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The best MacBook Pro alternatives for designers

The best MacBook Pro alternatives have the great features of Apple's design, but at a lower cost. MacBook Pro may be most designers' laptop of choice, but it’s no longer alone in its prowess for design and performance – there are plenty of Windows machines that have superb specs and, increasingly, look great. 

It’s also true that cross-platform software compatibility is now rarely an issue. With so many productivity apps being based on the web now, plus Adobe’s CC (get Adobe Creative Cloud here) having full support for the superb Windows 10, you won’t find yourself suddenly up the creek without a paddle. 

Many Windows 10 PCs also have touch screens, which can be rather handy if you do wish to use a stylus – it’s certainly a better touch solution than Apple’s Touch Bar. 

Of course, it remains the case that Macs are an expensive investment for a freelancer or studio and some of the Windows alternatives offer the same power for less (although check out Apple laptop deals post to see what bargains are available). Apple has recently slashed its factory-fitted SSD upgrade prices, but if you configure a MacBook Pro with all the bells and whistles things start rising steeply upwards. We must also say though, that although the MacBook Pro has risen in price in the relatively recent past, so have many PC equivalents.

So let’s explore some of the best MacBook Pro alternatives you’ll find. We’ve listed the core specs of the base model in each case, but naturally more expensive (and better performing) options are available in each case. 

Surface Book 2: best macbook pro alternatives

(Image credit: Microsoft)

01. Microsoft Surface Book 2

Microsoft’s MacBook Pro killer has a detachable tablet screen

CPU: Intel Core i5 or Core i7 | Graphics: Graphics: Intel HD 620, optional Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 | RAM: 8 or 16GB | Screen: 13.5 or 15-inch 3,000×2,000 PixelSense | Storage: 256 GB, 512GB, 1TB

Detachable tablet screen
Option to have dedicated Nvidia graphics
Can be expensive
 Weighty 

If you’re looking at a MacBook Pro equivalent that’s a PC you’ve just found it. Available in two sizes, the Surface Book 2 is a powerful, do-anything machine. Its party piece is a detachable touch display that pops on and off of the keyboard base and works as a separate tablet, although the Surface Pen is an optional extra. And with Windows being very touch-friendly, the tablet isn’t just for show – you can really put it to work. The display is excellent, too – pin-sharp – while there’s support for USB-C and USB-A, although you do have to put up with a proprietary power connector that we hope Microsoft will dump when it revises this machine next. While the base machine is competitively priced, things start to jump up when you talk about opting for the Nvidia dedicated graphics that reside in the base (so can’t be used with the tablet unless it’s attached to the keyboard). Another disadvantage is that it’s heavier than a MacBook Pro. But there are few other computers that have the same quality about them – it’s a robust, well-put together machine, too. 

Dell XPS 15: best macbook pro alternatives

(Image credit: Dell)

02. Dell XPS 15

Dell’s premium laptops are world-class

CPU: Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 | RAM: 8-32GB | Screen: 5.6-inch FHD or 4K OLED InfinityEdge | Storage: 256GB, 512GB or 1TB

Well-specified across the board
Some have 4K OLED displays
Some have 4K OLED displays
Expensive with options

This could have gone one of two ways – should we recommend the XPS 13 or its bigger brother, the XPS 15? Well we recommend both, depending on what size you want (and what you need to do). If you’ve got an idea that Dell isn’t a good brand to buy from, it’s time you binned that notion – these are some of the best laptops available anywhere and are very well designed indeed. The XPS 13 comes in various models and could be seen as a MacBook Air equivalent in many ways, but it can be given plenty of power (though not more advanced graphics than Intel’s integrated options, unfortunately). The XPS 15, on the other hand, has Nvidia GTX 1650 graphics across the board as standard in addition to top-line, latest 9th generation Intel Core i7 processors, while several models have 4K OLED displays, too. Both the XPS 13 and 15 are also available in (more expensive) 2-in-1 versions where you can flip the screen 360-degrees. 

best macbook alternatives: surface laptop 2

(Image credit: Microsoft)

03. Microsoft Surface Laptop 2

Distinctive, portable and powerful

CPU: Intel Core i5 or Core i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8 or 16GB | Screen: 13.5-inch 2,256x1,504 PixelSense | Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB

 Beautiful to use and carry around
Powerful options
Can be a little expensive
No USB-C

When Surface Laptop was first announced, it seemed odd – why would Microsoft go backwards from the superb Surface Book? But it makes a lot of sense. By producing a premium device without the tablet part, Microsoft could cut down on the weight and produce a go-anywhere Surface device for those who wanted, well, a laptop rather than a tablet (you can still use the Surface Pen with this super PixelSense display should you wish to). It’s available with some high-end options including bags of storage and memory, while it’s very well designed like its more expensive brother and there’s something distinctive too; hardy Alcantara fabric surrounds the keyboard. Some won’t like it, but it’s definitely a talking point and, before you ask, it doesn’t stain. There is one moot point, however – there’s no USB-C port at all. Goodness only knows why Microsoft has been so resistant to adopt the ever-more-prevalent standard, but we reckon the company will fix that if it does a new model later in 2019. 

HP Zbook Studio 15: best macbook pro alternatives

(Image credit: HP)

04. HP Zbook Studio 15

A workstation-level equivalent of the 15-inch MacBook Pro

CPU: Intel Core i9 | Graphics: Nvidia Quadro P1000 | RAM: 32GB | Screen: 4K DreamColor 3,840 x 2,160 pixels | Storage: 512GB SSD

High-end processing power
Quite light at 2kg
So-so design 
Plenty of other options at this price

HP’s ZBook Line comes in a variety of configurations and styles – you even can get a 360-degree convertible version (Studio x360), too. The HP ZBook Studio 15 is our pick of the bunch though since it has workstation-level specs. Indeed, you’d be hard pushed to find as much power for the price anywhere. Not only is there Nvidia Quadro P1000 graphics under the hood, but you also get Intel’s top-line Core i9 processor, 32GB of memory and a 512GB SSD. The DreamColor 4K display also has 100 percent Adobe RGB coverage, too. You’re spoilt for choice for ports, with two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, an SD card slot and dual USB-A, too. You’re able to ask HP for a custom configuration should you so wish. 

Lenovo Thinkpad Carbon XI: best macbook pro alternatives

(Image credit: Lenovo)

05. Lenovo ThinkPad X1Carbon

Light to carry, but highly capable

CPU: Intel Core i7 | Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 | RAM: 8-16GB | Screen: 14-inch FHD or WQHD or 4K UHD | Storage: 256GB, 512GB or 1TB

Plenty of ports
Light to carry around 
4K display only on the most expensive model
No discrete graphics options

Think business laptops and you’ll probably come up with the ThinkPad. However, since the ThinkPad line was taken over by Lenovo, no longer are all ThinkPads black and rather dull. Indeed, while the 14-inch Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon has an understated look, it’s a genuine MacBook Pro competitor that’s lightweight – starting at around 1.1kg – but can be specified with various options up to 8th generation Intel Core i7 processors, a super-bright 4K Dolby Vision-certified display and up to 16GB of memory and 2TB of SSD storage. However, like the Surface Laptop, there aren’t any discrete graphics options which could be a deal-breaker. But there is a lot to like with the X1 Carbon – the array of ports is impressive for something 15mm thick, with HDMI, 2x USB-A and dual USB-C Thunderbolt 3, one of which is located alongside a proprietary network port – those two can be plugged directly into a desk dock. There’s even a model with integrated mobile broadband – simply slot in a SIM and you’re always on.  

Refurbished MacBook Pro: best macbook pro alternatives

06. Refurbished MacBook Pro

Get the same Mac you want – but for less

Spec: Varies depending on refurb model

Get the Mac you want
Cheaper than the main store
Sometimes need to wait
Can be odd configurations

What better MacBook Pro alternative could there be than an alternative MacBook Pro? Let us explain. Like many other computer manufactures (Dell Outlet being another good example). Apple sells off machines that get returned to it for less than they were originally on sale for. These machines aren’t faulty – or have had a faulty part replaced. Often they’ve just been returned for refunds because the customer changed their mind. So they’re repackaged, reformatted and sold to you with savings that can run into the hundreds. Sounds good, doesn’t it? The only downside is that sometimes the machines can have odd configurations – or you have to wait around for the model you want to pop-up. Still, it’s always worth seeing what’s available. Everything comes with a one-year warranty and there are plenty of other Apple products available, too.  

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