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Buying advice: MacBook laptop or Mac desktop? Choosing between an Apple laptop and desktop computer

Lou Hattersley | July 16, 2015
Which type of Apple computer should you buy? Apple desktops have huge screens, but MacBooks offer portability. This guide to buying Mac computers will help you choose between an Apple Mac desktop and a MacBook laptop computer.

If you are considering the difference between the 13in MacBook Pro Retina and 3in MacBook Air the differences are slightly more pronounced, but the price isn't hugely different. The entry-level 13in MacBook Pro with Retina display costs £999 while the 13in MacBook Air with the same amount of storage costs £849. the Retina model not only has a better screen it also has a better processor.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display starts with a 2.7GHz dual-core CPU, which is comparable to the 2.7GHz 21.5in iMac, which costs £50 more. The laptop does offer flash storage as standard though, which will make it faster. And this iMac doesn't have a Retina display (although it does have a bigger display).

It's also comparable to the 2.6GHz Mac mini which costs just £569 - as you can see, you don't necessarily have to pay more to get a higher specced machine.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display has a more powerful 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, it costs £1,599. That's the same price as the 3.3GHz iMac with Retina 5K Display.

Then there's the Mac Pro starts with an even more powerful 3.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5, that costs £2,499, which isn't a lot more than the top of the range 3.5GHz iMac at £1,849.

Although, as you can see, there are areas of crossover between the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac and Mac mini, it's clear that you get a lot more processor bang for your buck on the desktop range. This isn't just a number on a spec sheet: the faster speed will make a lot of difference if you're using Photoshop and 3D imaging software, or video editing. It also extends the lifespan of the machine, ensuring it'll be able to run newer software for longer. However, the desktop machines can be let down by the slower hard drives, if you can opt for the build to order fusion drives in them (fusion drives combine a flash and hard drive for the best of both worlds) we recommend you do.

Mac laptop or desktop: Graphic performance

Alongside the Intel processor in each Apple Mac sits a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). This is often referred to as a "graphics card" although they are not always separate cards these days. The GPU is primarily used to manage visual effects and a good GPU enables games, and other graphic intensive programs to run more effectively.

At the entry level: the Mac mini and iMac all feature the older Intel HD Graphics 5000 card introduced with Haswell in 2013. The MacBook Air has the newer HD Graphics 6000. The MacBook Pro with Retina Display has a newer, and faster, Intel Iris Graphics 6100 card. All these graphics cards are integrated graphics cards, which means that they run on the same die as the main CPU and share the RAM with the rest of the computer.


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