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iMac vs MacBook Air

Martyn Casserly | July 11, 2016
We compare Apple’s iMac and MacBook Air so you can judge which is the right for your needs.

While the MacBook Airs are still powerful laptops, they are intended more for day-to-day use rather than serious content creation, or computationally demanding task such as gaming. So, if these are your goals, then the more powerful iMacs will be a better fit, or indeed a MacBook Pro. If you're into photography or videography then the colour rich, expansive screens, and larger storage, of the iMacs are a distinct advantage when it comes to reviewing and editing your media.

But, of course, if you're a student, travel a lot with work, or don't have a lot of space at home to dedicate to a desk, the MacBook Airs are amazingly light, and will get most jobs done with little fuss.

iMac vs MacBook Air: How the cheapest models compare

At first glance the £749 11-inch MacBook Air and £899 21-inch entry level iMacmight seem a world apart, but they actually share much of their internal components. In fact the iMac has the same 1.6GHz dual-core, Intel Core i5 CPU as the MacBook Air, and also shares the same graphical capabilities. It's no great surprise then that when we compared the iMac and the 11-inch MacBook Air in our labs we discovered that the MacBook Air actually managed to outperform its big brother in some areas including the Speedmark 9 tests. This is most likely down to the MacBook having flash-storage fitted, as opposed to the slower traditional hard drive in the iMac.

Essentially, at its core, the entry-level iMac is a MacBook Air with a bigger screen, bigger (but slower) storage, and a little more RAM. This means that you could turn either MacBook Air into an iMac just by plugging in a screen, mouse and keyboard, with the option of external storage. Admittedly all of this costs money, but you would end up with a desktop and a laptop for not much more than the price of the iMac itself.

This only holds true for the entry-level model though, as once you step up to more powerful iMacs the gap in power begins to show. There is still the factor of the hard drives in some of the iMacs, but the graphical prowess and CPU speeds are certainly a big improvement, easily ahead of the Airs and the slow entry-level iMac.  

iMac vs MacBook Air: Storage options

The tradeoff for the performance boost of the flash-storage in the MacBook Airs is actual storage space, as flash-storage remains expensive for higher capacity units. If you want to keep all your music, home videos, or music collection on your computer, then the Airs will fill up a lot faster than the capacious iMacs. Of course you can use an external USB hard drives, and they are quite affordable these days, with a quick look on Amazon showing that you can buy 1TB drives for less than £50. See our pick of the best external hard drives for Macs here.


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