Buying a Mac for School or travel

Macbook Pro

If you’ve got your sights set on a new Mac laptop, here’s what you need to know before heading to the store.

Thinking you might want a laptop PC, desktop PC, Mac desktop or Chromebook instead? Find out which kind of computer is really for you.

Macs used to be the expensive computers that graphic designers and “creative types” used. Now, they’re a serious option for any computer user thanks to their solid construction and easy-to-use operating system.

Of course, they’re still on the expensive side, and there are quite a few options. You want to buy the one that’s right for you the first time. That’s where I can help. Let’s take a look at your options and the pros and cons of each.

MacBook Air


The MacBook Air started as the go-to Mac if you’re a frequent traveler. It then became Apple’s budget laptop option.

The Air comes in two sizes. There’s an 11.6-inch model for those looking for a super small laptop. And there’s a 13.3-inch model for those wanting a bigger screen.

To keep its size down, the Air has a few space-saving features. Perhaps the coolest is the flash storage. That means there’s no physical disc that holds your data. This is a more reliable, quieter and faster method of storing information.

Flash storage also makes booting up, opening programs and browsing through media extremely fast.

All the Air models have a fourth-generation (Haswell), dual-core 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM standard. You can upgrade to a 1.7GHz Core i7 processor and 8GB of RAM.

The standard 11.6-inch model with 128GB of storage is $899. There is also a $1,099 11.6-inch model with 256GB storage, which you can upgrade to 512GB. The 11.6-inch model has a claimed nine hours of battery life.

The larger 13.3-inch models start at $$999. For that, you get 128GB of flash storage. For $1,199, you get the 13.3-inch model with 256GB – expandable to 512GB – of storage. Apple claims you get 12 hours of battery life!

Both models come with two USB 3.0 ports and a Thunderbolt port. Thunderbolt is an incredibly fast connection that is rated for 10 gigabits per second.

It can be used for ultra-fast external drives and high-resolution monitors. New adapters add compatibility with Firewire 800 devices and Ethernet networking.

The MacBook Air is compatible with 802.11ac routers. Learn more about the new Wi-Fi standard here.

Both models come with a built-in 720p HD webcams. The 13-inch model also has an SD card slot.

As I said, the MacBook Air is Apple’s budget system, but the latest processor upgrade makes it suitable for most computer uses. The Intel HD Graphics 5000 system built into the Haswell processor is great for media consumption.

The Air still won’t match the MacBook Pro for high-end photo or video editing purposes. However, for basic photo and video editing it should be fine.

The Air doesn’t have an optical drive, so you can’t put your DVDs directly into it. There is a Remote Disc feature included. This lets you use another computer’s optical drive, but you need to be on the same network.

MacBook Pro


The MacBook Pro with Retina display is definitely the right choice for anyone looking for a powerful laptop. It offers more customization than the Air. Gamers and editors, this is probably the Mac for you.

To begin, the MacBook Pro has two screen sizes: 13-inch and 15-inch. All of the MacBook Pros have an aluminum unibody enclosure. This makes them not only beautiful, but durable as well.

The Retina display offers incredible resolutions. The 13-inch is 2560 by 1600 and the 15-inch is a whopping 2880 by 1800. Apple has upgraded its built-in apps to take advantage of this amazing clarity.

All of the models share a few other features. There is a built-in high-definition webcam and an illuminated keyboard.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro has an amazing nine-hour battery life. The 15-inch model has a respectable eight-hour battery life.

Each model supports the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, and includes USB 3.0 ports and multiple Thunderbolt 2 connections.

Thunderbolt 2 is an incredibly fast connection that is rated for 20 gigabits per second.

It can be used for ultra-fast external drives and high-resolution monitors.

Additionally, the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros have an SD card slot. That will let you plug in your SD memory cards directly. That’s great for photo buffs whose cameras use SD cards.

The computing power of each size is also varied. All of the MacBook Pros use Intel’s Haswell i-series processors. The standard 13-inch model starts at $1,099. It comes with up to 2.8GHz Intel Core i5 Duo processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB solid-state hard drive. For some extra cash, you can upgrade all of these components.

The larger MacBook Pros are a smart place to start if you’re looking for a serious photo or video editor. These models come with larger hard drives and offer stronger graphics cards.

The standard 15-inch model starts at $1,999. It comes with a 2.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state hard drive.

It also comes with a dedicated graphics card. The standard unit uses the NVIDIA GeForce GT 750 with2GB of on-board memory. Again, you can upgrade all of these components if you pay more.