Which Mac Laptop Should I Buy?

Can anybody find me a laptop to love? I’m in the market for a new laptop. Obviously, I’m going with a Mac. There are three Mac laptops to choose from: Macbook, Macbook Pro, and Macbook Air. As much as I lust after the Macbook Air, I will be doing some pretty heavy lifting vis-à-vis Adobe’s Creative Suite. Sadly, the Air is out of the running for me right out of the gate. So, I’m left with the Macbook and the Macbook Pro. Both of these are fine choices, and I’m not so full of myself that I put any stock in the “Pros should go Pro” hogwash.

Looking at the specs, its clear that the Macbook Pro is better on paper, but there are other things to consider outside of “Mad Clock Cycles.” The majority of what I’m doing is processor intensive, and both models are similar in that department; nothing to write home about. The RAM, Optical Drive, and software are all pretty much the same for all intents and purposes. The four areas where they vary the most are size, hard disk speed, price, and the graphics processor.

As far as size goes, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference to me personally. The small difference between a 13″ screen and a 15″ screen is pretty much negligible as far as I am concerned. Once you make the jump down from 20″ monitors to a more portable size, you’re already cutting yourself off at the knees. A few less pixels isn’t going to kill me. If you’re really concerned about the screen size, you can always go with the 17″ Macbook Pro. Now, it is important to realize that the bigger you get, the heavier you get. If you plan on hauling your laptop all around town, you might want to err on the side of slimness. I plan on mainly bringing my Laptop with me in my car, so the weight problem is less of an issue for me personally. Your milage may vary.

Hard disk speed is mainly important when you’re futzing with large files. If you plan on doing any video editing and the like, you really might want to opt for the 7200 RPM drive in the Macbook Pro. If moving the bits around is your bottleneck, the hard disk is very important. Frankly, I have a desktop machine for such things, so I’m not really all that worried about it.

Price is a factor for some people. However, I find that if you make your decisions based on price, you’re rarely happy about them in the end. What we’re discussing here is pretty high end laptops. These are not your $600 Circuit City floor models. These are pretty serious machines. The difference between the Macbook and the Macbook Pro that I specced out is about $700. However, if I’m going to spend $1,800 on the low end, what is another $700? If you’re in for a penny, you’re in for a pound. If you need the extra features, spend the money. If you don’t need them, don’t bother. I think that is a pretty good rule of thumb.

Lastly, we look at the graphics processor. This topic was practically moot to me a month ago. I don’t really play many games or render any 3D images, so I could deal with the Macbook’s integrated graphics. However, with the announcement of Snow Leopard, the GPU is looking like an important aspect of your machine. According to Apple’s Snow Leopard page, the OpenCL technology “…makes it possible for developers to efficiently tap the vast gigaflops of computing power currently locked up in the graphics processing unit (GPU).” Now, ignoring the hilarious wording in that quote, it does make a good point. If all of a sudden every day applications can use your graphics card to speed up performance, maybe I should start caring about what graphics processor is in my machine. In my opinion, the announcement of Snow Leopard is the signal that people other than the canonical gamers and 3D renderers should start paying attention.

All in all, what you do with your machine should help you decide what kind of laptop to buy. If you’re a writer on the go, a Macbook Air might be exactly what you need. If you’re a video editor who flies across country once a month, maybe you should go with a Macbook Pro. If you’re Joe Consumer who is looking for a step up from your Toshiba, a Macbook may very well be what you’re looking for in a laptop. Weigh all of the aspects, and don’t just base it on your ego or the price.

Grant is a writer from Delaware. In his spare time, Grant maintains a personal blog, hosts The Weekly Roar, hosts Quadcast, and writes for video games.