If you’re at all familiar with Apple products, you know the company likes to keep things as simple as possible. Apple’s MacBooks lineup is a good example of this philosophy, as the entire line is divided up into three different MacBooks: The MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro.
Much can be said about the differences between the three, so many may have a hard time trying to decide on the MacBook that is best suited to their own unique needs and requirements. Fortunately, we have taken the time to break it all down in a comprehensive MacBooks comparison.
Yes, at the heart of each MacBook resides the general Apple design, with many of the same aspects, features, and of course aesthetic and operating systems. However, the variance on what’s inside is what really sets each MacBook apart.
As with most laptops, it all depends on what you need to get out of the computer. For instance, if you are a photographer, you’ll need a sharper screen display and enough RAM to run editing software seamlessly. If you are a college student, you’ll likely favor lower weight and a slimmer design.
Read on to find out the core differences between each MacBook, and who each one is best suited for.
*Notice: On mobile devices, scroll right to see entire table
MacBooks may look mostly the same from the outside, but each one possesses certain capabilities and features that cater to certain people, and certain uses.
The original MacBook remains the most well-rounded, and has the most broad appeal to the general user. As with all MacBooks, the original MacBook is thin, sleek, and includes all of the features you’ve come to expect from a Mac.
In terms of specs, there really aren’t many options aside from choosing your processor, and the storage amount on the hard drive. Current MacBooks are only available in a 12-inch screen.
The MacBook falls on the scale in the middle of the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air. The standard MacBook is actually lighter than the MacBook Air, which is kind of odd when considering the names. It also has a better graphic display than the Air, and a faster processor.
Consumers who want the Apple laptop experience and can afford the mid-range price should opt for the MacBook. While it’s not as powerful as the Pro, the MacBook can definitely holds its own, and is also very thin and lightweight considering what it’s packing on the inside.
Pros: Powerful, light, numerous features, good display size and graphics.
Cons: Not as fast as the Pro, poor camera quality.
Who It’s For: Anyone who wants a solid, well-rounded laptop at a mid-range price, who will also be on the go quite a bit.
The smallest of the three MacBooks, the MacBook Air crams as much as it can into a smaller body and screen size. It’s the cheapest of the three MacBooks, and exists as a way to provide a Mac laptop experience without having to spend so much.
The Air was formerly available in an 11-inch screen size, but has now been relegated to a 13-inch size, which is actually bigger than the MacBook.
MacBook Airs also utilize a solid state drive (SSD,) so they are the fastest among the three MacBooks. They have a lower processor speed, graphics quality, and screen resolution as well, which makes the better for more casual use.
Pros: Affordable, bigger screen than MacBook, solid state drive, long battery life.
Cons: Lower graphics quality, slower processor, heavier than MacBook.
Who It’s For: Students, travelers, anyone who wants to use a Mac laptop and its operating system without having to spend a lot of money, and doesn’t need a laptop for serious use.
The MacBook Pro is the higher-end version of the MacBook, and is better in nearly every technological aspect. These laptops vary in screen size, and are also available in different amounts of memory and storage space.
MacBook Pros are ideal for those who need a professional laptop that can run multiple programs, and is also capable of connecting to numerous external monitors and other compatible devices.
Photographers, video professionals, and sound mixers and engineers are just a few examples of those who can take advantage of the MacBook Pro’s unrivaled versatility. MacBook Pros also have better media features, and include a more diverse set of ports.
Improved trackpads, touchpads, and Touch ID are just a few of the other notable features MacBook Pros come with. A superior graphics display and larger screen sizes are available as well.
Pros: Fast performance, better hardware, more integrated features, larger screen sizes.
Cons: Higher price, heavier weight.
Who It’s For: Professionals who need a mobile workstation that can still connect to their stationary devices, or anyone wanting the best performance and graphics quality out of a Mac laptop.
Features vary among MacBooks, so the best way to break down the core essentials of each one is by paying attention to the following aspects.
Processors, or CPUs, are the little chips inside the computer that are responsible for communicating, executing, and sorting through the millions of tasks your computer generates every second. Think of a processor as the air traffic controller of your computer system.
The better the processor, the more tasks it can direct and regulate in a given second. Lower level processors can result in a lagging computer that is forced to measure its steps much more slowly. Superior processors can cause your computer to run faster, while also being more efficient.
The graphics card inside a computer acts as its own special processor. Videos and images on your screen are all regulated and optimized by the graphics processor, also known as a GPU. Quality graphics cards can support smooth, fluid video playback with high frame rates.
While processors and available memory ar part of the equation too, the graphics card is responsible for the overall visual quality of what’s taking place on the screen, be it video or images.You can have the biggest computer screen with the highest resolution in the world, but if it’s not backed by a good graphics card, it's all for nothing.
The level of quality of a MacBook’s graphics card depends on the model.
This refers to both the size of the screen, and the resolution of the images it projects. In most cases, larger-sized screens are preferred, especially in terms of video viewing.
Resolution refers to the amount of pixels a screen can display. Lower resolutions result in a more grainy image that fails to show as much detail. The higher the resolution, the better. Another bonus of large resolutions is the more generous displaying of text and images, eliminating the need to scroll as much.
While the processor helps to regulate tasks in the computer’s system, the amount of memory plays the biggest role in how fast the computer can operate, especially in regards to how many programs you have open.
There’s only so much memory to be divided among tasks, so if you have a low memory amount, running a large program will take up most of it, leaving you with a slow computer if you choose to roun additional programs alongside it.
RAM is measured in gigabytes, and the more RAM, the better. Most MacBooks have 8GB of RAM, which is a more than serviceable amount. The MacBook Pro is available with 16GB of RAM, allowing it to run more tasks without lagging.
You need someplace to store all those songs and pictures, after all. Storage amount is not as important is it used to be, thanks to the advent of external hard drives and flash drives. Still, it’s convenient to have a large amount of storage within the computer so you don’t have to worry about hooking up outside storage devices.
Depending on the MacBook you choose, there is anywhere from 128GB to 512GB of storage. This can either come in the form of a standard hard disc drive (HDD,) or a much faster solid state drive (SSD.)
Laptops are designed to be mobile, and there is freedom to be found away from electrical outlets. As you probably already know, some can last much longer than others. Fortunately, MacBooks have great battery life across the board, regardless of model.
MacBook battery life starts at around an already impressive 10 hours, and can go as high as 14 depending on the model. Older models are all around the 4-5 hour range.
Below are reviews of five specific MacBook products from the last few years, including MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and MacBook.
This version of a 13-inch MacBook Pro debuted the year before some significant upgrades were made, but it still holds up in regards to performance and its versatile capabilities. Speedy and efficient, this MacBook Pro is suited for a wide range of tasks.
An Intel Dual-Core i5 2.5GHz processor serves as the heart of this MacBook Pro’s system, and it’s a great ally to the 4GB of DDR3 RAM. This ensures fast speeds when running large programs at the same time, including video and image editing software. You’re pretty much guaranteed a lag-free experience.
MacBook Pros have always been known for their superior graphics, and the Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU really shines with this laptop. Vivid color and pinpoint detail comes through on a 1280 x 800 LED-backlit screen that always seems to be bigger than it actually is.
The fast operation and alluring visuals of this MacBook Pro help to make it a formidable laptop for tasks such as photo and video editing. This model weighs under 5 lbs as well, and although that’s considered light in comparison to a MacBook or MacBook Air, it’s completely sufficient.
Storage space is very adequate, as this MacBook Pro forgoes the lower-end 256GB for a 512GB HDD instead. Not exactly enough room to store a bunch of raw files and large programs, but still plenty spacious for everyday use.
One of the advantages of MacBook Pros is their inclusion of added hardware features, such as this model's Internal Superdrive DVD burner. That can definitely come in handy.
All things said, this MacBook Pro holds its own, despite being a slightly older model. Its combination of speed, graphics, and prototypical Mac features makes it a great buy for the price range, especially for those that need a professional-level MacBook that travels just as well as it operates.
This MacBook is the latest from Apple, combing a lot of core features together to create an ideal Mac experience on the go. With its high memory, lifelike display, and modernized connectability, this MacBook is very versatile, and is definitely a superior laptop for its price range.
The MacBook is powered by a 1.1 GHz Intel processor. While that may sound low, it’s actually a dual-core, so it operates twice as efficiently as a single-core 1.1Ghz processor would. 8GB of RAM helps the MacBook handle numerous intensive tasks and programs all at once, with virtually no lagging.
The display is probably the most striking feature of this particular MacBook. Boasting a massive 2304 x 1440 resolution, the screen uses the coveted ACtive Matrix Retina Display technology, resulting in one of the most lifelike displays you’ll find on a laptop. Perfect for movies, videos, photo editing, and more.
Another great aspect of this MacBook is its use of an SSD. The 256GB may be too low for some, but you do have the option of upgrading to a 512GB for a little more money. AS always, the SSD is lighting fast, opening programs and booting up in mere seconds.
This MacBook also include all of the latest ports, such as USB 3.0, Type-C, Thunderbolt3, a display port, an audio port, and Bluetooth 4.0 support. Wireless connections are much faster thanks to 802.11ac support.
It’s pretty simple: the MacBook is one of the most well-rounded, affordable laptops you can buy. Its versatility and screen quality are truly hard to beat, and its overall speed is hard to ignore. Anyone can appreciate this laptop.
While this may be an older MacBook, the A1181 has stood the test of time, offering adequate speed, a vivid display, and all of the characteristics that continue to make MacBooks among the best laptops in the world.
Despite its age, this MacBook’s 2.1 GHz Intel Core duo processor still holds up, providing efficient and quick processing regardless of what you may have running. It’s a good thing too, because the 2GB of RAM included is quite low. This can be easily upgraded, however.
The graphic processing isn’t the most flashy, but it’s still perfectly acceptable, and still much better than some of the budget laptops floating around out there. The screen has a decent 1280 x 800, which at the time was one of the best for its size.
The hard drive is nothing to get excited about, offering just 120GB on an HDD. Still, if you don’t plan on storing much on it, you’ll be perfectly fine. An external hard drive can triple the available storage amount, and for a cheap price.
Again, this isn’t the flashiest MacBook when compared to current models, but with its upgradability, and ability to run current OS X, you can still get a lot out of it. With a price of around $200 from most outlets, you have a great opportunity to own an insanely affordable MacBook, whether you’re a student, frequent traveler, audio professional, or just casual user.
Affordable and fast, this MacBook Air is ready to take on any task you have for it. It includes all of the current MacBook technology, and makes it possible to own a new MacBook without having to spend a lot of money.
A 1.6 GHz Intel dual core processor is at the heart of the system, offering double the processing power of a single core chip. Add that to the MacBook Air’s 8GB of RAM, and you have yourself a blazing-fast laptop that can navigate back and forth between programs, media, and browser windows with the greatest of ease.
Continuing with the priority of speed, the MacBook Air comes equipped with a 256GB SSD, allowing it to power on and boot up in just a few second. If you’re used to hard disc drives, this is a strange new luxury you’ll always be excited about. Storage amount may not be the greatest but this is a MacBook Air after all.
MacBook Air’s aren’t known for having the best screen of the three, but there’s still a lot to like. The 13.3-inch diagonal size is perfect for its 1440 x 900 resolution, set to a widescreen view with a clear, glossy finish. Graphics are powered by a very underrated Intel HD Graphics 6000 GPU.
The MacBook Air is lacking a bit in the ports department, but you still get USB 3.0 ports, and 802.11ac wireless support, so any devices and internet connections will be as fast as possible.
This MacBook Air accomplishes what it set out to do: offer MacBook speed and function at an affordable price, with just a few lesser features and specs. If you want a MacBook, but don’t want to take the financial plunge a Pro or MacBook requires, this MacBook Air is perfect for you.
This MacBook Pro is near the top of the line in terms of MacBook, offering the best graphics, the biggest screen, and the fastest speeds. If you want a MacBook that can truly handle it all, the MacBook Pro is up for the challenge.
A 2.2 GHz Intel Core i7 processor serves as the backbone to the MacBook Pro’s system, delivering incredibly fast and efficient processing no matter how many programs you have running. A massive 16GB of RAM further backs it up, giving you lots of leeway in terms of memory usage and speed. Don’t expect any lagging whatsoever.
The MacBook Pro’s screen is perhaps the most impressive aspect it has. An expanded 15-inch Retina Display screen ensures over 5 million pixels, creating impeccable details, clarity, color, and fluidity for everything from movies, to games, to images, to really anything on the screen.
A screen this big needs a solid GPU to power it, and thankfully Apple included an Intel Iris Pro GPU to do just that. High frame rates are the norm here, and you’ll definitely notice it.
The MacBook Pro includes a 256GB SSD, and you can upgrade to a 512GB version if you want. If that’s still not enough, feel free to connect an external SSD via any of the USB 3.0 ports for identical speed and operation.
The MacBook Pro defines high-end mobile computing. Whether you’re an Apple enthusiast who wants to use the very best, or a professional who needs a lighting-quick laptop that can handle numerous processes while delivering superior visuals, the MacBook Pro will exceed your expectations, while also spoiling you.
By now you should have a much better idea of which MacBook is best for you. While you can certainly make the case that every MacBook is worth owning, it’s always best to make sure you’re spending your money on the laptop that can actually fulfill your needs.
What’s your opinion on MacBooks? Which one do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below to add your opinion to the conversation.