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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.

Apple's iMac: Be careful of the new low-cost iMac

We're going to out on a limb and recommend you stay away from Apple's new low-cost (£899) iMac. On the surface it looks ideal: the price is reasonable at £899 and it has a larger screen than any laptop. But it comes fitted with the same 1.4GHz processor as the one used in the 2014 MacBook Air and the Mac Mini, which is somewhat slow and, unlike on the MacBook Air, isn't twinned with a flash hard drive. The combo of slow processor and slow hard-drive in the low-cost iMac makes it an awkward experience. We think you'd be better off with a Mac mini, unless you upgrade your £899 iMac with a Turbo Drive, which will offer the benefit of increasing the speed at which your iMac runs, and will cost you just £200 more (that's £1,099). 

The slightly more expensive iMac (£1,049) is a much different proposition. It has a 2.7GHz quad-core Intel CPU, 8GB RAM and a 1TB hard drive (we'd still recommend a Fusion Drive update if you can afford the extra £200). It's a great Mac for graphic designers and video editors alike, as it combines a lot of storage (handy for large files) with a good processor and the screen is excellent.

At the top of the tree is the beautiful new iMac with 5K Retina display, which is hugely powerful, elegant, and costs £1,599, which isn't bad when you consider it cost £1,999 when it was first released. It offers the highest spec too, with a 3.3GHz processor, 1TB storage, 8GB of RAM and an AMD Radeon R9 M290 with 2GB memory. The trade-off is, or course, portability. While the iMac isn't heavy, it is still a desktop computer, so it'll stay in the house while you go to lectures. If you are on a design course this may not matter so much, but it does tie you to one location, whereas the MacBooks can go pretty much anywhere.

There is a build to order option in the low-cost iMac that might get you a better deal. As we explain in our review of the budget iMac with a Fusion Drive, by adding a combined SSD (flash) set up with a hard drive things speed up and that might actually make that model a better deal than the one above it, which would lack the Fusion Drive, which is a £200 upgrade when you buy it.

Apple's Mac mini: cheap and powerful

We have mixed feelings about the Mac mini. On the one hand it remains an excellent low cost Mac, while on the other hand the recent upgrade has taken away some of the things that made it such an attractive Mac.


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