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Best MacBook 2024: Which MacBook should you buy?

Friday November 17, 2023. 06:55 PM , from Macworld Reviews

Wondering which type of MacBook to buy? This buying guide will help you decide which Apple laptop is best for you.

Apple makes two types of laptops, the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. Within those two categories of Mac is a wide range of capabilities, the gap between the entry-level MacBook Air and the high-end 16in MacBook Pro is vast, but even within the MacBook Pro category you will find huge differences. We have more information on the differences between the MacBook Air and Pro in another article.

While there are eight MacBook Air models and nine MacBook Pro models sold as standard, in reality, there are multiple combinations if you factor in all the build-to-order options that you can add such as extra RAM, more storage, or a faster processor, with which you can build an even more powerful Mac, should you need to. Choosing which MacBook to buy can be a tough decision, fortunately, we are here to help.

If you’re not sure yet if you want a laptop or desktop Mac, you should also read our Mac buying guide, which covers both MacBooks and Apple’s desktop Macs. We also compare all the MacBook Pro models here: Which MacBook Pro?

There are various sections in this article. If you aren’t sure which Mac laptop you want then read on, if you have a vague idea but are choosing between two similar models, or if your needs are more professional than personal, then you might find the models further down this article more relevant. In that case, we suggest that you jump to the section about the MacBook that is most relevant to your needs. See the Table of Contents above.

MacBook release dates

One consideration to make when shopping for a MacBook is how recently Apple updated the laptop and whether it is likely to be updating it again soon. Here is a quick look at when the laptops Apple is selling were released.

13-inch MacBook Air (M2): July 2022

13-inch MacBook Pro (M2): June 2022 DISCONTINUED in October 2023

14-inch MacBook Pro (M3, M3 Pro & M3 Max): October 2023

16-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Pro & M3 Max): October 2023

13-inch MacBook Air (M3): March 2024

15-inch MacBook Air (M3): March 2024

What happened to the 13-inch MacBook Pro?

Before we begin, a MacBook is missing from the lineup that we should mention. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is no longer sold by Apple, but it will no doubt be available from resellers and Apple’s refurbished store for a while yet. There were two standard 13-inch MacBook Pro to consider. The only real difference is storage here though:

Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro (M2, 2022)

Read our review

Price When Reviewed:

1 599 €

Best Prices Today:

€1599 at Apple

M2, 8-Core CPU, 10-Core GPU, 8GB Unified Memory, 256GB SSD Storage: Was $1,299 / £1,349

M2, 8-Core CPU, 10-Core GPU, 8GB Unified Memory, 512GB SSD Storage: Was $1,499 / £1,549

The 13-inch MacBook Pro has been replaced by the M3 version of the 14-inch MacBook Pro, which costs more, but has a far superior screen, better battery life and many other benefits that we will discuss below.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro had a few advantages over the MacBook Air. For one it had a fan for cooling for anyone who would be pushing the machine to any extent. The other advantage of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the Touch Bar, which is something that some people enjoyed, while others didn’t.

MacBook buyers guide

We’ll start by running through the different MacBooks Apple sells, giving an overview of the pros and cons of each model, and reasons why each might be ideally suited to your needs. You’ll also be able to see the best prices right now, so that you don’t spend more than you need to.

We will also look at different components and features for each model, so you can make an informed decision about how much RAM, which chip, how big the SSD should be and the best price, so you don’t spend more than necessary.

1. Apple 13-inch MacBook Air (M3, 2024/M2, 2022)

The MacBook Air is the cheapest way to get a Mac laptop. Starting at $999/£999, there are five standard MacBook Air models to consider: one 13-inch model with an M2 chip, three 13-inch models with an M3 chip, and three 15-inch MacBook Airs with an M3 chip.

It’s easy to think that the cheapest Mac laptop will be the one that has the best value, but that’s not necessarily the case. The M2 MacBook Air (see our M2 MacBook Air review) is the cheapest Mac laptop you can buy right now, but for another $100/£100 you can get the newest machine with an M3 chip. Both models offer the same amount of storage 256GB and the same 8GB RAM as standard. With both models, you get Apple’s newest Air design and the 13.6-inch screen, 500 nits, and midnight, starlight, space gray, and silver color choices.

While the Air has an M3 chip like the 14-inch MacBook Pro, there is a difference in performance. The Pro’s chip has a 10-core GPU standard compared to 8-core GPU in the Air (you can pay an extra $100/£100 for the same chip in the Air), but the lack of a fan in the MacBook Air may mean it slows down to avoid overheating when performing more strenuous tasks. The 14-inch MacBook Pro, on the other hand, has active cooling, so it doesn’t need to slow down to stop overheating in processor-intensive applications. It’s probably the key difference between these Mac laptops and the reason why the Pro is better suited to more demanding applications.

Another benefit of the 14-inch MacBook Pro over the Air is longer battery life. The 14-inch MacBook Pro with M3 offers up to 22 hours compared to 18 hours for the 13-inch MacBook Air.

However, the MacBook Air is a good choice, especially now that the entry-level MacBook Pro costs $1,599 instead of $1,299 for the previous 13-inch Pro. For $999, the M2 Air is a fantastic budget option with many of the same features as the M3 model. And for just $100 more, the newest M3 models bring even more performance.

2. Apple 15-inch MacBook Air (M3, 2024)

When Apple first introduced the 15-inch MacBook Air in July 2023 it answered a need for anyone who wanted a larger screen without having to pay hundreds more for a 14-inch MacBook Pro. The 15-inch M3 MacBook Air starts at $1,299/£1,299. The 14-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,599/£1,699 for the M3 version, which while significantly less than the $1,999/£2,149 M2 Pro was, is still much more expensive than the Air. But even compared to a cheaper Pro, the 15-inch Air is still a fantastic option for buyers looking for a large-screen laptop for less.

If the choice is between the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Air, other than the bigger screen there are a few other differences to consider. Most notably, the larger model has better audio with a six-speaker sound system with force-cancelling woofers. Also, the entry-level 13-inch M3 MacBook Air for $1,099/£1,099 offers an eight-core GPU, while the entry-level 15-inch Air, which is $200/£200 more at $1,299/£1,299, offers a 10-core GPU. To get the same GPU option in the 13-inch Air you’d need to pay an extra $100/£100. The price gap is so small that we think it’s worth getting the 15-inch model unless you really want a smaller screen.

3. Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3, 2023)

Apple has discontinued the 13-inch MacBook Pro and replaced it in the lineup with an M3 version of the 14-inch MacBook Pro (you can’t get the M3 in the 16-inch MacBook Pro). This move brings many benefits: it’s not just bigger, the 14-inch MacBook’s HDR ProMotion display is significantly better than the 13-inch model’s was. It also offers twice the storage, HDMI, SDXC slot, better battery life, and a newer design. Mind you, the 14-inch model, while starting at the lower price of $1,599/£1,699 (versus $1,999/£2,149 for the M2 Pro model), is quite a bit higher than the $1,299/£1,349 price that the 13-inch model sold for. 

The higher starting price for the M3 MacBook Pro also means the difference between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro is wider than it was. Apple did sell two almost identically specced machines for a very similar price, but now the 14-inch MacBook Pro ($1,599/£1,699) costs an astonishing $600/£700 more than the entry-level 13-inch M2 MacBook Air ($999/£999) and $500/£600 more than the M3 MacBook Air ($1,099/£1,099). So if budget is what is important to you, save your money and buy a MacBook Air.

If the choice is between a 15-inch MacBook Air with 16GB Unified Memory, 512GB SSD and 10-core GPU ($1,699/£1,699) and the 14-inch MacBook Pro with 8GB Unified Memory, 512GB SSD and 10-core GPU ($1,699/£1,699) it looks like the MacBook Air could be the best option in terms of specs–just remember that the Air lacks a fan so it may not cope with the more power-hungry tasks.

Read our full

Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3, 2023) review

4. Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Pro, 2023)

At the same time that it introduced the M3 14-inch MacBook Pro, Apple also introduced the M3 Pro and M3 Max. Both the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro can be bought with various configurations of those two chips. You don’t need to buy a 16-inch MacBook Pro to get the best specs. 

For those deciding between the 14-inch MacBook Pro and 16-inch model the best place to start is to compare like-for-like. The 12-core CPU, 18-core GPU M3 Pro with 18GB unified memory and 1TB SSD 14-inch MacBook Pro costs $2,399/£2,499 compared to the almost identically specced 16-inch model with 12-core CPU, 18-core GPU M3 Pro with 18GB unified memory and 512GB SSD for $2,499/£2,599. So you are paying $100/£100 more to get a larger screen, but also forfeiting half the SSD. If you want an equivalent 1TB SSD in the 16-inch that’s an extra $200/£200.

On the other hand, if you are considering spending more to get the M3 Pro rather than the M3 in a MacBook Pro, the price difference is much greater. The 14-inch MacBook Pro with 8-core CPU and 10-core GPU M3, with 8GB Unified Memory and 512GB SSD costs $1,599/£1,699, while the 14-inch MacBook Pro with 11-core CPU and 14-core GPU M3 Pro, 18GB Unified Memory and 512GB SSD costs $400/£400 more at $1,999/£2,099. The jump from M3 to M3 Pro is an expensive one, but you are getting a lot for your money: more memory, more cores, essentially a more powerful machine in every way.  

But if you don’t have that kind of budget then the M3 MacBook Pro has proven to be equal to the M2 Pro in terms of performance when measured by Geekbench 6.

Read our full

Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Pro, 2023) review

5. Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Pro, 2023)

The entry-level 16-inch MacBook Pro essentially offers the same specs (12-core CPU, 18-core GPU, 18GB memory) as the top-of-the-range 14-inch MacBook Pro for just £100/$100 more, $2,399/£2,499 vs $2,499/£2,599 which to be fair doesn’t seem like a bad deal given the larger screen and increased battery life.

The other big difference though is that the 14-inch MacBook in question comes with a 1TB SSD, while the 16-inch model only offers 512GB. If you really want that 1TB SSD in the 16-inch MacBook Pro it will cost you an extra £200/$200. So that’s really a difference of £300/$300 if you want the bigger screen and battery.

6. Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Max, 2023)

Back to the 14-inch model–what if you want an even more powerful machine? The M3 Max chip will offer that and more to you, but there is a high price to pay with the difference between the standard M3 Pro and M3 Max models being $800/£800.

If you want more memory then the M3 Max is the way to go though. This is not just because the M3 Max can support 48GB, 64GB, 96GB and 128GB Unified Memory, while the M3 Pro only offers 18GB or 36GB Unified Memory. The M3 Pro MacBook Pro ships with 18GB memory as standard while the M3 Max model ships with 36GB memory as standard. That 36GB memory, if you added it to the M3 Pro model as a build-to-order option would cost you an extra $400/£400, bringing the price to $2,799/£2,899, which is still $400/£400 less than the entry-level M3 Max at $3,199/£3,299, but you do get more 14-core CPU, 30-core GPU rather than a 12-core CPU, 18-core GPU. So you are getting a lot for your money if you choose the M3 Max. 

Read about why one of our editors sent their M3 Pro back and switched to an M3 Max.

7. Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Max, 2023)

The story is much the same if you are considering the 16-inch MacBook Pro. The leap from M3 Pro to M3 Max if you look at the standard options is $600/£600, but if you were to up the RAM in the M3 Pro model to 36GB then that would be $400/£400, leaving a difference of $200/£200 for the 14-core CPU, 30-core GPU (compared to the 12-core CPU/18-core GPU of the M3 Pro).

If you need the M3 Max Apple is making the upgrade worthwhile, but it’s still a high price to pay.

Read our full

Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Max, 2023) review

Best MacBook 2024: Verdict

So, the choice is pretty clear in terms of what you get for your money:

Buying an entry-level M2 MacBook Air for $999/£999 will get you an excellent Mac laptop for less than a grand, but it only costs $100/£100 more to get an M3 MacBook Air a newer chip.

The 15-inch MacBook Air shook up the range when it arrived in July 2023. With it, Apple lowered the price of getting a larger screen on a Mac laptop. Even now that the price of entry for the 14-inch MacBook Pro has been lowered, the 15-inch MacBook Air is still an attractive proposition, especially since both have an M3 chip.

The price of the M3 Pro and Max MacBook Pro models is high, but these models offer the kind of specs professional users, especially creatives, need, including support for up to 36GB of RAM, and more CPU and GPU cores. If you can afford to stretch to the M3 Max you will get the ultimate Mac without a doubt, but you need to be willing to make a significant investment.

The choice between the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro is all down to the screen size. The 16-inch models are more expensive, but once you spec them out in such a way to be comparable the price difference is minor. The bigger difference is between the Pro and Max processors. Other than speed, MacBooks with Max processors can connect up to four external displays (three over Thunderbolt and one over HDMI), while the Pro models allow three displays (two over Thunderbolt and one over HDMI). The M3 MacBook Air models allow two external displays when the lid is closed and a single display when it’s open. The MacBook Pro M3 supports just a single external display, but there is a software update coming that will fix that, and there are workarounds.

For the latest MacBook Pro discounts, including discontinued models, check out our round-up of the Best MacBook Pro deals.

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