Pick the right Mac

After trying repeatedly to get a job with our local Apple store (unsuccessfully), I’ve decided that I will be sharing information normally given to new customers with readers of this blog. A natural first step is to explain the differences between the different Apple models, and how each one is best suited for a particular user.

The first question you need to ask yourself is what you plan on doing with your new computer. While each model is surprisingly powerful for doing a wide range of computing tasks, some do them better than others. By knowing this going in, it makes choosing the system much easier.

The second question — generally decided by the answer to the first one — is whether you want a laptop or a desktop. Laptops have greater portability, but often lack high powered components, and sometimes come at a higher price. Desktops generally come at lower prices, but at the expense of portability.



The MacBook is Apple’s consumer notebook. It comes at an affordable price point, but is quite powerful for its small stature and price tag. The integrated graphics chip makes it unsuitable for heavy gaming but the combination of power and portability make it an excellent choice for students on a budget. The MacBook is usually the system I recommend to people when they ask me.

Good for:

  • Students
  • Small pocketbooks
  • Travellers
  • General computer tasks
  • Occasional video editing and multimedia
  • Earlier games with less demanding graphics

Not so good for:

  • Heavy gamers
  • The portable professional
  • Stationary users

MacBook Pro

The MBP is the big brother of the MacBook — in looks, performance, and price tag. The aluminum shell makes it a sharp-looking addition to any professional’s desk or bag. It has a larger screen than the MacBook, and the dedicated graphics chip makes it much more suitable for gamers and users of 3D intensive applications. The speed difference between the two systems may be unnoticeable until the graphics are included, but some of the extra goodies like the backlit keyboard and ambient light sensor make it the choice of image-conscience users.

Good for:

  • Portable users with more demanding computing requirements
  • Those who want to save money on an external monitor
  • Moderate gamers
  • Users who want the bells and whistles (image sensor, backlit keyboard, etc.)

Not so good for:

  • Small pocketbooks
  • Users just looking to check email

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air was released with much fanfare at Macworld 2008, and promptly received both scathing and praising reviews. The reason for the negative comments was because users believed Apple removed too many “necessary” features, and charged a premium for it. The MacBook Air is clearly not for everyone. The super thin size and absence of a FireWire port, internal DVD drive and even ethernet port means that it is best suited for heavy travellers and users with second computers. The MBA is no good for users just starting out with a computer or those looking for the best value. Make it a compliment to a desktop machine, though, and you’re set.

Good for:

  • Regular travellers
  • Users with a second computer
  • Users looking to shave off every unnecessary pound
  • General web, email and word processing

Not so good for:

  • Users looking for the best value
  • Clock-cycle demanding applications
  • Small pocketbooks
  • Gaming


Mac Mini

The Mac Mini is one of the coolest Mac models to come out since the G4 Cube. A 6.5″ square, it fits under a monitor or behind a printer, and still packs a serious punch. The Core 2 Duo processor inside gives it enough power to browse the internet, email, process words and even organize photos. It is BYODKM — bring your own display, keyboard and mouse — because it is targeted at switchers from Windows who already have these peripherals, or users with a second computer. It is an ideal solution for new users looking to test the water with a system from Cupertino.

Good for:

  • Users switching from the Dark Side
  • Basic email, internet and word processing
  • Occasional multimedia work
  • Use as a server
  • Home theatre integration
  • Use as a second system

Not so good for:

  • Gaming (due to the integrated chip, like the MacBook)
  • Advanced applications and users


The centerpiece of the Apple desktop line, the iMac brings everything together in an elegant design. Available in both 20″ and 24″ sizes, it has the power to be a full-blown power system and even a multimedia center. It uses a dedicated graphics chip, SuperDrive and a super fast system ‘highway’ to give you most power for the money. With its thin design, the iMac retains a little portability too, meaning moving rooms with it is not out of the question. All of this adds up to a system that is suitable for nearly anybody looking for a desktop with power, great looks and still retain some portability.

Good for:

  • Everyday computing
  • Advanced computing
  • Gaming
  • Users looking for full power in a portable desktop package
  • Replacing a monitor and computer together

Not so good for:

  • Users who like to upgrade and tinker with hardware

Mac Pro

At the top of the Apple product line, both in price and performance, is the Mac Pro. Replacing the PowerMac G5, the Mac Pro contains all the technology that makes Apple so innovative in an easily expandable package. Unlike the G5, however, the Mac Pro offers users many ways to expand and upgrade, making it the only choice if you really want to upgrade your system with the newest possible parts. Apple offers the Mac Pro in a standard configuration, which means it has the most complete setup as its base, but has many, many options available. All this expandability and power means the Mac Pro is only really suited for heavy users of scientific, mathematical and media applications because of the rather high price and performance overkill.

Good for:

  • Users looking for the highest performance
  • Crunching large datasets
  • Playing games at high frame rates
  • Advanced users who require an upgrade path

Not so good for:

  • Regular Joe users
  • Small pocketbooks

Next time: Pick the right iPod

[tags]Apple, Mac OS X, MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac Mini, iMac, Mac Pro[/tags]

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