Apple Macbook Buyers Guide

An Apple MacBook laptop is an alternative to a PC laptop, with many of the same features, components and portability advantages. However, Apple laptops are pre-installed with macOS operating system rather than Windows, so the user experience can be quite different.

This guide will take you through all the elements that will influence your decision of which Apple MacBook laptop to choose, but we’ll start first and foremost with the Apple laptop families, their differences and use case suitabilities.

There are three distinct families of Apple MacBook as detailed in the table below - although two of these fall under the ‘Pro’ brand it is worth considering them as separate as the standard specifications and intended uses do differ somewhat.


MacBook Air

MacBook Pro 13”

MacBook Pro 16”
SCREEN SIZE 13.3” 13.3” 16”
WEIGHT 1.29kg 1.4kg 2.0kg
PORTS 2x Thunderbolt / USB-C 2x Thunderbolt / USB-C 4x Thunderbolt / USB-C
BATTERY LIFE Up to 18hrs Up to 17hrs Up to 11hrs
DISCRETE GPU
COST ££ £££ ££££
TYPICAL USE CASE Consumer Professional Professional Graphics / Video

At first glance there doesn’t appear to be many differences between the two 13.3” models, but the Air has been designed for maximum portability and has been stripped of some of the more advance features such as the touch bar - we’ll cover more on this feature later. Transversely the 16” model differs significantly - not only in screen size for better visualisation uses, but also in that it features far greater graphics capability thanks to having discrete dedicated GPU. Additionally, extra ports allow better networking and expansion too, creating a much more scalable professional solution.

How to use this guide

There's a lot to consider when choosing a MacBook so we've broken down this buyer’s guide into topics. If you don't want to read the whole buyers guide at once, or one topic is more important to you than the others, you can use the buttons in this index to skip to the relevant topic.

SIZE & WEIGHT > SCREEN RESOLUTION > MACBOOK PROCESSORS > MACBOOK MEMORY > INTERNAL STORAGE > CAMERA > TRACKPAD & TRACKBAR > CONTENT CREATION > MACOS SOFTWARE > CONNECTIVITY > ADDITIONAL SCREENS > EXTERNAL KEYBOARDS > EXTERNAL MICE > SPEAKERS AND HEADSETS > BAGS >

Size & Weight

As we mentioned briefly above while the MacBook families differ in screen size and weight all are constructed from a single piece of aluminium. Although this is rugged it does add weight, so even the lightest MacBook Air is almost twice as heavy as some lightweight PC laptops. As the MacBook Air casing tapers to less than half a centimetre at the narrow end the emphasis is on style and compactness, so there is no room for the configurable touch bar. The two Pro devices have less compact cases and are on the heavier side due to the metal construction - especially the 16” model.


MacBook Air

MacBook Pro 13”

MacBook Pro 16”
SCREEN SIZE 13.3” 13.3” 16”
THICKNESS 16.1mm 15.6mm 16.2mm
WEIGHT 1.29kg 1.4kg 2.0kg
TOUCH BAR

Screen Resolution

Along with your decision on screen size, it’s also worth thinking about the screen’s resolution - after all you’re going to be staring at it a lot whether you’re working, browsing the web or using video calling applications such as Skype. If you’re going spend a lot of time using graphics applications or spreadsheets you’re more likely to want as high a resolution as possible. In the case of all Apple MacBooks the screen resolution is well above 1920 x 1080 / FullHD, so the viewing experience will be rewarding whichever model you choose.


MacBook Air

MacBook Pro 13”

MacBook Pro 16”
SCREEN SIZE 13.3” 13.3” 16”
RESOLUTION 2560 x 1600 2560 x 1600 3072 x 1920

All Apple MacBooks also support the ability to connect an external screen either to mirror the smaller inbuilt display onto a larger monitor or extend the display area to two screens - most useful when using several applications at once so you can see them side by side. We’ll have a look at external monitors later in this guide.

MacBook Processors

After the physical considerations of screen size and weight, the most important aspect of laptop choice will be the processor or CPU as this will ultimately determine its performance. Processor choice essentially comes down to what you intend to use the laptop for - light web browsing, basic work applications such as Word or Excel, more graphical tasks such as Photoshop or video software packages or a combination of these. You should make your decision on the most intensive workloads to ensure the laptop doesn’t struggle with any work you wish to do - even if you don’t intend to use a processor hungry application very often, you’ll still notice the problems you have when you do use it if your processor is essentially underpowered.

For the last few years MacBooks have been based on Intel Core CPUs, but are now in the process of transitioning to Apple’s own M-series of ARM-based CPUs - starting with the M1 chip - available exclusively in the MacBook Air and in some models of the 13” MacBook Pro. The 16” MacBook Pro is expected to follow in it’s next refresh. For the models powered by Intel CPUs, Core i5 and Core i7 are available in the MacBook Pro 13”, whereas the 16” has a choice of Core i7 or i9 - reflecting the more intensive workloads expected to be run on these laptops.

MacBook Memory

Following your processor choice, it is important to ensure that its performance will not be hindered by lack of memory or RAM within your laptop. Usually the base memory listed will be in line with the processor’s capabilities – the M1-based MacBook Air features 8GB with an option to double up to 16GB, the M1-based MacBook Pro 13” also has 8GB or 16GB (with a 32GB option on Intel-based models), whereas the high-end 16” Intel-based MacBook Pro has 16GB as standard, with options of either 32GB or 64GB. If you intend to use numerous applications together or one or two graphic heavy ones, then consider upgrading the memory capacity.

UNIFIED MEMORY ARCHITECTURE

It is worth pointing out that comparing MacBooks with Intel CPUs versus ones with the new ARM M1 CPU is not straight forward, as the memory functions very differently. The M1 processor is a system on a chip (SoC), which means that there’s not just a CPU inside the processor, but also other key components, including a GPU, I/O controller, Apple’s Neural Engine for AI tasks and, most importantly to consider here, the physical RAM is part of that same package - termed a unified memory architecture (UMA). Whilst this approach has been seen in iPads and iPhones for several years, this is the first time it has been used in a laptop.

The M1 design unifies its high‑bandwidth, low‑latency memory into a single pool within a custom package. As a result, all of the components in the SoC can access the same data without copying it between multiple pools of memory. This is designed to dramatically improve performance and power efficiency, making the entire system more responsive. However, as the RAM is unified with the CPU, it cannot be upgraded at a later date so choosing the correct specification is vital with an M1-based MacBook. Due to this different approach it is also likely that a smaller memory capacity with an M1 chip may equal or outperform a greater capacity of memory paired with an Intel CPU - independent benchmarking may help advise on this issue depending on the applications you intend to use.

Internal Storage

A Solid State Drive (SSD) is highly recommended in any laptop, not only as they consume less power than a traditional spinning hard disk, but they also help to boost battery life and weigh less too. These are both key factors in making the laptop as portable as possible and less prone to damage as the SSD has no moving-parts to affect whilst the laptop is being moved about. In the case of the MacBook ranges, only SSDs are available. Once again the MacBook Air and Pro 13” have similar options starting at 256GB and ranging up to 2TB, whereas the Pro 16” version starts at 512GB and goes up to 8TB.

The amount of storage capacity you choose very much depends on what usage or applications you will use and whether you intend to store things like music, photos or videos on it. Depending on photo resolution, HD or 4K video, these types of files can be large so allowing room to grow is key.

Camera

All the MacBooks have a front fitted camera - above the screen in the centre - for video conferencing use with applications such as FaceTime, Skype or Teams. We recommend adding a camera cover when not in use as many applications enable video by default and cameras are also easily hacked, and a cover will help maintain your privacy. Although it is worth mentioning that too thick a cover may hinder your MacBook magnetically closing, as it is designed to do so, properly.

Trackpads & Touch Bar

MacBook models differ somewhat from other PC laptops when it comes to input as Macbook trackpads include pressure-sensing capabilities that enables greater control and flexibility. This includes multi-touch gestures such as dragging and pinching, force clicks, accelerators and other functions where several fingers are used together.

The Touch Bar is a touch-based OLED bar that runs parallel with the top row of the keyboard on MacBook Pros. Depending on which app is active on your screen, the bar's options change to reflect the best controls for that program, providing enhanced functionality. For example, if you're using Safari, it will show you navigation controls and your favourite websites, however if you are checking your email, it will show you mail actions such as replying or flagging. The options within the touch bar are almost limitless and further examples are illustrated below.

Content Creation

All models of MacBook will easily cope with home or office applications such as Microsoft Office, Skype, Photoshop and the like, so long as enough consideration is given to processor and memory specifications if you’re using multiple or more intensive software packages. However, if you’re planning on using your MacBook for professional content creation applications such as music making, video editing and colour grading, CAD and 3D rendering then you should opt for the MacBook Pro 16”. Not only for the larger screen to aid creative working, but because includes a discrete GPU, rather than relying on the inbuilt graphics capability included within the Intel Core and ARM M1 CPUs.

If your graphics applications needs go beyond this level of performance, then it may be wise to consider a content creation workstation laptop - Check out our buyers guide to learn more

macOS Software

We mentioned at the start that all Apple MacBooks run the macOS operating system. While this has similar capabilities as Windows, it is quite different in many ways. The macOS operating system is refreshed almost yearly and so a new MacBook will come with the latest version installed. All upgrades to future versions are free, and it is possible to run an older version that the one shipped if a particular application requires it.

Depending on your viewpoint there are some advantages or disadvantages to macOS versus Windows. It offers a very well connected experience if you are an Apple ecosystem user, creating an almost seamless unified experience between MacBooks, iPads and iPhones. However, there are compatibility niggles between macOS and Apple packages such as Pages, Numbers and Keynote when converting files to the more widely used Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. It is true that Microsoft has developed Apple specific versions these applications but yet they still lack some Windows based functions and features, and the updates may be less regular.

Connectivity

As we’ve mentioned the ports and interfaces on MacBook models are restricted to only Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C types - either two on the 13” models or four on the 16” models. It is also important to understand that one of these ports is also how a MacBook is charged, so on the 13” only a single connectivity port is left whilst power is connected.

As we’ve mentioned the ports and interfaces on MacBook models are restricted to only Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C types - either two on the 13” models or four on the 16” models. It is also important to understand that one of these ports is also how a MacBook is charged, so on the 13” only a single connectivity port is left whilst power is connected.

VIEW OUR RANGE OF CONNECTIVITY OPTIONS

Additional Screens

As mentioned previously having an additional external screen or monitor can either provide simply a larger screen when you are using your laptop in a fixed desk environment, or a second (or third) screen to enable applications open side by side. Much like your MacBook screen there are resolution considerations to think about - a higher definition screen will perform much better for graphical applications but will ultimately cost more - especially if you are consider Apple’s own 6K 32” screen. There are some limitations as to what additional screens can be supported by different MacBooks as highlighted in the below table.


MacBook Air

MacBook Pro 13”

MacBook Pro 16”
SCREENS SUPPORTED One external display with up to 6K display - with 6016 x 3384 resolution at 60Hz Up to two external 4K displays - with 4096 x 2304 resolution at 60Hz
or
One external 6K display - with 6016 x 3384 resolution at 60Hz
Up to four external 4K displays - with 4096 x 2304 resolution at 60Hz
or
Up to two external 6K displays - with 6016 x 3384 resolution at 60Hz
VIEW OUR RANGE OF MONITORS

External Keyboards

Every MacBook includes a compact backlit keyboard however they don’t have the flexibility of a regular desk keyboard with features such as separate number pads, ergonomic shape or arm rests. If these are important to you or necessary for the applications you intend you use, then it may be worth connecting an external keyboard, either directly using USB, via a connectivity hub if your ports are limited or via a Bluetooth wireless link. It is worth pointing out that although Apple external keyboards are designed to match and have similar functionality to the built in one, any keyboard will do the trick.

VIEW OUR RANGE OF EXTERNAL KEYBOARDS VIEW OUR RANGE OF APPLE KEYBOARDS

External Mice

Every MacBook includes a compact backlit keyboard however they don’t have the flexibility of a regular desk keyboard with features such as separate number pads, ergonomic shape or arm rests. If these are important to you or necessary for the applications you intend you use, then it may be worth connecting an external keyboard, either directly using USB, via a connectivity hub if your ports are limited or via a Bluetooth wireless link. It is worth pointing out that although Apple external keyboards are designed to match and have similar functionality to the built in one, any keyboard will do the trick.

VIEW OUR RANGE OF EXTERNAL MICE VIEW OUR RANGE OF APPLE MICE

Speakers and Headsets

Although every MacBook includes speakers, because these are integrated into the sides of the casing and feature tiny drivers the sound quality and maximum volume isn’t usually sufficient if you are wanting to listen to music or watch films. External speakers can be connected to the headphone or USB-C ports (or via a hub) to improve this. Additionally if you intend to use video calling applications such as Skype, Zoom or Teams on a regular basis for work or at home - especially in noisier environments, then a headset may be a worthwhile addition. Many options are available depending from single ear versions up to full gaming style headphones - wired or wireless.

Bags

If you’re planning on taking your MacBook with you on the road make sure you invest in a good quality bag. This not only makes carrying the laptop and accessories such as mouse and headset a lot more convenient, but also will protect it from damage. We stock a wide range of backpack and executive style laptop bags at a wide range of price points.

VIEW OUR RANGE OF BAGS

Time to Choose

Hopefully you’ve found our guide to all things MacBook useful, and you can click below to see our great range.