Bob Fairbairn

Picking a New Mac an Overview

Picking a new Mac today is an interesting exercise in understanding specifications. But that can be simpler than it seems. The human factors and use cases are the bigger problem.

Look to the Apple website to see the following list of Macs:

While the image looks pretty simple it hides quite a bit of complexity and some aging products. It does not tell the whole story!

There are a couple of interesting resources that can help you in the selection process. On everymac.com you will find historical database of Macs that is very complete. Looking to the future you can use buyersguide.macrumors.com to give you a sense of the historical lifecycle of the new Mac you are interested in so you do not buy something that is about to be updated!

There are a few of decision points before you buy any Mac. These are the things you really need to decide before you go ANY futher.

  • SSD vs Fusion vs spinning disk (currently a desktop only problem)
  • SSD storage size
  • RAM and RAM expandability (notebooks are factory only)
  • Ports are a-chanigin’. (USB-C and much more)
  • Keyboards

There are two forks in this road. The first fork is what I can buy/order today vs what Apple has promised for the future. This is a minefield that many folks do not know is there. The second fork is the notebook vs desktop vs iPad vs iPhone intersection and with the iPad Pro out there or even the high-powered large screen phones maybe just maybe the notebook is less tempting..

So you are for-warned and have an idea of where you want to go.. What does Apple have for you? What should you avoid and why.

I think I can help here by grabbing the outliers first. These are the machines that are “special” in some way.

There are a couple of “red flags” in the current Apple line-up. First is the current Mac Pro. This machine was released in 2013 and has not been updated! I would be very careful about looking at the current Mac Pro as Apple has promised a new Mac Pro after 2017. The second problem child is the Mac mini. Apple has not updated it since 2014 and Apple is has said that something to the effect that it is important to them! Now if you NEED either of these computers that is fine just be informed before you buy.

The next interesting item of note is the iMac Pro that has been announced for December of 2017. This appears to be a very strong contender for the higher end desktop / all-in-one workstation. It is going to be expensive and powerful!

Skipping around a bit I want to talk about the MacBook Air. This has been Apples go to machine for portability. It has settled into the lowest price notebook that Apple sells. At $999 it is an interesting buy. The form factor has not really changed and the display is not retina. It still has the MagSafe power cable. Unless you are very price sensitive this machine may not be future proof enough for many.

Next is another interesting machine that Apple has kept around; the 15in MacBook Pro from 2015. This is a “generation” old in that it does not have USB-C ports it still has the older keyboard style and MagSafe power. Again this fills a niche for some buyers. This machine starts at $1999 and fills the need for power users that need the older style ports, etc.

Now that I have covered what I consider the outliers in the line up we can talk about the other machines in the line up.

In 2015 Apple started a re-design of their notebook line with the 12” MacBook. This series of changes introduced a new slimmer design and has eliminated most legacy ports and replaced them with with USB-C variants. In 2016 the MaBook Pro was re-designed with that same forward looking ethos in mind.

Apple now sells four notebooks in the new designs:

  • 12in MacBook
  • 13in MacBook Pro
  • 13in MacBook Pro with Touch Bar
  • 15in MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

There are a couple of notebooks that stand out from this lineup for their differences. First is the 12in MacBook. This machine is really amazing, small, light, no fan, one USB-C port and a headphone jack. At just over 2 lbs this machine is a miracle. The single USB-C port is a bit of a limitation and the screen is not P3 extended color gamut. The processors are a bit limiting and if you need it you can get 16GB of RAM.

The “sleeper” in this lineup is the 13in MacBook Pro which is sort of a MacBook Air killer. It is a lot more powerful and it is around the same weight. The screen is retina with P3 extended gamut. The middle price range of this machine is around $1599.

The Touch Bar MacBook Pros are the high end machines. They start at about $300 more than the rest of the line because of the Touch Bar which is a bit like having the core of an iPhone built into your notebook with Touch ID and a strip display touch enabled display. They are faster, lighter have more USB-C /Thunderbolt 3 ports. If you need mobile computing power this is the place in Apple’s lineup to be.

The Apple iMac lineup is currently three machines. I would avoid the 21in non-retina machine as it is pretty low performance wise, non-retina and is slow. It is targeted towards the education market. Thereal models are the 4K 21in and the 5K 27in. These machines have high-resolution wide gamut displays and enough ports to solve most connectivity issues.

The new iMac Pro has been pre-announced by Apple. There are still some questions about pricing which they say will start at $4999. You have to decide if you want to wait for this.

We do not know what Apple has in mind for the the new Mac Pro. Apple has said that it is important to them and that they are working on one.

The Mac Mini is still in limbo and that is about all I can say about it for now.


Here are three use cases and three machines as reference examples.

  1. The 12in MacBook for ultimate portability if you have to have a Mac. But think about iPad when you think about this machine.
  2. The 13in MacBook Pro without touch bar as a great mid-range notebook that overshadows the MacBook Air.
  3. The 27in 5K iMac which can be configured to handle just about any job and has that really wonderful display.

While this guide is not intended to be complete or personalized, it should be a good starting point for helping you understand the Mac landscape. I have not talked about the AppleCare extended warranty, accessories, etc. Those items are very personal and I do not want to overly influence.

Finally there is an interesting way that you might purchase a Mac from Apple and that is from their factory refurbished page. While I consider it beyond the core of my goal here I would be remiss in not telling you to take a look.

-rjf