Best Mac Desktop for Students iMore 2020
Students don't have a lot of choices when it comes to buying a Mac desktop, although that list has grown. Of the desktop Macs that are available, we recommend the iMac 4K. There are other options worth considering depending on your needs and budget.
- Best Overall: iMac 4K (2019)
- Best Without a Monitor: Mac mini (2020)
- Best Large Display: iMac 5K (2020)
- Best for Creative Majors: iMac Pro (2017)
- When There's No Budget: Mac Pro (2019)
Best Overall: iMac 4K (2019)
Featuring an aluminum and glass enclosure with a five millimeter-thin profile, the iMac 4K ships with a matching Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2. The iMac 4K that we're recommending comes with a 3.6GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB DDR4 memory, Radeon Pro 555X with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, and 1TB Serial ATA Drive at 5400 rpm. You can upgrade any of these for more money. Our tip: splurge on the memory, if you can, which is available up to 32GB.
The iMac 4K ships with the macOS Catalina, which includes all-new Music, Podcasts, and Apple TV apps. The current version of macOS also includes Mac Catalyst, which lets developers bring iPad apps to Mac.
There's nothing negative to note about this desktop unless you want a larger display. If that's the case, keep reading.
- 4K Retina
- Fusion drive available for extra
- Only con would be the display size
Best for most students
Your dorm or apartment will love this computer, which can remain a prominent fixture for your entire college career.
Best Without a Monitor: Mac mini (2020)
The entry-level Mac mini comes with a 3.6GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor with 8GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory. Inside, you'll find an Intel UHD Graphics 630 card and 256GB PCIe-based SSD storage.
If you're looking at a Mac mini, you are already aware that you need to add a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. We recommend upgrading the memory from the minimum. Ideally, you should start with the more expensive version, if only because you'll get more storage.
- Least expensive solution
- Recently updated
- Remember, no monitor or accessories
- Can get expensive quickly
Best Without a Monitor
Look, no monitor!
Mac minis are a great solution if you already have a terrific monitor and other accessories. Otherwise, stick with iMac.
Best Large Display: iMac 5K (2020)
The 27-inch iMac 5K offers fantastic features, and it has been updated for 2020. 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. Like with our overall pick, if you can only upgrade one component, considering increasing the memory size.
- Beautiful Retina 5K 5120-by-2880 P3 display
- Just $500 more than our overall pick for the entry model
- Price can rise quickly with add-ons
- 8GB of memory might not be enough
- Difficult to move
Best Large Display
Look at that display!
Forget 4K, when you can have 5K. Great internals and a robust display in one package.
Best for Creative Majors: iMac Pro (2017)
First introduced in late 2017, the iMac Pro includes an 8-, 10-, 14-, or 18-core Intel Xeon processor, 27-inch (diagonal) Retina 5K display, AMD Vega graphics, up to 256GB ECC memory, and 10 Gigabit Ethernet. In other words, this is one powerful machine!
Geared towards highly professional creatives, the iMac Pro can easily cost you five figures, depending on your configuration. Only buy this model if you need the expanded resources, like the color black, and a no-brainer, have a budget to support the purchase.
The biggest issues facing would-be iMac Pro buyers is two-fold. First, the product hasn't been updated in three years, which makes a refresh likely. Second, with the Mac Pro (see below) now on the market, the choice isn't nearly as simple as it once was.
- Lots of customization
- Memory up to 256GB
- Only iMac that comes in black
- Extremely pricey
- Not for most buyers
- Hasn't been updated since 2017
Best for Creative Majors
The one for massive projects
You'll surely be the cool kid in your dorm room with this iMac Pro.
When There's No Budget: Mac Pro (2019)
No doubt, the Mac Pro is the best professional-graded computer Apple has ever created. Made in the United States, the Mac Pro has been designed for maximum performance, expansion, and configurability. It features Xeon processors, an Earth-shattering high-performance memory system, eight PCIe expansion slots, and graphics architecture that supports what Apple calls the world's most powerful graphics card. There's also the all-new Apple Afterburner accelerator card that lets you playback as many as three streams of 8K ProRes RAW video simultaneously.
On the downside are the price and the unproven aspect of the machine. The 2nd generation cylindrical Mac Pro (2013) was primarily forgotten by Apple soon after its arrival. Will the new model go down the same path? Only time will tell.
- Workstation-class Xeon processors up to 28 cores
- High-performance memory system with a massive 1.5TB capacity
- Apple Afterburner accelerator card
- Recommended Pro Display XDR monitor adds to the price
- Overkill for most students
- Unproven since it's so new
When There's No Budget
It's a Pro Mac!
Get this Mac if you want everything and have the resources to build the best machine to suit your needs. Otherwise, stick with an iMac or Mac mini as your desktop computer.
Our favorite desktop Mac for students is the iMac 4K, which includes lots of great features for high-schoolers and college students alike. The model we're recommending comes with a 3.6GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB DDR4 memory, Radeon Pro 555X with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, and 1TB Serial ATA Drive at 5400 rpm.
If you can, upgrade the memory to the maximum of 32GB and enjoy!
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Bryan M. Wolfe is a dad who loves technology, especially anything new from Apple. Penn State (go Nittany Lions) graduate here, also a huge fan of the New England Patriots. Thanks for reading. @bryanmwolfe
We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.
Matte screen protectors to reduce glare and eye strain for the 27-inch iMac
Screen protectors for iMacs are a lot more advanced than their smaller iPhone counterparts, now providing blue-light blocking and privacy screening at the same time. Find yours on this list.
Upgrading your iMac's memory yourself is cheaper than going through Apple
Apple's options for additional RAM on the iMac are super expensive. Save a little (a lot) of money by getting third-party RAM and doing it yourself.
Take a monitor on the go with one of these options for your Mac
For work or play, sometimes you need your Mac to get up and go with you. Consider one of these portal solutions for your favorite Mac.