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So you want to buy a new MacBook, maybe for school, maybe for work, maybe to create something that lets you change how and why you work. Whatever. You need it, you want it… but you're just not sure which new MacBook to get. At least not yet.

Well, let's just figure that out now.

Cheat Sheet

Once upon a time — ok, just a couple days ago as I film this — Apple had three models of modern laptops, one old laptop, and one kinda stuck in between, and a bunch of variants to choose from. But that's all just changed. The 12-inch MacBook and old MacBook Air are being retired, the MacBook Pros have all now been updated, and the result is the cleanest, most consistent lineup we've had since… I don't know… Steve Jobs started pulling things outta manilla envelops.

  • If you just want a Mac you can take pretty much anywhere and do pretty much anything with, and portability and price are your priorities, then you've got the new baseline, the updated MacBook Air.

  • If you want a good mix of portability and power, and you're willing to pay a little more for it, then you have the newly updated entry-level and higher-end 13-inch MacBook Pro.

  • If you need power more than portability, and you're willing to pay a lot more — or a lot, lot more — depending on how much power you need — then you've got the 15-inch MacBook Pro. Or, it's got you.

Now, that might sound simple enough, but as always, god and the devil are fighting it out in the details. So, if you want anything more than the standard configs you see on the web or in stores, we're still going to need to break down your options.

MacBook Air: The Ultra-portable

If you need a new MacBook and that's all you really know or care about, if you're a student or teacher, if you want to work at home and at coffee shops, if you mostly use the web and documents, photos and messaging, get the MacBook Air.

It's not only the least expensive MacBook in Apple's lineup, it's also the simplest. You pick your color, you pick your storage, you pick your memory, and that's it. It's almost iPad simple for people who just want a Mac without all the fuss. And that's what the MacBook Air is for — everyone who wants a traditional computer without the traditional computer hassles.

Here's what you get:

It has Intel's 8th generation Amber Lake processor, which is a more mobile-friendly, Y-series version of Coffee Lake. It's just doesn't run quite as fast or as hot. And Intel UHD Graphics 617, which is, you know, Intel embedded graphics.

Unlike most computers, even most Macs, there's no options here. Every MacBook Air comes with exactly the same 1.6GHz dual‑core Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz. And that's it. That's all. It's like iPad simple.

It's got a Retina display, which means a person with average vision from an average working distance can't see pixels, just sharp text and graphics, though at 400 nits and sRGB, it's not as bright or as colorful as the MacBook Pro displays.

Apple just added True Tone as well, which means it now has sensors to read the color temperature in the room and adjust the white point so it always looks white. Not yellow. Not blue. But white.

It's got a 720p webcam and 3 mics to support "Hey Siri" and the upcoming voice control.

It also has two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, one for power when you need it, and the other or both for just about everything else… though you'll like need a USB-A adapter or two as well, at least for the foreseeable future.

And Apple's latest T2 Security Chip, which makes it harder for anyone to steal or infect your stuff. That also gives you Touch ID, which makes it easier for you to unlock and authorize Apple Pay.

The base model starts at $1099. And yeah, that's more expensive than the old model, which eventually got down to $999. But it's now two hundred bucks less expensive than that old model was at launch, or than any 13-inch Air has ever been at launch, especially the original which, ten years ago, started at $1799. And, Apple just knocked a hundred bucks off the price for every, and is even selling it at that magic $999 number for back-to-school buyers right now.

For that you get 8GB of low power DDR3 RAM and 128GB of SDD storage, which, yeah, is on the low side. I mean, it might be fine if you do most of your work online, stream most of your music and videos, and especially if you use Safari instead of a ton of Chrome tabs and Electron apps.

If you want or need more breathing room, you can go to 16GB of RAM or an extra $200, and to 256 or 512GB, or 1.5TB of storage, for an extra 200, 400, and 600 bucks respectively. And yeah, that 1TB upgrade is now half as expensive as it used to be.

And while that's still a lot for just a terabyte of SSD, the price drop combined with the inability to upgrade storage later means digital pack rats or media creators should really start considering it.

It comes in your choice of silver, space gray, and gold.

So, you're looking at $1099 base to $1899 maxed out, with a bunch of options in between, but fewer and simpler ones than usual.

Either way, the newly updated MacBook Air really is the new normal for everyone who, like I said, just wants a new Mac to take with them everywhere and do pretty much everything you need doing.

See MacBook Air at Apple

13-inch MacBook Pro: The Portable Powerhouse

If you need a new MacBook but you need it to do quote unquote real work bracket TM close bracket, if you're a pro photographer, videographer, audio producer or engineer, designer or coder, or aspiring to be, then you want the MacBook Pro. If you still want some portability with your power, you're looking at the smaller, 13-inch MacBook Pro for starters.

Here's what you give up:

The MacBook Pro is squared more than wedge-shaped like the Air, and a quarter-pound heavier. It's also got 10 instead of 12-hours of web browsing battery life. And you can't get it in gold.

Here's what you get:

The 13-inch screen is the same size and density as the Air, but 100 nits brighter and with a wider P3 gamut, it's more colorful.

Processor options are… well… buckle yourself in.

The new baseline model starts with a 1.4GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 Coffee Lake processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz and Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645.

That's at $1299. For an extra $300, you can go to a 1.7GHz quad‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7 Coffee Lake processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz.

With those models, though, you only get two USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports. If you want faster processors, you'll have to move up to the four-port models.

Those start at $1799 but give you a 2.4GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 Coffee Lake processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz. Or, for an extra $300, a 2.8GHz quad‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7 Coffee Lake processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.7GHz.

You can go from 8GB of low-power DDR3 RAM to 16GB for an extra 200 bucks, but that's the hard limit on both low-power and the 13-inch, alas. Intel, get your… stuff together.

For the 2-port entry-level model, you can go from 128GB of SSD to 256 or 512GB, or 1 or 2TB for an extra 200, 400, or 600 or $1000 bucks respectively. Which is still crazy expensive, even with the recent price drop at the higher tiers.

For the 4-port model, you can go from 256GB of SSD to 512GB or to 1 or 2TB for 200, or 400, or 800 bucks, also respectively.

That also takes you from the baseline $1299 all the way up to $3099, with any and all of those options and a lot of dollars in between.

But, if you want the best blend of portability and power, so you can get as much work done as possible while carrying around as little as possible, be it photos, videos, or code in the air or on the road, you want the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

See MacBook Pro at Apple

15-inch MacBook Pro

If you need a new MacBook but you need it to get quote unquote high end pro work bracket TM close bracket, if you're a pro photographer, videographer, audio producer or engineer, designer or coder, and if time is money and power is worth a premium, then you want the MacBook Pro. And if you want the most power possible, you want at the full-on, 15-inch MacBook Pro for starters.

Here's what you give up:

The 15-inch MacBook Pro isn't just taller and wider to fit in those extra couple screen inches. It's only 0.02-inches thicker, but it's fully a pound heavier. Just over 4 instead of just over 3.

Here's what you get:

The 15-inch screen is the same as the 13-inch, same brightness, same gamut, just bigger and with more pixels. 2880 by 1800 pixels instead of 2560 by 1600 pixels.

Processor options are… extreme.

You start off with a 2.6GHz 6‑core 9th‑generation Intel Core i7 Coffee Lake Refresh processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz and Radeon Pro 555X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory.

That's for $2399. For an extra $300, you can go up to a 2.4GHz 8‑core 9th‑generation Intel Core i9 Coffee Lake processor with Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz, For another $100, you can pump the graphics up to Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory.

Depending on how you choose your own adventure through the build-to-order options, you can also find a 2.3GHz 8‑core 9th‑generation Intel Core i9 Coffee Lake processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz and Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory.

That's for $2799. For an extra $200, you can get the same 2.4GHz 8‑core 9th‑generation Intel Core i9 Coffee Lake processor with Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz. But also some additional graphics options, including an extra $250 for Radeon Pro Vega 16 with 4GB of HBM2 memory or $350 for Radeon Pro Vega 20 with 4GB of HBM2 memory.

The 15-inch starts at 16 GB of non-low-power DDR4 memory — again, thanks Intel — but for an extra $400 bucks you can go to 32GB.

Storage starts at 256GB, but you can get 512GB, or 1, 2, or 4TB for 200, 400, 800, or 1600 bucks respectively. Again, ouch, but again, a lot less ouch than just a week ago.

So, yeah, that all starts at $2399 but tops out at $4799.

That's a lot of options, and a lot of money, but if you're a hardcore, keyboard clacking, pixel-pushing, RED rendering, code crunching, design daring doer, your time is worth more than money, and you'll pay just about anything for performance, then you want the MacBook Pro.

See MacBook Pro at Apple

The Decision

OK, so I know that got real complicated real fast there at the end. So I'm going to stop the record and rewind that. In other words, bring it back to the beginning.

  • If you just want a Mac you can take pretty much anywhere and do pretty much anything with, and portability and price are your priorities, then you've got the new baseline, the updated MacBook Air.

  • If you want a good mix of portability and power, and you're willing to pay a little more for it, then you have the newly updated entry-level and higher-end 13-inch MacBook Pro.

  • If you need power more than portability, and you're willing to pay a lot more — or a lot, lot more — depending on how much power you need — then you've got the 15-inch MacBook Pro. Or, it's got you.

If even that is still too complicated, just get the new Air.

VECTOR | Rene Ritchie

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