It's well known that Macs or Apple products in general aren't exactly cheap, at least compared with many 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 and the best iMac deals.

Cheap Mac buying advice

If it's a brand-new Mac you're after, the Mac mini isn't the obvious choice that it might appear. The models Apple currently sells are pretty old  - because the current models are old. If your heart is set on a mini then wait until later in 2018 as there's a chance that Apple will update it.

MacBook Airs are still a decent choice for an ultraportable laptop. However, in the not-too-distant future the price of the MacBook (the regular model now without the 'Air' tag) could come down, making that Mac laptop the best low-cost Mac you can buy.

You could buy the entry-level iMac, especially if you're not looking for a machine to take around with you, but the cheapest model might not be the best choice.

For now, though, if you really want a cheap Mac, our recommendation is to find yourself one on Apple's Refurbished Store.

Best cheap Macs

Mac mini (2014)

Mac mini (2014)

The cheapest Mac is the Mac mini (reviewed here) which you can buy new from Apple for £479/$499. That's a lot cheaper than any other Mac Apple sells - it's about half the price of the entry-level MacBook Air, which costs £949/$999.

However, there are a few reasons why it isn't as great a deal as it may seem.

First of all, the Mac mini hasn't been updated since 2014 and still uses Intel's ageing fourth-generation Haswell processor from that year. It's been ignored like an unwanted Christmas toy while others have been given regular refreshes.

In 2017 Apple launched Macs with seventh-generation Kaby Lake processors, and in 2018 we should be seeing eighth-generation Coffee Lake chips.

The entry-level Mac mini also has just 4GB RAM, less than any other Mac, and a 500GB hard drive. The only other Mac with a hard drive is the entry-level iMac and that model offers 1TB of storage. The lack of an update has led to rumours that the Mac mini's days are numbered.

Note that the entry-level Mac mini might actually cost more than just the price of buying as you may also need to buy a monitor, keyboard and mouse. All you get in the box is the computer and its power lead while other Macs include the peripherals.

This Mac is still considerably cheaper than any other Mac sold by Apple, though. Should we really expect more from a Mac that costs less than £500/$500?

If you don't think the 1.4GHz, 4GB RAM Mac mini will be sufficiently powerful to meet your needs there are still some low-cost options.

There is a Mac mini with a 2.6GHz Haswell processor, 8GB RAM, and a 1TB hard drive for £679/$699: a good deal when compared to the MacBook Air, which costs £270/$300 more and has a slower 1.8GHz processor.

The £979/$999 Mac mini offers a 2.8GHz processor, 8GB memory and 1TB Fusion Drive. That Fusion Drive combines flash memory with the hard drive so that frequent operations can be done quickly. But now we're up to a price more than the MacBook Air.

You can spec the Mac mini up a lot including options like a 3GHz dual-core i7 processor, 1TB SSD and 16GB RAM. However, this pushes the price soaring to an unsightly £1,849/$1,999. You may as well save around £600 and get an iMac.

Overall, the Mac mini isn't the best option for many people. It's only really a bargain if you already have peripherals and don't need much power.

13-inch MacBook Air (2017)

13-inch MacBook Air (2017)

You might be thinking that Apple updated the MacBook Air in 2017. Apple did tweak the processors in June 2017, but this wasn't much of an update. The processors were bumped from 1.6GHz to 1.8GHz, but they are still the Broadwell processors from 2015.

The MacBook Air hasn't been properly updated for a few years. The last time the skinny laptop was upgraded was 2015, and it doesn't seem so skinny any more.

When the even thinner and lighter Retina MacBook joined the line-up many thought that the Air's days were numbered, and Apple's refusal to update it beyond a slight bump to the processor adds weight to that. We have a separate article about the future of the MacBook Air.

However, the MacBook Air is still with us but should you grab one while you still can?

What do you get for your £949/$999? A 1.8GHz dual-core processor with Turbo Boost to 2.9GHz, 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD.

If you were to consider the Retina MacBook you could get a 1.2GHz dual-core processor with Turbo Boost to 3.0GHz (note that's the newer Kaby Lake rather than Broadwell), 8GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD. That would cost you £1,249/$1,299.

That extra money gets you the superior Retina display (that's 2304 x 1440 pixels compared to 1440 x 900 on the Air), and twice as much storage. The processor might sound slower, but it's newer - and if you notice the Turbo Boost, it's really in another league so it's worth it if you can afford the jump. Also check out the MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air.

Overall, the MacBook Air is still a decent option for a light, portable laptop with reasonable specs. But it's no longer a no-brainer so think carefully about what is best for you.

21.5-inch iMac (2017)

21.5-inch iMac (2017)

The 21.5-inch iMac starts at £1,049/$1,099. You're getting a reasonably new machine - Apple did update it in June 2017 but there are a few 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.

It might not offer a Retina display, but you will find a 2.3GHz dual-core processor, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive and two Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Neither the MacBook Air or the Mac mini offer Thunderbolt 3, because it's a fairly new standard. Thunderbolt 3 is the same as USB Type-C and can be used for accessories like storage and eGPUs.

It goes without saying that the 2.3GHz processor is better than the one in the MacBook Air, and far superior to the ancient 2.6GHz processor in the mid-tier Mac mini.

However, it's well worth a look on the Apple Refurbished Store because you may find a previous-generation iMac model for less. For example, you can get a 21.5-inch 1.6GHz Broadwell iMac with 8GB RAM and a 1TB hard drive for around £800/$800 if in stock.

Read our review of the 2017 21.5-inch iMac.