Best MacBook: Which Mac laptop should you buy?

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Editor’s note: We’ve updated this guide with a link to the refurbished 13-inch MacBook Pro in Apple’s Refurnished and Clearance Store.

Apple released new Mac laptops at its recent Worldwide Developers Conference and you’d be right in thinking that this is a really good time to buy one. So you head over to your local Apple store, or you peruse the pages of Apple’s website, and you find yourself with money to spend but no idea on which MacBook to buy.

Don’t worry! That’s why we’re here. In this guide, we’ll go over Apple’s current MacBook lineup, point out their differences and similarities, and provide you with the information you need to pick the right MacBook for you. You can get more in-depth information in our reviews of the MacBook and the MacBook Pro. Also, this guide has been updated since it was originally published with videos to help you make a decision.

The affordable choice: MacBook Air

Longtime Mac users may remember when the MacBook Air made its debut nine years ago as Apple’s entry into the ultra-portable laptop market. But times have changed, and starting in 2015, the MacBook was repositioned as Apple’s affordable laptop.

How many models can I choose from? Apple offers two standard configuration MacBook Air models. The difference between the two comes down to the amount of file storage you get. Otherwise, the two models are identical.

What are the prices for the MacBook Air? $999 and $1,199.

What are the MacBook Air specifications? Both MacBook Air models have the following:

  • 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor (Broadwell)
  • 8GB of 1600MHz LPDDR3 memory
  • Intel HD Graphics 6000
  • 13.3-inch LED-backlit glossy widescreen display with a 1440 x 900 resolution
  • Two USB 3 ports
  • One Thunderbolt 2 port
  • SDXC card reader
  • Weighs 2.96 pounds

The $999 MacBook Air has a 128GB SSD for file storage. The $1,199 model has a 256GB SSD.

What is it good for? The MacBook Air doesn’t use Intel’s latest processor, but it’s powerful enough to handle typical tasks, like internet access, writing, spreadsheets, presentations, and other productivity-related jobs.

It also has enough processing punch for using Apple Photos to edit and manage your pictures, or to create short YouTube videos in iMovie. The MacBook Air doesn’t have a high-resolution screen, though, so images on screen won’t look as sharp as they would on a MacBook or MacBook Pro.

Macworld’s buying advice: Budget-conscious buyers will like the MacBook Air’s $999 price. You’ll make a several compromises, but the MacBook Air is a capable laptop for your everyday work—and it won’t take up a lot of room in your bag.

The lightweight choice: MacBook

Apple’s MacBook is designed for the person who is always on-the-go and needs a laptop that won’t leave you with an aching back at the end of the day. It’s also Apple’s smallest laptop, able to fit in most backpacks, briefcases, satchels, and bags.

How many models can I choose from? Apple has two standard configurations of the MacBook. Pay more money, and you’ll get a slightly faster processor and more file storage space. Also, all MacBooks are available in Silver, Space Gray, Gold, or Rose Gold.

What are the prices for the MacBook? $1,299 and $1,599.

What are the MacBook specifications? Here are the specifics on each model:

$1,299: 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core m3 processor (Kaby Lake), 256GB SSD storage

$1,399: 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor (Kaby Lake), 512GB SSD storage

Both MacBook configurations above have the following:

  • 8GB 1866MHz LPDDR3 memory
  • Intel HD Graphics 615
  • 12-inch LED-backlit display with 2304-by-1440 resolution
  • One USB-C port
  • Weighs 2.03 pounds

What is it good for? Since the MacBook is designed with portability in mind, it doesn’t have a fast processor. Its performance is a bit faster than the MacBook Air, but it lags behind the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

That said, the MacBook has no problems handling everyday productivity tasks, as well as some basic video editing in iMovie, Keynote presentations, and image editing and photo management in the Photos app.

Macworld’s buying advice: If you’re road warrior making presentations to clients and groups, or working at remote locations, the MacBook is capable of handling your workload. And you’ll barely notice it in your bag—your back will thank you.

The choice for heavy-duty workloads: MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro is Apple’s top-of-the-line laptop. If you want a laptop that can handle any task you throw at it—and you don’t have a constraining budget—the MacBook Pro is the laptop you want.

How many models can I choose from? Apple offers seven standard configuration laptops: four 13-inch models, and three 15-inch versions. Each model (except for the $1,999 15-inch MacBook Pro) is available is Silver or Space Gray.

What are the prices for the MacBook Pro? The 13-inch models go for $1,299, $1,499. $1,799, and $1,999. The 15-inch models are $1,999, $2,399 and $2,799.

What are the MacBook Pro specifications? Here are the specifics on each model. We’ll start with the 13-inch laptops and then list the 15-inch ones.

13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar

There are two 13-inch MacBook Pro models that do not have the Touch Bar. The difference between these two models is the SSD.

$1,299: 128GB SSD storage

$1,499: 256GB SSD storage

Both of the 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar laptops have the following:

  • 2.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor (Kaby Lake)
  • 8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
  • integrated Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640
  • 13.3-inch LED-backlit display with a 2560-by-1600 native resolution
  • Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Weighs 3.02 pounds

13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

Besides having a Touch Bar, Apple offers two 13-inch MacBook Pro models that have a few different features than the models without a Touch Bar. These Touch Bar laptops have faster processors, faster graphics, and four Thunderbolt 3 ports.

The difference between the two 13-inch Touch Bar models themselves is the SSD.

$1,799: 256GB SSD storage

$1,999: 512GB SSD storage

Both of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar laptops have the following:

  • 3.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor (Kaby Lake)
  • 8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
  • Integrated Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650
  • 13.3-inch LED-backlit display with a 2560-by-1600 native resolution
  • Four Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Weighs 3.02 pounds

Apple has refurbished 13-inch MacBook Pro models available in the company’s Refurbished and Clearance Store. Scroll to the bottom of the list to find the 2017 models. Refurbs offer a modest savings over new models.

Apple tests and certifies all products in the Refurbished store. Supply is limited, so Apple could run out of refurb stock, and you’ll have to check back if you missed your opportunity to buy. But once Apple receives your payment, the company guarantees your purchase.

Refurb products come with a one-year warranty.

15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

Apple sells two standard configuration models of the 15-inch MacBook Pro. Here are the differences between the two models.

$2,399: 2.8GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor (Kaby Lake), 256GB SSD storage, 2GB Radeon Pro 555 discrete graphics

$2,799: 2.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor (Kaby Lake), 512GB SSD storage, 4GB Radeon Pro 560 discrete graphics

All of the 15-inch MacBook Pro models include:

  • 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
  • Integrated Intel HD Graphics 630
  • 15.4-inch LED-backlit display with a 2880-by-1800 native resolution
  • Four Thunderbolt 3 port
  • Weighs 4.02 pounds

15-inch MacBook Pro 2.2GHz

Apple sells a laptop that’s fills the need for a more-affordable 15-inch MacBook Pro. However, this model isn’t new—it was initially released in 2015. It has older components, but it still has a good amount of processing oomph. Here’s what you get for $1,999:

  • 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor (Haswell)
  • 16GB 1600MHz memory
  • 256GB SSD storage
  • Intel Iris Pro Graphics (integrated)
  • 15.4-inch LED-backlit display with a 2880-by-1800 native resolution
  • Two Thunderbolt 2 ports
  • Two USB 3 ports
  • HDMI port
  • SDXC card slot
  • 4.49 pounds

What is it good for? If you have a heavy workload, the MacBook Pro has the power to handle it, no sweat. Video production, graphics and animation, serious data crunching—you name it, the MacBook Pro is built for it. The MacBook Pro isn’t as powerful as a desktop computer, but it is strong enough to serve as your only computer.

All this processing prowess comes at a price—the MacBook Pro is Apple’s priciest laptop. And it’s also its heaviest, with the 15-inch models pushing past 4 pounds. That may not sound like a lot, but imagine yourself on the road, meeting with people, working remotely. The weight wears on you as the day goes on.

Macworld’s buying advice: Picking a MacBook Pro is a little complicated, not just because of the size differences, but the differences between the features offered within each size category.

If you want power on a budget, consider the $1,799 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. It’s a good combination of speed and price. The 256GB SSD is the major compromise you’re making here. If you plan to do a lot of creative work that results in large files, the SSD could fill up quickly.

macbook pro touch bar emoji

The Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro.

The 15-inch $2,799 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is the laptop with all the bells and whistles. It’s the one for the most demanding users, who will like the hefty discrete graphics card.

If you really need to keep the price down, consider the $1,499 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar. The 128GB SSD in the $1,299 version is probably too small and most people will fill it up quickly, which is why you should think about the $1,499 model, which has a 256GB SSD. Plus, while the Touch Bar is neat, we wouldn’t consider it a must-have feature. Your milage with it may vary. 

The $1,999 15-inch MacBook Pro may seem like an odd choice. And while it has a slower processor, it has other features that aren’t found in the other MacBook Pro models: USB 3 ports, and HDMI port, and an SDXC card slot.

Which reminds me—because the new MacBook Pros rely on Thunderbolt 3, you’re going to need to stock up of adapters to connect items like an external display, hard drive, and more. We have a MacBook Pro Thunderbolt 3 adapter guide to help you find the ones you need.