Which MacBook Should I Buy?

Apple just released new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros ahead of the holiday season, and retailers will likely be looking to get rid of older stock. If you’re in the market for a new or refurbished MacBook, you might be able to nab a good deal on a recently-released laptop.

The best Mac for most people to buy is still the 13-inch M2 MacBook Air. It’s more than powerful enough for most people, and has a great display and a slim, lightweight design. If you want a larger screen, there’s also a 15-inch version. You can read more about it in our guide to the best MacBooks. We’ve seen the 13-inch M2 version regularly on sale for $949, and the 15-inch for $1,049, so don’t spend more. Any price lower than that is a good deal.

The MacBook we recommend

The 2022 M2 MacBook Air has an updated design, a brighter screen, and a better webcam, and it restores the fan-favorite MagSafe port.

What about the MacBook Pro?

If you’re looking for a higher-powered MacBook Pro, we recommend you skip the 13-inch version with M1 or M2 chips, even if it seems like a great deal. Neither is powerful enough for actual professionals, and both models have a cooling fan that is irritating to listen to compared to the silent MacBook Air.

We only recommend Apple’s 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros to those who need the extra processing power, like professional media editors, coders who need to compile large projects, or 3D designers. That’s because these Pro laptops trade the best parts of the Air, like silent fanless design and lighter weight, for more power. The Pro laptops are costlier, heavier, bulkier, and more annoying to schlep around. That’s not an issue if the laptop allows you to actually take a professional workload on the go, but for everyone else, it’s not worth the hassle and cost.

MacBooks with Apple’s older M1 Pro and M1 Max chips are still good investments. In our tests, they’re able to export 4K video about as fast as many 13th-generation Intel Windows laptops. You are missing out on a bit of speed compared to the latest models, though. Initially, the M1 Pro chip we first tested took 3 minutes and 12 seconds to export our 2-minute 4K test clip, but the M3 Max only took 1 minute 45 seconds. While the difference is significant, the overall time is still reasonable for exporting a short video on either machine. If the $500 you might save is more important than an extra few seconds waiting for a clip to export each day, then it could be a worthwhile tradeoff. We’ve found that Apple’s refurbished site reliably has M1 machines at a discounted price.

If you already have a MacBook with an M2 Pro or Max chip, there’s little reason to upgrade to an M3 chip. Each generation of chip–from the M1 to the M2 to the M3–has been 20-25% faster according to our testing, which is significant. However, the chips are all objectively fast, and unless you’re in time-critical situations, you can save thousands knowing you’re only waiting an extra few seconds to render and export a video scene.

One of Apple’s newest MacBook Pros is an entry-level 14-inch model with an M3 chip. (You can also buy a pricier 14-inch Pro with an M3 Pro or M3 Max processor.) We don’t recommend the cheapest M3 model, because most people won’t benefit from the extra features of the MacBook Pro, and most pros won’t want a relatively- underpowered M3 chip. The M3 MacBook Pro is about a pound heavier than the MacBook Air, and quite a bit thicker. We also think that most people won’t benefit from the extra ports on the Pro, like the SD card reader and HDMI port. The models with the M3 Pro and M3 Max chips also have an extra USB-C port that the M3 version lacks. The main appeal of the M3 MacBook Pro is the lower price for Apple’s fantastic pro-level XDR Display. But both the Air and Pro’s displays are incredibly color-accurate, and unless you’re editing HDR video there’s little need for the XDR display’s 1600-nit peak brightness. Content will look better on the XDR display, but it’s really intended as a display for creating content rather than watching it.

While the M3 MacBook Pro is the cheapest of Apple’s new MacBook models at $1,600, that price only gets you 8 GB of RAM, which is insufficient for a modern editing laptop.

How much RAM, or unified memory, is in a MacBook is kind of like how big your physical desk or workspace is. With 8 GB, you have a smaller office desk. It’s fine for papers, some spreadsheets, maybe a few magazines in the corner you’ll read later. But as you need a larger desk for drafting architectural plans or a larger room to develop photos, you need more memory to do the same thing digitally. Upgrading to 16 GB of unified memory adds an extra $200, making the cheapest configuration we’d recommend $1,800. At that point, it’s a better deal to get a MacBook Pro with the M3 Pro chip, which offers 18 GB of unified memory and better performance than the non-Pro chip.

This article was edited by Signe Brewster and Caitlin McGarry.

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