Why Buy a MacBook

Which Mac should I buy? - A purchase advice

Macwelt editorial team

Apple is putting the Mac on a new basis, with its own M processors based on ARM designs. But there are still plenty of interesting Intel Macs on offer that won't be scrapped for a few more years.

Enlarge779 euros to over 60,000 euros: Apple has computers for every budget

Apple continues to switch to Apple Silicon in the Mac. At WWDC in June 2020, Apple had confirmed the speculation that had been circulating for some time that in the future Macs such as iPhone and iPad would also be equipped with chips that it had developed itself, Apple Silicon. The first Macs with the M1 SoC came in autumn: Macbook Pro 13``, Macbook Air and Mac Mini. The transition will take two years, a little longer than that from PowerPC to Intel chips. But back then the Mac range was a bit more manageable.

While the first M1 Macs are outwardly very similar to their immediate predecessors, Apple introduced the iMac M1 in April 2021, the first really new computer of the Apple silicon era, which was developed entirely around the new chip. The colorful iMacs will go on sale from mid-May, then we can convince ourselves of their performance.

Inside, the M1 triggered significant changes in the first models: Apple promises significantly increased CPU and GPU performance, supported by neural cores. The new processors work so efficiently that the Macbook Air can now do without a fan and, like the Macbook Pro M1, can offer a battery life that is more than twice as long. The iMac M1, on the other hand, will require less space for components and fans, the case will be much thinner and now really flat. In addition, Apple is installing a sound system that can reproduce surround sound.

However, it is not only the performance that is important in everyday life, but also the availability of apps. Apple was ready at the start for M1 with its own programs from Safari to Garageband to Final Cut Pro, but also big developers like Adobe (Photoshop. Lightroom) and Microsoft (Office 365) did not have to wait long. Less than six months after the start of the M1 era, many programs have already been ported.

Compromises are rarely necessary, but Apple has again made sure that older software also runs on newer systems; the translation layer Rosetta 2 does the job. There are hardly any performance losses, but it is noticeable that Rosetta evidently outsources storage from the SoC to the SSD quite often, which could shorten its lifespan - but you don't have to worry seriously.

However, programs that rely on Windows remain outside of the new Macs. For many, that was a reason to get a Mac in the years after 2006. Since the architecture is the same as that of Windows PCs, Windows can be run natively on Intel Macs via Boot Camp and Windows software on the Mac with virtually no performance restrictions via virtualizers such as Parallels Desktop or Vmware Fusion. The last word has not yet been spoken, but Boot Camp is history. The ball lies with Microsoft: If the company releases Windows for ARM for these purposes, programs optimized for this could also run on the new Macs via virtualizers such as Parallels Desktop. The chances for this are rather vague, however, Windows on the Mac is returning at best in a form as it was known in the years before 2006: emulated more badly than right.

For many users, however, this is an exclusion criterion for an Apple Silicon Mac if there are no alternatives for the professional software, at least for the iPad - iPadOS apps now come seamlessly on the new Mac.

Apple updated two of its long-running hits in 2019/2020 and enabled them for the near future. The Macbook Pro 16 inch from the end of 2019 could even get another Intel upgrade with even newer processors before Apple sends it to the scrap aluminum. The iMac 27-inch from summer 2020, on the other hand, is a very powerful device that will probably not have to hide behind the iMac M1 either - and will still be able to keep up at the end of the switch, which is estimated to take "several years". Apple made the smaller updates for Mac Mini and Macbook Pro 13 inch from the spring with the ulterior motive that it would have to keep individual models in the back for a while as alternatives. Apple did not finally part with the 13-inch Macbook Pro with optical drive until years after the fundamental redesign.

Basically, the following applies today and in the coming months: If you don't need a new Mac of a certain series now, you should perhaps wait a little longer for Apple Silicon successors. But if you want to or have to stick to the Intel platform for a while, you will hardly be able to expect updates and should strike again now.

Tip: clean up your Mac with CleanMyMac

Let's start our overview of Apple's range of computers with the new version of the modern classic. The 21.5-inch iMac that Apple last updated in 2019 is history and only available for sale. It was replaced by the iMac M1 24 '', the first "real" Apple Silicon Mac. The 27-inch model, on the other hand, is expected to be the last of the dying Intel Macs in a few years' time.

iMac - the all-rounder new and old

For almost twenty years, the iMac was anything but boring, but it was monotonous. First in a white plastic housing, then since 2007 in the aluminum-glass design that the iMac 27 '' still has today. With the iMac M1, the colors of the rainbow are coming back, the six colors that Apple used in its logo in the 70s, 80s and 90s: purple, orange, red, blue, green, yellow. There is also a somewhat more neutral silver. But what is essential is the inner workings with the M1 SoC. Apple developed the new iMac completely for the new heart, since the circuit board is significantly smaller and requires slimmer fans, so there is plenty of space in the interior for speakers that output spatial audio. In addition, the iMac is flatter. But be careful: the base model is only available in four color options, only seven graphics cores (as in the Macbook Air M1) are active. The device, which will be available from 1449 euros from mid-May, has two Thunderbolt 3 interfaces, nothing else. The more expensive model is better equipped (from 1669 euros), two USB 3s are added and also the eighth graphic designer. Two interesting ideas: With the more expensive iMac, Apple delivers a keyboard with Touch ID, the external power supply also offers an Ethernet port.

We will have access to test devices from around mid-May and can then specify our recommendation for the iMac M1.

There will probably be a larger model this year or next year at the latest, with more power and a screen larger than 30 inches. Until then, the "bigger" iMac is the familiar 27-inch model, which Apple renewed in August 2020. An Intel CPU is still accessible inside, now from the tenth core generation, supported by Apple's T2 security chip - this is already based on ARM designs and is integrated in the Apple Silicon on the SoC. CPUs with up to ten cores are available, only SSD as a storage option is possible - Apple says goodbye to the hard drive, or rather the Fusion Drive.

Also included with the iMac 27 '' from 2020: fleet graphics chips from AMD, wireless keyboard (Magic Keyboard) and mouse (Magic Mouse 2). The wide-color P3 color space is the same on both monitors, as is the brightness of 500 nits and the contrast ratio of 1200: 1. The resolution is slightly different due to the available space, with the iMac 27 '' you get 5K - the iMac M1 at least brings it to 4.5 K. The retina display is behind glass and therefore reflects in strong light. The DCI-P3 color space can represent up to 10 bits per color channel. After all, Apple offers the optional 27-inch nanotexture glass, which is known from the Pro Display XDR and which is less reflective. The surcharge of 600 euros is not without it.

The basic version of the 27-inch iMac costs 2,046 euros and only has a 256 GB SSD on board. Upgrading is not possible, this is only possible with the medium model (from 2241 euros with 512 GB SSD and 6-core i5) to up to 2 TB (plus 730 euros) and with the large model (from 2,533 euros with 512 GB and 8-core i7 ) up to 8 TB (plus 2,923 euros). 8 GB of RAM are built into the basic equipment, upgrading is possible here.

recommendation The iMac is the all-round genius. The Retina 5K model is particularly suitable as a video editing station, and photographers and graphic artists also appreciate the extremely sharp display. The iMac has its limits when it comes to graphics performance. Here you can make do with an external graphics card (eGPU). The iMac 27 inch from 2020 should be state-of-the-art for a while, a successor with Apple Silicon may not come until 2022. The new iMac M1 with its 24 inch appeals to a wide audience, its cheerful colors will make it in Many offices and study rooms move in, the performance meets high standards, graphics. and video professionals that might not be enough, especially as long as the software is not yet native. The switch to Apple Silicon continues. Apple removed the iMac Pro from its range in spring 2021, but the model was intended as a transition in 2017 and did its job. A hypothetical iMac M1X with a 32-inch display could be considered a worthy successor to the iMac Pro.

Mac Pro (2019) - The Infernal Machine

A good two years after the first announcement, Apple showed the new modular Mac Pro at WWDC in June 2019 - and in some cases even exceeded expectations. The design is somewhat reminiscent of the Mac Pro, which was discontinued at the end of January 2013: a tower for the desktop. But instead of simply opening the housing, as it has been since the days of the Power Mac G3 Yosemite, to access the components and slots, you simply pull out the innards, similar to the Mac Pro from 2013/17. The housing made of stainless steel and aluminum has a striking hole design, but the main purpose of these holes is to allow sufficient air to flow through the computer for cooling. How much electrical energy the Mac Pro needs can be seen from the generously dimensioned power supply unit, which consumes 1.4 kilowatts of power. For the graphics alone, there is a module with 500 watts of power that relies on the latest graphics cards from AMD: The Radeon Vega II Duo is only available for the Mac Pro, in which you can also install two of these top GPUs. An additional graphics acceleration promises even more power, up to eight 8K monitors can then be operated simultaneously on the Mac Pro. The space for memory modules is just as promising, two slots are available, up to 4 TB are available externally. And even more is possible via Thunderbolt 3 (two sockets). The other connections: two USB 3 and 10 GBit Ethernet. The headphone jack seems like an anachronism.

But the fun has its price - and it's not without it. Even in the basic configuration, the Mac Pro with 32 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD and a Radeon 580X costs 6500 euros, the prices for higher configurations reach over 60,000 euros.

You don't even have to buy as many monitors as the Mac Pro could control. But for the target group of high-end video producers, Apple also offers a reference monitor with the Pro Display XDR. But this already costs 6,500 euros, without a stand a thousand less.

Recommendation: The Mac Pro is a high-end workstation for highly professional purposes in video production. The Mac Pro is also ideally suited for scientific use as a computational servant with a high throughput of numbers, especially since it is also available in a variant for the server cabinet. The Mac Pro is too expensive for normal users - but one can dream of the infernal machine from Cupertino. In terms of Apple Silicon, the Mac Pro is unlikely to experience a renewal anytime soon, and it is still completely uncertain how Apple will answer the architectural question. Because in itself the Mac Pro was intended to be able to replace the processor when there are new chips. The upcoming SoC based on ARM also have their own graphics cores, but how graphics cards such as the Vega II can be connected is still completely open. A Mac Pro Apple Silicon is unlikely to come before 2022.

Mac Mini - the dwarf computer

Somehow it had been clear since the summer of 2020 that Apple's first desktop with Apple Silicon would be a Mac Mini. The manufacturer provided developers with a Developer Transition Kit, essentially a Mac Mini with an A12Z SoC, which is otherwise used in the penultimate generation of the iPad Pro. The step was then no longer a big one, to lift the smallest Mac onto the new platform from the start. Apple also made the Mac Mini a bit cheaper, the two basic versions with 256 GB and 512 GB SSD storage currently cost 779 and 1003 euros. Tests are still pending, but even the DTK-Mini was able to convince in benchmarks. The promises made by Apple regarding speed and graphics performance can be kept. It should be noted, however, that the computers with more RAM are likely to impress, the Minis come with 8 GB of shared memory ex works, which means that this is used by the GPU and CPU, and there is no longer any dedicated video RAM. The surcharge for an M1 module with 16 GB is at least 224 euros, and Apple was already paying for RAM well in the times of the memory bar.

In order to better distinguish the Mac Mini from 2020 from its predecessor, which celebrated a somewhat unexpected but welcome comeback in October 2018, the new one is now available again in white and silver, like all the models before the one from autumn 2018. One variant in space gray and thus with an Intel chip, Apple keeps on offering. With a six-core processor of the eighth core generation from Intel with a clock rate of 3.0 GHz, 512 GB of memory and 8 GB of RAM, this costs at least 1227 euros. With its own silicon, Apple can apparently make comparable computers much cheaper.

The Intel Mini is still worth a recommendation, especially if you stuff it with RAM and SSD storage, it will be expensive, but future-proof for a few years. In our test in 2018, the Mini proved to be a computing monster, our tester called the new one a little sensation, we have not seen our rather reserved colleagues so enthusiastic in years, and that must mean something.

Recommendation: The Mac Mini is still the entry-level Mac, especially in the new M1 era. The Mac Mini is not only suitable for simple office work or as a second device in the living room for connection to the television. Thanks to Thunderbolt 3 / USB 4, 5K monitors can also be connected - eGPUs only to the remaining Intel version. Its screen flexibility makes it a better choice over the iMac in many cases.

Mac Mini M1 256 GB

Mac Mini M1 512 GB

Macbook Air - lightweight, now also without a fan

Such a change in processor platform is dragging on, but Apple probably made the decision sometime after 2015 to try its own chips instead of those from Intel. The decisive factor was probably the MacBook, with which Apple wanted to establish a new device that should close the gap between the iPad and MacBook Pro. There would have been no more space for the Macbook Air if the plan had worked. But things went differently, the Macbook with its high-resolution 12-inch monitor was too expensive as an entry-level device and trapped in its elegance. Thin, only one USB socket, but just a rather weak Core M processor from Intel. In autumn 2017 there was a second update, then nothing for a long time - and in October 2018 the Macbook Air came back from its supposed siding after four years.

And so, as the Apple-Silicon-Macbook-Air, it becomes the entry-level Macbook that Apple has dreamed of. With Retina display, Touch-ID, two Thunderbolt 3 / USB-4 ports, flat as before, but now much faster and quieter, because you can now do without a fan, the M1 works so efficiently. This can also be done differently, as we will see in the next section, Apple apparently installs those chips in the Macbook Air that do not always use the full power of the eight CPU cores, which is why waste heat is not a problem. The price has essentially stayed the same, with Apple staying just under the $ 1,000 mark in the US. You can find more details about the new Macbook Air here. And yet there might still be room for an even smaller and cheaper Macbook, as the Air was once available in an 11-inch version. The Intel version of the Macbook Air is history, you can only find it on the used market.

Recommendation: The Macbook Air models are particularly suitable for frequent travelers, for whom every gram of weight savings counts. In addition, the devices are very popular with educational institutions - here Apple also drops a hundred in price. But even with a large iCloud photo library, you have to make significant compromises. Even the 256 GB SSD storage in the base model is a bit thin, but up to 1 TB can be installed for an additional charge.

Macbook Air M1 256 GB

Macbook Air M1 512 GB

Macbook Pro - the versatile professional

The Macbook Pro is now available in three versions: As a Macbook Pro 13 '' M1 (with two Thunderbolt sockets), as a Macbook Pro 13 '' (Intel chip and four connections) and as a 16-inch version, also with a full one I / O equipment and Intel Core Chip (8th Gen.)

If you don't want to forego performance or mobility, you can't avoid the MacBook Pro. Years ago Apple introduced the controversial flat keyboard with butterfly mechanism, which has been the subject of criticism ever since. There had been small improvements from year to year, but these did not really satisfy the customers. The criticism was so loud that Apple drew conclusions and brought back the scissor keys in the current generation.

In autumn 2019, Apple gave the 15-inch Macbook Pro the most extensive upgrade in a long time. In addition to the obligatory processor upgrade to the ninth Intel generation, the escape key returned, which had disappeared with the introduction of the touchbar. The scissor keys also celebrated a comeback in the new Magic keyboard. The biggest (literally) change was the screen size, which increased from 15 "to 16". The Radeon Pro 500 series provides top graphics and a new heat management system is designed to avoid performance restrictions due to overheating. A problem that occurred more often in the previous generation.

The special highlight of the Macbook Pro from 2016, the touch bar, remains with the new 16-inch device of course: the multi-touch bar that also has an integrated fingerprint sensor, with which you can either log on to the computer or pay on websites using Apple Pay. The touchbar does not replace the trackpad, but complements it.

EnlargeAlso available in 13 inches, and even without a touch bar

In 2016, it actually doubled in area, also because Apple was able to save space on the keyboard. Overall, the Macbook has become even thinner and lighter, but the 2019 model is slightly thicker again. A dedicated graphics card from AMD is only available in the 16-inch Macbook Pro, but prices start at a whopping 2700 euros.

In May 2020, Apple will also upgrade the 13-inch model to the current state. The most important changes: Magic Keyboard with Escape key, tenth generation Intel processors and faster working memory in the top configuration. The cheapest model with two Thunderbolt ports costs from 1500 euros, the most expensive model with four from 2129 euros.