Buying a new Mac isn't as simple as picking up the latest iPhone. Unlike with their phones, Apple users tend to keep their Macs up and running for years on end, and with a wide variety of form factors and configurations to choose from, there's a lot more to consider. Portability, power, speed, storage, screen size, pixels and expansion needs are just a few on the list.
While the Mac lineup is fairly streamlined and straightforward when compared to all the Windows 10 PCs on the market, the options still feel endless. If you want a desktop, there's the Mac mini, iMac and Mac Pro to choose from, though we'd like to see the day when they're all three combined. On the laptop front, there's the 12-inch MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook and MacBook Pro, with a MacBook Air 2016 and MacBook Pro 2016 purportedly on the way.
Even if you overlook the build-to-order options, there are dozens of possibilities ranging from $499 (about £325/AU$646) all the way up to $3,999 (about £2,610/AU$5,181). That said, every Mac – regardless of personalization choices – ships with the latest operating system, macOS Sierra.
- Learn better window management etiquette in macOS Sierra
A new Mac is a long-term investment. As you don't want to be stuck with the wrong one forever, we scoured through every possible combination of specs and models to help pair you with your perfect match. So then, with two fingers on the trackpad, scroll with us as we dive in and find the best Mac for your needs.
1. Mac Pro
A cylindrical tower of power
CPU: Quad-core – hexa-core Intel Xeon E5 | Graphics: Two AMD FirePro D300 – D500 | RAM: 12GB – 64GB | Storage: 256GB – 1TB PCIe Flash | Dimensions (W x D x H): 16.7cm x 16.7cm x 25.1cm
The Mac Pro was cutting-edge when it launched in late 2013, and it's still one of the most advanced PCs money can buy - though an update wouldn't go amiss.
The new design, which made the machine much smaller and compact, introduced Thunderbolt, the high-speed connectivity option to the desktop, and a range of other high-end features that users wanted.
The most expensive Pro model can have a 12-core processor, 64GB of RAM, and 4 terabytes (4,000GB) of SSD storage without breaking a sweat. From here, users can add their own graphics cards, more memory, and run four displays.
The machine has power and performance to spare, with quad-core Intel Xeon E5 processors, dual AMD FirePro graphics cards, and super-fast PCIe-based flash storage. And its distinctive 9-inch-high cylindrical form fits great on any desk.
Of course, the Pro's price tag matches its performance - ranging from $2,999 (£2,499/AU$4,399) to around $10,000 depending on your storage, memory and processing needs - but it's as future-proofed as any Mac you'll find.
Even if OS X were to transform into some kind of a Multitouch hybrid in five years, today's Mac Pros will surely be able to handle it.
What's next for the Mac Pro?
The Mac Pro, unlike all of Apple's other desktops or laptops, is meant to be played with, expanded, and customised by people who work in film or music studios. Because of this, the Pro is unlike any of Apple's other machines and, as such, doesn't get updated as often by the company.
Apple has been under pressure to update the Mac Pro in recent times, however, as the iMac becomes more and more powerful. The next version of the Pro will most likely not come in 2016, however.
Read the full review: Mac Pro
2. 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display
Apple's biggest iMac puts everything on display
CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i5 – Core i7 | Graphics: AMD Radeon R9 M380 – R9 M395 (2GB) | RAM: 8GB – 32GB | Screen: 27-inch Retina 5K (5,120 x 2,880) IPS | Storage: 25GB – 1TB PCIe Flash; 2TB – 3TB Fusion Drive | Dimensions (H x W x D): 51.6cm x 65cm x 20.3cm
If you want the big screen of an iMac with the precision of a Retina display then there's only one iMac for you: the iMac with 5K Retina display. It comes with a choice of two quad-core Intel Core i5s at 3.3GHz and 3.5GHz respectively, a 1TB hard drive or Fusion Drive, and it's so pretty we want to marry it.
If you're dropping more than a grand and a half on an iMac you might as well go the whole hog and get the faster, Fusion Drive-packing model, packing a 5K Retina Display, 3.5GHz processor and Fusion Drive for £1,849 ($2,299).
For designers and video creators looking to make the move to ultra pixel-heavy content, the 5K iMac pairs an illustrious display with a heaping deal of screen real estate to boot. It may not have the expandability of a Mac Pro, but hey, at least you don't have to worry about buying a separate monitor.
What's next for the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display?
Apple is unlikely to change anything big on the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display in 2016, making way for other models—like the Pro or Mini—to get the limelight.
Read the full review: 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display
3. 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina display
A gorgeous 4K display on a compact all-in-one
CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i5 – i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Pro Graphics 6200 | RAM: 8GB – 16GB | Screen: 21.5-inch UHD (4,096 x 2,304) IPS | Storage: 25GB – 512GB PCIe Flash; 1TB HDD; 1TB – 2TB Fusion Drive | Dimensions (H x W x D): 45cm x 52.8cm x 17.5cm
If 27 inches is too much for you, Apple's 21.5-inch 4K iMac is much smaller but packs and equally sharp display. It goes toe-to-toe with the 27-inch 5K iMac's when it comes to pixel density, and it similarly supports the DCI P3 colour gamut that allows for accurate, vibrant colour.
The 4K iMac starts at £1,199 ($1,499) and can be upgraded with features such as a faster processor, more RAM and faster (and more capacious) storage.
It's not that much more affordable than the entry-level 27-inch iMac once you've ramped up the configuration, so it's worth bearing in mind whether spending the extra money would be worth getting hold of a larger display and much more powerful graphics capabilities.
If those aspects aren't important, Apple's smaller iMac is still a capable machine and packs one of the best 4K screens around. And, if you don't need an Ultra HD display, check out the 1080p model.
What's next for the 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina Display?
As with the 5K iMac, it's highly unlikely that Apple will launch a new 4K model in 2016. It will, however, benefit from an upgrade to OS X 10.12, OS X El Capitan's successor, which is likely to launch around October.
Read the full review: A gorgeous 4K display on a compact all-in-one
4. 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina
Due a redesign, but still the most capable MacBook
CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Pro; AMD Radeon R9 M370X (2GB) | RAM: 16GB | Screen: 15.6-inch Retina (2,880 x 1,440) IPS | Storage: 512GB – 1TB PCIe Flash | Dimensions (H x W x D): 1.8cm x 35.89cm x 24.71cm
The name may suggest a high-priced machine, but the MacBook Pro is far more affordable than the desktop tower that shares its surname. If you're looking for more of a desktop replacement than a road companion, it's definitely the way to go.
While we don't recommend the cheapest model, it appears as though Apple doesn't either. The $1,099 (£899, AU$1,549) non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro is being phased out anyway. Nonetheless, for 200 bucks more, you can go Retina right now, though you may want to wait as a MacBook Pro 2016 is expected to be just around the corner.
If you're set on buying a new computer right now, though, the extra money gives you double the RAM, three additional hours of battery life, a Force Touch trackpad and Iris graphics. You'll have to compromise on quite a few gigs of storage (125GB vs 500GB), but the upgrade to SSD is well worth the cost of admission – not to mention Apple will be more focused on cloud storage when macOS Sierra rolls around.
You can shell out even more of your respective currency for added storage and a few spare megahertz, but most users will get what they need for $1,299 (£999/AU1,799). At the very top of Apple's laptop lineup is the 15-inch model, and it earns its premier spot.
Packed with either a 2.2GHz or a 2.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, a Force Touch trackpad, and 16GB of RAM, it's a screamer whether you're editing videos in Final Cut Pro or making music with Garageband.
Starting at $1,999 (£1,599/AU$2,799), this model is significantly more expensive than its smaller sibling but worth every penny. And the $2,499 (£1,999/AU$3,499) step-up brings more than the usual storage and chip bump; Apple has also done us the favor of packing in AMD's Radeon R9 M370X graphics card, which makes this the only MacBook advanced enough to power a 5K display.
What's next for the MacBook Pro with Retina?
2016 will likely be a slower year for the Pro as the other Mac laptops, especially the Air, play catchup. The Pro was the first Apple laptop to get the Retina display in 2012 and has continued to cater to users who want a lot of power on-the-go ever since. Check out our MacBook Pro 2016 release date, news and rumors article for all of the latest information on potential upcoming models.
Intel has a new range of processors out, called Skylake, and these may make it into the laptop in 2016. However, Microsoft has had problems with its Surface Book and Pro models—both of which compete with the MacBook Pro—which may leave Apple cautious about an upgrade.
The competition from Microsoft, among others, may also force Apple to update the Pro quicker, bringing newer and faster components to the laptops as they come out, rather than in the months after. The company is unlikely to switch from its once-yearly schedule for updates, however.
Read the full review: 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina
5. 12-inch MacBook
Small, but perfectly formed
CPU: Dual-core Intel Core m3 – Core m5 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 12-inch Retina (2,304 x 1,440) IPS | Storage: 256GB – 512GB PCIe Flash | Dimensions (W x D x H): 28.05cm x 19.65cm x 1.31cm
Apple's 2015 MacBook refresh wasn't for everyone and, despite being rosier and "goldier" than ever, that contention hasn't changed with this year's upgrade. While both models supplanted the MacBook Air as the lightest and smallest laptop, the extra portability came with compromises.
Most notably, Apple replaced the standard USB 3 and Thunderbolt 2 ports with the brand-new USB-C protocol. While it's cool that a single cable can now handle both power and all sorts of data transfer, Mac users who are used to plugging in a variety of devices may find themselves frustrated picking through the various hubs and adapters required to complete even the most basic tasks.
There's also the keyboard. When the PowerBook debuted in 1991, Apple caused a stir by pushing the keys closer to the screen to create a natural palm rest and room for a trackball. Apple has attempted to change the game once again with the new MacBook, this time by re-engineering every key to be thinner and far less springy to the touch.
It feels quite a bit different than any other laptop we've ever used, so we recommend trying one at an Apple Store before making a decision. If those two concerns (and the loss of the glowing Apple logo) aren't an issue for you, the MacBook is pretty great.
Even though its 1.1GHz, 1.2GHz dual-core or 1.3GHz Intel Core M processor has nowhere near the power of the Pro or even the Air, the laptop is more than capable of running iMovie, Photos, and even Photoshop with ease, much thanks to the smooth-as-butter OS X El Capitan.
It's also easy on the eyes with a stunning design that's available in silver, space gray, gold in addition to a new rose gold finish, and it comes packed with the latest in portable technology, from the 2304x1440 retina display to the Force Touch trackpad. An affordable $1,299 (£1,049/AU$1,799) gets you 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and an improved 10-hour battery.
What's next for the 12-inch MacBook?
While it's too early to start speculating on what's in store for the next MacBook hardware, this year's model was the tock to last year's tick, meaning it didn't get quite the performance boost it deserved. Even with the welcome touch of an elegant new color option, the MacBook could undoubtedly benefit from a set of full-on Core i processors. Check out our 12-inch MacBook release date, news and rumors article for all of the latest updates on potential upcoming models.
For now, though, Apple has the iPad Pro, which weighs 1.57 pounds and measures 6.9mm thick, for those who don't want the power of a Mac, meaning that the MacBook needs to be more powerful to remain attractive.
However, because it runs iOS, the iPad Pro isn't compatible with certain apps, namely legacy programs designed for OS X, meaning that there is still a market for a laptop that can also be transported easily.
Apple also has to consider the MacBook Air, which has either an 11- or 13-inch screen (albeit possibly not for long), and is aimed at professionals who are on-the-go but need a powerful laptop.
Read the full review: 12-inch MacBook
6. 13-inch MacBook Air
It's now possible to grab big Air for less
CPU: Dual-core Intel Core i5 – Core i7 | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 6000 | RAM: 8GB | Screen: 13.3-inch HD (1,440 x 900) | Storage: 128GB – 512GB PCIe Flash | Dimensions (W x D x H): 19.7cm x 19.7cm x 3.6cm
The MacBook Air is in an interesting spot. While it's still one of the most popular and well-known notebooks around, the launch of the slimmer, lighter 12-inch Retina MacBook has stolen some of its thunder, and we have to assume one of two things: either a major update is in the works, or it will soon be made obsolete by an expanding MacBook line.
Still, we wouldn't recommend going for the 11-inch MacBook Air, which is well past its sell-by date. But until then, we wouldn't discourage anyone from buying it. The MacBook Air will still give you all-day battery life, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt ports and an SDXC card slot. Not that you should need all those ports once USB Type-C gains traction.
Even without a Retina display or Force Touch trackpad, the 13-inch MacBook Air is a very capable machine, complete with a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB flash drive.
Either model can be found for less than a grand, and with identical specs, choosing between the two sizes comes down to preference, with just $100 separating the $899 (£749/AU$1,249) 11-inch version and the $999 (£849/AU$1,399) 13-inch one.
What's next for the MacBook Air?
The MacBook Air, which launched in 2008 and was then updated in 2010, is in need of a refresh—and the rumours suggest Apple is going to give it one. Check out our MacBook Air 2016 news, release date and rumors article for all of the latest information on potential upcoming models.
The Retina display, a branding term Apple gives to its highest-resolution displays, has not yet made it onto any of the Air models and the internals—which are currently made up of Intel's Broadwell CPUs from 2014—undoubtedly need the Skylake treatment.
The Air currently occupies an awkward, but necessary, spot in Apple's lineup between the Pro—which is aimed at people who don't want to do use intensive applications like Photoshop or Final Cut Pro but do want to write or edit photos—and the MacBook, the less powerful option made for portability and longevity.
The Air is Apple's best selling model, according to supply chain estimates, and continues to be the cheapest way of getting a laptop with a glowing Apple logo on the back.
The company is evidently not obsessed with keeping it bang up-to-date. However, the refreshes presumably slated for 2016—integrating a Retina display, updated internals, and better battery—would keep it new, and powerful, enough for most users.
Read the full review: 13-inch MacBook Air
7. Mac mini
Apple's most affordable Mac
CPU: Dual-core Intel Core i5 – Core i7 | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics | RAM: 4GB – 16GB | Storage: 500GB HDD; 256GB – 1TB PCIe Flash; 1TB – 2TB Fusion Drive | Dimensions (W x D x H): 19.7cm x 19.7cm x 3.6cm
The Mac Mini is Apple's cheapest computer and has, for a long time, been its least powerful. However, thanks in large part to Intel's processor technology, the desktop can be used for heavier tasks and Apple has brought the low-end model up to a decent specification.
The desktop is popular both because of its price—which undercuts the cheapest MacBook Air by $400—and its design, which is small, sleek, and simple.
The Mini comes in three variants: a $499 option with a dual-core i5 CPU, a spinning hard drive, and 4GB of RAM; a $699 option with a more powerful processor, an SSD, and 8GB of RAM; or a $999 model which is comparable to the iMac at the same price.
The top-of-the-line Mac mini bumps the processor up to 2.8GHz and adds a Fusion Drive in place of the 5400-rpm spinner, but at $999, we wouldn't recommend it.
If you're willing to spend over a thousand dollars on a desktop computer, you'll be better served by moving up to an iMac. In the UK, the Mac mini runs from £399 to £799, while in Australia it starts at AU$699 and tops out at AU$1,399.
What's next for the Mac mini?
The Mac mini's internal hardware is nearly a year and a half old, and Apple could be looking to update it so that its low-end users get a decent experience when running OS X, which became more graphically intense with OS X 10.11 El Capitan, the newest version.
The 2016 model would likely include Intel's Skylake chips, which would yield big performance improvements, alongside other, newer internals, like RAM and an SSD option for the low-end model.
Read the full review: Mac mini
This article was updated for TechRadar's Mac Week. This year marks not only the 10th anniversary of Apple's MacBook, but the triumphant return of macOS. So, TechRadar looks to celebrate with a week's worth of original features delving back into the Mac's past, predicting the Mac's future and exploring the Mac as it is today.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article
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