So, you’ve decided to purchase a MacBook. That’s a great decision, because they are some of the best laptops you can buy. They’re sturdy, well-built, and bursting with great features and class-leading software.
Only one question remains, then: which MacBook should you buy? That’s not as simple as it would seem on the surface, as Apple’s MacBook lineup has grown increasingly complex in recent years. Take one look at the choice you have on Apple’s website and it’s easy to get stuck in a tangled web of models, sizes and configuration options.
For example, should you buy a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro? What size display do you need for your work? Which chip is the best one to go for? And how much storage do you need? These are just a few of the questions you’re likely to confront when trying to pick a MacBook.
Fortunately, our guide is here to help. We’ve gone through all the options so you don’t have to, picking out the best MacBooks for any situation. There’s no need to agonize over the decision anymore – just give our guide a read and you’ll know what to opt for.
Our first pick, which we’ll come to later, is the M2 MacBook Air. It’s the best overall MacBook you can buy, and is packed full of all the features most people will need, like a zippy processor, impressive graphics performance, and a gorgeous display. It does all that while wrapped up in a durable chassis, and it won’t burn a hole in your finances. That makes it an excellent all-rounder if you want an Apple laptop.
This is the first in a regular series of articles designed to guide you through the process of buying a particular device or type of product. Read them all here.
If your budget is a bit more constrained, the M1 MacBook Air should be perfect. You still get the classic Apple experience – solid build quality, speedy components, best-in-class software – but can save you a bit of money while doing so. It’s not only the best budget MacBook, but one of the best laptops under $1,000.
Finally, if you just want power and don’t care what it costs, try the 14-inch MacBook Pro from 2023. It can be equipped with the M2 Max, Apple’s most performant laptop chip, which can take on even the most heavy-duty tasks and still come up smiling. Pair it with one of the best displays in the industry and a set of superb speakers, and you’ve got an incredible laptop that is built for ultimate productivity.
What to look for
Whether you want a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, it’s important to know what your needs are. Do you just need something for internet browsing and document editing? Or do you plan to edit videos and make music on your laptop? The MacBook Air will be best for the former, while the MacBook Pro is ideal for the latter.
The chip inside the machine will make a big difference. Right now, almost every MacBook comes with a chip from the M2 generation. The 13-inch MacBook Pro and every MacBook Air model come with the base-level M2, while the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro can be configured to use the M2 Pro or M2 Max chip. Apple also sells a 13-inch MacBook Air with an older M1 chip.
Aside from those key specs, look out for the price. Right now, the MacBook Air starts at $999 (£999 / AU$1,499) for the M1 model. The 13-inch MacBook Air with M2 chip costs $1,099 (£1,149 / AU$1,799), while the 15-inch version starts at $1,299 (£1,399 / AU$2,199).
The price of the 13-inch MacBook Pro begins at $1,299 (£1,349 / AU$1,999), and for the 14-inch and 16-inch models it’s $1,999 (£2,149 / AU$3,199) and $2,499 (£2,699 / AU$3,999) respectively. Note that you can also get refurbished versions from Apple’s website. These laptops have any faulty parts replaced, so that they’re essentially like new.
What specs do you need?
There are plenty of specs to consider when buying a MacBook, and we’ll start with one of the most obvious ones: the display. Every MacBook falls within the 13-inch to 16-inch range. The MacBook Pro comes in 13-inch, 14-inch and 16-inch sizes, and the latter is the largest MacBook you can buy. The MacBook Air, meanwhile, has 13-inch and 15-inch options. The 15-inch MacBook Air is a new addition, and means you no longer have to splash out on a MacBook Pro if you want a larger screen.
Note also that aside from the sizes, the MacBook Pro offers a brighter screen with a higher dynamic refresh rate and greater pixel density.
On the inside, the chip is a key consideration. The 'weakest' chip is the M1 found in the 13-inch MacBook Air, but it’s still good for day-to-day tasks and even light gaming. The M2, meanwhile, is the successor to the M1 and comes in both the Air and the Pro.
If you need more power, you’ll want to look at the MacBook Pro, as it’s the only Apple laptop that offers the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips. These are much better suited to intensive tasks like photo editing and 3D rendering, and are more adept playing games too. If you think you’ll be doing anything like that in decent amounts, the M2 Pro or M2 Max could be what you need.
The interesting thing about Apple’s M-series chips is that the memory is part of the chip itself. That helps it work much more quickly and efficiently than regular PC setups, where the processor and memory are separate.
Every model of the MacBook Air starts with 8GB of unified memory, while the M2 models top out at 24GB and the M1 version can go up to 16GB. As for the MacBook Pro, the M2 13-inch model gets between 8GB and 24GB of memory, while the M2 Pro 14-inch MacBook Pro can have between 16GB and 32GB. M2 Max models (in both sizes) get from 32GB to 96GB of memory.
Apple’s MacBooks use super-fast SSDs for storage, and you can equip up to 8TB in the MacBook Pro and up to 2TB in the MacBook Air. Note that every MacBook equipped with the minimum amount of storage (256GB) has slower SSD speeds than the larger-capacity models, but you probably won’t notice it in day-to-day tasks (although you might in demanding workloads).
There are also a few extras you might want to think about. You can include peripherals and software, from a Magic Trackpad to Final Cut Pro, with your purchase; whether you do or not depends on what you need.
There’s also the issue of AppleCare+. This grants you unlimited incidents of accidental damage protection, battery replacements, and priority access to Apple support and service. The price varies, but for the M1 MacBook Pro (the cheapest AppleCare+ option) it starts at $64.99 (£64.99) for one year or $179 (£179) for three years. If you don’t have existing insurance, it might be worth a look.
Should you wait for deals?
Whether or not you wait for deals depends largely on how soon you need a new Apple laptop. You will always hear people advising you to wait for the next product launch, but if you did that, you’d never buy anything. Instead, if you need a MacBook now, buy it now. If you can wait, then take your time.
Whether you decide to buy now or later, though, it’s always worth looking out for deals. It’s extremely rare for Apple to drop the price of the laptops it sells on its official website, but you can regularly find money off at third-party retailers.
That’s especially true around certain deal events, such as Amazon Prime Day, Black Friday, and the holiday period at the end of the year. If you’re considering buying a MacBook around those times, it might be worth holding off temporarily to see what kinds of discounts are offered.
If you’re not sure where to look, we’ve got a roundup of all the best MacBook deals so you can find discounts no matter which model you’re looking for. Just head over to our deals page to see if you can save yourself a bit of cash.
Our top picks
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
The best all-round MacBook you can buy today is the MacBook Air with M2 chip. It combines all the elements that make Apple’s laptops so spectacularly good, from a high-quality, durable chassis and beautiful design to speedy performance and a fantastic typing experience, all for a fair price. If you’re looking for a new MacBook, this is the best choice for most people.
The M2 chip on the inside is plenty powerful for most tasks bar the most heavy-duty workloads, and it’ll be a dream for day-to-day work like word processing, photo editing and light gaming. But it’s not just the performance you’ll notice – it’s the battery life, too. Apple’s M-series chips are incredibly efficient, and we got over 16 hours of juice in our MacBook Air M2 (2022) review. That combination of power and battery life is extremely hard to beat.
The M2 MacBook Air is incredibly designed and extremely sturdy despite its lightweight frame, and it’ll give you years of quality service. And because it can keep cool without needing a fan, it’s totally silent no matter what you put it through. You’ll really feel that difference compared to noisy rivals that ramp up their fans at the first sign of trouble.
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
With a lot of companies, it’s safe to assume that the cheapest laptop they offer comes with disappointing performance and lackluster features. Not so with Apple’s MacBook lineup. Sure, you’ll pay more than the budget products you’ll find elsewhere, but few other companies infuse their cheapest laptops with as much quality as Apple does with its MacBook series.
Our pick for the best budget MacBook is the MacBook Air with M1 chip. Now that Apple is selling laptops with M2 chips, it’s easy to forget that the M1 revolutionized the computing industry when it launched in 2020 by showing it was possible to marry incredible performance with incredible efficiency. That’s still true today.
Alongside the M1, you get all the usual great additions from Apple, including a rock-solid design, fantastic software, and comfortable keyboard. And just like the M2 MacBook Air, the M1 model is totally fanless and thus completely silent in use. If you’re looking for a MacBook under the $1,000 mark that still performs admirably, this is the model to start with.
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
If you’ve got the money to spare and want top-notch performance, the 14-inch MacBook Pro is a superb option. It grants you access to Apple’s best laptop chips, while still coming in a sturdy, portable package that’s light enough to pop into a backpack.
The 14-inch MacBook Pro can be configured to have an M2 Pro or M2 Max chip. If you opt for the latter, you’ll get a 12-core CPU, 38-core GPU, and up to 96GB of memory, making it the most powerful chip you can get in an Apple laptop. It will absolutely tear through almost anything you throw at it.
It’s not just the chip that will blow you away. The 14-inch MacBook Pro’s display is one of the best in the business, with a mini-LED panel, a 120Hz refresh rate, and up to 1,600 nits of peak brightness for HDR content. There’s a superb keyboard with Touch ID, plenty of ports (including MagSafe, HDMI and USB-C), and even the speakers are incredible. Apple also sells a 16-inch MacBook Pro, but it comes with a much higher price tag, meaning the 14-inch version holds its own as the best premium MacBook.
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Alex Blake has been fooling around with computers since the early 1990s, and since that time he's learned a thing or two about tech. No more than two things, though. That's all his brain can hold. As well as TechRadar, Alex writes for iMore, Digital Trends and Creative Bloq, among others. He was previously commissioning editor at MacFormat magazine. That means he mostly covers the world of Apple and its latest products, but also Windows, computer peripherals, mobile apps, and much more beyond. When not writing, you can find him hiking the English countryside and gaming on his PC.