Apple’s Mac notebook line is a mess. A serious mess. Sometimes you can’t see the forrest for the trees. I had a friend who recently switched from a Dell Windows notebook to a MacBook tell me what a mess the entire notebook line is. Yes. A mess.
The first part of my friends journey into the Mac forrest was easy. “Tera, what should I buy to replace my Dell? It’s broken.” Easy, right? A Mac. Which one? In this case I knew what my friend did with her Windows notebook so a recommendation was simple. A Mac notebook. “Check out the MacBook Pro,” I said with confidence.
Uh oh. I didn’t expect the flurry of questions after my friend rummaged around the Apple store online, and did a quick visit to the Apple Store Lincoln Park (not the new one downtown that looks like a MacBook on the roof). Confusion set in.
- Why not a $999 MacBook Air?
- What’s the difference between MacBook and MacBook Pro?
- Don’t all these Macs come with Core i5 or i7 chips inside?
- Does anyone use the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro?
- If they’re the same power, why different prices?
I wanted to respond quickly but decided to check out the trees in the forrest first. Yes, the Mac notebook line is a mess.
MacBook Air – Apple’s entry-level Mac notebook starts at $999. Like the more expensive MacBook Pro, it starts with a Core i5 CPU, 128GB of SSD storage, 8GB of RAM, but no Retina display. It doesn’t take much to move the end-of-life-but-not-yet MacBook Air to a Core i7 CPU, 512GB of SSD storage, but still 8GB of RAM for $1,549. Isn’t that much slower than a new MacBook Pro? No, not really, but it depends upon what you use the Mac for, and for most of us an older Intel CPU vs. a newer Kaby Lake CPU doesn’t yield much benefit except in a few years when resale value is an issue.
MacBook – This is Apple’s modern entry-level Mac notebook. It starts at $1,299 and for that $300 difference over a MacBook Air you get the newer clamshell design at two pounds, thin at 13-mm, a 12-inch Retina display, 8GB of RAM, but double the SSD storage at 256GB. But the CPU is the lackluster Intel Core m3, not an i5 or i7 as on the MacBook Air. That option is available for an additional $100 or $250, respectively.
A fully tricked out MacBook with a Retina display, Core i7 CPU, 512GB SSD storage, and 16GB of RAM weighs in at $1, 949. That’s almost to beyond pro level. As in MacBook Pro.
MacBook Pro – Apple took plenty of heat on this model, but apparently it sells well. Like the MacBook, it starts at $1,299 with Core i5 CPU, 128GB SSD storage, 8GB RAM, two USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports, better graphics, all priced at the same as the entry-level MacBook.
What’s with that, Apple?
If you want the Touch Bar, and Touch ID fingerprint sensor, you’ll have to go to the $1,799 MacBook Pro that gives you more USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports, better graphics by a hair, but double the SSD storage at 256GB. This is where it gets fun. The 13-inch MacBook Pro can be tricked out to $2,899 with a Core i7 CPU, 16GB RAM (and that’s the maximum), and 1TB SSD storage.
If screen real estate is an issue, the 15-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,399, more than $1,000 above the entry-level and anemic MacBook, and $1,100 more than the entry-level MacBook Pro. For that you get those four USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports, Touch Bar and Touch ID, but a quad-core i7 CPU (no Core i5 option), 16GB RAM, and 256GB SSD storage, and a much better graphic card.
You get what you pay for.
If money isn’t an object, the larger MacBook Pro can be tricked out to $4,199 with a faster Core i7 CPU and pricey 2TB SSD storage.
See? That’s a mess of overlapping options, few of which mean much in day-to-day performance. My friend settled for the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro because it was more powerful than the MacBook at the same price, better screen than a MacBook Air, and competes well in performance to more expensive MacBook Pro models tricked out with extra RAM and SSD storage and more expensive CPUs.
While I call the Mac notebook line a mess of overlapping options, Apple might call what they’re doing as pure genius as customers can be stair stepped or migrated to more expensive options. That may benefit Apple, but it isn’t likely to benefit customers who find all those options to be confusing. It helps to know what you need to accomplish and what kind of horsepower is required to get there, but Apple doesn’t help with descriptions of capability between all the Mac notebooks.
Finally, I loved the distressed Mac icon from Gadget.