630 and 256GB storage (up from 128GB SSD).
The other version is £1,099/$1,099 and packs a 3.0GHz 6-core Core i5 with the same RAM and graphics and a 512GB SSD (up from 256 in the 2018 model).
There are lots of useful ports on the Mac mini, including two USB-A ports if you have older wired peripherals, there's also Thunderbolt 3 (which doubles up as USB Type-C) and HDMI for connections to various monitors and TVs.
The cheaper version will do for most people who want the cheapest way to get macOS running, but you’ll need to factor in the cost of a monitor, mouse and keyboard if you don't already have them.
Apple finally updated the MacBook Air in 2018, refreshing the design for basically the first time in a decade. The resulting machine originally cost £1,199/$1,199 but in July 2019 Apple reduced the price by £100/$100 and in 2020 the entry-level price dropped further to £999/$999. Read our review of the 2020 MacBook Air here.
Prior to July 2019 Apple also sold the older-style MacBook Air at the lower price of £949/$999. This model had a processor that dated back to 2015 and lacked the Retina display, so we didn't recommend buying it at the price Apple placed on it and we still don't recommend buying it in the unlikely event of one being sold 'as new' all those years later.
On-the-other-hand, the 2020 MacBook Air with its 10th generation Intel chips, and Retina display, Touch ID, slimmer design and superb battery life, comes highly recommended. Even the 2018 MacBook Air, should you find a new one for sale, would be a good purchase (but only if it was priced under £700 we'd say, given the new £999/$999 entry-level price).
As of March 2020 the base model has a 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i3 10th generation processor with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD for storage. £300/£300 more gets you a 1.1GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 with the same RAM and double the storage.
Prior to the 2020 update the two machines predominantly shared specs, but as of March 2020 the more expensive Air is a much better machine and a good option if you have £1,299/$1,299 to spend.
If you think you’ll need more RAM or even more storage there are configuration options at point of purchase online but most people will be fine with the base model. If you need to edit video or want to play high-level games, the cheapest Macs won’t do, unfortunately.
The MacBook Air isn’t as cheap as it once was but it’s still Apple’s cheapest laptop and the best option for most people.
The 21.5-inch iMac starts at £1,049/$1,099. That entry-level machine was last updated by Apple in June 2017, so the components aren't as new as the Mac mini and MacBook Air. Plus there are a few other things that are worth bearing in mind before parting with your cash.
The first is that the entry-level iMac is not the same as the next iMac in the range. The key difference is the fact that it doesn't have a Retina display: a 4K Retina display will cost you another £200/$200 - money well spent if you can afford it.
Unlike the entry-level iMac, the Retina iMac models were updated for 2019 with new hardware such as a quad-core 8th-gen Intel processor (or a 9th-gen processor if you opt for the 27in models). You also get a discrete Radeon Pro 555X graphics card and faster RAM.
Back to the cheapest iMac if you really can't afford the £200/$200 jump (though we implore you to find the money from somewhere for your own benefit) - you will find a 2.3GHz dual-core i5 processor (7th-gen) and 8GB RAM. The RAM runs at 2133MHz - that's slower RAM than the rest of the iMac range, but the same as the Air. The RAM in the Mac mini is faster though at 2666MHz.
You'll also find a 1TB hard drive in the entry-level iMac, which might be attractive if you need lots of storage space, but it will slow the Mac down in comparison to those Macs with an SSD (which both the Air and mini both have).
The iMac has two Thunderbolt 3 ports and four USB 3 ports (for older peripherals). Thunderbolt 3 is the same as USB Type-C and can be used for accessories like storage and eGPUs. The iMac also offers an SDXD card slot, USB 3 ports (for older peripherals), and Gigabit Ethernet.
In comparison, the MacBook Air offers two Thunderbolt 3 ports and nothing else, while the Mac mini offers four Thunderbolt 3 ports, two USB 3 ports for older peripherals, an HDMI port.
We don't recommend the entry-level non-Retina iMac, if you can't afford to spend £200 more on the next model up our advice is to look at the Apple Refurbished Store because you may find a previous-generation iMac model with a better processor than this one offers for less money.
Read our review of the 2017 21.5-inch iMac.
We also have a review of the 2019 21.5in iMac for comparison.
Which cheap Mac is best?
The best low-cost Mac for you depends on your needs.
If you want something powerful and already have a monitor, mouse and keyboard, then the Mac mini is an excellent choice, especially now that it has more storage on offer. It packs a lot of power and the price, while higher than before, is really great value.
If you are looking for something portable then the MacBook Air, now starting at just £999/$999, is a great option.
We wouldn't recommend buying the entry-level iMac right now. If you want an iMac we'd advise that you spend a little more and buy the £1,249/$1,299 option with it's 4K display and better graphics card. However, we estimate that the iMac range will soon be updated so we'd suggest that you wait until June 2020 to see if Apple improves the line up. Read about the 2020 iMac rumours here.
If even the Mac mini, as Apple's cheapest Mac, is too expensive for you at £799/$799 then we recommend that you look to Apple's Refurbished store to see if there are any good deals to be had on older models. You might also want to read our article about buying a second-hand or refurbished Mac.