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iMac vs MacBook Air, find out which of Apple's Macs is best for you

Martyn Casserly | Jan. 27, 2015
We compare Apple's iMac and MacBook Air so you can judge which is the right for your needs

iMac vs MacBook Air: Maxing out the specs

If your budget allows, then fully kitting out either an iMac or MacBook Air will get you a serious machine, and a noticeable difference in price. The 13-inch MacBook Air with the build to order spec of a 1.7GHz dual-core, Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB RAM, and 512GB flash-storage comes out to a grand total of £1449. Add Apple Care to that price and you come in at £1649 for a very quick, lightweight, and capacious laptop. If you stick with the non-Retina iMacs, then you can configure a 27-inch with a 3.5GHz quad-core, Intel Core i7, 8GB RAM (as this is a user serviceable part, you can buy more RAM later from third party suppliers such as Crucial instead of paying Apple's high prices), 512GB flash-storage (1TB is available, but the £400 price tag seems a little excessive) and even upgrade the graphics card to an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M, all for £2,319. Apple Care will add a further £139 to the price.

At nearly a grand apart you would expect these machines to be different, and of course you'd be right, with the iMac being an absolute beast. In fact at the start of 2014 a very similar version (which had a 3TB Fusion drive rather than the 512GB flash-storage in our spec), was the second fastest Mac we've ever seen at Macworld, beating out the two off the shelf versions of the Mac Pro in our Speedmark 9 lab tests.

Of course if you're shopping at this end of the street, then the iMac with 5K Retina display will be the one to go for, as you can add a 4.0GHz quad-core, Core i7, 512GB flash-storage, and upgrade to the AMD Radeon R9 M295X GPU all for £2,639.

iMac vs MacBook Air: Buying advice

It's pretty obvious that iMacs and MacBook Airs are built for different purposes, but if you're considering the lower-end models then it's worth nailing down whether you really want a desktop or a laptop, or both. If your intention is that the computer will sit on a desk all its life, then the iMac is the way to go, but we're not entirely happy recommending the base model unless your needs are light. At the very least you'll need to upgrade the hard drive, and if you're doing that then we'd recommend you save a little bit longer and go for the 21-inch model with the 2.7GHz CPU (and then still upgrade the hard drive to the 1TB Fusion is you can).

If you want to keep your spending under £1000 though, and don't mind a bit of non-Apple equipment, then the 11-inch MacBook Air, upgraded to 8GB RAM, is available for £829 and is easily the match of the base-level iMac. Add to this a third party display (around £80), bluetooth mouse, keyboard, external hard drive, and with a bit of shopping around you can have the best of both worlds for under a grand. Either way we'd suggest you hold off until the early summer, as a 12-inch, Retina MacBook Air could change the game once more.


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