If you’re confused by all the different MacBook models, you’re not alone. So today, I’m gonna help you choose the right MacBook for high school or college so you don’t end up wasting your money. I will address the different needs of different types of students. So whether you’re studying graphic design, art, photography, video, music, or you’re learning to be a developer, I’ll also give you some tips on how you can get the MacBook you need for less money.
The first question I always get is, do I need a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro? And I’m gonna talk about all the various models because some of the Air and Pro models have the same chip, displays, and ports, but here’s the simple, fundamental difference between the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air. The MacBook Pro models have an active cooling system. Just think of a fan. And the MacBook Air models don’t.
And what this means is that when these laptops are pushed to their limit, and the chip inside the computer heats up, the MacBook Pro will be able to turn on the fan and cool down the system while maintaining the same level of performance. The MacBook Air only uses a passive cooling system. So, at some point, it will need to throttle back performance to keep the chip from overheating and getting damaged.
So now, the question is, does this matter for students? And the short answer, for most students, is no. The vast majority of students simply aren’t going to be pushing their laptops hard enough for this to have a noticeable impact, but there are some other aspects that they need to keep in mind. So let’s talk about the available MacBook models, and I’ll also give you my recommendations for different types of users.
Starting out with the MacBook Air, we have two options. The M1 model came out at the end of 2020, and then the newer M2 model. Now, Apple did a complete redesign with the newer MacBook Air. We’re getting a new and more uniform body versus the wedge shape on the M1 model. And overall, this M2 MacBook feels thinner. Now, portability is super important. You’re gonna be taking this laptop with you to and from school, you’re gonna take it to the library, to class, and you also take it with you when you wanna do some work outside.
So having a thin and light laptop is definitely a plus. Now, the good news is that both of these are outstanding options, and it’s only when we get to the MacBook Pro models that we have more considerations in terms of portability. Now, the M2 MacBook Air has a more powerful chip. It comes with a larger 13.6-inch liquid retina display versus a 13.3-inch retina display on the M1.
We’re getting a slightly higher resolution, a brighter display with 500 nits peak brightness versus 400 on the M1. And both laptops have a P3 display, which is a wider color gamut for better color reproduction, and both offer True Tone. Now, the one other advantage to the newer display on the M2 MacBook Air is that it now supports over 1 billion colors versus 16.7 million on the M1 model. If you’re like most students and you’re going to be using this MacBook to take notes, work with documents and spreadsheets, do research, surf the web, those types of things, the upgrades on the M2 Air are nice to have, but they don’t offer a significant advantage.
If you’re an art or a photography student planning to do video work or anything where color accuracy matters, then the M2 model may be a better option. But, you should also consider one of the Pro models I’ll get to in a minute. Both the M1 and the M2 MacBook Air have two Thunderbolt 3/USB 4 ports.
Now, both have a headphone jack and excellent keyboards and trackpads. Now, the M2 has a full height row of function keys and a slightly larger trackpad. So, I’m gonna give it a very small edge here. Now, the M2 model headphone jack also supports high impedance headphones. So if that’s something that’s important to you, keep that in mind.
Finally, the M2 MacBook Air offers MagSafe 3 for fast and safe charging, which also leaves the two ports free for accessories. Other than that, the M2 MacBook Air comes with a higher resolution camera, 1080p versus 720 on the M1 model, has better speakers, and in terms of battery life, both laptops are rated for 18 hours of video playback and 15 hours of wireless web browsing.
Now, both models start out at 256 gigabytes of storage and eight gigs of unified memory. The M1 model can be upgraded to 16 gigabytes, and the M2 model can be upgraded to 24 gigabytes. And I highly recommend upgrading to 16 gigs so that these laptops continue running smoothly for you. Now, ultimately, one of these MacBooks is the right choice for the overwhelming majority of students.
The M2 MacBook Air has an updated design, a more powerful processor, a bigger and better display, a better camera system, better speakers, you have MagSafe for faster charging, and you can upgrade the unified memory to 24 gigabytes. Having said that, for the type of user who’s going to be getting a MacBook Air, the more powerful M2 chip isn’t going to make a meaningful difference, and both chips offer plenty of processing power. And a lot of the other upgrades are nice to have, but they’re not deal-breakers.
So keep in mind that you can’t upgrade the internal storage or unified memory after buying one of these MacBooks, so you need to ensure that you have enough of both. I already mentioned getting 16 gigabytes of unified memory, which will cost you 200 bucks.
And depending on what you’ll be doing, you can store files in the cloud or on an external SSD. When it comes to upgrading the internal storage, look at the types of apps that you need for school and the types of files that you need to store locally, and then make your decision regarding an upgrade. Now, personally, I’d rather have a little more storage than I need than not have enough.
So for most students who are gonna get the MacBook Air, I would recommend saving some money and getting the M1 MacBook Air. It’ll have plenty of processing power. And because of the lower price point, you’ll be able to upgrade it to the specs that you need without getting too close to the MacBook Pro prices.
Now, if budget is not your primary concern and you want the latest features, get the M2 MacBook Air. And you can see a more detailed comparison of the two right here, as well as information about performance and the SSD issue with the M2 model that, in my opinion, isn’t really going to impact the majority of students as they head back to school. And talking about school and saving some money brings me to today’s sponsor, Best Buy, and their Back to School Top Deals.
Whether you’re shopping for yourself or for a student in your life, make sure that you first visit the Top Deals section of the website, where you can find the best deals Best Buy offers. You can get up to $250 off select MacBooks, and there are also some discounts on iPads. You can find great deals on laptops and computers from other manufacturers, as well as all of the accessories you’ll need. There are also fantastic deals on some really great TVs if that’s something that you’re looking to add to your room, and in either case, you may want to consider some over-the-ear headphones to help you block out any distractions and focus on studying, or watching movies, or listening to music.
If you’re looking for a fun way to get to and from school or just get around campus, you should check out some electric transportation options, maybe a new e-bike or an electric scooter. Just please remember to wear a helmet. So if you or a student in your life is heading back to school and you’re looking for some new tech or even personal care items, but you don’t wanna pay full price, check out Best Buy Back to School Top Deals for some great discounts.
Now, I want to talk about the MacBook Pro, and you might be surprised to see some things that will make you wanna upgrade, even if you don’t need the processing power. Now, there are four different models you can currently buy on the Apple website, and then we’ll get to how you can save some money. Starting out, we have the M1 and the M2 13-inch MacBook Pro models, which are not ones that I generally recommend to students. Unlike the MacBook Air, Apple essentially made no meaningful upgrades with the latest model other than a more powerful chip.
They have the same keyboard, same trackpad, ports, display, and camera. Pretty much everything is exactly the same. The M2 version starts at $1,300 with 256 gigabytes of internal storage and eight gigabytes of unified memory, which almost no user who needs a MacBook Pro should get. It’s just unlikely that you’re a more demanding user to the point where you need the sustained performance of a MacBook Pro. And at the same time, you don’t need storage or RAM. Now, once you upgrade to 16 gigabytes of unified memory and 512 gigabytes of storage, now you’re looking at $1,700, which is only $300 less than the 14-inch MacBook Pro. And I think this upgraded model is definitely worth the extra money for how long this device should last.
And I’ll return to this in just a minute because we can get the 14-inch MacBook Pro for less. The 13-inch MacBook Pro models do have fantastic battery life. It’s the best of any of the MacBooks. They’re the only model with a Touch Bar, which I really like, but I know a lot of you don’t. So if those two features are the absolute priority for you, I can see picking up one of these. And now, we get to what I call the real MacBook Pro.
And we have 14 and 16-inch models that can be specced the same way. So it essentially comes down to size. There are so many super important upgrades with these MacBooks, which, I think, make them worth the money. So, let me quickly cover them, starting with the chip. There are two options here: the M1 Pro and the M1 Max. And it comes down to CPU and GPU cores. The M1 Pro comes with either 8 or 10 CPU cores, and the M1 Max always comes with 10.
The M1 Pro comes with 14 or 16 GPU cores, and the M1 Max comes with 24 or 32. Essentially, the M1 Max is for the absolute, most demanding student who still wants a laptop. If you want a desktop, you should check out the Mac Studio that’s also offered with the M1 Ultra. Having said that, virtually every student can easily get everything done with a 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro chip. It starts out with 512 gigabytes of storage and 16 gigabytes of unified memory.
So, you’re already getting twice as much as the MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro models. I would still consider getting more unified memory if, for example, you’re a programming student who needs to run virtual machines or windows using Parallels, if you’re learning how to edit videos and you’re planning on doing a lot of visual effects, if you’re going to work with 3D modeling, or if you’re going to be working with music where you’ll need virtual instruments and a lot of plugins.
Remember that you can’t add unified memory later, so make sure you get enough. Now, the displays on these two MacBooks are awesome. These are liquid retina XDR displays, mini LEDs power them, and they’re absolutely and noticeably better than the MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro options. I’ve had every one of these laptops since the day they were released. Full disclosure, I bought them all with my own money, and when I first looked at the 14 and 16-inch displays, I was blown away.
I was opening the same photo and video files that I’ve been looking at for years, and they just looked amazing. We’re also getting ProMotion, Apple‘s 120 Hertz adaptive refresh rate, so animations and scrolling look much smoother. When it comes to ports, we’re getting three Thunderbolt 4 ports: two on the left and one on the right. And I definitely prefer this configuration because I can charge the laptop and plug in accessories from both sides.
We also have MagSafe, so we have fast and secure charging. And on top of that, there is an HDMI port, a headphone jack, and an SD card slot. So, I can just take the memory card out of my camera and plug it in without needing a hub or a card reader. And the more powerful Thunderbolt ports also mean that I have native support for multiple external displays, whereas, with any of the M1 or M2 MacBooks, I only have native support for one external monitor.
Now, many students are setting up dual display workstations to be more productive, so that’s something to keep in mind. Now, let’s get back to the size issue because it’s really important. Now, I love my 16-inch MacBook Pro to the point where I bring it with me when I travel instead of the 14-inch model. But, it is definitely bigger, and I would recommend that if you can, you go to a store, look at these two side-by-side, type on them, close them and pick them up, and make sure that you get the size that’s going to fit in your bag and work best for you.
I think that for most students, the 14-inch is the better option. It’s more portable, it’s incredibly powerful, and you can set it up with the same specs. And since it starts at $2,000 instead of 2,500, you can use some of that money for any upgrades you choose. And speaking of money, let’s talk about how you can save some cash. The first thing I already mentioned earlier in the video, go and check out the Best Buy link in the description.
Those prices were lower than what I found in the Apple Store, even in the Education Store. Next, you should consider getting a refurbished MacBook if the model you’re looking for is available. You can usually get a refurbished laptop with upgraded specs for the same cost as a new base model. For most students, I think that the choice comes down to the M1 MacBook Air or the 14-inch MacBook Pro. Now, you should check out this MacBook comparison.