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How to buy a MacBook: 6 things to consider

MacBook Pro
(Image credit: Future)

Plenty of people might be wondering how to buy a MacBook, and while purchasing one might be as easy as clicking 'add to basket' (provided you have the funds), deciding which one for you can be more difficult. 

Our guide is here to help. We have everything you need to know about buying a MacBook, from whether the latest M1-equipped MacBooks are worth it to how exactly you choose between a MacBook Air and a MacBook Pro.

If you're not convinced MacBooks are all that, then you might want to check out our best laptops for graphic design list, where we have the MacBook Pro 16-inch at number one. And if you've got either the Pro or Air, you'll be wanting one of the best MacBook Air cases or one of the best cases for the MacBook Pro

In the meantime, though, here are  six things to consider when buying a MacBook, plus a few bonus points to ponder.

01. Are new models expected?

MacBook Pro

New models may mean discounts on older MacBooks (Image credit: Future)

The last thing you want to do when you buy a new MacBook is open it up, then find out Apple will be releasing updated models the very next day. Instead, when you’re researching how to buy a MacBook, make sure to check around news websites to see if Apple is planning anything new (Creative Bloq is a good place to start!). 

For instance, Apple is widely expected to be bringing out new MacBook Pro models – including a totally redesigned 13-inch version and an updated 16-inch model – this summer, which could mean they drop in a matter of weeks.

Of course, if you are desperate for a new MacBook then that will not matter. But if you find out new Macs are heavily rumoured and you can wait until they are released, you could bag yourself a better laptop and avoid a nasty bout of buyer’s remorse. Also, older MacBooks tend to go on sale when newer ones are released, so you might be able to get yourself a MacBook Pro deal if you're clever about it.

02. MacBook Air or MacBook Pro?

MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air

To Air or to Pro? (Image credit: Apple)

Apple offers two MacBook varieties: The MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. The former is the company’s entry-level laptop that is thin, light, and perfect for taking on your travels. The latter is aimed at higher-end users and offers more power for heavy-duty tasks.

Externally, the two Macs differ in design and colour options, while there are plenty of internal differences too (we’ll get to those shortly). If your needs are modest, go for the Air. If you are a demanding user, the Pro will be more up your street.

03. MacBook Pro screen size

MacBook Pro

How many inches do you need? (Image credit: Future)

If you are leaning towards the MacBook Pro, you have a choice to make: Do you go for the 13-inch model or the 16-inch version? Not only is the latter a larger machine, but it comes with a few extras bundled in: Much better audio, a redesigned cooling system, plus a dedicated graphics chip that can improve rendering and gaming performance.

But the 13-inch MacBook Pro has a trick up its sleeve: Apple’s M1 chip. This system-on-a-chip integrates a processor, graphics, and memory into one chip, and its performance is amazing. In our MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1) review, we found it traded blows with the 16-inch MacBook Pro that is almost double the price.

Apple is expected to bring its own Apple Silicon chips to the 16-inch MacBook Pro this year, perhaps as early as the summer, so that should restore its performance advantage over its smaller sibling.

04. Battery life and portability

Longevity is key for a laptop, and there is great news here: Both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro last an absolute age. That’s partly due to the super-efficient M1 chip – it helped the MacBook Pro last 13.5 hours in our review, while it powered the MacBook Air for 11 hours (see our MacBook Air M1 review). 

We found the 16-inch MacBook Pro hit almost 12 hours thanks to its huge battery, but it does so at much louder volumes due to its fans spinning up. The MacBook Air is totally fanless, so everything it does is utterly silent.

It should not be surprising that the MacBook Air is also the lightest of the bunch. It is slightly lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, (2.8 pounds vs three pounds), but the difference is clearer with the 4.3-pound 16-inch Pro. When considering battery life and weight, either the Air or the 13-inch Pro are your best bet.

05. Pick the right internal specs

MacBook Pro

There's no going back once you've bought your storage (Image credit: Future)

Apple lets you customise a few areas of its laptops’ internal specs, but you can’t change your choices after you buy.

One of the most important choices is storage. The MacBook Air offers 256GB to 2TB, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has 256GB to 4TB (depending on the version), while you get 512GB to a whopping 8TB in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. To find out how much you need, click the Apple logo in the top-left of your screen, then About This Mac, then click the Storage tab to see how much you are using.

Memory (or RAM) is also an important choice because more memory makes it easier to run multiple beefy apps with fewer hitches. If you do any photo-editing or video-production work, you will want 16GB at a minimum. That is less of an issue in M1 MacBooks, whose system-on-a-chip uses memory more efficiently and might let you get away with 8GB. As a rule, though, if you are doing professional work, opt for 16GB or above.

Finally, only the 16-inch MacBook Pro has a discrete graphics chip, which improves rendering, AI, and gaming performance.

06. Other considerations when buying a MacBook

MacBook Pro

The number of ports available may be important for you (Image credit: Future)

There are a few other things to bear in mind when deciding how to buy a MacBook. The MacBook Air lacks the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar, which is a touch-sensitive control strip that offers app and keyboard shortcuts. The 16-inch MacBook Pro, meanwhile, has the best speaker system of any MacBook; the 13-inch MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air have similar audio setups, with the 13-inch MacBook Pro just pulling ahead.

Finally, you should consider how many ports you need with your laptop – buy one with too few and you will need a handful of dongles and accessories. Right now, your choices are determined by the chip inside the Mac you choose. M1 MacBooks (the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro) come with two Thunderbolt 3 ports, which run at up to 40Gbps. Intel-based MacBooks like the 16-inch MacBook Pro and certain models of the 13-inch MacBook Pro come with four Thunderbolt 3 ports.

If you're ready to click 'add to basket', you can see today's best deals on MacBooks below.

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Alex is a freelance tech journalist and writes for MacFormat, TechRadar and Maximum PC.