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Best Mac for Students: Should you buy a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, MacBook, Mac mini or the new iMac?

Martyn Casserly | Aug. 10, 2015
Choosing the right Mac for students can be difficult. Here we explore the various options and give our buying advice.

One Mac that's easy to take off your shopping list is the Mac Pro (if you haven't done so already). At £2,499 it's simply overkill for nearly all student tasks and unless you really are involved in some heavy number crunching or professional-level video editing, you won't value its power. Even in a field like computer science or 3D animation you will get by on a high-end MacBook or iMac. Then there is also the unsavoury thought that the Mac Pro's high cost and small footprint make it a huge theft risk for student apartments. In the vast majority of cases you would be better served saving the money and opting for a cheaper model, especially when you consider that you'd need to buy a screen, keyboard and mouse for the Pro.

Apple's MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and new MacBook range

The current MacBook range of laptops is truly impressive, and since Apple lowered the price point of its laptops back in 2014 you can get an incredibly advanced machine for a reasonable price. One we would warn against buying though is the non-Retina 13" MacBook Pro. It does have some advantages over its Retina brethren, mainly down to the fact that you can replace the battery, hard drive, and RAM yourself, thus prolonging the life of the machine and reducing the initial cost. It is also the only Mac left that has a CD/DVD drive built-in.

While these features are certainly useful, the fact is that the 13" MacBook Pro hasn't been updated since June 2012 and the low resolution 1280x800 screen is looking very dated now, especially when seen next to the gorgeous Retina displays. At £899 it's also too expensive.

In previous years we ruled out the MacBook Pro with Retina display due to its high price. But Apple has reduced its base model to £999, which is admittedly still a lot to pay for a laptop, but it's great value for what you get. With a 13-inch retina display, 2.7Ghz Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM, 128GB flash storage, super sharp display and Force Touch technology, we think the MacBook Pro with Retina display is the best MacBook on the market for power users.

If you absolutely need more onboard storage then you can go up to the 256GB version for an additional £200, but as all the other specs stay the same we'd advise buying a cheaper external drive instead.

There is of course a 15" MacBook Pro with Retina display, and it is a magnificent machine, but at £1,599 it's £600 more than the 13" model, and as such feels like it would be a little excessive for students. The Intel Iris Pro GPU is a definite step-up from the Intel Iris in the 13" MacBook Pro with Retina display in terms of graphics performance, so if this is an important factor for you then it's worth considering. However, it's worth mentioning that its processor isn't as good as that of the 13" model, at 2.2GHz compared to 2.7GHz. We'd still maintain that the 13" is the ideal model for students, and is a contender to be the one in which you should invest.


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