Apple's product lineup has evolved quite a bit, with more options today than at any point in the company's history. Choosing the right device can be intimidating for the first-time buyer or aspiring professional. This guide is meant for anyone hoping to incorporate a Mac into their creative workflow and should help you break down and more easily identify which device might be right for you.
There are currently six categories that comprise the Mac universe: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, iMac, Mac Studio, and Mac Pro. Of course, within those categories exists a whole fleet of different models that vary based on different specs and features like display size or chipset. These base models can also be tailored even further, depending on your needs. We're going to take a look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of select models, with the creative professional in mind.
MacBook Pro, M3 Pro, and M3 Max
The MacBook Pro has been around even longer than the Air, and there's a reason that it's the company's best-selling Mac to date. The Pro is great place to start for anyone who needs power and portability. As far as variations go, there's a 13-inch version of the MacBook Pro that uses the same M2 chip as the Air, and then there are the 14-inch and 16-inch versions that utilize Apple's recently announced M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max chips. The 13-inch Pro is a pretty easy pass, essentially being comparable to the Air, except with the addition of the Touch bar and a slightly better battery life. The 14- and 16-inch versions are where the MacBook Pro truly comes into its own. The Pro is designed first and foremost for creatives who absolutely need portability and aren't willing to compromise on power. The M3 Pro and M3 Max chipsets are significantly more powerful than the standard M3 chip, so if you're doing the computational equivalent of heavy lifting (editing 4K video or playing graphically intensive games, for example), these are designed with that kind of work in mind. The M3 Pro and M3 Max MacBook Pros also have three Thunderbolt™ 4 (USB Type-C) ports, as well as an HDMI port and an SDXC slot. Price-wise, the 13-inch pro starts at $1,299.00, whereas the more powerful 14- and 16-inch versions are going to cost you substantially more, with the 14-inch starting at $1,599.00 and $2,499.00 for the 16-inch Pro. The M2 Pro- and M2 Max-equipped versions are also configurable with up to a 16-core CPU, 40-core GPU, 128GB of unified memory, and 8TB of storage.
Also check out this article if you're wondering about the potential of M-series chips, in general!
MacBook Air, M2
One of Apple's oldest models, the original MacBook Air debuted in 2008, and has more or less been a staple since its inception. The MacBook Air is Apple's “light” notebook in pretty much every sense of the word. Physically, it's designed to be portable―the 15-inch version and 13-inch version weigh 3.3 pounds and 2.7 pounds, respectively. It's also the most affordable of the brand's laptop offerings, with pricing starting at $1,099.00. It's light, it's reliable and, ever since the move to Apple Silicon, the MacBook Air is powerful enough to handle light workloads with ease, thanks to its M2 chipset. The Air makes a great secondary device for creatives who already have a powerful setup, but we wouldn't recommend making it the primary device in your workflow.
Mac mini, M2, and M2 Pro
The Mac mini was updated to its current M2-equipped iteration in January of 2023. There's a lot to love about the Mac mini. It's small and affordable and the price and performance make it a fantastic general-purpose use computer but, thanks to the availability of M2 Pro, it can also be very capable under the right conditions. The Mac mini is the perfect device for creative professionals looking for an entry point into Apple's ecosystem without breaking the bank. There are three starting points for the Mac mini, with two being largely the same. The base model features an 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU 8GB of unified memory and a 256GB SSD, which is replaced in the step-up model with a 512GB SSD. The third-tier version starts with a 10-core CPU, 16-core GPU, 16GB of unified memory, and a 512GB SSD with the addition of M2 Pro and two extra Thunderbolt™ 4 ports. The Mac mini is an excellent choice for the creative professional who might just be getting started but wants a reliable and modular setup that can be upgraded piece by piece.
Mac Studio, M2 Max, and M2 Ultra
Taking its design cues from the Mac mini, the Mac Studio is powerful but barely takes up more real estate than its little brother. It was also just updated as recently as June 2023, when Apple finally brought M2 Pro and M2 Ultra to the Mac Studio. The Studio is designed for the user building a dedicated home workstation, meaning portability is certainly not the priority for those looking to make this their primary device. It's a workhorse device, first and foremost, meant for users who need processing power in the upper echelons of Apple's current offerings. The base M1 Max model comes with a 10-core CPU, a 24-core GPU, a 16-core Neural Engine, 32GB of memory, and 512GB of storage, and the Ultra-equipped one packs a 20-core CPU, a 48-core GPU, a 32-core Neural Engine, 64GB of memory, and 1TB of storage. Ports-wise you're looking at four or six Thunderbolt™ 4 ports, and two USB-A or USB-C ports, depending on whether you're purchasing the M2 Max or M2 Ultra version.
All versions feature one HDMI port, a 10Gb Ethernet Port and an SDXC slot on the front. Pound-for-pound, it's also the most computer you can buy from Apple per dollar spent, representing a tremendous value proposition. However, it's not exactly cheap either―the M2 Max-equipped version starts at $1,999.00, and the the M2 Ultra version starts at a hefty $3,999.00. If you're the kind of creative looking to build that no-nonsense home editing rig that can get it done, the Mac Studio is great place to start.
Mac Pro, M2 Ultra
If you're a user who needs power rivaling or beyond the Mac Studio, but its port selection isn't quite up to par, the Mac Pro might be for you. Its biggest strength, on top of its tremendous specs, is the fact that you can configure it further by installing additional cards in its seven PCI Express expansion slots. It's also the only one of Apple's offerings that possess the flexibility of expansion options. Make no mistake: this is Apple's most powerful option for creatives and it was last updated in June 2023 with a second-generation M2 Ultra chipset. The Mac Pro is configurable with up to a 24-core CPU, 76-core GPU, 32‑core Neural Engine, 192GB of unified memory and 8TB of storage, if need be. The ports available on the Mac Pro also beat any of Apple's other offerings, with eight Thunderbolt™ 4 (USB-C ports), three USB-A ports, two HDMI ports, and a Dual 10Gb Ethernet port on top of the already mentioned expansion slots. Pricing for the Mac Pro starts at $6,999.00 for the stand-alone version with feet, or $7,499.00 for the rack-mountable version.
iMac, M3, and M1
This year finally brought us an updated iMac, but only for the 24-inch configuration. It now comes with the base M3 chipset, which gives it a ton more performance over the previous model. The 21-inch iMac, which was last updated in 2021, sadly didn't receive the same treatment. It's overdue for an update sooner rather than later, unless Apple is planning on scrapping the model altogether like it did the 27-inch. The performance gap between the M3 and the iMacs still running on Apple's first generation M1 chip is reason enough to avoid it, especially if you're a professional. But hey―design-wise, all the iMacs remain unchanged, so at least they come in different colors.
We also like: iPad Pro, M2
That's right, we're not ruling out the iPad Pro here. Not only is it a great device for digital artists in its own right, it's also a fantastic companion device for any creatives looking for a supplementary device for their main rigs. Thanks to M2, the iPad Pro is pretty capable of handling light workloads with ease. Fully kitted out with a second-generation Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard Folio, the iPad Pro becomes a powerful alternative to a MacBook in its own right. Sure, iPadOS isn't as robust as macOS but every iteration is only making that gap smaller. It's a great alternative for the Air in this sense, but it's not without its own set of quirks. For starters, most iPad-specific versions of Adobe's suite of apps are going to utilize touch controls, which may be a deal-breaker for some. It's definitely worth checking out the iPad Pro if you're the type of creative who wants something light and powerful enough to handle smaller-scale projects. There's a reason that the iPad Pro is a staple for digital artists. In fact, we like it so much, we just recommended it as one of the best tablets for creatives.
Is there anything you swear by that didn't make the list? Let us know in the Comments section, below, if you have any recommendations that you think are essential for making the most out of your Mac device!