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Mac buyers' guide: What you need to know before heading to the Apple Store

Michael deAgonia | Sept. 19, 2012
If you're not sure what to get, here's what you need to keep in mind before heading to the Apple store.

Both Air models use Intel's Core i5, but the 11" uses the 1.7GHz dual-core i5; the 1.8GHz i5 powers the entry model 13". Intel's Turbo Boost technology pushes the clock speed to higher frequencies when extra power is necessary.

Apple states the battery life on these machines at 5 hours and 7 hours, respectively; and it's possible to make the Air last for, say a school day, with some basic power management.

Like all Apple laptops, the Air has a large glass trackpad, which is designed to take advantage of OS X Mountain Lion's built-in gestures. Don't scoff at the gesture support; it's as convenient on the Mac as it is on the iPhone and iPad, but without the hassles of smudges and fingerprints on the screen.

Like all of the Macs on this list -- save for the mini -- the Air has a built-in camera. The camera's resolution is 720p, but it's enough for FaceTime video calls, or messing around in Photo Booth. A nice thing about FaceTime calls: you're not just limited to Mac-to-Mac communication; FaceTime calls can be made to iPhones and iPads, as well.

Pros: Thinnest, lightest laptop in the roundup; aluminum unibody adds durability despite the thinness; backlit keyboard; good battery life; large trackpad with multitouch gesture support

Cons: Storage on the entry model is rather limited; no optical drive built-in; memory cannot be upgraded

MacBook Pro:

The Macbook Pro is the more traditional notebook lineup from Apple. Carved from aluminum slabs, these notebooks come in two flavors: 13" and 15", starting at $1,199 and $1,799, respectively. Both models are .95", but the 15" model is wider and deeper. Weight is a different story, however, with the 13" model being four-and-a-half pounds compared to the 5.6lbs of the 15". Remember to factor that in before purchasing; every extra bit of weight in your backpack or briefcase counts.

Though heavier than the Air, these machines feature a full complement of ports and features, including an 8x SuperDrive (capable of reading/writing CDs and DVDs), an SDXC card slot, Thunderbolt, a couple of USB 3 ports, MagSafe power connection, FireWire 800, and gigabit Ethernet. Wireless-N and Bluetooth 4.0 round out the wireless connectivity. Also included: FaceTime camera, backlit keyboard, and 4GB of memory. The low end 13" MacBook Pro comes with 2.5GHz Core i5; the 15" model: 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7.

The hard drives included on the MacBook Pros start at 500GB, but they are that of the 5400-RPM variety. This hard drive actually affects the performance of the computer, and I recommend upgrading it. There are third party SSD drives available that will greatly speed things up if you're not willing to pay Apple's upgrade prices.


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