MAY 22, 2024

How to find the best MacBook laptop for you

Apple’s MacBook line of laptops are popular options for students, businesses and creative professionals, but like much of Apple’s output, they carry a premium price point.

That’s why it’s vital to choose the appropriate MacBook for your specific needs. You don’t want to spend too much on a system that’s overpowered, but equally you don’t want to buy a laptop you’re going to outgrow quickly.

Apple only has a few MacBook lines, but there are some significant differences that are worth understanding when it comes time to making your buying decision. Here’s what you need to know and understand about each MacBook type.

While Apple has offered MacBooks of varying types going all the way back to 2006, I’m going to concentrate here on the current range (at time of writing) of “new” MacBooks. Given the price of Apple’s computing equipment, you’ll typically get the best bang for your buck buying new and enjoying your system for as long as possible.

Understanding Apple Silicon

Apple switched to using its own designed silicon processors, sometimes called “Apple Silicon” a few years back, with two generations of processors to date; the Apple M1 and Apple M2. 

Apple’s contention was that the switch from Intel-based processors (as you’d find in many Windows laptops) to its own silicon meant it could get a better balance of processing power and battery life in the one, tightly integrated system.

Apple’s offered a few different variants of the M1 and M2 processor chips across its MacBooks to date.  The M2 variants are the newer and more powerful options, slightly better suited for those with ambitions towards creative multimedia tasks.

You can also get M1 and M2 processors in Apple’s iPad Pro and iPad Air line, though the regular iPad and iPad Mini still run on Apple’s A-series processors – the same chips, more or less, that you find in iPhones, in fact. Apple’s had something of a push towards suggesting that an iPad Air or iPad Pro could be a laptop replacement for some, and that’s a line that may be worth considering, especially if portability is a high priority for you.

The important factor to understand with any of the Apple M1 or M2 MacBooks is that the memory and RAM are all hard-baked into the processor silicon itself.

What this means is that what you buy is all you can have; there’s no scope for updating RAM or internal storage after the fact, though you can always add an external hard drive if you do need more storage later on.

So what models could you buy, and who are they best suited for?

Apple MacBook Air

Screen size: 13.3 inch or 13.6 inch

Processor: Apple M1 or Apple M2

Apple’s entry level point into its laptop line is the MacBook Air. It’s a thin and light laptop with a limited number of ports and either a 13.3 inch (MacBook Air M1) or 13.6 inch (MacBook Air M2) display. There’s scant physical difference between the M1 and M2 MacBook Air laptops, with the M2 model managing a larger screen thanks to thinned-down screen bezels.

For everyday use, though, the MacBook Air M1 is an excellent everyday machine for everything from web browsing to document creation, light image editing or multimedia work.

Best for: Students, office workers, everyday computer users, travellers who need the lightest option.

Apple MacBook Pro

Screen size: 13 inch, 14 inch or 16 inch

Processor: Apple M2, M2 Pro or M2 Max (14/16 inch only)

In the Pro world of Apple’s MacBooks, the choices get quite a bit more complex.

Firstly, there’s the 13 inch MacBook Pro, which is basically just a slightly souped up variant of the M2 MacBook Air. There’s no M1 MacBook Pro 13 any more, but it is the only laptop left in Apple’s line to still feature the “Touch Bar”, Apple’s interesting – but not always beloved – interactive digital replacement for function keys. Performance is largely on par with the MacBook Air M2, though, so it’s only recommended if you have particular need for the touch bar.

With its 14 inch and 16 inch MacBook Pro models, Apple offers a fair degree more customisation, with either the Apple M2 Pro or Apple M2 Max processors, up to 96GB of memory and up to 8TB of storage. Again, though, these options must be specified when you’re buying them, because they can’t be added due to the tightly integrated nature of the Apple Silicon system. It’s also not inexpensive to kit out a fully maximised Apple MacBook Pro; the full-fat version of the MacBook Pro 16 would cost you $10,999.

That kind of pricing does show where the MacBook Pro line sits, however, because they really are professional-grade laptops primarily pitched at multimedia creative professionals who need an on-the-go machine. Naturally you don’t have to spend $10,999 to get one, with pricing starting much lower than that, but they are best suited to those who genuinely have the need everyday for that kind of computing power.

Best for: Creative or scientific professionals who need serious number, graphics or data crunching laptops

Are there other Apple Mac options?

There are, but they’re all desktop bound systems, such as the tiny Mac Mini, iMac 24 inch or more pro-grade Mac Studio and Mac Pro. If you never really need to move your computer around – for example if it’s for your office desk or home study – they’re also worth consideration.

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Alex Kidman
A multi-award winning journalist, Alex has written about consumer technology for over 20 years. He has written and edited for virtually every Australian tech publication including Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and more.