How to choose the right Apple Mac

Wondering which Mac is right for your studies? Check out our guide

Decided you want to buy an Apple Mac computer to take to university? In this guide we'll run through the main options to help you find the one that best suits your requirements.

First though, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you need something super lightweight for use on the go or are you desk-based? 
  • Is a large, high-quality screen important to you for graphic design, photo-editing or watching movies?  
  • What are you doing with it? Word-processing, web browsing and graphic design work, or complex high-definition video editing?

A note on the processors 

Apple's laptops and desktops come with Intel's latest Core processors - the i5 or the i7. The i7 is more powerful as it uses something called hyper threading that makes your computer better at performing multiple tasks at the same time. 

The Core i5 processor is more than enough for all everyday computing tasks, as well as digital photography and image editing, creating music in GarageBand, gaming and more basic video editing. 

The Core i7 is needed for editing high-res video in programs like Final Cut Pro X, computer programming and 3D modelling. 

The Laptops:  MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro

The ultraportable option for writing essays and web browsing on the go - MacBook Air (11" or 13")

Macbook AIr

Key features

  • Apple's entry price laptop
  • The thinnest and lightest Apple laptop - great for carrying around in your bag all day
  • Breezes through everyday computing tasks - word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, web browsing, streaming movies
  • Can handle Adobe Photoshop for graphic design and photography projects
  • Two sizes available:  11" or 13" screens 

Great for: The average student around campus who needs a laptop they can take to lectures, the library and wherever else for essay writing and web browsing. Also good for editing photos and graphic design in Photoshop and InDesign 

The MacBook Air is all about portability. If you want a lightweight, ultra-thin Apple laptop to sling in your bag and carry around all day and night - this is the one.

It measures less than 18mm thick and weighs 1.08kg for the 11-inch model. Its casing is fashioned from a single piece of aluminium - so it's sturdy enough for the rigours of day-to-day uni life: no need for a separate case. 

It has the battery life to be carried around all day too. Expect up to 9 hours of battery life for checking your emails over coffee in the morning, using in lectures and the library and then over an early-evening drink in the union bar.

It has a backlit keyboard too in case you're working late. It's great for watching movies and TV shows on Netflix too, with a 16:9 aspect ratio - the same used for widescreen TV. 

The MacBook Air is also Apple's entry priced laptop.

If you're mainly going to be word processing, handling spreadsheets, browsing the web and watching HD video then its Intel Core i5 processor will be more than powerful enough.

Studying graphic design or photography? It's also powerful enough to run Adobe Photoshop with 4GB of RAM. If however, you feel like a bit more firepower, an 8GB model is available exclusively from Apple, for an additional £80. 

The really powerful one for high-resolution video editing and big design projects - MacBook Pro with Retina display ( 13" or 15" screen)

Macbook Pro

Key features

  • Amazing Retina screen gives a sharp, realistic image
  • Powerful processor for running advanced software
  • Super-fast solid state drive means software loads and saves faster
  • Laptop of choice for graphic designers and video editors 

Great for: A student who wants a powerful laptop for editing high-resolution video. The MacBook Pro is also very popular with illustrators and graphic designers due to its extra power and large, high-quality screen.

The laptop equivalent of a super-fast, super-sleek sports car, the MacBook Pro is all about the performance.

It includes the latest Intel i5 processor on the 13" model or the i7 processor on the 15" model, as well as Intel Iris Pro Graphics. The video-editing program Final Cut Pro really benefits from the i7 processor - you'll notice how fast it renders your high-def video.  

The super-sharp, 15-inch Retina screen packs in 4 million pixels (2880x1800) - so when editing photographs or working up close in Illustrator, everything is more precise.

To give you some perspective, it has 3 million more pixels than an HD TV. 

The faster processor of the MacBook Pro means it's also good for computer programming, 3D modelling and handling vast Excel spreadsheets.  

Though not quite as lightweight as the Air, this is still a laptop that can travel with you (though perhaps not everywhere you go).

The Desktop Computers: iMac and the Mac mini


iMac (21" to 27")    

I Mac

Three key features

  • Stunning, slender all-in-one design
  • Large 21.5 to 27-inch screen, with better-than-HD resolution for working up close on video editing and graphics 
  • The go-to desktop for people working in web, graphic and digital design 

Great for: A design/creative student who needs a powerful and large-screened machine that can stay in one place.

The Apple iMac is a thing of beauty. It has a gorgeous screen and massive amounts of power to fulfil the most demanding creative brief. 

It is an all-in-one, where the computer hardware is fitted into the screen. But this screen measures just 5mm wide.

The iMac brings to mind minimalist furniture and modern art with its super-slender screen and curvy aluminium stand - there's no wonder it's favoured by those in the creative industries. 

The huge 27-inch screen is perfect for working up-close on large design  projects - with a better-than-HD resolution. 

It comes with Intel's latest fourth-generation Core i5 processor and latest Nvidia GeForce graphics technology.  An i7 version, for more intensive usage can be found exclusively at the Apple Store. The Intel processor has a Turbo Boost feature that can draw on extra power for short periods of time.

The processor will make light work of Adobe graphic design programs such as Photoshop and Illustrator, or web design and photography programs, while light video-editing in Final Cut Pro is not a problem. 

However, video editors wanting the best performance should definitely upgrade to the Core i7 processor.   

Most models feature a 1TB hard drive - oodles of space for everything from graphics projects and essays, to music and films.

Mac Mini

Mac Mini

Three key features

  • The most affordable Mac computer
  • Doesn't include a monitor, keyboard or mouse
  • Small, cute and very quiet to run but powerful enough to breeze through everyday computing tasks
  • Also capable of professional video editing (if you opt for the more expensive model with the Core i7 processor) 

Great for: A student who wants a small and quiet computer for everything from writing essays and browsing to graphic design and video editing (if you opt for the Core i7 model) 

Apple has built its reputation on innovative products sporting elegant eye-catching design and the Mac Mini is another example of that philosophy. This super-small slab of brushed aluminium is a real object of desire.

It's a really small and compact desktop PC - around the size of a small, flat box of chocolates. It doesn't come with a monitor or keyboard, but once you have added those you have a great computer for your student accommodation.  

If you're going to be mainly writing essays and handling spreadsheets in iWork, writing emails and browsing the web then the Mac Mini with the Core i5 processor will be more than enough.

If you want to handle more demanding tasks such as video editing then you need to choose the model with a Core i7 processor.  

Either way, the Mac Mini will take up hardly any space in your cramped student halls bedroom, and runs quietly and stays cool. You'll hardly notice it's there. 

It comes with a range of hard drive options, including the new Apple Store exclusive Fusion Drive - which combines a traditional hard drive with Solid State (SSD) storage (find out what this means) to help you get what you need fast.

Remember though, the Mac Mini doesn't come with a monitor, keyboard or mouse, but you can use your existing VGA monitor, USB Mouse and keyboard with it.  

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