MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: which is right for you?

Choose the best new MacBook for your needs

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro

When Apple released a new MacBook Air in time for OS X Lion, it also took the chance to cut the white MacBook from its line up. This leaves buyers with a choice between the MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro.

But if you're after an Apple laptop and were thinking of getting the white MacBook, which is right for you now? The MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros have some quite significant differences, so we've put together the following guide to help you decide which will fulfil your needs.

If you decide the current Apple range isn't right for you, also check our top 20 laptops list here.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Price

The new MacBook Air range starts at £849 for the 11-inch, 64GB model, with the 128GB model coming in at £999. The 13-inch MacBook Air starts at £1,099 for the 128GB version, with the 256GB version costing £1,349.

The MacBook Pro range starts at £999 for the 2.3GHz 13-inch version, while the 2.7GHz model will cost you £1,299. The 15-inch models cost £1,549 and £1,849 for the 2GHz and 2.2GHz models respectively. The 17-inch model costs £2,099.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Processor

All of Apple's laptops now use Intel's Sandy Bridge processors, so this means the latest Intel Core i5 or Core i7 CPUs. The MacBook Air's CPUs are all dual-core regardless of whether you've got the 1.6GHz, 1.7GHz or 1.8GHz model, but they're Hyper-Threaded, so they have four virtual cores.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro also features dual-core CPUs, but they're a lot more powerful, running at 2.3GHz or 2.7GHz. These are also both Hyper-Threaded, like the MacBook Air's, giving you four virtual cores. The 15-inch MacBook Pro and 17-inch MacBook Pro feature quad-core CPUs at 2GHz, 2.2GHz or 2.3GHz. Again, these are Hyper-Threaded, giving eight virtual cores.

All of the CPUs on both the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air lines feature Turbo Boost, so can clock beyond their given speed in certain circumstances.

MacBook air

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Graphics

The new MacBook Airs feature the new integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 graphics chip, which is the same as in the 13-inch MacBook Pro. In our 13-inch MacBook Pro review, we noted that this GPU was surprisingly capable for gaming, but this is likely to be diminished in the MacBook Air because of its less powerful processor.

The 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pro models come with dedicated GPUs from AMD, with up to 1GB of video memory. This makes them far better for gamers, or those using GPU-accelerated software, including Final Cut X and Motion 5.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: RAM

The new MacBook Airs feature the same 1333MHz DDR3 RAM as the MacBook Pro line, though the cheapest 11-inch MacBook Air only features 2GB, while all the other MacBook Air models match the MacBook Pros by having 4GB as standard.

However, the MacBook Pros can be configured to have up to 8GB of RAM, while the Airs can't be increased past 4GB.

MacBook pro

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Screen

The 11-inch MacBook Air has a resolution of 1366 x 768, while the 13-inch MacBook Air offer 1440 x 900. This is actually higher than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which features a 1280 x 800 screen. In fact, the 13-inch MacBook Air's resolution is equivalent to the 15-inch MacBook Pro's, which is also 1440 x 900, which could make the MacBook Air more desirable for photographers and designers than the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

That said, the MacBook Pro can be configured to have a 1680 x 1050 screen, while the 1920 x 1200 screen on the 17-inch MacBook Pro bests all the others.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Storage

The MacBook Air range uses flash memory SSDs, making it extremely fast to turn on and to wake from sleep mode. It also helps to make it power efficient. The cheapest 11-inch MacBook Air offers 64GB of storage, while the more expensive 11-inch model offers 128GB. The 13-inch models offer 128GB or 256GB of storage.

The MacBook Pro models all feature hard drives as standard, starting from 320GB in the 13-inch to 750GB in the 17-inch model. These can be configured for larger drives though, or for faster hard drives or even SSDs up to 512GB.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Battery life

The 11-inch MacBook Air is stated to offer up to five hours of battery life in real-word use, while the 13-inch MacBook and all of the MacBook Pro models are stated to offer up to seven hours of use. How you use them will obviously affect this – playing games using the MacBook Pros' dedicated GPUs will causes a severe reduction in battery life.

Unlike the MacBook Pros, the MacBook Airs are designed to offer lengthy standby battery life, lasting up to 30 days without being turned off, which could be an advantage for those who won't get a chance to plug in their laptop that often.

MacBook air vs macbook pro

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Size and weight

The 11-inch MacBook Air is considerably smaller than any of Apple's other laptops, but still offers nearly a full size keyboard. It measues 17mm at its thickest point when closed, and weighs 1.08kg. The 13-inch MacBook Air is the same thickness as the 11-inch model, but is wider and deeper. It weighs a little more, at 1.35kg.

The MacBook Pros are 24mm thick for the 13- and 15-inch versions, while the 17-inch is 25mm thick. They're all a good deal heavier too, with the 13-inch model weighing nearly twice what the 11-inch MacBook Air does at 2.04kg. The 15-inch weighs 1.54kg, while the 17-inch model is 2.99kg.

This all makes the MacBook Airs far easier to carry around with you, but it has come at the cost of storage space, and processor and graphics power.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Ports

The new MacBook Airs feature two USB 2.0 ports, a headphone port, an SD card slot and a Thunderbolt port. This enables them to connect to the new Thunderbolt Display to add more I/O options.

The 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros both have two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 800 port, Gigabit Ethernet, an audio line-out an SD card slot and a Thunderbolt port. The 15-inch model also has a line-in jack. The 17-inch model adds another USB 2.0 port and swaps the SD card slot for an ExpressCard slot.

All of the MacBook Pros feature a DVD drive, while the MacBook Airs don't have any disc drive at all unless you buy the SuperDrive add-on, so if you want to watch DVDs, you should take that into consideration.

MacBook air vs macbook pro

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