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Which is the best Mac for students in 2016? Should you buy a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, MacBook, Mac mini or new iMac?

Martyn Casserly | March 28, 2016
If you're starting college or university in the coming year, you may well be thinking about buying a Mac to help with your studies.

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're 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 £80 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.

Still, the entry model Mac mini is only £399, which makes it the most affordable Mac by quite a distance. It houses a 1.4GHz Intel i5 CPU, just like the entry level iMac, that feels perfectly fine for everyday tasks. One of the major disappointments though is that in previous models you were able to manually replace the RAM and hard drive with very little effort, but this new release has the RAM soldered onto the motherboard and therefore can't be upgraded at all. Even the hard drive is harder to replace as Apple has fitted a grill that requires specialist screwdrivers to remove. If you never had any intention of upgrading parts yourself then this will have little bearing on your decision, but we would advise using the built to order process on the Apple site to increase the RAM from 4GB to 8GB.

If you are on a real budget this is the way to go. Get an entry-level Mac Mini and ask around for an old keyboard, mouse and monitor. You may be using second-hand accessories but your Mac will sit at the heart of it all. You could also plug the Mac mini into your TV, although we wouldn't recommend writing your dissertation on a TV screen.

 

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