How to pick the best MacBook or MacBook Pro for any price point

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited July 2018
You have to buy what you can afford -- but make sure you're only paying for what matters to you. AppleInsider did the math, and has some recommendations for every price point.

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar


We had to double-check this when our Numbers spreadsheet told us: there is one case where you have a choice of two different Apple portables for exactly the same price. If we ever doubted it, then, that is one clear situation where cost is not the deciding factor.

It's just that we think it never is. What you always need to do is balance the price, the performance and many other factors regardless of what budget you have or what Mac portable you want.

Mind you, money is usually one of those factors. There's no getting around the fact that if you want the absolute best MacBook Pro with maxed out everything then just a good reason isn't enough, you're also going to need $6,699.

We've looked at what you can get for budget price points from under $1,000 up to that fully-loaded top price. We've also given you reasons to move up to the next tier if you can.

Apple MacBook Price Comparison 2018

Keep in mind

The more you spend on your Mac portable, the better it will be. That doesn't mean, though, that you'll even notice the difference. Your MacBook Pro 15-inch with Touch Bar will be capable of rendering VR video all day but if you just type in TextEdit on it, you're not seeing the benefit.

Equally, there are always three things that make the greatest difference between MacBooks today or really any computers, any time.

The processor and now particularly its number of cores defines how fast the MacBook is. Even a small increase in processor speed costs money and gets you a performance benefit.

RAM makes your machine seem faster too. The more RAM you've got, the more the MacBook can do at the same time and the more responsive it will be at all times. When we've bought machines before, we've even taken more RAM over a higher processor speed when necessary.

With MacBooks you get 8GB, 16GB or 32GB RAM and you want the most you can afford. Whatever work you do, get the most RAM you can. However, not all models have these three choices and whatever RAM you get, you're stuck with it forever. There's no adding more later.

Lastly, storage. Every Apple portable device on sale today uses solid state drives that Apple refers to as flash storage, instead of the older spinning hard disks. These are much faster, they last much longer without problems and they are the future. They've been the future for a long time, though, and while the price per gigabyte has dropped gigantically in recent years, it's still expensive.

Which means that very often the only difference between two of Apple's current models is in how much storage. The smallest SSD in MacBooks is 128GB but some models offer you 512GB, 1TB, 2TB or 4TB.

Again, not every model has all of these and, again, whatever you buy you're stuck with. Plus this can currently be the most expensive part of a MacBook: of that top $6,699 price tag. $3,200 is down to the 4TB drive option.

Consequently you want the biggest SSD drive you can get but it's probably the thing that you're going to compromise on first. If you work on huge files or projects like photographers or video editors do, take it on the chin and pay. If you only type poems in Microsoft Word, you can settle for the lowest SSD but remember they fill up faster than you think.

Under $1,000

There is only one Mac portable under a grand and it's the base MacBook Air which retails at $999.

For that you get a 13-inch screen with 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD. It's a good, solid machine but you won't use it for games and you shouldn't use it for video editing.

Apple MacBook Air


It's real appeal, though, is that price point: every other model of MacBook offers you more and sometimes for not a great deal higher price.

If price is the overriding issue, however, think about skipping MacBooks entirely and instead buying an iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard. Other keyboards and keyboard cases are available but to have something you can just nip into the Apple Store to buy, this combination is powerful.

It's also a little cheaper. The MacBook Air has a 12-inch screen and for $31 less, you could by an iPad Pro with 12.9-inch screen plus the Smart Keyboard. This is a bulkier package to carry around than the MacBook Air and it's hard to quantify the differences between macOS and iOS. However, the iPad Pro is newer and will feel faster.

Plus the iPad Pro has a hugely better display than the MacBook Air.

In fact, the first reason to move even a little bit up the budget scale above $1,000 is to get a better screen.

But, here's the thing. There's always used. There is a healthy market on eBay for used MacBooks and MacBook Pros, and it can be worthwhile to scope them out -- if a bit beyond the scope of this article.

From $1,000 to $1,500

There's still reason to look at an combination of an iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard in this price range. Apple's iPads don't have options yet for choosing how much RAM you get but they do all come in different storage sizes. The 12.9-inch model can have 64GB, 256GB or 512GB storage with the top one making a total cost of $1,448 with the Smart Keyboard.

Also, that price is for the cellular model. No MacBooks can directly use a cell connection for the internet so the iPad Pro has more benefits than just price/performance. Though note that you would still have to pay a monthly cell phone bill on top of the iPad Pro purchase price.

This price range also still has a version of the MacBook Air: a $1,199 model that comes with twice the storage space at 256GB SSD.

That's a good price for the storage but this is still a MacBook Air with its slower processor and poorer screen than in the rest of the range.

Apple MacBook laptop


Instead, this is a case where you get better value spending slightly more money. Spend $100 and get a basic MacBook for $1,299 which has 256GB SSD. Its processor is also newer than the one in the MacBook Air.

That's easily enough to make us prefer the MacBook over the MacBook Air -- but this is where we found two models with the same price.

For that same $1,299 price could instead get you a MacBook Pro 13-inch with Function Keys. That's faster than the MacBook or MacBook Air, though for this price it does come with a smaller SSD of 128GB.

This MacBook Pro has with a 13.3-inch display, however, and that's like having the size of the MacBook Air's one with the quality of the MacBook screen.

There is weight and heft to consider, though. The MacBook is the lightest at 2.03 pounds while the MacBook Pro 13-inch without Touch Bar is 3.02 pounds. For comparison, the MacBook Air is 2.96 pounds.

When you read these figures you know there isn't a giant difference between them. However, when you use the machines, you realize that actually there is: the MacBook feels impossibly light. The MacBook Pro 13-inch with Function Keys feels solid.

The MacBook Air just feels old.

Still sticking within the $1,000 to $1,500 range, though, there is one more option. A budget of $1,499 gets you the higher-specification MacBook Pro 13-inch with Function Keys which contains a 256GB SSD. That makes the MacBook Pro 13-inch a better machine in nearly every single way except for weight -- and the $200 price difference.

Apple 2018 13 inch MacBook Pro with TouchBar


It's the best price to performance you'll get for under $1,500, though. If you need more storage, you have to go up to the next price tier. If you want more RAM than the 8GB all the models so far have come with, it's the same.

Plus you keep reading about MacBook Pro 13-inch models with Function Keys. If you want a Touch Bar or you want a bigger MacBook Pro, that will take you into the next tier too.

From $1,500-$2,000

That MacBook Air does keep hanging on. It is a trooper and we did go wow when Steve Jobs pulled this incredibly thin machine out of an envelope.

However, he did that ten years ago and now we have faster, slimmer and lighter machines with much better screens. Today $1,549 will get you a MacBook Air with its poorer display and its slower performance than those other devices but with a 512GB SSD.

This is another case where it's worth your spending just a little more. For just $1,599 gets you a MacBook with the same 512GB SSD for just $50 more.

We don't think that's even a choice. The MacBook is lighter, faster, newer with the same storage and a Retina-quality display. Spend your money on the MacBook and never look back.

Unless you happen to have an extra $400 in your budget, that is. If you do then $1,949 gets you the absolute best MacBook possible with 512GB SSD and, crucially, 16GB RAM.

Yet this is probably the one point where the theory that the more you pay, the better your portable Mac is falls down considerably. With the exception of weight and RAM, you can get a better machine in the new MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar.

That's with Touch Bar. What you also get in the Touch Bar models is Touch ID, which is very nice. Also quad-core processors instead of dual core, which is dramatic. This is the biggest performance boost you'll see between portable Macs and here you're getting it for $1,799.

That's $150 less. True, you get a heavier machine and more significantly you get 8GB RAM instead of the $1,949 MacBook's 16GB.

However, you can configure your MacBook Pro to have 16GB RAM for $1,999 or just another fifty bucks more.

This MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar also has more configuration options than the MacBook. You can increase its processor speed and you can upgrade its storage to 2TB. That does come with a cost: this gets you the maxed-out 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and the price is $3,699 or way out of the $1,500-$2,000 tier.

From $2,000

We're into the territory of the newly updated MacBook Pro 15-inch models with Touch Bar now. These start at $2,399 with 16GB RAM and 256GB SSD. You can update either of those at time of order to get 32GB RAM and up to 4TB SSD storage. That combination takes you to $6,199 and if you update the processor speed, that's $6,599.

Apple 2018 15 inch MacBook Pro with TouchBar


To top out at Apple's most expensive MacBook Pro ever, you can add a choice of faster graphics processor to bring it all to $6,699.

If you're going to be doing intensive work then you need processor speed and you also tend to need storage space. What all of the 15-inch MacBook Pro models give you, though, is a six-core processor. You won't notice anything like the difference in the jump in performance from dual to quad-core but video editing and rendering will be quicker.

But, we're still not sure if the jump from the six-core i7 starting at $2,399 and the six-core i9 for $3,099 more is worth it. That very much depends on if those seconds or minutes a day you save are worth that kind of cash to you when amortized over several years.

It's obvious to say that if what you need the maximum power and storage, then it could be well worth the $6,699. However, we look at it this way: if that's what you need to do and it is cost-efficient to spend that kind of coin, then spending less is wasting your money.

Three more things

We haven't even mentioned battery life in all this but that's for a reason. The battery life you get for all of Apple's current portables is 8-10 hours and that's plenty.

More significantly, we haven't mentioned that you're not tied to Apple when you want to buy Apple machines. There are online authorized resellers, such as Adorama and B&H, which will offer instant rebates and coupon savings on even the latest models (to compare prices across all product lines, see our Price Guides).

As they're discounts, they tend to vary a lot and they also often only last for short times so here we've only considered Apple's retail prices. The logic and your reasons for choosing a particular model remain the same, though, and if you happen to find a machine on sale for $200 off, it's a very nice bonus.

And, that third thing. While having a pile of on-board storage is convenient, like we said, is also very costly and should probably be the first thing to back off on to save some dough. Storage is easily added external to the device, perhaps with an online service, or even a USB-connected drive. We pick a faster processor or more RAM over more internal storage every single time.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    ajminnjajminnj Posts: 26member


    Instead, this is a case where you get better value spending slightly more money. Spend $100 and get a basic MacBook for $1,299 which has 256GB SSD. Its processor is also newer than the one in the MacBook Air.

    That's easily enough to make us prefer the MacBook over the MacBook Air
    I disagree with this statement.  Part of the reason the MacBook Air has held on for so long over the new MacBook is that originally it only supported the Core m3 series processor.  Even now, you have to move up to the $1,599 model to get a 1.3Ghz Core i5.  Both the $999 and the $1,199 MacBook Airs come with a 1.8 Ghz Core i5.  Yes, the MacBook is a newer generation Core processor, but the Core m series in general and the m3 in particular is avoided by anyone who knows anything about processors like the old Celeron processors were.  The $1,549 MacBook Air you dismissed for the $1,599 MacBook also includes a 2.2Ghz Core i7 against the MacBook's 1.3 Ghz core i5.  Even Appleinsider's review (https://appleinsider.com/articles/16/04/27/review-apples-early-2016-12-macbook-is-a-welcome-improvement-but-wont-change-any-minds) noted the slowness of the Core m3 in Safari.

    Also once you are at $1,599 MacBook, I would be looking at the $1,499 MacBook Pro (with smaller 256GB storage) or $1,699 MacBook Pro (with matching 512GB Storage).

    This has always been my problem with the new MacBook line, at each level you get better performance out of the older (and pre-retina display) MacBook Air or the slightly heavier MacBook Pro.
    edited July 2018
  • Reply 2 of 11
    There is one more interesting wrinkle: What generation of computer to buy.  B&H has been selling previous generation (2016 or 2017) models at very generous discounts.  For example, I got my 2016 MacBook Pro with 2TB storage for $3,300, which is about $1,000 savings over a brand new one.  Being able to bring my full projects around without a cumbersome external drive is worth the money for me, and buying the previous model (I purchased it before the 2018 models came out) was how I could do it without breaking the bank.

    Unfortunately for my wallet, the new model with its improved keyboard(*) and 6 core processors is really tempting.  Not to mention the 4TB storage option, although that is terrifyingly expensive :(. The differences between the 2016 and 2017 model were pretty much negligible but the 2018 model looks worth the extra bucks for me.

    Finally, I have to admit that I think the extra storage is worth the money.  It's very awkward using the machine with an external drive dangled from the port.  The La Cie rugged drives I like using are notorious for disconnecting spontaneously unless they are on a solid surface with the computer.  So if you can afford to keep everything on the main SSD it really is worth the extra bucks.  But that 4TB option sure is expensive :(.  I want it bad, but may wind up sticking with 2TB.

    (*) I am living in West Palm Beach, Florida and Costa Rica.  For some strange reason, Apple's US warranties are not honored in Costa Rica.  Apple equipment also costs about 50% more (I kid you not) in Costa Rica than in the USA.  Because of this, having a fully functional keyboard going forward is extremely important to me. If I were staying in the USA I would just get my old keyboard fixed as needed, but my location makes me really want to get the reliability improvements on the new unit.
  • Reply 3 of 11
    "While having a pile of on-board storage is convenient, like we said, is also very costly and should probably be the first thing to back off on to save some dough." Truer words have never been spoken. This is perhaps the biggest gripe I have with Apple's MacBook Pro. I have referred to this as Tim Cook's Upgrade Fun House. Apple has abused it's position with regards to storage. Flash Memory prices have dropped dramatically in the last two years. Every 13" & 15" MacBook Pro with Touch Bar should come with 512GB of storage standard. I cannot even imagine a "Pro Level Machine" having less than that. Having to plug in a separate storage device is kinda stupid, but I can see why people do it. You can save $200 and when you upgrade you can take that extra storage with you. For the first time in my life, I'm thinking about doing just that.
    edited July 2018
  • Reply 4 of 11
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,174member
    A good article like this forces you to think about your priorities and gives you a clear idea of what area is going to be most important. I travel a lot, so weight is more of a factor than it otherwise would be, but lotsa RAM is another strong interest. For people considering a MacBook Air because it’s cheap, you’d get a heck of a lot more bang for the buck with the 13 MBP (function) for essentially the same weight and not a great deal more money. But for travel, that entire pound less the MacBook offers is tempting ... otoh, for travel an iPad and keyboard will take care of your needs (especially if you invest in cloud storage for photos/music) so you can leave your “big iron” at home ...
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 5 of 11
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 3,900member
    When discussing the low end MacBook Air, AI recommended:
    "If price is the overriding issue, however, think about skipping MacBooks entirely and instead buying an iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard"

    But why the iPad PRO?   You're discussing consumer grade products -- and low end ones at that.  The 2018 Gen6 iPad with a LogicTech keyboard is fully capable at this level and cheaper:  A 128Gb the Logitech keyboard and tax is $529.   And, yes, both are available at the Apple Store.  You don't need to shop elsewhere...

    But, for me, it's a moot question anyway:  It seems to me that Apple has been neglecting their consumer grade laptops and the whole line is due for an upgrade with expanded choices and options.  So, I would go with the iPad and Keyboard for about 1/2 or 1/3 the cost of a MacBook and then play video games on it (Which, reportidly, the MacBooks could not do) while waiting a see what Apple is going to do with the consumer grade MacBooks....
  • Reply 6 of 11
    jjesseyjjessey Posts: 3member
    Beware Adorama!  I ordered a mid-2018 MacBook Pro Touch Bar 2.7Ghz 16GB/512GB SSD on 7/22-- 9 days ago.  Adorama's website says "Item won't be charged until shipped" and "Free Expedited Shipping" but I was charged the full amount 5 days later with no shipping date other than "Item has been dropped shipped".  Customer service says that "drop shipment" allows immediate charging of the full amount and also says item will come directly from Apple but can only suggest delivery might be  10-14 days from now (Apple store promises free delivery in two days!).  A total of 20-21 days (or more?) wait to save tax and $75! 
  • Reply 7 of 11
    It's kinda sad the MacBook Air is the best choice. The new Pros have too many compromises that hurt more than looking at a non-retina screen.
    jdw
  • Reply 8 of 11
    jdwjdw Posts: 682member
    For those who don't care about the low-travel keyboard and lack of ports, I agree completely with the article's suggestions.  But those who do care and who care about the price too really only have the MacBook Air as purchasing option due its better keyboard (in terms of key travel) and ports (USB-A port and SD card slot).  It's unfortunate about the screen and the lack of a modern CPU, but it's actually more powerful in some ways than the MacBook, and the MacBook Air still has the best battery life of all MacBook models.
    edited July 2018 GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 9 of 11
    Appleinsider - can you do a quick test to see which is a better machine in terms of FCPX performance? I am a hobbyist video producer (vacation videos etc...) and currently have a 2012 rMBP. I am looking for an upgrade and am curious, which provides a better FCPX machine. Base 2018 15" rMBP Base Touch Bar 2018 13" rMBP + eGPU In the UK, where I am based, these two combos cost exactly the same. I always do my editing plugged into a 4K monitor, so the portability factor of the 13" is a handy feature for holidays. If the 15" is still vastly superior, I'd go with that though (Also 16GB of RAM).
  • Reply 10 of 11
    simms327 said:
    Appleinsider - can you do a quick test to see which is a better machine in terms of FCPX performance? I am a hobbyist video producer (vacation videos etc...) and currently have a 2012 rMBP. I am looking for an upgrade and am curious, which provides a better FCPX machine. Base 2018 15" rMBP Base Touch Bar 2018 13" rMBP + eGPU In the UK, where I am based, these two combos cost exactly the same. I always do my editing plugged into a 4K monitor, so the portability factor of the 13" is a handy feature for holidays. If the 15" is still vastly superior, I'd go with that though (Also 16GB of RAM).
    If you only do your editing at your desk, the 13" with eGPU should offer better performance than the 15".

    Lots of detail—including FCP tests—here: http://appleinsider.com/articles/18/08/01/comparing-the-base-model-2018-macbook-pro-with-touch-bar-versus-apples-base-2018-15-inch-macbook-pro
  • Reply 11 of 11
    khan+khan+ Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    If you want to buy new Macbook Air Retina Model then you can click on below ling https://amzn.to/2QS88WA
Sign In or Register to comment.