Choosing between a MacBook and a desktop Mac might seem like an obvious decision. After all, isn’t it just about whether you need a portable device or not?

The answer to that is yes, partly. But there are also many people who buy a MacBook and use it like it’s a desktop. It never leaves their desk.

So, how can you decide between the two? We’ve created this comprehensive buying guide that explores the pros and cons of each option and highlights the factors you should consider before making a decision. 

Mac or MacBook? This is where you get the answer.

MacBook Pros and Cons

Apple offers two MacBook models: the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. In the era of silicon MacBooks, especially now with the M3 chips, there is a MacBook to cater to even the most demanding use cases.

The MacBook Air is perfect for those who prioritize portability and value. And when I say value, I mean it. MacBook Airs are about $500/£500 cheaper than MacBook Pros. For that, you still get the same chip as a base-level MacBook Pro, with the same amount of unified memory and CPU/GPU cores.

Just to illustrate the point, the base-level M1 MacBook Air was crowned Mark’s favourite Mac of the silicon era last year. It handles everyday tasks like writing, emailing and editing (even some 4k video!) without any hiccups, all packed into only 2.8 lbs.

But there are downsides.

You cannot buy a MacBook Air with the ‘Pro’ or ‘Max’ chip variations. So, if you need more power to meet needs such as heavy video production, coding or 3D art rendering, then you’ll want a MacBook Pro.

MacBook Pros are as powerful as the majority of Windows PCs. Saying that, they are as powerful as iMacs in some cases, if not more so. That’s the sort of power you are getting which only rises when you add the M3 Pro and M3 Max chips into the mix.

It comes in various screen sizes, including 13-inch and 16-inch models, and has more ports for charging and HDMI in some cases. Mark’s M3 Max MacBook Pro is mind-blowingly powerful. And his M1 Max MacBook Pro still handles extensive video production three years later.

In short, MacBook Pros can satisfy anyone’s use case as long as you spec it up enough. That means adding unified memory or opting for more GPU cores.

Downsides? The M3 Max and other similar variants are big and heavy. Still portable but nowhere near as convenient as a MacBook Air. And there’s a more significant thing to consider; value for money.

If you don’t need a portable machine, and your MacBook will spend its life sitting on your desk, then can you get more for your cash with a desktop?

Desktop Mac Pros and Cons

If portability is not a top priority, then a desktop Mac might be the better choice. Apple’s desktop offerings include the Mac Mini, iMac, Mac Studio, and Mac Pro. 

First off the bat, we can rule out the Mac Pro. It’s cumbersome and underpowered for the price. But the rest offer some interesting options.

The Mac Mini however is the complete opposite. Compact and the cheapest Apple PC on offer, it packs so much power in for your buck. The option to buy one with an M2 Pro chip also means you are getting that little bit more performance than a base-level MacBook Pro.

It also has a wide variety of ports for all needs like multiple external monitors and video output. It is one of Mark’s favourite machines and is used daily to edit videos and produce other content. The only problem? You have to buy a monitor for it separately.

The same can be said for the Mac Studio which is basically just a beefed-up Mac Mini. The Mac Studio currently uses the M2 Max and M2 Ultra chips, with 32GB unified as a base-level option. They are much more expensive than a Mac Mini but offer the highest performance Apple has to offer. As such, they are only worth it for those who truly need the power, which isn’t many of us.

Finally, we come to the iMac. The old reliable. With an iMac, you get it all in one. A high resolution 4.5k retina screen with an M3 chip and all the performance of a MacBook of the same level. Retailing for about the same price as a Mac Mini, it is the most sensible option for your average user as you don’t need to buy anything extra.

The main downside to an Apple Mac? You can’t upgrade it with more memory or cores later.

The Mac Mini is Apple’s most affordable desktop Mac. It offers a compact design that takes up minimal desk space whilst retaining the option of an M2 Pro chip. For $1,299/£1,399, you get an M2 Pro Mac Mini with 10 CPU cores, 16 GPU cores and 16GB unified memory.

A MacBook Pro with the same chip, 11 CPU cores, 14 GPU cores and 18GB unified memory will set you back $1,999/£2,099. That’s a saving of $700/£700. With that money, you can then buy a top-of-the-range 4K display, like the Gigabyte M32U, to complete your setup.

You Should Buy A MacBook If…

  • Portability is paramount: If you need a computer that you can take with you on the go, whether for work or leisure, a MacBook is the perfect companion. The lightweight design and long battery life of MacBooks make them ideal for flexible setups.
  • You prioritize convenience: MacBooks seamlessly integrate with other Apple devices. If you’re already invested in the Apple ecosystem and want a device that effortlessly syncs your files, messages, and apps, a MacBook is the way to go.
  • You’re a coder: A beefed-up MacBook Pro with an M3 Max or Pro chip is the ideal machine if you are a web developer. Ample power combined with portability is the perfect combo.
  • You don’t need the highest power: If you only need to perform tasks like word processing or using the internet, then there is absolutely no need to buy anything more than a MacBook Air. Out of every Apple device, they offer the best value for money.

You Should Buy a Desktop Mac If…

  • Power and performance are paramount: If your work involves resource-intensive tasks such as 3D modelling, animation, or extensive video editing, a desktop Mac gives you access to the highest processing power and storage capacity Apple has to offer.
  • You desire a larger display: For those who do a lot of visual work, especially photo editing or animation, then a larger screen is usually a necessity. Therefore, having the freedom to choose your own display, or getting a great one with an iMac, is a no-brainer.
  • You like to customise your workstation: A desktop Mac means you have the option to personalise your peripherals such as a keyboard, mouse, and speakers.

Conclusion

The choice between a desktop Mac and a MacBook is an easy one. 

For most people, a MacBook in some form is the most logical choice. A MacBook Air if you don’t need top-tier power or a MacBook Pro if you do. The portability combined with power to match or surpass most Apple desktops is just too good to resist.

But, if you don’t care about portability, then seriously consider something like the M2 Pro Mac Mini (or wait for the M3 version coming later in 2024) or the M3 iMac. Both are great value for money and have their own specific advantages for the right person.

What do you think is the best option? Let me know below!

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