Best Mac to buy in 2016: Apple's top iMacs, MacBooks and more

Find the Mac that's right for you

Best Mac guide

Buying a new Mac isn't as easy as picking out a new iPhone. With a phone you only have to worry about cost, color, and capacity, but when upgrading your computer you need to consider portability, power, speed, storage, screen size, pixels, expansion needs and more.

So while Apple's Mac lineup is fairly streamlined and straightforward, there's still a lot to consider. If you decide you want a desktop, there's the Mac mini, iMac and Mac Pro to choose from.

If portability is your primary concern, you have the 12-inch MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook and MacBook Pro. Even if you pass on 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).

A new Mac is a long-term investment. You don't want to be stuck with the wrong one for years and years, so we sorted through every option for every model to help pair you with your perfect match. Head to the next page as we dive right in.

Mac Pro Best Mac 2016

1. Mac Pro

A cylindrical tower of power

CPU: Up to 3.0GHz 8-core processor with 25MB L3 cache or 2.7GHz 12-core processor with 30MB L3 cache | Graphics: Up to dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 vRAM each | RAM: Up to 32GB (four 8GB) or 64GB (four 16GB) of DDR3 ECC memory | Storage: 256GB PCIe-based flash storage (configurable to 512GB or 1TB) | Communication: Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11ac | Dimensions (WxDxH): 16.7cm x 16.7cm x 25.1cm

Stellar design
Twin GPUs
Expansion ports
Internal expansion lacking
No bundled keyboard or mouse

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

27 inch iMac with 5K Retina display Best Mac 2016

2. 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display

Apple's biggest iMac puts everything on display

CPU: Up to 3.3GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz) | Graphics: Up to AMD Radeon R9 M395X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory | RAM: Up to 32GB of 1867MHz DDR3 memory; four SO-DIMM slots, user accessible | Storage: Up to 1TB of flash storage (SSD) | Communication: 10/100/1000BASE‑T Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45 connector) | Dimensions (HxWxD): 51.6cm (20.3 inches) x 65cm (25.6 inches) x 20.3 cm (8 inches)

Display
Performance
Core i7 costs extra
No Traget Display Mode

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).

If you can't afford or don't want the Retina iMac, you can pick up a new iMac from as little as £899 ($1,799) for the 21.5-inch model. The sweet spot is in the middle of the range: choosing the £1,049 ($1,999) model over the £899 one nearly doubles the processor speed, doubles the storage and gives you a better graphics system too.

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

21 5 inch iMac with 4K Retina display Best Mac 2016

3. 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina display

A gorgeous 4K display on a compact all-in-one

CPU: Up to 4.0GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.2GHz) | Graphics: Up to AMD Radeon R9 M395X GPU with 4GB of GDDR5 memory | RAM: Up to 32GB of 1867MHz DDR3 memory; four SO-DIMM slots, user accessible | Storage: Up to 1TB of flash storage (SSD) or 3TB Fusion Drive | Communication: 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45 connector) | Dimensions (WxDxH): TKTK

Display
Design
Fusion drive not standard
Chunky display bezel

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 they aren't important, Apple's smaller iMac is still a capable machine and packs one of the best 4K screens around.

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

15 inch MacBook Pro with Retina

4. 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina

Due a redesign, but still the most capable MacBook

CPU: Up to 4.0GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.2GHz) | Graphics: Up to AMD Radeon R9 M395X GPU with 4GB of GDDR5 memory | RAM: Up to 32GB of 1867MHz DDR3 memory; four SO-DIMM slots, user accessible | Storage: Up to 1TB of flash storage (SSD) or 3TB Fusion Drive | Communication: 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45 connector) | Dimensions (WxDxH): TKTK

Display
Performance
Chunky and heavy
Poor keyboard

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.

We don't recommend the cheapest model, however. While it does have a zippy 2.5GHz i5 processor, we aren't wowed by the laptop's 13-inch non-Retina screen, 5400-rpm hard drive and 7-hour battery life. At $1,099 (£899/AU$1,549), we'd either get the upper-end Air for the same price or chip in another $200 to go Retina.

The extra money also buys double the RAM, three additional hours of battery life, a Force Touch trackpad, and Iris graphics. You'll give up quite a few gigs of storage (125GB vs 500GB), but the upgrade to a flash drive makes the tradeoff much more palatable.

You can spend even more for extra storage and a few 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 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 crammed in AMD's Radeon R9 M370X graphics card, which makes this the only laptop 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—and so Apple may be wary about adopting the chipsets. Over the next year, Intel may figure out the quirks, however.

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

best mac

5. 12-inch MacBook

Small, but perfectly formed

CPU: Up to 1.3GHz Dual-Core Intel Core M processor (Turbo Boost up to 2.9GHz) with 4MB shared L3 cache | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515 | RAM: 8GB (1,866MHz LPDDR3) | Storage: Up to 512GB (PCIe-based flash) | Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi‑Fi; Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology | Dimensions: 28.05cm (11.04 inches) x 19.65cm (7.74 inches) x 1.31cm (0.52 inches)

Design
Display
Underpowered
Keyboard

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

13 inch MacBook Air Best Mac 2016

6. 13-inch MacBook Air

It's now possible to grab big Air for less

CPU: 2.8GHz 3.0GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz) with 4MB on-chip shared L3 cache | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics | RAM: 16GB LPDDR3 memory | Storage: 512GB PCIe-based onboard flash storage | Communication: 802.11ac Wi‑Fi wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible; Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology | Dimensions (WxDxH): 19.7cm (7.7 inches) x 19.7cm (7.7 inches) x 3.6cm (1.4 inches)

Battery life
Nippy storage
Dated design
Display

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 new 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 and Thunderbolt ports, and an SDXC card slot.

Even without a Retina display or Force Touch trackpad, it's a very capable machine, with a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB flash drive.

Either model can be had 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—need a refresh for 2016.

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 intensive tasks (like Photoshop) but do want to write or edit photos—and the MacBook.

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, but the refreshes slated for 2016—including a Retina display, updated internals, and better battery—will keep it new, and powerful, enough for most users.

Read the full review: 13-inch MacBook Air

Mac mini Best Mac 2016

7. Mac mini

Apple's most affordable Mac

CPU: 2.8GHz 3.0GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz) with 4MB on-chip shared L3 cache | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics | RAM: 16GB LPDDR3 memory | Storage: 512GB PCIe-based onboard flash storage | Communication: 802.11ac Wi‑Fi wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible; Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology | Dimensions (WxDxH): 19.7cm (7.7 inches) x 19.7cm (7.7 inches) x 3.6cm (1.4 inches)

Design
Ports
Impossible to upgrade
No monitor

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

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article

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