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.
It's a little tricky though given Apple's latest round of Macs and their accompanying increasing prices.
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 new and updated but for the £799 / $799 starting price might not be your best option.
MacBook Airs are a decent choice for an ultraportable laptop. However, the latest 2018 models are more expensive than the last generation were.
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. The upgraded 2019 iMacs are the best, even if they're a little more pricey.
If you really want a cheap Mac, you could check out the current stock on Apple's Refurbished Store.
Best cheap Macs 2019
The cheapest Mac is the Mac mini (reviewed here). This has been the case for sometime, but it now comes at a higher price than before. 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.
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.
The cheaper version will do for most people who want the cheapest way to get macOS running, but you’ll need a monitor, mouse and keyboard. Thankfully there are two USB-A ports on the unit if you have older wired peripherals, with Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C) and HDMI for connections to various monitors.
There’s Bluetooth 5.0 if you’d rather go wireless.
Add to that an Ethernet port and you’ll be ready to go. Just remember if you don’t have all the peripherals already they are a cost you’ll have to consider.
Apple finally updated the MacBook Air in 2018, refreshing the design for basically the first time in a decade. The resulting machine (reviewed here) looks a lot like the more expensive 12in MacBook. So, confusingly, the 13in MacBook Air is actually the cheapest MacBook, hence its inclusion here. It starts at £1,199/$1,199.
It’s worth noting though that the 12in MacBook and MacBook Pro both start at £1,249/$1,249. Apple also sells the previous generation MacBook Air still for £949/$949 – this is the cheapest MacBook Apple sells - but we don't recommend that you purchase that model as the components are from 2014/2015 so it isn't particularly future proof.
But we recommend the newer Air as it’s a much better laptop with 8th generation Intel chips, a great Retina display the old model lacks, Touch ID, slimmer design and the best battery life on any new-gen MacBook.
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. Read our comparison of the MacBook and MacBook Air.
The 21.5-inch iMac starts at £1,049/$1,099. That 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: That model has 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 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. In comparison, the 2018 MacBook Air offers two Thunderbolt 3 ports and not much else, while the 2018 Mac mini offers four Thunderbolt 3 ports, two USB 3 ports for older peripherals, an HDMI port.
However, it's well worth a look on the Apple Refurbished Store because you may find a previous-generation iMac model with a better processor than this one offers for less.
Read our review of the 2017 21.5-inch iMac.
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 2018 MacBook Air is a great option. Like the mini, the price is higher than it was, but it's still cheaper than the MacBook despite offering much better specs than that machine. Just don't be fooled into buying the older MacBook Air.
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. You might also want to read our article about buying a second-hand or refurbished Mac.