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.
MacBook Air - starting at £1,099/$1,099 is the cheapest Mac laptop you can buy. Apple dropped the price by £100/$100 in July 2019 so it's now an even better deal, but if you were hoping for a cheaper option, Apple stopped selling the old-style MacBook Air that was available for £949/$999 in July 2019.
iMac - there is also an iMac you can buy £1,049/$1,099 (the same price as the Air in the US, slightly cheaper than the Air in the UK... but probably not for long...) 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.
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 really good deals on good-as-new Macs.
Best cheap Macs 2019
The cheapest Mac is the Mac mini (reviewed here). 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 that’s 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 128GB SSD storage.
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 256GB SSD.
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.
Read about the changes that could come to the Mac mini in 2019/2020 here.
Apple finally updated the MacBook Air in 2018, refreshing the design for basically the first time in a decade. The resulting machine (reviewed here) originally cost £1,199/$1,199 but in July 2019 Apple reduced the price by £100/$100 so you can now get one for £1,099/$1,099.
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, so we didn't recommend buying it at the price Apple placed on it. But you could, and might still be able to, find one reduced by another reseller, so it's worthy of consideration - but we'd say ignore it if if costs more than £650. It's just not worth it and its old components aren't particularly future proof.
On-the-other-hand, the newer Air with its 8th generation Intel chips, and Retina display, Touch ID, slimmer design and the best battery life on any Mac laptop, comes highly recommended.
The base model has a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor with 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD for storage. £200/£200 more gets you a Core i5 with the same RAM and double the storage. You only really need the latter model if you’re going to be storing a lot on the machine as the storage really is the only difference.
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.
Note: The Retina iMac models have been updated for 2019 with new hardware such as a quad-core 8th-gen Intel processor at the least. 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 2018 MacBook Air offers two Thunderbolt 3 ports and nothing else, while the 2018 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 2018 Mac mini is an excellent choice. 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, with its July 2019 price drop, 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 - especially now the range has been updated for 2019 with new hardware such as quad- or six-core 8th-gen Intel processors.
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.