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Buying advice: MacBook laptop or Mac desktop? Choosing between Apple's MacBook range and desktop Mac range

Lou Hattersley | Feb. 29, 2016
In this feature, we look at Apple's Mac desktop and MacBook laptop range of computers and help you work out which option is right for you.

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 starts with 500GB while the entry level iMac boasts 1TB, and of course, higher range models have feature either 1TB hard drives or fusion drives.

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 13in MacBook Pro with Retina display also comes with 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of flash as standard. The larger 15in MacBook Pro with Retina display features 256GB at the entry level and jumps up to 512GB at the high end. 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, while providing much faster performance. You can always buy a separate hard disk and plug it in - or get a network attached storage device and backup over the network.

You can upgrade to an SSD (Solid State Drive) hard drive on the iMac and Mac mini, although this costs £160 to upgrade for a smaller sized (but much faster performing) 256GB SSD. The Mac mini and iMac both offer the Fusion Drive as a £160 upgrade. The Fusion Drive blends SSD technology with a traditional Serial ATA space to offer a 1TB drive with higher performance. It's an upgrade we highly recommend. There's a speed versus space issue here but it depends on your function. If you're going to be editing a lot of videos then the larger internal hard drive will make a lot of difference.

Mac laptop or desktop: Upgradability

Apple computers are notoriously difficult to upgrade, and the latest range offers even more restricted computing than ever. The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina Display both have soldered RAM and hard drives: they are basically non-upgradable, what you buy is what you'll use forevermore. The MacBook Pro without the Retina Display still enables you to upgrade the RAM (up to 16GB) and swap out the hard drive. The iMac 21.5in is technically upgradable, but so hard to strip down that it might as well not be, but the iMac 27-inch allows you reasonable access to the RAM and hard drive.


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