Which Apple notebook should I buy?

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This guide aims to help you make an informed decision about which MacBook to buy by presenting all important factors at a glance.


Release Cycle

Before considering a certain model, check the MacRumor's Buyer's Guide. Based upon historic release cycles the buyer's guide gives an estimation as to when a model is approaching the end of is lifecycle, and advising if a customer should purchase the particular model or wait.


MacBookCurrently available only for educational sales. Featuring a 13" polycarbonate design, this machine is ideal for those with light needs or a tight budget, as well as those wanting a second portable machine. The MacBook is no longer advertised for sale on the Apple website, or in store having seemingly been replaced with the MacBook Air.
MacBook AirApple's MacBook Air has just seen a major revision. It is the most portable laptop Apple sells. It has a long battery life, but inferior specs compared to the MacBook Pro. It now includes Flash memory instead of a hard drive for a faster user experience. This laptop is for those who value weight over performance.
MacBook ProThe 13" MacBook Pro features Sandy Bridge i5 and i7 Dual-Core Processors. The 15" and 17" MacBook Pro feature even faster Core i5 or i7 Quad-Core processors and batteries which last up to 7 hours.

Comparison - Price

MacBook MacBook Pro MacBook Air
MacBookLow-end 13"High-end 13"Low-end 15"High-end 15"17"11" 13"

For many, the most important factor is price. Remember to leave some extra money spare for BTO options such as extra RAM and bigger HDDs, and accessories such as cases, an Apple remote and external HDDs.

Comparison - Power

MacBook MacBook Pro MacBook Air
MacBookLow-end 13"High-end 13"Low-end 15"High-end 15"17"Low-endHigh-end
ProcessorCore 2 DuoCore i5Core i7Core i5
2.4 GHz2.4 GHz2.8 GHz2.2 GHz (Quad Core)2.4 GHz (Quad Core)2.4 GHz (Quad Core)1.6GHz (11')

1.7 GHz (13')

1.6 GHz (11')

1.7 GHz (13')

Standard RAM2 GB 1066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM4 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM2 GB 1066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (soldered on-board)
Max RAM8 GB 1066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM16 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM4 GB 1066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (soldered on-board)
GraphicsNVIDIA GeForce 320MIntel HD 3000Intel HD 3000 graphics and AMD Radeon HD 6750MIntel HD 3000 graphics and AMD Radeon HD 6770MIntel HD Graphics 3000
256 MB shared memory384MB Shared memory384 MB shared + 512 MB GDDR5384 MB shared + 1 GB GDDR5256MB or 384MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory

A faster processor will show improvements in almost all applications. However, even the 1.86 GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Air has enough power to run light applications such as web browsers, word processors and presentation software almost as quickly as a MacBook Pro. Differences will only be discernible when running multiple applications or more demanding applications. The latest 15" and 17" MacBook Pros feature Intel's Core i5 and i7 processor. Despite their lower clock speeds, these processors can actually do more work per clock making them significantly faster than a Core 2 Duo of identical clock speeds. Core i5 and i7 processors can also "Turbo Boost" up to 3.33 GHz (dependant on model) giving you even more power in specific situations.

More RAM also improves speed when multitasking or running heavy apps. Not enough RAM can cause your system to slow down and "hang". It is recommended that you get as much RAM as you can afford. All models come with at least 2 GBs of standard RAM while all MBPs sport 4 GBs of DDR3 SDRAM. While 2 GB is enough for light users, those with more demanding needs are recommended to get as much as they can afford (within reason). All MacBooks/MacBook Pros/MacBook Airs with the GeForce 320m graphics card siphon off system RAM so don't forget that you'll have 256 MB less to play with.

Finally, the polycarbonate MacBook currently includes a GeForce 320m graphics card, similar to the 2010 13" MacBook Pros. It's capable of playing many games on low to medium settings and should be more than enough for the majority of users. This graphics card is actually about 50% more powerful than the 9400M. The new 13" MacBook Pro includes intel HD 3000 graphics, while the new 15" and 17" MacBook Pros include integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics and a AMD Radeon HD 6490M and 6750M respectively. The Intel graphics will be used for light applications, but it'll automatically switch to the Radeon when things get demanding.

Comparison - Features

MacBook MacBook Pro MacBook Air
MacBookLow-end 13"High-end 13"Low-end 15"High-end 15"17"11"13"
Display13.3" LED widescreen at 1280x80015.4" LED widescreen at 1440x900 or 1680x105017" LED widescreen at 1920x120011.6" LED widescreen at 1366x76813.3" LED widescreen at 1440x900
Storage250 GB500GB750GB500 GB750 GB64 GB Flash128 GB Flash
Optical Drive8x DL SuperDriveNo optical drive
Ports2x USB 2.02x USB 2.0, 1x FW 800, 1x ThunderBolt, SDXC Card Slot3x USB 2.0, 1x FW 800, 1x ExpressCard/34, 1x ThunderBolt2x USB 2.02x USB 2.0, SD Card Slot
KeyboardFull-size keyboardFull-size backlit keyboardFull-size backlit keyboard

Higher resolution means more effective workspace. All MacBooks include glossy screens, but the 17" and 15" MBPs includes a matte option. The LED displays on the aluminium MacBooks have been reported to be of higher quality than those on the polycarbonate MacBooks.

The computer industry is beginning a slow transition to flash storage (similar to the storage technology in today's iPod shuffle, nano and touch). SSDs offer performance improvements in some areas, may reduce battery usage and, as they feature no moving parts, are much more durable than hard disk drives. The hard disk drives offered in the MacBook and MacBook Pro operate at 5,400rpm but the 15" and 17" MacBook Pro can be upgraded to include a 7,200rpm HDD and all of the MacBook Pro family have the option of including an SSD up to 512 GBs in size. The MacBook Pro has a user-accessible hard drive, but it is a little harder to access than in the past due to the removal of the door on the bottom of the case. The MacBook Airs now come with only flash storage. Note that the MBA has a non-user replaceable SSD which comes in the form of an "SSD stick", not in the common 2.5" or 1.8" form factor. A typical text file is under 100 KB, a 4 minute iTunes song (128 kbps) is around 4 MB while a 4 minute iTunes Plus song (256 kbps) is 8 MB and a 3D game can require several GBs of storage.

An external SuperDrive designed for the MacBook Air is an optional extra for those who require it. Third-party external drives have been reported to work as well.

All MacBooks come with at least two USB 2.0 ports. This incredibly popular port provides a connection between peripherals and add-ons such as external mice, external hard drives and printers. The MacBook Pros also include a FireWire 800 port which is backward compatible with FireWire 400. While USB 2.0 is in theory faster than FW 400 (480 Mbit/s vs. 400 Mbit/s), in practice FireWire 400 is significantly faster than USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 is double the speed of FireWire 400. The 17" MacBook Pros also come with ExpressCard/34 slots for further expansion while the 15" and 13" MacBook Pros sport an SD card slot.

Backlit keyboards allow you to clearly see all the keys during dark conditions. It is automatically controlled by an ambient light sensor. A multi-touch trackpad allows users to use gestures as shortcuts.

Comparison - Portability

MacBook MacBook Pro MacBook Air
MacBookLow-end 13"High-end 13"Low-end 15"High-end 15"17"11"13"
Battery Life10 hours7 hours5 hours7 hours
Weight4.7 lbs/ 2.13 kg4.5 lbs/ 2.04 kg5.6 lbs/ 2.54 kg6.6 lbs/ 2.99 kg2.3 lbs/ 1.06 kg2.9 lbs/ 1.32 kg
Width13"/ 33.03cm14.35"/ 36.4cm15.47"/ 39.3cm11.8"/ 29.95cm12.8"/ 32.5cm
Depth9.12"/ 23.17cm8.94"/ 22.7cm9.6"/ 24.3cm10.51"/ 26.7cm7.56"/ 19.2cm8.94"/ 22.7cm
Height1.08"/ 2.74cm0.95"/ 2.41cm0.95"/ 2.41cm0.98"/ 2.5cm0.11 - 0.68"/ 0.3 to 1.7cm

For those who travel often, portability will be a factor. A MacBook Air is the best choice for a frequent traveler but the MacBook and even the MacBook Pro are still very portable machines.

How to Make An Informed Decision

Obviously technical details cannot be enough to help buyers arrive at the right decision for them. As such, it is advisable that you consider your needs carefully. It is perhaps best to start with a list of features you believe you must have in order to do what you need/want to do with your Mac. If, for example, you want a particular screen size, you can eliminate certain models.

See Also