Picking the Right Apple: A Guide to Apple's Mac Lineup: Page 2

Posted November 19, 2008

Ryan Faas

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As such, it offers somewhat faster processors (either 2.4 GHz or 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo) and graphics chipsets (the new MacBook Pro actually offers two graphics chipsets in each machine, the NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT with 512MB of video memory for greater performance and the same integrated GeForce 9400M as the new MacBook for better power conservation and battery life with no dedicated video memory).

The MacBook Pro also offers a larger screen at 15-inches. If you’re someone who does professional video or graphics work or if you’re a gamer, the MacBook Pro will likely be appealing for these reasons. However, with a $700 price jump from the entry level MacBook to a starting price of $1999, you may find the MacBook a better choice, particularly if you commonly don’t use high-end media applications.

In addition to power, the MacBook Pro also offers greater screen real estate and it comes with a full set of common ports. The only exception is again with Firewire. While the MacBook Pro does still ship with Firewire, it does so using a Firewire 800 port. This port, which is the latest version of the Firewire standard, offers twice the data transfer speeds of the original Firewire port (Firewire 400). But because the port is itself different, you’ll need to use a Firewire 800 to Firewire 400 adapter to connect older devices.

Next up is the 17-inch MacBook Pro. Unlike the new MacBook and 15-inch MacBook Pro, the 17-inch model did not get updated with the rest of the lineup in October. However, that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in power. With a 2.5GHz Core 2 Duo processor and NVIDIA GeForce 8600 M GT graphics chipset with 512MB of dedicated video memory, this machine can still give the new MacBook Pro a run for its money.

The big difference between the two is the 17-inch display and the new features of the more recent 15-inch models. Although form fact may limit the portability of the machine, it is one of the most amazing notebook displays (again, it is LED-based for bight and clear visuals) on the market. The sheer size of the screen makes this machine a complete desktop replacement. It also offers the complete range of ports. Of course, all of this does come with a price range of $2799.

The final MacBook contender is the ultra-portable MacBook Air starting at $1799. Originally introduced last winter and updated in October, the MacBook Air offers the most limited performance with either 1.6GHz or 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo and integrated NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics chipset.

It also is the most limited in terms of ports (offering only a USB, audio, and video) and other frills. To keep the size down, Apple designed the MacBook Air without a built-in CD/DVD drive or the ability to be expanded in any way. (But an external DVD drive is available and the MacBook Air can access disks inserted in another computer on a home or office network.)

The results of those trade-offs is a very lightweight machine that is easily carried anyplace. Although the Air isn’t going to replace an existing machine, it is a great second machine to complement an existing Mac or PC desktop.

Desktops – From Mini to Pro

While Apple’s notebook lineup tends to be more popular, the company also offers a range of desktop models. As with the MacBook line, Apple has differentiated its desktop offerings into three core groups: the Mac Mini, iMac, and Mac Pro.

The Mac Mini is the lowest cost Mac model on the market, starting at $599. The Mini is a desktop machine that is designed to provide decent but not stellar performance in a minimal form factor. Roughly the same size and shape of five CD jewel cases stacked on top of each other, the mini is as much a miracle of engineering as most notebooks. The mini ships without a display, keyboard, or mouse and without a built-in camera, but it does include a range of common ports and, like all Apple’s products, includes support for wireless Bluetooth devices and for all major wireless networking standards.

With Core 2 Duo processors at 1.83GHz and 2.0GHz and an integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics chipset, the mini won’t be winning many speed contests, but it will meet the needs of most users in terms of office and Internet tasks, as well as home media functions like working with home movies and photos using Apple’s iLife suite.

It will also run Windows passably for most consumers. If you’re looking for a good entry-level desktop Mac, the mini is a great value packed into a small form factor. Note: the entry-level Mac mini, unlike other Mac models, ships with only a combo CD-R/RW/DVD drive that cannot record data to DVDs (though this is available on the more expensive $799 version).

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Tags: video, Apple, Intel, Mac OS X, MacBook

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