Three best MacBooks

By
tech-spanfeller
BestReviews

Most of Apple’ s current laptops don’ t include a built-in disc drive, so if you have a lot of content that’ s only on disc, you’ ll need to buy an external DVD or Blu-ray drive.

Although Apple is perhaps best known for its stellar mobile tech -- like the iPhone, the iPad, and the Apple Watch -- they got their start making the best computers and laptops in the industry. Since 2006, Apple has dominated the laptop market with their MacBook line. With options ranging from thin and light to full-fledged powerhouse, MacBooks are perfect for any scenario.

If you're ready to switch to a MacBook and you're new to Macs, or if you're just itching for an upgrade, here's everything you need to know about MacBooks: the essential facts, features, and innovations behind some of the best laptops in the world.

Considerations when choosing MacBooks

The three flavors of MacBooks

MacBooks come in three different variants, each appropriate for different use cases. Before you break out your credit card, spend some time understanding the differences between them, and limit your search to the one that makes the most sense for you.

The MacBook is Apple's base model, but it's anything but basic. MacBooks are aimed at the mainstream, and they offer a solid balance between size, performance, and cost. MacBooks are solid computers out of the box, but with the available upgrades (like a faster CPU and more RAM), it's easy to turn one into a powerhouse.
 

The MacBook Pro is Apple's fastest and most innovative laptop, and it's aimed at power users and creatives. It can be had in both 13" and 15" varieties with up to a 256GB solid-state drive, meaning it's not just big, it's powerful, too. If you need a laptop for memory-intensive applications -- or you just want the best, fastest MacBook there is -- get a MacBook Pro.

 

The MacBook Air is Apple's ultrabook: a thin and light laptop that's designed for portability while still being capable enough to support daily use. It's not the fastest MacBook, but it's definitely the sleekest and the easiest to carry around, making it a favorite for students and frequent travelers.

The most important tech specs on MacBooks

Across the MacBook line, there are dozens of key specifications that you'll need to decipher. ere Here the ones that matter most.

Screen size: The screen size not only determines the size of a MacBook, but it also has a big impact on battery life, as laptop displays are typically the biggest battery hogs. Your MacBook's screen size also defines your experience: application windows get pretty small on an 11" screen, and many prefer streaming video to laptops with bigger screens. Whatever your preferences are, determine your ideal size for a MacBook before you start shopping.
 

CPU generation: MacBooks all use central processing units (CPUs) made by Intel, which power everything they do. The CPU speed basically determines the laptop's speed, so it pays to get the fastest one you can afford. With MacBooks, it's common to find an Intel CPU that's one or two generations old -- but not older than that. To make sure you get a reasonably current MacBook, look up what the current generation of Intel processors is, and then compare that with the CPUs found in the MacBooks you're considering.
 

RAM: Random access memory, better known as RAM, governs how many different tasks your computer can handle simultaneously. With MacBooks, you need to pay close attention to the amount of RAM you're getting because you can't add more later. As laptops get faster and applications get more sophisticated, they require more RAM, so the "right" amount of RAM is a moving target. Currently, we recommend making sure any MacBook you buy has at least 8GB of RAM.
 

Ports: One of the biggest complaints owners have about MacBooks is the lack of ports for attaching peripherals. Whether you want to connect a monitor with an HDMI cable, insert an SD memory card to transfer your photos, or attach an external hard drive, you'll need the ports to do so. As you're comparing different MacBooks, note how many ports each has, and which type -- and if you opt for a MacBook that only features USB-C ports, be forewarned that you'll probably want to buy a port replicator (also known as a dock) for turning one port into many.

MacBook prices

Now let's address the elephant in the room. Apple products are expensive, and they typically reflect a 300% markup over what they cost to make. But while Macs are definitely pricey, they're also worth it -- they last longer than PCs, they hold their resale value for years longer, and they're less prone to errors and defects. Here's what you need to know about MacBook prices.

In the $999 to $1,299 range, you'll find base models from all three product lines -- MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air. The base models are decent but can be a little underwhelming technically, so an upgrade or two is worth it.

In the $1,300 to $2,399 range, you'll encounter the best MacBook Pros that are each loaded to the gills. If you want a machine that won't require any upgrades and can handle anything from PhotoShop to streaming in 4K, expect it to cost a lot.

FAQ

Q. Can I run Windows programs on a MacBook?

A. Yes, although it takes some setup work. Apple's operating system, OS X, cannot natively run Windows applications, but it can run virtual machines. With a virtual machine, you're creating a "computer within a computer," so you'll see it in a smaller window on your OS X desktop. Virtual machines are great for running applications that OS X can't natively work with. Virtual Desktop programs can be complicated, but once the setup is complete, they're easy to use, and they provide the convenience of having another operating system without having to have another physical machine.

Q. Do all MacBooks have headphone jacks?

A. No. Apple has started phasing out 3.5mm headphone ports from all of their products, including the iPhone and iPad. If you're buying a newer MacBook, you'll need to use a separate set of Bluetooth headphones for music. If you need a laptop that has a headphone port, look at Apple's older MacBooks.

Q. What is USB-C, and how is it different from USB 2.0 and USB 3.0?

A. The USB 2.0 and 3.0 standards used the same USB port on computers to connect; the USB-C standard is completely physically different and not at all compatible with prior generations. USB-C is faster and more flexible than its predecessors. For example, a single USB-C connection can be used to attach a secondary monitor to a laptop while also charging its battery. Older MacBooks have traditional USB ports, while all of their current models only support USB-C ports. If you have a lot of older devices that you want to use with a modern MacBook, you may want to buy a USB-3.0-to-USB-C adapter.

MacBooks we recommend

Best of the best: Apple MacBook Pro 13.3" laptop 

Our take: The 13" MacBook Pro is really Apple's "Goldilocks" model -- it's just the right size, and it's got just the right amount of horsepower. It's the perfect MacBook for everything from college life to a desk job.

What we like: MacBook Pros never skimp on RAM or processing power, making this one lightning fast out of the box. The 128GB solid-state drive (SSD) is fast and capacious.

What we dislike: You can't upgrade the RAM after purchase. At 4 1/2 pounds, it's relatively heavy when compared to similarly sized MacBooks.

Best bang for your buck: Apple MacBook Air 13.3" laptop 

Our take: The MacBook Air is the best ultrabook available, period. It's thin, light, and still packs enough power to be a competent machine for work. If you don't mind cutting a few technical corners in the name of having one of the thinnest laptops around, this is the MacBook to get.

What we like: It's just under three pounds. It's fast and surprisingly quiet.

What we dislike: It makes a lot of technical compromises to be so thin. The CPU is a few generations old, the built-in camera is barely HD, and it doesn't have a dedicated video card.

Choice 3: Apple MacBook Air 11.6" laptop 

Our take: We thought the MacBook Air couldn't get any thinner and lighter -- and sometimes it's nice to be wrong. The smaller 11.6" MacBook Air is the perfect Mac laptop for casual users or anyone who needs a decent laptop that can fit in a purse or messenger bag.

What we like: The 256GB SSD hard drive has more than enough room for your files, and it's plenty fast, too. The smaller screen draws less power, making the overall battery life much longer.

What we dislike: 4GB of RAM is only barely enough. The 1366x768 screen resolution can be challenging, especially when you're trying to read small type.

Jaime Vazquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.