The best Macs to buy in 2017: Apple’s top iMacs, MacBooks and more

At WWDC 2017, we finally saw rather significant updates to the best Macs across the board. The MacBook, MacBook Pro and iMac, for instance, have each been refreshed with 7th-generation Intel Kaby Lake processors as well as new memory and storage options. Meanwhile, the Mac Pro desktop will soon be ousted by an iMac Pro this autumn. 

It’s no surprise that the top Macs are all about the convergence of stellar hardware and software, but these days Macs are par of the course when it comes to performance too. Especially as macOS 10.13 High Sierra makes its rounds to developers, the best Macs will bear support for VR as well as external graphics solutions straight from Apple via Thunderbolt 3.

  • Not completely set on a Mac? These are the best laptops in every category

With the MacBook Air on its last leg and the Mac Mini all but discontinued, Apple’s Mac selection is scarce right now. But, those which remain wholeheartedly deserve to be on this list. After all, the top Macs aren’t about variety as much as they are about being as utilitarian as they are attractive.

27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display - Best Mac 2016

If you want the big screen of an iMac with the precision of a Retina display then there's only one iMac for you: the iMac with 5K Retina display. It comes with a choice between two Intel Core i5 chips as well as 1TB of HDD or Fusion Drive storage and it’s so pretty we want to marry it.

If you're dropping more than a grand and a half on an iMac you might as well go the whole hog and get the faster, Fusion Drive-packing model, replete with a 5K Retina Display, 3.5GHz processor and Fusion Drive for £1,849 ($ 2,299).

For designers and video creators looking to make the move to pixel-heavy content, the 5K iMac pairs an illustrious display with a heaping deal of screen real estate to boot. It may not have the expandability of a Mac Pro, but at least you don't have to worry about buying a monitor.

What's next for the 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display?

Along with the MacBooks and other versions of the iMac desktop, the 5K iMac was treated to a spec overhaul at WWDC. Not only do you get up-to-date processors, but at long last, the iMac upholds two Thunderbolt 3 ports in addition to AMD Radeon Pro graphics based on Polaris.

Read the full review: 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display (2015)

21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina display - Best Mac 2016

If 27 inches is too much for you, Apple's 21.5-inch 4K iMac is much smaller but bears an equally sharp display. It goes toe-to-toe with the 27-inch 5K iMac's when it comes to pixel density, and it similarly supports the DCI-P3 colour gamut allowing for accurate, vibrant color.

It isn't much more affordable than the entry-level 27-inch iMac once you've ramped up the parts, so it's worth considering whether spending the extra money would be worth getting hold of a larger display and much more powerful graphics capabilities.

If those aspects aren't important, Apple's smaller iMac is still a capable machine and features one of the best 4K screens around. And, if you don't need an 4K display, there's a 1080p model as well.

What's next for the 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina Display?

The 4K iMac was also prescribed some refinements at WWDC. Aside from – again – the move to Kaby Lake for the CPU, the 21.5-inch iMac has faster Radeon Pro graphics and even juggles a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports and, after all this time, DDR4 RAM.

Read the full review: 21.5-inch iMac with 4K Retina display (2015)

best mac

Apple's 2015 MacBook refresh wasn't for everyone and, despite being rosier and "goldier" than ever, that contention hasn't changed with this year's upgrade. While both models supplanted the MacBook Air as the lightest and smallest laptop, the extra portability came with compromises.

Most notably, Apple replaced the standard USB 3 and Thunderbolt 2 ports with the brand-new USB-C (but notably not the crazy high-performance Thunderbolt 3).There's also the keyboard, wherein Apple has re-engineered every key to be thinner and far less springy to the touch.

Even though its 1.1GHz, 1.2GHz dual-core or 1.3GHz Intel Core M processor has nowhere near the power of the Pro or even the Air, the laptop is more than capable of running iMovie, Photos, and even Photoshop with ease, much thanks to the smooth-as-butter macOS Sierra.

What's next for the 12-inch MacBook?

The 2017 MacBook doesn’t change much fundamentally from its predecessor. The Intel Core M-series processors are still there, although this time with a new moniker. Although the baseline Intel Core m3 model is still there, Intel changed Core m5 and m7 to “Y” series Core i5 and i7.

Likewise, the memory options have expanded as well. Instead of being limited to just 8GB of RAM, you can configure a MacBook with 16GB of DDR3. Thankfully, the newer MacBook uses the second-generation butterfly mechanism that the MacBook Pro attained last year, too. 

Read the full review: 12-inch MacBook (2016)

15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina

After some much-needed patience, we finally have the MacBook Pro overhaul we deserve. Complete with a thinner, lighter design, a Space Gray color option and an OLED Touch Bar in lieu of the function keys, this MacBook Pro introduces the big chances we’ve been waiting for.

Although you may be turned off by the lack of conventional ports, the USB-C ports on the MacBook Pro are Thunderbolt 3 compatible, meaning you can transfer up to 40Gbps with a compatible device or hook it up to up to two 5K monitors if you dare.

All in all, there’s a lot to love about the 15-inch MacBook Pro, including 16GB of RAM, the option of up to 2TB of SSD storage space and a massive trackpad. Sure, you'll be shelling out an extra wad of cash for this model, but it's the best MacBook Pro money can buy. 

What’s next for the 15-inch MacBook Pro?

Like (almost) everything else on this list, the MacBook Pro stepped its game up at WWDC. It did so by making the switch to 7th-gen Intel Core i7 processors and giving you the choice between AMD Radeon Pro 555 and 560 graphics (featuring 2GB and 4GB of VRAM, respectively).

Virtually everything else about last year’s 15-inch MacBook Pro remains intact. So, if you like the Touch Bar and Thunderbolt 3 ports of yesteryear, you’re in luck. If you don’t, however, the 2015 MacBook Pro is still available to buy, but it’s still pricey and not worth it.

Read our full review: 15-inch MacBook Pro (2016)

About a year and a half out from its 2015 variant, the 13-inch MacBook Pro of late 2016 was well worth the wait, though it comes with a handful of prominent changes. For instance, even without the Touch Bar, it’s a sight for sore eyes.

Resembling the featherlight 12-inch MacBook, thanks to its sleeker exterior design and the notable absence of that glowing bright Apple logo we’ve all come to know and love, The non-Touch Bar models are equipped with just two USB-C, Thunderbolt 3 ports.

On the inside, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has a full set of 6th-gen Intel Core i5 processors, which can be swapped out for an i7 chip if you order from Apple’s website. All of this is complemented by up to a whopping 1TB of PCIe-based SSD storage, 16GB of RAM and a Retina display.

What’s next for the 13-inch MacBook Pro?

32GB of RAM is still a pipe dream for the MacBook Pro, as is a 4K screen and quad-core processors on the 13-inch model, but the 2017 MacBook Pro still catches up in other regards. The processors are faster and more efficient, but most importantly it’s cheaper.

Now there’s a variant of the MacBook Pro that costs the same as the entry-level 12-inch MacBook. It hangs onto half the storage (a measly 128GB), but the true Intel Core i5 CPU with Iris Plus 640 graphics more than make up for it. Plus, iCloud is cheaper if you need the space.

Read the full review: 13-inch MacBook Pro (2016) 

13-inch MacBook Air - Best Mac 2016

The MacBook Air is in an interesting spot. While it's still one of the most popular and well-known notebooks around, the iPad Pro and 12-inch MacBook have stolen much of its thunder. That is, unless you need the legacy USB 3, Thunderbolt 2 and SDXC card connectivity.

Even without a Retina display or Force Touch trackpad, the 13-inch MacBook Air is a very capable machine. Plus it still has the beloved MagSafe 2 charger onboard as well as an impeccable battery life.

Even if the 4GB of RAM and 128GB of flash storage leave a lot to be desired, the MacBook Air boasts higher clock speeds than the more expensive MacBook by way of a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor.  

What's next for the MacBook Air?

The MacBook Air, which launched in 2008 and was last updated in earnest in 2015, is in need of a refresh  – and while rumours have long suggested Apple was going to give it one, it seems as though it's being phased out completely over time.

Even though Apple decided to give the MacBook Air a speed boost at WWDC, from 1.6GHz to a more lofty 1.8GHz, it’s still clinging to a two-year-old, 5th-generation Broadwell chip. It’s only a matter of time before the MacBook Air either gets refreshed or cut from the team.

Read the full review: 13-inch MacBook Air (2015)

Mac mini - Best Mac 2016

The Mac Mini is Apple's cheapest computer and has, for a long time, been its least powerful. Fortunately, Intel's processor technology allows the desktop to be used for heavier tasks and Apple has brought the low-end model up to a decent specification.

The Mini comes in three variants: a $ 499 (£399, AU$ 699) option with a dual-core i5 CPU, a spinning hard drive, and 4GB of RAM; a $ 699 option with a more powerful processor, an SSD, and 8GB of RAM; or a $ 999 model which is comparable to the iMac at the same price.

The top-of-the-line Mac mini bumps the processor up to 2.8GHz and adds a Fusion Drive in place of the 5400-rpm spinner, but at $ 999 (£799, AU$ 1,399), we wouldn't recommend it. The iMac starts at only $ 100 (£250, AU$ 200) more and comes with a mouse, keyboard and screen.

What's next for the Mac mini?

The youngest Mac mini will celebrate its third birthday later this year, but Apple could be looking to update it so that its low-end users get a decent experience when running macOS, which became more graphically intense with macOS Sierra, the latest consumer release.

A 2017 model would, while unlikely, include Intel's Kaby Lake chips, yielding major performance improvements alongside other, newer internals, like faster and larger RAM and an SSD options for the low-end model. But, like we said, it’s probably not going to happen.

Read the full review: Mac mini (2014)

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article 

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