Apple’s MacBook lineup is not as simple as before. It has evolved to meet the varying demand of consumers and despite Apple only selling MacBooks under the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro branding, the lineup is more confusing than ever before. If you are wondering which is the right MacBook for you, read our guide to help take that decision. This guide will provide you with a summary of Apple’s MacBook lineup and break down which is the variant that is right for you.
While there’s only the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, the lineup is further divided based on the screen size. Apple offers the MacBook Air with a 13.3-inch display, while the MacBook Pro is available in either 13-inch and 16-inch display configurations.
Below is a quick break down of Apple’s MacBook lineup:
|Basis of Comparison||MacBook Air||13-inch MacBook Pro||16-inch MacBook Pro|
|Display||13″ Retina Display||13″ Retina Display||16″ Retina Display with Narrow Bezels|
|CPU||7W Ultra-low-voltage Intel CPUs, up to 4-cores||15W or 28W Intel CPUs, up to 4-cores||45W Intel CPUs, up to 8 cores|
|GPU||Integrated||Integrated||Integrated + Dedicated AMD GPU|
|Storage||Up to 2TB||Up to 4TB||Up to 8TB|
|Thunderbolt ports||2||2 or 4||4|
|Price||Starts from $999||Starts from $1,299||Starts from $2,399|
However, even within these three models, Apple offers different variants, and depending on your usage and budget, its important that you pick the right one. For example, the base 13-inch MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro are priced similar to each other after various discounts, but the latter is more powerful and has a few other advantages.
One thing you must note is that Apple has refreshed its entire MacBook lineup with the new Magic keyboard so irrespective of which model you buy, you are not going to face any keyboard reliability issues with it. The new Magic keyboard also comes with a dedicated Esc key on the 13-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro which should please a lot of existing and frustrated MacBook owners.
So, if you are in the market for a new MacBook and are confused as to which one you should buy, read our guide below.
Who Should Buy the MacBook Air?
The 13-inch MacBook Air is primarily meant for consumers who primarily use their laptop for basic web browsing, emails, and Office apps. It is ideal for people who are always on the go or for school students who want a fast and speedy machine to take down notes and for their studies. Its excellent display and all-day battery life mean one can easily use it throughout the day without running out of juice. However, if you are a heavy multitasker or just have tons of browser tabs open, the MacBook Air is going to show signs of lag. It is also not meant for any kind of heavy processing work.
The problem with the MacBook Air is that while it has a fan, it does not directly cool the CPU. Instead, the fan is only meant to exhaust the total system heat. Due to this, when pushed hard, the MacBook Air thermal throttles and starts lagging. This also means that it is best to not use the machine for any kind of heavy photo or video editing work as it would take a long time to render the videos.
Recommended Configuration to Buy
I will strongly recommend you not to buy the base model as it comes with a low-power dual-core processor which is simply not going to be enough in this day and age, even for light tasks. Instead, buy the $1,299 model which ships with a quad-core processor and 512GB SSD. This configuration is also powerful enough that you can use it for some light photo editing work.
You can also customize the machine as per your liking, but don’t bother bumping the CPU to the Core i7 model as you are still going to be limited by the poor thermal management of the machine.
If you are a student who plans to buy the MacBook Air, make sure to get it from Apple’s Education store as you can get a $100 discount on its MSRP. The MacBook Air is usually available at a $100-$200 discount on Amazon and B&H as well.
Who Should Buy the 13-inch MacBook Pro?
If you want a little more power than what the MacBook Air offers while still enjoying its portability, you should go for the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Ideally, if you are in the market for a MacBook Air and can extend your budget by a couple of hundred dollars and don’t mind the slight additional heft the Pro brings to the table, you should go for it. Even the base variant of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is better than quad-core Core i5 and the Core i7 variant of the MacBook Air in terms of performance.
If your work involves some light photo editing, video editing every once in a while, or heavy browsing and switching between a lot of apps, the base 13-inch MacBook Pro is going to be a much better buy than the MacBook Air.
The Problem With the 13-inch MacBook Pro Lineup
The problem with the 13-inch MacBook Pro lineup is that there is a very big performance gap between the base and the high-end model. This is because of the base $1,299 and the $1,499 model shipping with a quad-core 8th-gen Intel Core i5 processor. While the CPU itself is fine, the integrated Intel Iris Plus 645 GPU is notably inferior to the Iris Plus Graphics on the 10th-gen Intel CPUs which is found inside the $1,799 and higher configurations of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Due to the 8th-gen CPUs, the lower-end variants of the 13-inch MacBook Pro only ship with two Thunderbolt 3 ports, while the higher-end variants have four ports.
If you frequently edit videos, want to play games on your MacBook Pro, or just about do anything that’s reliant on the GPU, you should get the $1,799 or higher variant of the 13-inch MacBook Pro provided your budget allows for it. When Apple launched the 2020 refresh of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, it claimed that it offered 80% faster GPU performance. However, that claim is only valid for the $1,799 and higher variant which comes with the Iris Plus GPU.
Recommended Configuration to Buy
If you are going to do some photo editing and editing videos once in a while, you should opt for the $1,299 variant of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. It is also ideal for people who were planning to buy the MacBook Air but want a wee bit more power under the hood. This machine is also ideal for students and office users who work on a lot of spreadsheets and documents at the same time and have plenty of other apps running in the background. The additional horsepower of the 13-inch MacBook Pro would ensure that it easily lasts for at least 4-5 years without any performance issues.
For someone who is always on the move and wants to do some basic Full HD and 4K video editing regularly, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Intel’s 10th-gen processors would be the appropriate choice. This means you will have to buy the $1,799 model at the very minimum.
Who Should Buy the 16-inch MacBook Pro
If you are a content creator who is heavily into video editing or editing massive photos, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is the one you should buy. It is also the ideal machine for coders on the move and power users as the large screen will allow them to view a lot of content at once. While the 16-inch MacBook Pro is bigger and heavier than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, its proportions are still very reasonable for a laptop with a 16-inch display and powerful hardware. If your work also relies heavily on the GPU, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is your only option as it’s the only portable MacBook to come with a dedicated GPU. All that power does come at a heavy price though. The base variant of the 16-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,399, while the high-end variant is available for $2,799 so make sure your wallet is ready before you look into buying the machine.
Recommended Configuration to Buy
If you are a photo editor, you should be looking to get the Core i7 variant of the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Depending on your workload though, you should be looking to bump the RAM to 32GB and storage to 2TB or greater. For video editors with a heavy workload, the $2,799 Core i9 variant with the more powerful Radeon 5500M GPU would be the recommended choice. This is also the ideal choice for anyone whose workload involves a lot of number crunching and has the budget for it. Otherwise, the Core i7 variant is also going to be plenty fast. Coders should also buy the Core i7 variant of the 16-inch MacBook Pro and bump the RAM to 32GB or higher if they work with multiple VMs at the same time.
If you apply a lot of effects in your videos and work with 6K or 8K videos, you should bump the RAM to 32GB or 64GB and the VRAM on the Radeon 5500M GPU to 8GB for better performance. Irrespective of what your workload is, the upgrade to the 2.4GHz Core i9 variant on the 16-inch MacBook Pro does not make any sense as the machine’s performance is thermally limited so you are not really going to get any performance benefits from it in extended workloads.
The good thing is that the 16-inch MacBook Pro is frequently discounted by $200 to $300 or even higher depending on the variant you want to buy. You can also buy a refurbished variant of the machine directly from Apple which is almost like a brand new unit and save some money there as well. The 16-inch MacBook Pro is a very powerful machine and if you take good care of it, it is going to easily last you for the next 5-6 years.
Once you get your hands on your new MacBook, check out some other articles that will help you use the machine to its full potential:
- The Best MacBook Pro Touch Bar Apps, Tips, and Tricks
- Everything You Need to Know About Battery Health Management in macOS Catalina
- The Best Tips and Tricks For a Better Netflix Experience on iPhone and Mac
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