Updated: Buying Guide: Best Mac to buy in 2016: Apple’s top iMacs, MacBooks and more

Picking the perfect Mac

Buying a new Mac isn’t as easy as picking out a new iPhone. With a phone you only have to worry about cost, color, and capacity, but when upgrading your computer you need to consider portability, power, speed, storage, screen size, pixels, expansion needs and more.

So while Apple’s Mac lineup is fairly streamlined and straightforward, there’s still a lot to consider. If you decide you want a desktop, there’s the Mac mini, iMac and Mac Pro to choose from. If portability is your primary concern, you have the 12-inch MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook and MacBook Pro. Even if you pass on the build-to-order options, there are dozens of possibilities ranging from $499 (about £325/AU$646) all the way up to $3,999 (about £2,610/AU$5,181).

A new Mac is a long-term investment. You don’t want to be stuck with the wrong one for years and years, so we sorted through every option for every model to help pair you with your perfect match. Head to the next page as we dive right in.

Mac Pro - Best Mac 2016

1. Mac Pro

A cylindrical tower of power

CPU: Up to 3.0GHz 8-core processor with 25MB L3 cache or 2.7GHz 12-core processor with 30MB L3 cache | Graphics: Up to dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 vRAM each | RAM: Up to 32GB (four 8GB) or 64GB (four 16GB) of DDR3 ECC memory | Storage: 256GB PCIe-based flash storage (configurable to 512GB or 1TB) | Communication: Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11ac | Dimensions (WxDxH): 16.7cm x 16.7cm x 25.1cm

Stellar design
Twin GPUs
Expansion ports
Internal expansion lacking
No bundled keyboard or mouse

The Mac Pro was cutting-edge when it launched in late 2013, and it’s still one of the most advanced PCs money can buy – though an update wouldn’t go amiss. The machine has power and performance to spare, with quad-core Intel Xeon E5 processors, dual AMD FirePro graphics cards, and super-fast PCIe-based flash storage. And its distinctive 9-inch-high cylindrical form fits great on any desk.

Of course, the Pro’s price tag matches its performance – ranging from $2,999 (£2,499/AU$4,399) to around $10,000 depending on your storage, memory and processing needs – but it’s as future-proofed as any Mac you’ll find. Even if OS X were to transform into some kind of a Multitouch hybrid in five years, today’s Mac Pros will surely be able to handle it.

Read the full review: Mac Pro

27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display - Best Mac 2016

2. 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display

Apple’s biggest iMac puts everything on display

CPU: Up to 3.3GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz) | Graphics: Up to AMD Radeon R9 M395X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory | RAM: Up to 32GB of 1867MHz DDR3 memory; four SO-DIMM slots, user accessible | Storage: Up to 1TB of flash storage (SSD) | Communication: 10/100/1000BASE‑T Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45 connector) | Dimensions (HxWxD): 51.6cm (20.3 inches) x 65cm (25.6 inches) x 20.3 cm (8 inches)

Display
Performance
Core i7 costs extra
No Traget Display Mode

Packing an eye-popping 14.7-million pixel screen, a 3.3GHz chip, and the AMD Radeon R9 graphics card, the iMac with Retina 5K Display isn’t just one of the most powerful Macs in Apple’s line-up, it might actually be the most practical purchase you can make.

A decent stand-alone 5K display will set you back at least $2,000, and when you factor in the cost of a machine that can handle it, the retina iMac starts to look like a bargain. The lower-end model packs more than enough punch for most people, but you might want to consider upgrading the platter drive, either via a $200 BTO option or by stepping up to the 3.5GHz model for an extra $300.

Read the full review: 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display

21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina display - Best Mac 2016

3. 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina display

A gorgeous 4K display on a compact all-in-one

CPU: Up to 4.0GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.2GHz) | Graphics: Up to AMD Radeon R9 M395X GPU with 4GB of GDDR5 memory | RAM: Up to 32GB of 1867MHz DDR3 memory; four SO-DIMM slots, user accessible | Storage: Up to 1TB of flash storage (SSD) or 3TB Fusion Drive | Communication: 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45 connector) | Dimensions (WxDxH): TKTK

Display
Design
Fusion drive not standard
Chunky display bezel

If 27 inches is too much for you, Apple’s 21.5-inch 4K iMac is much smaller but packs and equally sharp display. It goes toe-to-toe with the 27-inch 5K iMac’s when it comes to pixel density, and it similarly supports the DCI P3 colour gamut that allows for accurate, vibrant colour.

It’s not that much more affordable than the entry-level 27-inch iMac once you’ve ramped up the configuration, so it’s worth bearing in mind whether spending the extra money would be worth getting hold of a larger display and much more powerful graphics capabilities. If they aren’t important, Apple’s smaller iMac is still a capable machine and packs one of the best 4K screens around.

Read the full review: A gorgeous 4K display on a compact all-in-one

15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina

4. 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina

Due a redesign, but still the most capable MacBook

CPU: Up to 4.0GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.2GHz) | Graphics: Up to AMD Radeon R9 M395X GPU with 4GB of GDDR5 memory | RAM: Up to 32GB of 1867MHz DDR3 memory; four SO-DIMM slots, user accessible | Storage: Up to 1TB of flash storage (SSD) or 3TB Fusion Drive | Communication: 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45 connector) | Dimensions (WxDxH): TKTK

Display
Performance
Chunky and heavy
Poor keyboard

The name may suggest a high-priced machine, but the MacBook Pro is far more affordable than the desktop tower that shares its surname. If you’re looking for more of a desktop replacement than a road companion, it’s definitely the way to go. We don’t recommend the cheapest model, however. While it does have a zippy 2.5GHz i5 processor, we aren’t wowed by the laptop’s 13-inch non-Retina screen, 5400-rpm hard drive and 7-hour battery life. At $1,099 (£899/AU$1,549), we’d either get the upper-end Air for the same price or chip in another $200 to go Retina.

The extra money also buys double the RAM, three additional hours of battery life, a Force Touch trackpad, and Iris graphics. You’ll give up quite a few gigs of storage (125GB vs 500GB), but the upgrade to a flash drive makes the tradeoff much more palatable. You can spend even more for extra storage and a few megahertz, but most users will get what they need for $1,299 (£999/AU1,799). At the very top of Apple’s laptop lineup is the 15-inch model, and it earns its premier spot.

Packed with a 2.2GHz or a 2.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, a Force Touch trackpad, and 16GB of RAM, it’s a screamer whether you’re editing videos in Final Cut Pro or making music with Garageband. Starting at $1,999 (£1,599/AU$2,799), this model is significantly more expensive than its smaller sibling but worth every penny. And the $2,499 (£1,999/AU$3,499) step-up brings more than the usual storage and chip bump; Apple has also crammed in AMD’s Radeon R9 M370X graphics card, which makes this the only laptop advanced enough to power a 5K display.

Read the full review: 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina

12-inch MacBook - Best Mac 2016

5. 12-inch MacBook

Small, but perfectly formed

CPU: Up to 1.3GHz Dual-Core Intel Core M processor (Turbo Boost up to 2.9GHz) with 4MB shared L3 cache | Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5300 | RAM: 8GB of 1600MHz LPDDR3 onboard memory | Storage: 512GB PCIe-based onboard flash storage | Communication: 802.11ac Wi‑Fi wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible | Dimensions (WxDxH): 28.05cm (11.04 inches) x 19.65cm (7.74 inches) x 1.31cm (0.52 inches)

Design
Display
Underpowered
Keyboard

Apple’s newest MacBook isn’t for everyone. While it supplanted the MacBook Air as the lightest and smallest laptop, the extra portability came with compromises. Most notably, Apple replaced the standard USB 3 and Thunderbolt 2 ports with the brand-new USB-C protocol. While it’s cool that a single cable can now be used to handle both power and data as with an iPhone, Mac users who are used to plugging in a variety of devices may find themselves frustrated until the market for USB-C hubs, docks, and drives starts to flourish.

There’s also the keyboard. When the PowerBook debuted in 1991, Apple caused a stir by pushing the keys closer to the screen to create a natural palm rest and room for a trackball. Apple is attempting to change the game again with the new MacBook, this time by re-engineering every key to be thinner and far less springy to the touch. It feels quite a bit different than any other laptop we’ve ever used, so we recommend trying one at an Apple Store before making a decision. If those two concerns (and the loss of the glowing Apple logo) aren’t an issue for you, the MacBook is pretty great. Even though its 1.1GHz or 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor has nowhere near the power of the Pro or even the Air, the laptop is more than capable of running iMovie, Photos, and even Photoshop with ease.

It’s also easy on the eyes with a stunning design that’s available in silver, space gray, and gold, and it comes packed with the latest in portable technology, from the 2304×1440 retina display to the Force Touch trackpad. An affordable $1,299 (£1,049/AU$1,799) gets you 8GB of RAM, a 256GB flash drive and a 9-hour battery.

Read the full review: 12-inch MacBook

13-inch MacBook Air - Best Mac 2016

6. 13-inch MacBook Air

It’s now possible to grab big Air for less

CPU: 2.8GHz 3.0GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz) with 4MB on-chip shared L3 cache | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics | RAM: 16GB LPDDR3 memory | Storage: 512GB PCIe-based onboard flash storage | Communication: 802.11ac Wi‑Fi wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible; Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology | Dimensions (WxDxH): 19.7cm (7.7 inches) x 19.7cm (7.7 inches) x 3.6cm (1.4 inches)

Battery life
Nippy storage
Dated design
Display

The MacBook Air is in an interesting spot. While it’s still one of the most popular and well-known notebooks around, the launch of the slimmer, lighter new MacBook has stolen some of its thunder, and we have to assume one of two things: either a major update is in the works, or it will soon be made obsolete by an expanding MacBook line.

Still, we wouldn’t recommend going for the 11-inch MacBook Air, which is well past its sell-by date. But until then, we wouldn’t discourage anyone from buying it. The MacBook Air will still give you all-day battery life, USB 3 and Thunderbolt ports, and an SDXC card slot. Even without a Retina display or Force Touch trackpad, it’s a very capable machine, with a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB flash drive. Either model can be had for less than a grand, and with identical specs, choosing between the two sizes comes down to preference, with just $100 separating the $899 (£749/AU$1,249) 11-inch version and the $999 (£849/AU$1,399) 13-inch one.

Read the full review: 13-inch MacBook Air

Mac mini - Best Mac 2016

7. Mac mini

Apple’s most affordable Mac

CPU: 2.8GHz 3.0GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz) with 4MB on-chip shared L3 cache | Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics | RAM: 16GB LPDDR3 memory | Storage: 512GB PCIe-based onboard flash storage | Communication: 802.11ac Wi‑Fi wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible; Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology | Dimensions (WxDxH): 19.7cm (7.7 inches) x 19.7cm (7.7 inches) x 3.6cm (1.4 inches)

Design
Ports
Impossible to upgrade
No monitor

While the all-in-one iMac is Apple’s most popular entry-level desktop, the screenless Mac mini is a more cost-effective option. Its small, square enclosure can easily fit on any desk, no matter how cluttered it may be. The mini isn’t exactly a powerhouse, but it performs well for a computer that’s cheaper than an unlocked iPhone 5s. The Mac mini doesn’t come with a keyboard, monitor, or mouse, but it’s packed with ports: one for HDMI, a pair for Thunderbolt 2, four for USB 3, an SDXC card slot, and an IR receiver sensor.

The entry-level model skates by with a 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive, but for an extra $200 you can double most of the specs. That’s a 40% price increase over the base model, but it’s worth considering since Apple has made it almost impossible to upgrade your mini after you get it home. The top-of-the-line Mac mini bumps the processor up to 2.8GHz and adds a Fusion Drive in place of the 5400-rpm spinner, but at $999, we wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re willing to spend over a thousand dollars on a desktop computer, you’ll be better served by moving up to an iMac. In the UK, the Mac mini runs from £399 to £799, while in Australia it starts at AU$699 and tops out at AU$1,399.

Read the full review: Mac mini

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