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How to buy an Apple laptop: Mac laptop buying guide

What to consider when purchasing a Mac laptop

Mac laptops are hugely popular, Apple having swept up the best laptop brand in our PC Advisor 2011 Reader Awards. But there is plenty to consider if you are thinking about buying an Apple laptop. Here's our Mac laptops buying guide.

See all Laptops reviews

MacBook

The MacBook is Apple’s entry-level Mac laptop. It isn’t as powerful as the MacBook Pro but it’s smaller and cheaper – although not as small and not cheap as the MacBook Air, which might take your fancy instead.

The MacBook is a great little laptop that boats most of the features you get with the MacBook Pro but at less blistering speeds. The performance is fine if you’re browsing the web, checking out Facebook, sending emails, watching a DVD, writing Word documents, editing digital photos, etc. If you want to create movies or music then you’ll probably need a MacBook Pro’s performance boost.

It’s faster than the MacBook Air, but not as thin and about twice as heavy.

There’s no FireWire port on the MacBook but most peripherals such as hard drives and camcorders can connect via USB, and at cheaper prices.

The MacBook is more affordable than the MacBook Pro but the same price as the MacBook Air, which you should seriously consider if portability is your main concern.

It does however boast a DVD burner, Ethernet and much larger hard drive options than the MacBook Air.

Pros: Inexpensive, fast enough for most needs, lightweight, decent storage and DVD options.

Cons: Not fast enough for high-end video and pro music software, not as small and lightweight as the MacBook Air.

See also: Apple MacBook (Mid-2010) review



MacBook Pro

Apple’s MacBook Pro has all the processing power most people need and some to spare. The current version is faster – and certainly more portable – than even recent iMacs.

The MacBook pro is powerful enough for just about any task (photo, video, music) and can be hooked up to a larger screen if you need a big display when not travelling.

Desktop Macs have more processing power but for mobility and performance you can’t beat the MacBook Pro.

If you need a Mac laptop with FireWire the MacBook Pro is the only game in town.

The difference in price between the MacBook and the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro (which both have the same processor and hard drive) is only £132; that additional money buys you FireWire 800, two more gigabytes of RAM, an SD card slot, and an aluminium enclosure if you’re not a fan of the MacBook’s white plastic.

The MacBook Pro has three screen sizes: 13-, 15- and 17-inch displays are available.

The MacBook Pro is the ideal Mac for anyone who demands processing power while out and about. It offers a terrific combination of performance, features, and portability. If you have an older desktop Mac, you’ll even find that the MacBook Pro is quite a capable desktop replacement.

Pros: Fastest, most capable Mac laptop, three screen size options up to 17 inches.

Cons: Not as lightweight as MacBook Air.

 See also: Apple MacBook Pro 15in (Early 2011) review



MacBook Air

The 11-inch MacBook Air is the smallest and lightest Mac laptop you can buy. All Airs come with high-resolution screens and full-size keyboards, but are very thin and weigh less than 1.5kg.

The Airs aren’t powered by the latest, fastest Intel processors. But the shortcomings in processor speed are somewhat compensated for by the speed of the flash storage and graphics processor. And the fact is, many people never take advantage of the speed of the Mac systems they’ve got.

If all you’re doing is Web browsing, email, and word processing – the three most common tasks you use a computer to do – the Air won’t bat an eye. In fact, unless you’re playing the most advanced 3D games or editing mounds of HD video, you’ll find that the Air holds up just fine.

You don’t get a DVD drive built in, but you can buy an external drive that connects via USB. And if you want wired Ethernet networking you also need to but a USB extra.

And while the first versions were ultra-expensive the latest start at the same price as the bulkier, entry-level MacBook.

Pros: Inexpensive, fast enough for most needs, quite and fast flash storage, super lightweight, super thin, ultraportable.

Cons: Not fast enough for high-end video and pro music software, requires add-on peripherals for Ethernet and DVD, smaller storage options.

 See also: Apple MacBook Air 11in (Late 2010) review

Additional reporting by Roman Loyola and Jason Snell, Macworld.com

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