Best Cheap Mac

As we all know, Macs are not among cheapest computers, but some are cheaper than others. What would be the best option with a limited budget?

Let us have a look at the Mac mini, MacBook Air and the entry-level iMac, and find out which is the most preferable for particular purposes.

Mac mini (1.4GHz, 2014)

Price: starting from $499

This is the cheapest Mac for the moment. The price when purchasing from Apple may be a mere £479, i.e. close to half a price of the entry-level MacBook Air (£949).

However, there are some reasons why it isn’t really a great deal.

First, the Mac mini hasn’t been updated since 2014 and still has the old Haswell processor (of the same year). The processor remains with a CPU of 1.4GHz.

The entry-level Mac mini only has 4GB RAM, less than any other Mac, and a 500GB of a hard drive memory. The only other remaining Mac with a hard drive is the entry-level iMac (but with twice as great storage of 1TB).

Another shortcoming is the fact that the entry-level Mac mini would actually cost even more than £479, since you usually need a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Actually, in the box, you only get the computer and its power lead, while other Macs include more peripherals.

If you wish to upgrade the model, you may choose between a few options. There is a Mac mini with a 2.6GHz Haswell processor, 8GB RAM, and a 1TB hard drive, for £200 more. This option is obviously better than, for example, the MacBook Air with a slower 1.8GHz processor and with a price higher by £270 (but the Air comes with a display).

For comparison, you can buy an entry-level iMac with its 2.3GHz processor, 1TB hard drive, and 8GB RAM for £1,049. For sure, £370 is a reasonable price for the addition of a display, mouse, keyboard (which are all newer components as the iMac was updated in June 2017).

And now, one more Mac mini: the £979 model with 2.8GHz processor, 8GB memory, and a 1TB Fusion Drive. That Fusion Drive means it will run a bit faster because it combines flash memory with the hard drive.

The price of this model is equal to that of the entry-level MacBook Air. It also has a few build-to-order options such as a 3.0GHz dual-core i7 processor, 1TB SSD and 16GB RAM. With all those options added the resulting price reaches £1,849, which is obviously too much for such a computer.

13-inch MacBook Air (early 2015)

Price: £850 (with 128GB storage), £999 (with 256GB)

We’ve touched upon the MacBook Air above, and now let us consider the model in more detail.

In fact, the update of the model’s processers in June 2017 wasn’t a real update. Though CPU was bumped from 1.6GHz to 1.8GHz, the Haswell processors remained unchanged (similar to those installed in Mac mini).

Like the Mac mini, the MacBook Air hasn’t been updated for a few years. The last update took place in 2015.

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However, the MacBook Air is still on sale. Then should you buy one?

Let us see what you get for your £949? The MacBook Air comes with a 1.8GHz dual-core processor with Turbo Boost 2.9GHz, 8GB RAM, and a 128GB SSD.

Let us compare that deal with a purchase of a new Retina MacBook: here you get a 1.2GHz dual-core processor with Turbo Boost to 3.0GHz (being the processor the new Kaby Lake, not Haswell), 8GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD. All that costs £1,249.

For the extra £300 you get a superior Retina display (2304-by-1440 pixels compared to 1440-by-900 pixels on the Air), and twice as much storage. The processor is formally slower, but it’s a newer brand, and with the Turbo Boost it’s way faster.

21.5-inch iMac (2017)

Price: starting from $1,099

The next cheapest Mac is the 21.5-inch iMac starting at £1,049. Though the model has been recently updated (in June 2017), there are still a few points to consider before making a decision on a purchase.

The first is that the entry-level iMac doesn’t have a Retina display, and a 4K Retina display would cost another £200.

The £1,049 iMac (i.e. without the Retina display) has a 2.3GHz dual-core processor, 8GB RAM, 1TB hard drive and two Thunderbolt 3 ports (unlike the MacBook Air or the Mac mini).

Still, as with the Mac mini, it may be helpful to consult the Apple Refurbished Store where you may find a cheaper previous generation iMac model. Thus here you may find a 21.5-inch 1.6GHz iMac originally released in October 2015 (same time as the MacBook Air models). It has 8GB RAM and a 1TB hard drive and only costs £809 (£90 below the original price), that is less than the cheapest iMac, which you can buy now. Such a purchase is preferable to buying a generally similar MacBook Air for £949.

A really nice deal at the refurbished store is a 2.8GHz quad-core iMac for a mere £939, (i.e. only by £130 more). The model is in a different league compared to the 1.6GHz machine. If you wish a Mac for less than £1,000 this is obviously the best possible option.

Buying advice

The reviewed brand new Mac mini and MacBook Air should not be considered for purchase because they are too old.

There are forecasts saying that the MacBook could cheapen in the near future, in which case the model may become the best cheap Mac for the moment.

The entry-level iMac may be a reasonable deal too, but in our opinion, you’d better put aside a few hundred more to obtain a truly smart and powerful machine.

And probably the best consumer option for the current situation is dealing with the Apple’s Refurbished Store, where the opportunity to buy a decent Mac for a reasonable price is very feasible.