Mac Buying Guide: 5 Ways to Pick the Right Apple Computer for You

Deciding which model of Mac computer is right for you can be a daunting process, since Apple offers a wide array of models but doesn’t provide a Mac buyer’s guide. It’s not simply a matter of laptop versus desktop; there are a number of options to consider, including screen size, price and plenty of tech terms such as processor speed, RAM and storage. Knowing your budget, discerning what type of user you are (professional, creative, student or casual user) and doing your homework beforehand will ensure that you get the best Mac products for your needs and avoid buyer’s remorse.


Desktop vs. Laptop

The biggest decision is choosing between a desktop and laptop. An Apple laptop (its MacBook line, which includes the MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air) has the definite advantage of being portable, meaning you can tote it to and from work as well as use it wherever you go. One of the disadvantages is that the screen size is smaller than Apple’s desktop models. (Of course, you can also connect an external display to your MacBook, giving you the best of both worlds.) And in some cases, Apple’s laptops (particularly the Air) have a small internal storage capacity, so you have to keep your eye on your total storage usage.

- Laptop Options

In the MacBook family, there are three versions:  MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and the now-discontinued MacBook. The MacBook Pro is the most powerful of these models, preferred by business professionals and creatives who need the portability. Naturally, the larger-screen models are going to cost more. The MacBook Air and MacBook are both smaller, lighter and less powerful (as well as less expensive), designed for travelers and users of less processor-intensive tasks. They’re considered an excellent choice for high school students and kids, as well as those with light general use, such as internet and email.

- Desktop Options

The Apple desktop line includes three models:  the all-in-one iMac, the Mac mini and the Mac Pro. The iMac, Apple’s iconic design, is the sleek desktop model preferred by business and creative types due to its screen size, processor and RAM options. The mini, however, is an outlier; it consists of simply the unit itself, and the owner is responsible for supplying the required mouse, keyboard and, most importantly, display. Since Apple no longer manufactures displays, a third-party screen is required — which isn’t a bad thing since displays are quite inexpensive these days. The mini is designed for casual users, such as children, parents and senior citizens, as well as for first-time Mac buyers and users on a budget, and is used for remote servers and to stream video content to TVs. Windows users who want to convert to Apple are also perfect candidates for the mini. The Mac Pro, on the other hand, is designed for processor-intensive tasks, such as video and music editing and graphic design.


Tech Considerations

That said, the tricky part (for most) comes after you’ve settled on if a MacBook or iMac will best suit your needs. Apple offers a range of variations across each of their flagship models, all tricked out with different levels of storage, processing power, memory, and more. The nuances between them can feel impossible to wade through for all but the most tech savvy, but here are the top three things to keep in mind.

1. Processing Power

A computer’s processor speed is like the horsepower of a car; the higher the number, the more powerful it is. However multi-core processors (even with a lower speed) can outperform a single processor with a higher speed. This is a good thing to know, but you must consider what you’re going to be using the computer for. If it’s for standard word processing, email and web surfing, a Mac with a less powerful processor will suffice. However, if you plan on editing music or videos, working on large graphics files or doing high-res photo manipulation, a more powerful multi-core processor is required.

2. RAM

RAM (random-access memory) is what your computer uses for short-term storage, or the tasks your computer is doing at that moment. Similar to the processor, a higher number is better (as well as more expensive). Unfortunately, with laptops (and some desktop models), RAM falls into the “what you buy now is what you’ll always have” category, so upgrading isn’t an option. If you run memory-hog software (video or music editing software or graphics programs), your software will operate much more smoothly with more RAM.

3. Storage

But the most important thing to consider is the amount of internal storage you’ll need. Modern computers use flash-based or solid-state storage, so the term “hard drive” is a misnomer, even if it is still commonly used. When it comes to storage, larger is better. (Understand that “larger capacity” refers to the amount of data it can hold, not its physical size.) Similar to RAM, most of today’s Macs don’t allow any storage upgrades (although third-party hacks are available), so you’re stuck with the amount of internal storage you initially get with the computer. Things like music, photos, videos and large graphics files can quickly gobble up storage space, so plan accordingly if you’re going to put any of those types of files on your computer.


The Bottom Line

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to buying a Mac computer. Knowing what choices are available is crucial when it comes to deciding on a model. So, screen size, internal storage, RAM and processor speed are the vital considerations. Seeing what you currently use (and may want in the future) and knowing what all the technical terms mean are factors that will help you buy the perfect Mac for your specific needs.


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