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Best Mac in 2021: Which Mac mini, iMac, MacBook Pro & more is best

Three new machines joined the Mac lineup in 2021; each is now included in our Best Macs list, including two that are also among the best MacBooks of the year. The 24-inch iMac, 14-inch MacBook Pro, and 16-inch MacBook Pro offer Apple silicon inside. There are only three Intel-based Macs that remain, the 27-inch iMac (2020), Mac Pro (2019), and one version of the Mac mini. Each of these could see updates in 2022 or early 2023. Our list below only includes one of these, the Mac Pro.

What are the best Macs you can buy right now?

Apple’s Mac products fall into two broad categories. The MacBook lineup consists of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, while desktop models include the iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro. We’ve made recommendations based on various factors, which you can read more about below. Our general advice is to select the newest model that best fits your needs (laptop or desktop) and price range. Then check out the best Mac accessories to complete your setup.

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central

1. MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

The best Mac for most users

Bottom line: Economically (for Apple) priced, the current MacBook Air includes those features necessary to most users in an easy-to-carry case.

SpecsMacBook Air (M1, 2020)
Display13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display with IPS technology
ProcessorApple M1 chip
RAM8GB or 16GB
StorageUp to 2TB
Camera720p FaceTime HD camera
BatteryBuilt-in 49.9 watt-hour lithium‑polymer battery
Battery lifeUp to 15 hours wireless web, up to 18 hours Apple TV app movie playback
Dimensions0.41–1.61 cm x 30.41 cm x 21.24 cm
Weight1.29 kg (2.8 pounds)

Pros:

  • Great price
  • Long battery life
  • Three color choices

Cons:

  • Limited configurations
  • Is 13-inches enough?

The well-reviewed MacBook Air with M1 is also our favorite Macbook. It’s an amazing beast that’s lightweight and built with the Apple M1 SoC inside. The Apple M1, which is also found on the 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020) and Mac mini (2020) (see below), is a variant of the A14 Bionic chip. The difference here is the inclusion of two additional high-performance “Firestorm” cores that work with the four existing “Icestorm” cores found on the iPad Air (2020) and iPhone 12 series.

As we explained in our MacBook Air (M1, 2020) review, the M1 can burst to 3.2Ghz in single-core and 3Ghz in multi-core environments. Moreover, it does so while retaining the same unified architecture that lowers latency compared to discrete components inside most laptops. The Air also offers faster LPDDR4 RAM and SSD 5-10% faster than previous models. The combination means the RAM can perform better with less of a performance hit.

Perhaps the current MacBook Air’s biggest surprise is that it doesn’t come with a fan. Without one, this is probably the quietest MacBook to date. Combined with its impressive battery life, which is a little less than the 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020), the MacBook Air lets you work all day comfortably and into the night without requiring a charge.

The MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is the best Mac of the year. However, not because it’s the most feature-packed Mac on the market.

With the same 13-inch display found on the smaller MacBook Pro and the same internals, you might wonder why this is the one we recommend the most. One word: price. The least expensive MacBook Air is $200 cheaper than the entry-level MacBook Pro. The savings means Touch ID over Touch Bar and slightly less battery life. And yet, the MacBook Air is lighter, and again, has the same parts inside as the Pro model. It’s also the only Mac that comes in gold (and space gray and silver).

Like the similar-sized Pro model, the Air doesn’t offer many choices when it comes to configuration. You get 8GB or 16GB of unified memory, and 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB of storage. Those are the only choices you can make. Another negative: both 2020 M1 MacBook models have only two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports. Because of this, a dock is one of the must-have accessories for new Mac owners.

The MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is the best Mac of the year. However, not because it’s the most feature-packed Mac on the market. Instead, it’s because it offers the features most important to most would-be buyers without the extras many might find unnecessary. For this, you’ll spend less money.

The best Mac for most people overall


MacBook Air M1 2020 Space Gray

MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

Apple’s latest MacBook Air is silent but deadly, a potent combination of class design and a new, ultra-fast M1 system-on-chip.

Blue iMac (2021) hero

Source: Luke Filipowicz / iMore

2. 24-inch M1 iMac (2021)

The best all-in-one desktop with M1

Bottom line: The new iMac boasts a gorgeous 24-inch 4.5K Retina display, packs in an 8-core M1 chip with up to 16GB unified memory, and can go up to 2TB in storage. It’s also the thinnest iMac yet, boasts a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, and comes in seven fun colors.

Category24-inch M1 iMac (2021)
Display24-inch (diagonal) Retina 4.5K display
Processor8-core Apple M1 chip
RAMConfigurable up to 16GB unified memory
StorageConfigurable up to 2TB SSD
Cameras1080p FaceTime HD camera with M1 ISP
Dimensions46.1 cm x 54.7 cm x 14.7 cm
Weight4.46 kg (9.83 pounds) for the base model or 4.48 kg (9.88 pounds) for a higher-end model

Pros:

  • 24-inch 4.5K Retina display with Wide Color and True Tone
  • 8-core Apple M1 chip
  • Up to 16GB unified memory and 2TB SSD storage
  • Comes in up to seven new colors
  • Includes color-matching Magic Mouse and Magic Keyboard with Touch ID

Cons:

  • Reasonable price, but configurations add up
  • No 27-inch version yet
  • Only has two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports (high-end version has another two USB 3 ports)

The updated entry-level iMac (2021) now sports a beautiful 24-inch 4.5K Retina display, which is a big step up from the 21.5-inch before it. You now get 4480-by-2520 resolution at 218 pixels per inch with support for one billion colors, and it has up to 500 nits brightness, Wide Color, and True Tone support. It’s also incredibly thin at only 11.5mm, so it basically vanishes from the sides. The overall volume of Apple’s new iMac is 50% less than its predecessors. The power cable now attaches magnetically to the back of the display with a highly durable and braided 2-meter cable. Ethernet cables directly plug into the power adapter since there is no ethernet port on the back (it’s too thin).

But another considerable change with the new iMac lineup is that it now comes in seven shiny new dual-tone colors: Blue, Green, Pink, Silver, Yellow, Orange, and Purple. However, if you want the last three colors, you’ll have to opt for the mid or high-end models.

The 24-inch iMac packs in power and performance with the M1 chip. It also comes in flashy new shades to give you a splash of color to your setup.

The front of the iMac and the base have a light pastel hue, while the edges and display back are a darker tone (except silver, which is just one shade). No matter which colorful iMac you choose, it will be sure to add a splash of color to your setup and turn heads in the office. These new iMacs are equipped with a color-matching Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse. There is also the option to upgrade to a Magic Keyboard with an integrated Touch ID, allowing you to finally use your fingerprint for biometrics and security on Apple’s desktop computer.

Apple has finally ditched Intel processors on its main desktop computer, replacing it with its M1 chip. This means you get 8-cores, four for performance and the other four for efficiency. The base model also starts with a 7-core GPU on the M1, while the mid and high levels are 8-core GPUs. Those who want the base model will also only be able to choose the 256GB SSD, which is configurable up to 512GB or 1TB. The mid and high-level models start with either 256GB or 512GB SSDs and can be configured to 1TB or 2TB, though the price will increase significantly. And like the other M1 Macs, the iMac starts with 8GB of unified memory but can be configured up to 16GB. Since the memory is in the M1 chip itself, it cannot be configured beyond that.

It also seems that Apple is finally moving on to putting in better FaceTime HD cameras into its computer lineup. The M1 iMac boasts a 1080p FaceTime HD camera with an M1 image signal processor (ISP). This means that it gives you high-quality video and images, even in low-light situations. Thanks to the M1 ISP, the image quality is improved with better noise reduction, greater dynamic range, and improved auto exposure and white balance. No more grainy videos for you in those precious work meetings. The iMac also has a studio-quality three-microphone setup for clearer calls and voice recordings. This new microphone array is also positioned to reduce feedback and background noise. But of course, it’s still probably best to get one of the best USB microphones if you want serious audio quality.

As far as ports, the base level iMac comes equipped with two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, but you can get two more USB 3 ports with the mid and high-tier versions. The Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports support DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3 up to 40Gb/s, USB 4 up to 40Gb/s, and USB 3.1 Gen 2 up to 10Gb/s. You will need adapters, sold separately, for Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, DVI, and VGA. The base model is configurable with Gigabit Ethernet, but the mid and high-level models come standard with Gigabit Ethernet.

What about the 27-inch iMac?

We no longer include the 27-inch iMac on this list because it’s not (yet) available with Apple silicon. With a 2022 refresh almost inevitable, it’s best to hold off on buying a larger-sized iMac for now.

Best M1 all-in-one


Imac 2021

24-inch M1 iMac (2021)

Flashy new colors, super thin, M1, 24-inch 4.5K Retina display, and a brand new magnetic power cable — this iMac has it all.

2021 Macbook Pro Back

Source: Bryan M. Wolfe / iMore

3. 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro (2021)

The best MacBook Pro models you can buy

Bottom line: The first Apple silicon MacBook Pros pack a fantastic punch that should remind long-time users of iconic past models. And yet, make no mistake, these are the most advanced Apple laptops ever.

Category14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro (2021)
Display14.2-inch (diagonal) mini-LED backlit display
16.2-inch (diagonal) mini-LED backlit display
ProcessorApple M1 Pro or Apple M1 Max
RAMUp to 64GB
StorageUp to 8TB
Cameras1080p FaceTime HD camera
BatteryIntegrated 70-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
Integrated 100-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
Battery lifeUp to 11 hours wireless web, up to 17 hours Apple TV app movie playback
Up to 14 hours wireless web, up to 21 hours Apple TV app movie playback
Dimensions1.55 cm x 31.26 cm x 22.12 cm
1.68 cm x 35.57 cm x 24.81 cm
Weight1.6 kg (3.5 pounds)
2.1 kg (4.7 pounds)

Pros:

  • Liquid Retina XDR display
  • 1080p FaceTime HD camera
  • Ports, ports, and more ports
  • Lots of choices across the board

Cons:

  • Price can rise quickly with add-ons
  • No Touch Bar

For months, we heard Apple was about to introduce its first Apple silicon version of the MacBook Pro. When it arrived in October 2021, we got two models, an all-new 14-inch version and a second-generation 16-inch version. Sans the size of their displays, these laptops are identical.

Each model offers either a blazing-fast Apple M1 Pro or Apple M1 Max chip with up to a 10-core CPU and 32-core GPU. You can select unified memory up to 54GB and SSD storage up to 8TB. The 2021 MacBook Pros finally offer a 1080p FaceTime HD camera.

On the outside, you’ll find a fresh new design with slimmer bezels and the first camera notch on an Apple laptop. The sides feature numerous ports unless more recent models, including three Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports, which you can use for charging, a DisplayPort, and Thunderbolt 4 (up to 40Gb/s). There’s also an HDMI port and SDXC card slot. Best of all, the laptops have a MagSafe 3 port for charging purposes. Additionally, Apple has kept the 3.5mm headphone jack; it’s on the laptop’s left side this time around. Put together, as noted in our MacBook Pro (2021) review, with these. models, the professional MacBook is back!

The professional MacBook is back.

Turning to the keyboard, you’ll no longer see the often criticized Touch Bar. Instead, the OLED strip has been replaced by full-size physical function keys that include must-have keyboard shortcuts for Spotlight, Dictation, Do Not Disturb, and other features.

From an audio perspective, the latest MacBook Pro offers three studio-quality mics that pick up more sounds. The three-mic array uses directional beamforming, making your voice clearer and louder. It also includes a six-speaker sound system. Featuring force-canceling woofers, the speakers provide 80% more bass, with the high-performance tweeters offering clearer, fuller vocals. The impressive sounds are most noticeable when using spatial audio, something Apple’s been pushing hard across many devices and headphones.

A few negatives are associated with both the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros. First, they are costly and even more so when adding more memory and storage. They also come in only two colors, which will bother many looking to move beyond space gray and silver. Finally, we’ll mention it again: these are expensive devices!

Apple’s newest laptop


14 Inch Macbook Pro

14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro (2021)

Apple finally brought an Apple silicon MacBook Pro to the market. It offers two types of SoC, an Apple M1 Pro or Apple M1 Max.

Macbook Pro With M1 Chip

Source: iMore

4. 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020)

Still a great choice

Bottom line: When you want a Touch Bar and more battery life, this is the (only) Apple laptop to get.

Category13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020)
Display13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display with IPS technology
ProcessorApple M1 chip
RAM8GB or 16GB
StorageUp to 2TB
Cameras720p FaceTime HD camera
BatteryBuilt-in 58.2-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
Battery lifeUp to 17 hours wireless web, up to 20 hours Apple TV app movie playback
Dimensions1.56 cm x 30.41 cm x 21.34 cm
Weight1.4 kg (3 pounds)

Pros:

  • Has Apple M1 SoC
  • Touch Bar with Touch ID
  • 20-hour battery life

Cons:

  • Not much different from MacBook Air
  • Maxes out at 16GB RAM
  • Only has two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports
  • A 2022 refresh is likely

This is the first MacBook Pro that features an 8-core Apple M1 chip. Like the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), you get a 2560-by-1600 resolution Retina display, up to 16GB of RAM, and 2TB of storage.

If you don’t care about the Touch Bar and can live with two hours less battery life, it’s probably wise to save some money and go with our top choice instead.

There are few differences between the 13-inch Pro and Air, but just enough that could sway your decision. With the more expensive model, you’ll receive a Touch Bar with Touch ID and better battery life (around 20 hours versus 18 hours for the Air). In addition, though both models have a similar display, the Pro provides 500 nits brightness instead of the Air’s 400 nits brightness.

In terms of audio, the 13-inch MacBook Pro comes with stereo speakers with a high dynamic range, support for Dolby Atmos playback, and a studio-quality three-mic array with a high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming. Finally, the Pro weighs 1.4 kilograms (3 pounds) versus the Air’s 1.29 kilograms (2.8 pounds).

If you don’t care about the Touch Bar and can live with two hours less battery life, it’s probably wise to save some money and go with our top choice instead.

For more information, check out our 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020) review.

Least expensive MacBook Pro


13 Inch Macbook Pro M1

13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020)

The 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1 is just like the Air, except it has a Touch Bar with Touch ID and better battery life.

Apple M1 Chip Mac Mini Lg Display Gaming Screen

Source: Apple

5. Mac mini (2020)

The best for networking

Bottom line: The compact Mac mini packs a lot inside and nicely matches your existing monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

CategoryMac mini (2020)
ProcessorApple M1 chip
RAM8GB or 16GB
StorageUp to 2TB
Dimensions3.6 cm x 19.7 cm x 19.7 cm
Weight1.2 kg (2.6 pounds)

Pros:

  • Least expensive solution among desktops
  • Works great with all types of monitors

Cons:

  • Remember, no monitor or accessories
  • Can get expensive quickly
  • 2022 refresh is possible

The latest Mac mini was the first Apple desktop to feature Apple silicon. It launched in late 2020 alongside Apple silicon versions of the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. A more expensive Mac mini featuring an Intel-based processor remains on the market for those looking to add more memory or storage than the M1 version currently provides. However, we’re not recommending that model since it could get replaced soon.

The Apple M1 Mac mini version comes with an Apple M1 chip with an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine, 8GB unified memory, 256GB SSD storage, and Gigabit Ethernet. Memory (up to 16GB) and storage (up to 2TB) are upgradeable. The Mac mini supports one display up to 6K and one display up to 4K; both are sold separately.

Ports include a 3.5 mm headphone jack, HDMI 2.0 port that supports multichannel audio output, two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports, two USB-A ports, and Gigabit Ethernet.

If you’re looking at a Mac mini, you are already aware that you need to add a monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

Best for networking


Mac Mini 2020 M1 Top

Mac mini (2020)

Mac minis are a great solution if you already have a terrific monitor and other accessories. Otherwise, stick with iMac if you’re looking for a desktop Mac.

2019 Mac Pro

Source: Rene Ritchie / iMore

6. Mac Pro (2019)

The best for professionals

Bottom line: Heavily customizable and very expensive, the Mac Pro is the desktop solution for creatives, industry tycoons, and anyone who needs the maximum flexibility customization provides.

CategoryMac Pro (2019)
ProcessorConfigure from an 8‑core to 28‑core Intel Xeon W processor
RAMConfigure up to 1.5TB
StorageConfigure up to 8TB of SSD
Dimensions52.9 cm x 45 cm x 21.8 cm (tower)
Various sizes (rack)
Weight18 kg (39.7 pounds) (tower)
17.6 kg (38.8 pounds) (rack)

Pros:

  • Workstation-class Xeon processors up to 28 cores
  • High-performance memory system with a massive 1.5TB capacity
  • Apple Afterburner accelerator card

Cons:

  • Recommended Pro Display XDR monitor adds to the price
  • Overkill for most folks
  • Could an Apple silicon version arrive soon?

The Mac Pro (2019) is the best professional-graded computer Apple has ever created. Made in the United States, the Mac Pro has been designed for maximum performance and expansion. It features Intel Xeon processors, an Earth-shattering high-performance memory system, eight PCIe expansion slots, and graphics architecture supporting what Apple calls the world’s most powerful graphics card. Additionally, the Apple Afterburner accelerator card lets you playback as many as three streams of 8K ProRes RAW video simultaneously.

The Mac Pro comes in tower or rack configurations. Both models ship with a Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad, Magic Mouse 2, USB-C to Lightning Cable, and power cord.

There’s no denying, the Mac Pro is powerful. And yet, it’s undoubtedly a niche product, and that’s fine. Starting with its price, this Mac isn’t for everyone. And yet, it’s probably worth every dime. The one negative: look for a 2022 or 2023 refresh that includes Apple silicon on the Mac Pro for the first time.

Best for professionals


Mac Pro

Mac Pro (2019)

Get this Mac if you want everything and have the resources to build the best machine to suit your needs. Otherwise, stick with iMac as your desktop app.

How to pick the best Mac for you

We’ve selected the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) as the overall best Mac of the year. It’s the one packed with the features most users need yet omits the ones they do not. Better still, it’s priced right and is easy to carry across the room or back and forth on campus. However, the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) isn’t the most powerful Mac, nor does it offer the broadest customization options.

1. Price

There’s no denying Macs are among the most expensive computers on the market. But, of course, this fact has been in Apple’s DNA since the first Macintosh was introduced to the world in 1984. And yet, the range in price points is extensive, with the cheapest option available for less than $700 and the most expensive for more than $10,000, depending on the extras. Luckily, the wide price range extends to both the MacBook and Mac desktop lineup.

2. Apple silicon or Intel?

In mid-2020, Apple announced plans to move away from Intel-based processors and produce Macs with its own silicon. As 2022 is about to begin, there are only three Mac models that offer Intel remaining, and two of those models no longer come recommended. We at iMore are forward thinkers, and that’s why we’re recommending Apple silicon-based options when available. Though Apple has promised to support Intel-based models for years to come (and they will), we know Intel isn’t in the company’s future, and this is a point no one can deny.

The only models you can now buy from Apple on the MacBook front are ones with Apple silicon. We’re only recommending the 24-inch model on the iMac front, which has Apple silicon inside and not the 27-inch model, which still uses Intel. Finally, when it comes to the Mac mini, it’s here where we are also only recommending the Apple silicon options, not the sole remaining model with Intel inside.

We also kept the Mac Pro on our best list because it’s insanely powerful for those who require it. And yet, it’s a niche product and not a mainstream consumer computer. We also predict that it will get Apple silicon, but when exactly remains to be seen.

The Mac lineup features a diverse series of laptop and desktop computers. Our top choices are the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), 24-inch iMac, and the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro. In addition, the 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020), Mac mini (2020), and Mac Pro (2019) are also superb choices that target different users.

If you’re in the market now for a new computer, stick with one of our choices. Otherwise, wait a few months to see what changes Apple brings to the lineup in the coming year. New products should include a new MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and Mac Pro.

When changes get made to the Mac lineup, circle back to this post to see our updated recommendations. In the meantime, happy shopping.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Author: Bryan

Bryan M. Wolfe is a dad who loves technology, especially anything new from Apple. He now uses a 14-inch MacBook Pro and loves it! You can find him on Twitter @bryanmwolfe.

Author: Christine Romero-Chan

Christine Romero-Chan has been using Macs for over a decade after ditching Windows. She knows a thing or two about how Macs work and who they’re made for.

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