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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.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display and second-cheapest 21.5-inch iMac (£1,049) both feature Intel Iris Pro GPUs. The Intel Iris Pro is the same system as Intel Iris but with 128MB of dedicated RAM that acts as a buffer to improve performance.

There's nothing wrong with the Intel HD or Iris integrated systems (they run most modern games) but if you are a keen gamer, or work in a visual effects field then you might want to consider a step up. The Intel Iris Pro offers a marked upgrade in performance, but if you work in professional 3D, video editing or are a keen gamer then consider getting a Mac with a discrete graphics system.

Apple also offers some discrete graphics cards in its Macs - either from NVIDIA or AMD. You'll find these in the top of the range MacBook Pro, the top of the range iMac, and the Mac Pro. If you see NVIDIA or AMD on your Mac it's going to offer better performance. The NVIDIA cards come with their own separate RAM alongside higher GPU specifications.

The non-retina 27-inch 3.2GHz iMac (£1,449) comes with the NVIDIA GeForce GT 755M with 1G. The 3.3Ghz retina model offers the AMD Radeon R9 M290, while the 3.5GHz version boosts that to AMD Radeon R9 M290.

The top-of-the-line 15-inch: 2.5GHz MacBook Pro with Retina Display (£1,999) comes with an AMD Radeon R9 M370X.

These all offer vastly improved graphics performance over Macs with Intel HD 5000, Intel Iris or Intel Iris Pro graphics.

The Mac Pro comes with two graphics cards: Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM on each card (4GB in total) on the quad-core model and 3GB GDDR5 VRAM each (6GB in total) on the 6-core unit. These are impressive numbers, and that sort of power is needed if you want to edit the new 4K video.

Mac laptop or desktop: Storage

On the surface it appears that you get more storage for your money with a Desktop. Apple's Mac mini and iMac computers start with 500GB and higher range models have 1TB across the board and they can be upgraded to 3TB.

The MacBooks and Mac Pro, on the other hand, come with smaller but faster PCIe-based flash storage.

The MacBook Air comes with 128GB on the cheaper 11-inch and 13-inch models, and goes up to 256GB on the more expensive models. Taking the 256GB storage to 512GB is an additional £240).

The MacBook Pro with Retina display also comes with 128GB, 256BG or 512GB of flash as standard. The non-retina model has a 500GB Serial ATA hard drive as standard.

It seems odd that the cheaper Mac mini and MacBook Pro (non Retina) both come with larger hard drives than most of the more expensive Macs. This is because the MacBook Air. MacBook Pro with Retina Display, and now Mac Pro all come with Flash storage built into the logic board. This is much faster (between 5-10 times faster) than a traditional Serial ATA hard drive. So although you get less storage you get much faster performance. You can always buy a separate hard disk and plug it in - or get a network attached storage device and back up over the network.

 

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