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Best Mac desktop for students 2022

iMac 2021 with microphone
(Image credit: Luke Filipowicz / iMore)

Although MacBooks and other laptops tend to get most of the attention, desktops are still crucial in personal computing. A desktop offers a larger screen and removes battery concerns. In many cases, desktops are also much cheaper than laptops, even on a feature-to-feature basis. For students looking for a desktop experience, we recommend the 24-inch iMac. First introduced in 2021, this Mac offers a fresh model design, Apple silicon inside, and a range of colors. Other Mac desktop options are worth considering depending on your needs and budget.

These desktop Macs are the ones we recommend the most for students

Rear of a blue 2021 iMac

(Image credit: iMore/ Luke Filipowicz)
Best for most students

Reasons to buy

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Super-thin design
+
M1 delivers tons of performance
+
Amazing display

Reasons to avoid

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Noticeable bezels and a prominent chin
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Base model is slightly less impressive
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Is an update on its way?

The colorful 24-inch iMac (2021) has been almost completely redesigned from the 21.5-inch model it replaced, and Apple gave it a ton of new color options. Of course, it's all powered by Apple's M1 chip, which has been praised for delivering a fantastic performance.

There are two main models of the iMac (2021). The base model has a 7-Core GPU and only two Thunderbolt 3/USB 4 ports, while the high-end model has an 8-Core GPU, two Thunderbolt 3/USB 4 ports, two USB-C ports, and an Ethernet port in the power brick, and comes with a Magic Keyboard with Touch ID. Both models have SSD storage starting at 256GB, but you can pay for up to 1TB on the base model and up to 2TB on the high-end model. In addition, both models start with 8GB of RAM, but you can purchase 16GB of RAM for either machine. The base model starts at $1,299, while the high-end model starts at $1,499.

If there's one negative about this device, it's this: Apple could soon replace this model with one with the M2 chip installed. Introduced on the 2022 MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro, the M2 offers a faster CPU and GPU than the M1. It also supports more memory bandwidth and a quicker Neural Engine.

a Mac mini and monitor

(Image credit: iMore)

Mac mini (2020) - with M1 Chip

Best budget choice

Reasons to buy

+
Least expensive solution
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M1 or Intel; it's your choice

Reasons to avoid

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Remember, no monitor or accessories
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Can get expensive quickly
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2022 models should arrive soon

The Mac mini offers M1 or Intel processors inside. You can choose from 8GB or 16GB of RAM and up to 2GB of storage for the former. The latter starts with an Intel Core i5 6-Core Processor with Intel UHD Graphics 630. You can select up to 64GB of RAM and 2TB of SSD storage.

If you're looking at a Mac mini, you already know that you need to add a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. In addition, we recommend upgrading the memory to the minimum. Ideally, you should start with the more expensive version, if only because you'll get more storage.

On the downside: Like the 24-inch iMac, Apple's likely to update the Mac mini before the end of the year. The new Mac mini could feature M2 and M2 Pro chips and no Intel. 

Mac Studio

(Image credit: Bryan M. Wolfe / iMore)
Best for creatives

Reasons to buy

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Only Mac with M1 Ultra SoC
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Lots of customization options

Reasons to avoid

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Price
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Still requires a monitor, keyboard, and mouse

The Mac Studio (2022) is a professional-grade computer that offers an M1 Max or M1 Ultra system-on-a-chip. Looking like two stacked Mac mini units, the Mac Studio is currently the best Mac you can buy in terms of computer power. You can choose up to 128GB of unified memory, up to 20-core CPU, and 64-core GPU.

We highly recommend buying the Mac Studio with the Apple Studio Display for the complete package. However, we understand this combination is costly. Available with standard or nano-texture glass, this 27-inch 5K Retina display features a 12MP Ultra-Wide camera with Center Stage, studio-quality mics, and a six-speaker sound system with Spatial Audio.

Due to the sheer power and priciness of this option, this one should only be considered if you have a heavy workload that requires you to run intensive programs all day like Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, and others.

27-inch iMac (2020)

(Image credit: iMore)
Still a worthy alternative

Reasons to buy

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1080p webcam
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Matte option
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All SSD
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True Tone display
+
Intel (for those who need it)

Reasons to avoid

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Not Apple silicon

We don't often recommend products that Apple has officially retired. However, in the case of the last 27-inch iMac 5K, which was well-received in our review, there are various reasons we do so. Introduced in August 2020 and retired in March 2022, this model is the final iMac with Intel inside, which could be an essential factor for some. Additionally, it serves as a suitable alternative for anyone who loves the look of the Mac Studio + Studio Display combination but finds its cost prohibitive. Finally, because it has been retired, the 27-inch iMac is almost certainly available at various retailers for a discount. 

The 27-inch iMac 5K offers fantastic features across the board. The entry-level model comes with a Retina 5K 5120-by-2880 P3 display with True Tone and optional nano-texture glass, 3.1GHz 6-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost (up to 4.5GHz), 8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory, 256GB SSD storage, and Radeon Pro 5300 with 4GB of GDDR6 memory. 

Are Mac desktops better than MacBooks for students?

One of the questions we often hear from readers is whether to purchase a Mac desktop or MacBook. It's naturally a subjective question and one without a right or wrong answer. 

If you're looking for a portable solution, it's likely your choice immediately narrows to one of the best MacBooks for students, either the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. From a size and weight perspective, you could also technically carry around a Mac mini or Mac Studio. However, this assumes a keyboard and mouse are at your disposal at every location where you must use the computer. 

If portability is less of a factor, attention then turns to what's inside the machine. Currently, except for one version of the Mac mini (2020) and the Mac Pro (2019), Macs and MacBooks feature either an Apple M1 or Apple M2 series chip with various RAM and storage options available for each. 

If portability is less of a factor, attention then turns to what's inside the machine.

If you're looking for the best chip possible, that would be the M1 Ultra only found on the Mac Studio. If you want a mobile device with the best chip, select the 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro. Both laptops feature either an M1 Pro or M1 Max chip. Those three Apple silicon machines also have the best RAM and storage options. With RAM, the Mac Studio maxes out at 128GB; with storage, all three devices mentioned above offer up to 8TB of storage. 

Finally, if, like most students, you're on a budget, the choice narrows to the MacBook Air or 24-inch iMac — again, assuming portability isn't the main factor you're considering. If the competition comes down to those two machines only, go with the five-star MacBook Air (2022). It's newer than the 24-inch iMac and offers a better chip (M2 vs. M1). It's also the best Mac on the market today. 

And what about the 27-inch iMac? Sure it has Intel inside, but it's still worth considering because of its price, feature set, and more. If you find one on sale and you don't necessarily need a portable device or a machine with Apple silicon, the 27-inch iMac could be the Mac for you this school year. 

Get to studying with the best Macs

Our favorite desktop Mac for students is the 24-inch iMac (2021), which includes excellent features for high schoolers, college students, and anyone else in education. The most important question you might ask yourself is which color to buy. The 24-inch iMac is available in seven color combinations — blue, green, pink, yellow, orange, purple, and traditional silver — so you've definitely got options.

Like most Macs in 2022, the 24-inch iMac (2021) includes Apple silicon. So if you can, max out both memory and storage and enjoy the ride! But, of course, if you're looking for something smaller than a Mac desktop, there's always lots to pick from when it comes MacBooks or iPads for students, which can get the job done just as well.