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The Mac Buyer's Guide

So you're in the market for a new Mac! You've come to the right place; we have collaboratively put together this guide on picking out the machine that's right for you.
If you don't find the answers you're looking for, don't hesitate to tell us through the comment section down below

Computer Science Student

Ideal machines
  • Macbook Pro Retina 13": Middle ground between high res screen + power and portability. Get this if you want a good balance between the screen, CPU power, and battery life.
  • Macbook Pro Retina 15": Highest resolution screen, least portable. Get this if you don't care about portability and/or want the most powerful Macbook available.
  • Macbook Air 13": Most portable with longest battery life and cheapest. Get this if you need the light weight or every minute of battery power or if cost is a concern
  • RAM: 8GB of RAM minimum; RAM is highly desirable when multitasking. As you progress, you usage of programming tools will become more intensive. Additionally, it is highly recommended you go to 16GBs of RAM if you plan on running VMs.
  • SSD: Scale based on usage. Streamers (Spotify, Netflix, etc) can make do with a small SSD, while downloaders (Foobar2k, VLC, etc) will need more space for their media. Additionally, if you plan on running multiple OSes, a larger SSD is highly recommended. 128GB is okay if you plan on streaming and only using OS X, 256GB minimum is highly recommended if you plan on dual booting or storing lots of media on your laptop. Also keep in mind Macbooks come with an SDXC card slot for expandable memory. While storing media files on SD cards are fine, it is highly recommended you do not run programs/apps off of SD cards or external hard drives.
  • CPU: Programming itself is not a CPU-intensive task. Therefore, unless you have another use that needs a high-performance CPU (e.g. video editing or 3D rendering), CPUs should be the lowest priority. The current stock Haswells on all three recommended models are plenty of power for programming.
Note: While everyone has their personal preference regarding programming tools, including myself, there is no subjective "best" tool out there. Even the best programmers in the world all use different setups.
  • Text Editors: Great if you want a light app to quickly write down some code. Usually much lighter and faster than IDEs, but lack a lot of the tools IDEs have. That said, sometimes to write quick code you don't need a full IDE. Personally I use Sublime Text or MacVim.
  • IDEs: Full developer environment complete with debugging tools, GUI editors, database viewer, documentation generator, etc. Speaking from personal experience, debuggers themselves are a godsend. I personally use IntelliJ for Java, PyCharm for Python, XCode for C++ and Objective-C, and Visual Studio (under Windows 8.1 bootcamp) for C#.
  • Language libraries and SDKs: This is standard for all development. Make sure you download the latest from their parent site. Also keep in mind that while OS X comes standard with JDK and Python, both are outdated and the Python libraries included are Python 2, not Python 3.
  • Web Browser: Safari provides the best battery life on your Macbook in OS X, period. It's documented that other browsers simply don't provide the same level of optimization for Mac hardware that Safari does. If battery life is a concern to you, stick to Safari. If not, use your browser of choice. I personally use Chrome because I like Google's integration with my Google account, but I easily get an hour less battery life under Chrome than if I were to use Safari.
  • Cloud Storage platform: Beyond the obvious backup lesson, having cloud storage means you can also access your important files from anywhere. I personally use my Dropbox as my local programming repository, so I can program on my Macbook on the go, then get home and seamlessly switch to my desktop without having to copy files to a USB drive or emailing myself files.
  • Git: While not necessary for the first 1-2 years of your CS degree, you will learn to love version control. I'd use Git with BitBucket to keep all your personal repos in order.

Optional Equipment

  • Mouse: The standard trackpad is nice, but for long periods of time I prefer a mouse. The trackpad simply makes my hand feel sore with prolonged use. I recommend a BlueTooth mouse. Your Mac only comes with two USB ports and has a BT receiver inside, so why take up a precious USB port?
  • Headphones/Earphones: Music helps a lot with being productive, so that means earphones or headphones if you're out in public. Grab something closed that doesn't leak sound and can remain portable. I personally use Xiaomi Piston 2s for $25 on Amazon. Cheap yet very loved by the Head-Fi community.
  • Stickers: Many people like customizing their Mac, esp after the recent Macbook Air Stickers commercial. All those stickers came from Etsy so that's where I'd start looking.
  • SD Cards/External Harddrive: Store all your media (music, videos, photos of that one party you'd never show to your parents). Additionally, backing up periodically to external harddrives means your data is more robust.

College Student (Average Use)

Mid-level 13" Retina MacBook Pro (rMBP for short) or low-end 15" rMBP


Mid-level 21.5" iMac
  • Consider 16 GB RAM if you like to run a lot of applications at once and if your uses are above average, but not yet heavy.
  • iWork should cover most office needs, but consider Office 365 for best compatibility. Dropbox or similar are very helpful. Make sure you have double your internal drive's space as backup and use it.

College Student (Demanding Use)


15" Retina MacBook Pro (rMBP)


27" iMac
  • High-end of both machines. Discrete graphics card on the rMBP makes a huge difference for video/3D work. GeForce GTX a definite improvement over the GT in the low-end 27" iMac. Max RAM available is a necessity.
  • iWork should cover most office needs, but consider Office 365 for maximum compatibility. Dropbox or similar is a must, but it cannot serve as a sufficiently large backup like it can for average and non-demanding uses. Have 2 backups: One drive, double the size of your internal drive, for regular backups. A dedicated RAID 1 (mirrored) backup of all graphic/video/3D work is critical. Consider Thunderbolt connections for performance. iLife apps won't cut it. Use professional applications for graphics as needed per college. Most campuses use Adobe apps, some a mix. Personal favorites: FCPX, Photoshop, After Effects.
  • General advice, but especially relevant here: Do not neglect to back up. You do not want to have 3 years of work disappear because the hard drive crashed. I've seen it happen.



13" Retina MacBook Pro


27" iMac
  • 8 GB RAM for rMBP (mid or low-end), 16 GB for iMac. Either tier of 27" iMac should work well, though the high-end will last a bit longer and comes with more internal storage.
  • rMBP is good for in-field viewing and quick edits, even heavy edits if you are away from home for a while, but you want a much larger screen for extended editing sessions. The 27" iMac is a beast and will eat through RAW photos.
  • Good backups are essential. You need your photos to last forever.

Alternative: Always On-The-Go

  • High-end 15" Retina MacBook Pro (16 GB RAM). All other advice stays the same.

Amateur Videographer


15" Retina MBP (rMBP)


27" iMac
  • Both the rMBP and iMac make good video editors, a decision one way or another should be based on need of portability. High-end of either or both necessary.
  • External Thunderbolt RAID 0 (for editing) and RAID 1 (for backups) extremely helpful
  • Decide between Adobe or Apple software as your base for your editing system. Both have advantages, with Apple software being significantly cheaper and, in some cases, better. I find FCPX to be superior to Premiere but After Effects superior to Motion.
  • Backup backup backup. You will need TBs of backups. Prepare to spend money on it.

Web Developer/Designer

Macbook Pro Retina 15"


iMac 27", or MacBook Pro at home on an additional screen
  • At least 8gigs of ram, more if you can. I have 16 in my Macbook Pro. I also have a VM for testing in Windows.
  • Things you will want: Sublime Text or preferred text editor. Xcode for iOS dev, SSD, multiple browsers to test, MAMP for any kind of server side code... PHP, Python etc, Adobe Creative Cloud or Suite.
  • Somethings to make life easier, a backpack that can holder your laptop, tablet/ipad, with some sort of organizer for cords, battery pack. Also, make sure you have your extension cable, makes it easier if you want to work at a coffee shop for a day.

Secondary School Student

13" MacBook Air
Note: Education discounts also apply for all grade levels, though only in certain countries.
  • Benefits: lightweight, thin, amazing battery life, bundled with iWork and iLife, the availability of future OS X updates (possibly free), also among the least-expensive - allowing for upgraded spec configuration).
  • Drawbacks: Standard resolution screen compared to the Retina MacBook Pro, fewer I/O ports.
  • 8 GB of RAM: RAM is crucial for an efficient and seamless workflow, and system operation. Each application will have different requirements from the system. Also, it is not user-upgradeable, so the configuration you chose when purchasing is permanent.
  • At least 256GB SSD: It fills up very quickly.


  • iStudiez Pro (Available on OS X, iOS, and Windows),
  • CheatSheet: Especially useful for learning all of the various OS X keyboard shortcuts for any given app - accessible via pop-up anywhere through holding down the Command (⌘) key.
  • Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, iCloud Drive (the Free tier should be adequate for file storage and backup),
  • Office for Mac 2011/Office 365 (often available with a HUP discount from your educational institution),
  • f.lux: Because your eyes shouldn't suffer when studying late into the evening, or early in the morning.
  • Coffivity: Ambient coffee shop noise. Available on the web, OS X, iOS, and Android.

Optional Peripherals

  • External USB hard drive (for backups and increased storage),
  • Bluetooth mouse.
Remember: Macs can run dual-boot Windows, too (if required).
Courtesy : Reddit Mac

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