Apple has three choices when it comes to MacBooks:
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- Aug 25, 2020.
- Jan 09, 2019.
- MacBook Air 13-inch
- MacBook Pro 13-inch
- MacBook Pro 16-inch
But when I consider a variety of options for CPU, RAM, and disk storage, the number of choices increases exponentially.
So, how do you choose?
How do you make sure that you will not regret your decision in a month or two?
Today I will help you to make the best decision you can do based on your unique needs and resources. In case if you don’t want to read all this stuff, feel free to scroll all the way down to the quiz section.
We will consider three approaches to MacBook selection:
- Budget driven
- Want based
But let’s first familiarize ourselves with the differences between Apple laptops.
If you prefer video check out my YouTube channel on the same topic:
MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro 13-inch
Here is a table of differences between all MacBooks:
|Characteristic||MacBook Air||MacBook Pro 13-inch||MacBook Pro 16-inch|
|Mac Storage||2TB SSD||4TB SSD||8TB SSD|
|Size, inches||11.97 x 8.36 x 0.16-0.63||11.97 x 8.36 x 0.61||14.09 x 9.68 x 0.64|
|Battery time||12 hours||10 hours||11 hours|
As you can see from the table, the main differences between MacBook Air (MBA) and MacBook Pro (MBP) are:
- Choice of processors. MBA has only three CPU options, while MBP offers four to choose from.
- Starting Price. Entry-level MBA is $300 less than entry-level MBP.
- Storage options. With MBP, you can get up to 4TB.
- Battery time. MBA lasts for 2 hours longer under the same load as MBP.
- Touch Bar. MBA does not have a Touch Bar, only Touch ID.
- Weight. MBA is slightly lighter than MBP.
MBP 13-inch vs. MBP 16-inch
MacBook Pro 16-inch is bigger than 13-inch cousin in all regards: weight, size, storage, RAM, CPU, and of course, price.
There is no point in comparing them. The question is rather – do you need such a best or not? In some cases, you do.
With this approach you need to answer the following questions:
- Why do you need a MacBook?
- Will you use MacBook for work, school, or home?
- Why MacBook and not a PC laptop, such as Surface?
To help you answer these questions, let’s consider several use cases.
MacBook for data science student
Yap X. reached out to me with the following question:
“Hi, I’m a data scientist and freelance web developer. For data science stuff i can use google colab in a browser. For develop a web, i just need a text editor. Currently, I’m considering picking a MBA or MBP.”
First, I steered him to my article on choosing a MacBook for a college student, which covers this topic in-depth.
Then, the question was whether he needs more space or RAM. I know that data science projects need a lot of memory, but web developers benefit from more storage (for code, assets).
In the end, he went with MBP, 128GB with 2TB external drive.
MacBook for a law student
Hassan H. asked me “I am a law student in UK. I have come across your article of macbook storage size. I want to buy macbook (latest) but i am not sure which one would be better for me..! Either macbook air or macbook pro.”
Hassan didn’t need a lot of power. He needed a light laptop that can hold as much battery as possible. So, he chose the MacBook Air.
MacBook for a programmer
I had the same approach for the last two MacBooks I ordered at work. They both 15-inch (now it would be 16-inch) MacBook Pro with 16GB RAM and at least 512GB storage.
I opted for the least powerful processor available because, for coding, it is more important to have more on-board storage and RAM than CPU. Besides, even the least powerful CPU in the big MBP is way better than the one in 13-inch Pro.
Also, I wanted to have a bigger display so I could work at home without an external monitor.
So, what does it mean for you?
If you know exactly how are you planning to use the laptop, then the decision is simple.
Go for MacBook Pro 16-inch if you need a bigger display and for more CPU, RAM, and disk.
Go for MacBook Air if you value battery time, and you travel a lot. Also, the MBA makes sense if you don’t expect to do anything other than working with documents, send emails, and browse the internet.
When in doubt, go for MacBook 13-inch. It’s a perfect balance of power and usability.
Budget Driven Approach
In the perfect world, we would just buy the biggest, the baddest and not worry. However, all of us have budgets. And often, our budgets don’t align with our needs and wants.
If you are short on money, here are my observations and/or suggestions.
MacBook Air is a good laptop
In most cases, the MBA would be enough for most people. Even for web developers. If you are just starting studying web design or software development, it will take a while until you outgrow MBA resources.
When you become a professional, you most likely be able to afford a more powerful machine.
Consider used or refurbished
If you really need a 15″ or 16″ inch MBP, but can’t afford it, then consider used or refurbished options.
I wrote a whole article on how to choose a used MacBook and which Apple laptop is the best in terms of price to performance ratio.
Don’t pay retail
I never buy Apple products in the Apple store. I always shop online, and I always save at least $100. You can do it too with some tips from me.
Also, don’t forget that you can get credit to pay for the device, which makes it easier.
Want Based Approach
Three months ago, Daniel S. sent me the email:
“I can’t decide what to buy for my girlfriend as a gift. MBP 128 gb or MBA 256 gb. They come at the same price. MBP wins on all parameters except memory. Although my girlfriend needs nothing but a browser, easy photo editing, office work and movie watching. I want my computer to last longer and given the trends in application development, it may be more profitable to take on more power, as the power consumption of applications increases every year.”
After some back and forth, we finally figured that his girlfriend already made up her mind. She liked the TouchBar option, and she was Ok with smaller disk as she didn’t plan to store a lot of photos, documents, or videos.
Bottom line: if you can’t choose between the two, go with what you like. Whether it’s a look, a color, or TouchBar.
New MacBook Pro 13″
If you already decided to go with a MacBook Pro 13″ check my post about selecting right options for a new laptop:
It’s a super detailed post where I tried to go over all options, including CPU, RAM and storage.
Now, when you decide on a type of MacBook, the next step is to know whether it is worth to spend on additional storage and memory, or faster CPU. Over time, I’ve built a bunch of resources to help you with upgrade questions.
Is extra storage worth it? My post “Is 128GB Enough for MacBook Pro/Air? Storage Guide” will help you to understand your options when it comes to disk space.
Similarly, this link will guide you through RAM questions.
This post will help to decide which CPU do you need for MacBook Pro. If you remember, Apple has 8 CPUs to choose from for MBPs.
Since Apple introduced 3 CPU choices (i3, i5, i7 ) choosing the right one got tougher. I touched on this topic here.
And finally, you will have to make a decision on the warranty. My post about AppleCare+ for Mac lists the pros and cons of AppleCare.
As promised, here is a short quiz which can help you decide which MacBook should you buy.
It finally arrived. I was holding myself for the whole year from buying a new MacBook Pro. The reason for my self-constraint is the problems with the MacBook keyboard that the older version had.
However, with the introduction of a Magic keyboard in MacBook Pro 2020, I am ready to waste spend hard-earned money on a new Apple laptop.
Since I am buying a laptop for myself, I will go over my thought process when reviewing various options so that anyone can do the same after me.
Granted, all people have different needs, so I will try to explain which options are must-haves under certain circumstances.
This post is for people who absolutely sure that they want to buy MacBook Pro 13″. However, if you are still deciding between Air and Pro, or between 13″ and 16″, I suggest to start with my “Which MacBook Should I Buy: Easy Guide and Quiz” first.
Which MacBook Pro Should You Buy (2020 Version)?
When choosing any computer, there are three things you should consider: CPU, storage, and RAM.
Unfortunately, when making a choice, you have no room for error, because none of these components can be upgraded in the future. Apple is soldering RAM and storage for many years now, the last Pro model you could upgrade the storage was MBP 2015.
If you make the wrong decision now and you will need a more powerful laptop later, your options are rather limited (or better say non-existent). On the other hand, nobody wants to overpay for something they don’t need.
So, let’s see how we can get a laptop that works perfectly for us and doesn’t cost a fortune.
Choosing a CPU
The first thing every user considers is a computer CPU.
MacBook Pro 2020 offers the following CPU options:
- 1.4GHz quad‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz
- 1.7GHz quad‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7 processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz
- 2.0GHz quad-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz
- 2.3GHz quad-core 10th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz
Don’t look at GHz. While we (programmers) used to think that higher the frequency (GHz) means faster CPU, it’s not so simple.
For instance, in my other post, “Best Processor For MacBook Pro: Simple Decision Guide” (see Appendix), I brought an example of a CPU with higher GHz being actually slower a similar processor with lower frequency, but a newer model.
There are two things that matter most: the processor generation and the architecture.
There is a rule called Moore’s Law named so after the co-founder and CEO of Intel Gordon Moore, which states that the number of transistors on the processor doubles every two years.
And as such, the performance also doubles every two years. The law was true for decades, and while I am not sure whether it is broken or not, one thing I know for sure: 10th generation has to be faster than 8th.
By the way, did you notice that Apple does not offer the 9th generation? Do you know why?
I didn’t understand it myself first, but then figured out: 8th generation processor is from the old 2019 model.
Let me repeat: the first two MacBook Pros on the Apple store screen are renewed 2019 models!
If you don’t believe here is the last year MBP specs from Apple site:
Processor: 1.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz, with 128MB of eDRAM Configurable to 1.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz, with 128MB of eDRAMApple
There are only two differences between a MacBook Pro 2020 with Two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and the MacBook Pro 2019 model is a Magic keyboard and larger initial storage (256GB vs. 128GB).
What does it mean for you? If you can find a refurbished 2019 model, it will be as fast as the base 2020 model, and you may save hundreds of dollars if you know how to buy refurbished Macs.
For 13″ models, Apple offers two architecture choices: i5 and i7. I already explained the differences in my previous post, and the main point is the following: a higher number means a more powerful processor. So that i5 is faster than i3, and i9 faster than i7 (and all others).
Here’s the comparison from Geekbench of MacBook Pro 2019 i5 and i7 (remember the same processors as in 2020 8th generation):
If you really want the newest processor, then go with 10th-generation 2.0GHz Core i5 or 2.3GHz Core i7.
The other processors are the same as in the 2019 model, so that you can save money with the older model. For instance, you can get a good deal on Open-Box laptop in Best Buy.
Since I’ve been waiting for a new MacBook for a long time, I don’t want to spend my money on last year’s model.
So, I have to choose between two 10th generation CPUs. And I am fine with Core i5 – I am sure it will be fast enough when I develop apps.
When it comes to storage, the rule is simple: the more, the better. If you have extra money and thinking whether to invest in better CPU or more RAM or storage, start with storage.
It’s interesting how quickly we clutter our computer with various junk. There is even a whole industry: cleaning apps which offer to clean storage in case if it’s not enough.
I even wrote an entire post about choosing storage size here (see Appendix). In my article, I explained how much storage is required for various user categories (students, lawyers, programmers, designers, etc.) and how much space different apps (MS Office, games) take.
So, I am not going to go over the same stuff again.
I will only reveal how much storage I am going to pick – 256GB. I learned to live with 128GB laptops, so having twice more is enough for me.
Besides, I can extend storage with external hard drives, and it will cost me way less than an SSD inside my Mac. For instance, I can buy a 4TB drive for less than $100.
Again, I did a review of how much RAM one may need (see Appendix). Certain types of Apple users absolutely need as much RAM as they can get.
For instance, if you are doing video editing professionally, extra RAM will help to upload more data in the memory and avoid frequent swaps. As a result, the entire process will be faster and easier on CPU as well.
However, people who use Macs primarily for editing Google docs or surfing the web will find 8GB is enough.
I said that there are only three things to consider when choosing a MacBook: CPU, storage, and RAM. However, there are a couple more things that are different between Macs with 8th and 10th gen CPUs:
Base models have only 2 Thunderbolt ports, and higher models have twice more.
If you take into account that one port is needed for power, then with the base model, you may end up with only one port available for external devices when charging. In my opinion, it’s very limiting, so you will have to buy a dock (check here for recommendations).
This is more important for graphic designers: the upper-level model supports 6K external display, and the base model only 5K. So keep this in mind.
This is my screen with a comparison of MacBooks on the Apple site. I am sure it’s different than yours – the prices are $100 lower.
Which Macbook Pro To Buy 2020
Before dropping hundreds of dollars on a new MacBook, I suggest you read my post on saving money on a new MacBook.
With the knowledge I provided, you can save in a range of $100-$500 on Apple computers.
What am I buying?
In my case, a single decision led to other choices. I decided to go with a newer CPU, and I am Ok with Core i5 vs. Core i7.
I didn’t need more storage or RAM, but the cheapest 10th gen MacBook Pro comes with 512GB storage and 16GB RAM, which is more than I needed.
But, what if you are limited in finances? Do I think it’s worth buying a base model, or should you look at last year’s Mac?
Well, it depends on what kind of deal you can find for 2019 Mac. If specs are the same (256GB, same CPU) and the price is significantly lower (more than $200), then yes, last year’s model is a better deal.
For instance, check the prices on previous and current MacBook Pro models on Amazon. As of now, the older version with 256 GB (which is considered to be an upgrade) costs more than the new version with as much storage (base model):
|Previous Model||New Model|
Model Identifier: MacBookPro15,4
CPU: 1.4GHz Intel Core i5
Check price on Amazon
Model Identifier: MacBookPro16,3
CPU: 1.4GHz Intel Core i5
Check price on Amazon
The price on base 2019 model (new, unopened on Amazon) with 128GB will be significantly lower than on 2020 model, but again the keyboard on old one was a problem.
Best Apple Computer To Buy 2020
I mentioned several articles I wrote that touch methodologies on choosing CPU, disk, and RAM.
I decided to put them below here, so you can get more details before deciding which laptop you are going to use for the next five years:
Which Macbook Pro To Buy 2020
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