Pixelbliss - Fotolia


How to choose the right Mac for business

Despite a smaller selection than Windows PCs, finding the right macOS device can still be challenging. Learn more about the available options and how they compare.

While Windows PCs have long been the default for enterprise desktops, Apple laptops and desktops have grown increasingly commonplace in many business settings.

This shift stems from a few key factors such as the rise of the cloud, the popularity and functionality of the iPhone and a more robust and sophisticated Apple device ecosystem. However, knowing which model is the best Mac for business can still be challenging. To make the right choice, decision-makers must understand what Apple offers and how the models differ. Here are seven of today's top Apple computers.

Benefits of MacBooks in a business setting

Although Windows continues to dominate in the workplace, Mac computers have been making steady inroads into business settings and home offices. Apple has developed a reliable ecosystem that ensures its hardware, operating system and software seamlessly deliver an exceptional user experience.

In addition to the basics, Mac computers come with several free applications, including productivity tools such as Pages, Numbers and Keynote. The computers also participate in Apple's device ecosystem, enabling users to work seamlessly across their iPhones, iPads and Mac computers. For example, they can easily transfer files from one device to another or automatically sync Safari browser bookmarks across their Apple devices. Additionally, Apple carefully vets third-party software before it becomes available in the App Store, helping to ensure the software's reliability and security. The App Store also makes it easy for users to install software or reinstall it when moving to new Mac systems.

Although Mac computers are still vulnerable to attack, they tend to be more secure than Windows computers; they haven't been as susceptible to malware and cyber attacks. This is partly because Apple controls both the hardware and OS, making it possible to implement more unified data protection. At the same time, Mac computers require less hands-on support than Windows machines, freeing up IT to focus on other concerns. The macOS operating system also includes built-in mobile device management features that third-party management systems can use. Apple also now offers the Business Manager program, which provides IT administrators with a web portal to deploy Apple devices.

Despite these benefits, Mac computers have a reputation for being an expensive investment, which is why cost plays a significant role in choosing the best Mac for business. However, Mac computers can potentially help an organization save money over the long term. They require fewer IT resources to manage and maintain them, resulting in lower support and personnel costs. In addition, they impose no OS licensing fees, even when it comes time to upgrade to a newer OS version.

MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

The latest MacBook Air is Apple's thinnest and lightest laptop. It measures 11.97 inches by 8.36 inches, weighs only 2.8 pounds and includes a 13.3-inch display with 2560x1600 native resolution. The MacBook Air runs on the Apple M1 chip and comes with an 8-core CPU (four performance cores and four efficiency cores). The notebook can support up to 16 GB of memory and 2 TB of storage, and it promises up to 18 hours of battery life.

Although Windows continues to dominate in the workplace, Mac computers have been making steady inroads into business settings and home offices.

The Air's transition to the M1 chip has proven smoother than expected, while still delivering its performance promises. Apple has also eliminated the internal fan, reducing power consumption and providing a quieter machine. The MacBook Air is available in two configurations, each packing strong performance into a very compact package. The base model starts at $899, comes with a 7-core GPU and includes 256 GB of storage. The higher-end model starts at $1,149 and offers an 8-core GPU and 512 GB of storage. Unfortunately, the Air still comes with only a 720p camera, does not support Face ID or touch screen capabilities and is limited to only two Thunderbolt ports and one headphone jack.

Even so, the MacBook Air can be ideal for on-the-go business users who need a powerful machine in a small package, whether they're commuting every day or traveling for business. The Air can support task workers who carry out repetitive processes using productivity applications such as Microsoft Word or Excel. Additionally, it is a suitable option for knowledge workers who require a high degree of portability, as long as they're not running processing-intensive applications such as advanced multimedia or video editing programs. The lack of a fan can make it difficult to sustain high-performing software without needing to throttle down. But the MacBook Air is more than adequate to show Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, run applications simultaneously, maintain multiple browser tabs or carry out a variety of other day-to-day operations.

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

The latest 13-inch MacBook Pro comes with the M1 chip, an 8-core CPU and an 8-core GPU. It also includes 8 GB of memory and 256 GB of SSD storage with options to configure with 16 GB of memory and up to 2 TB of storage. In addition, the MacBook Pro has a 13.3-inch Retina display, a 720p HD camera and two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. The laptop also comes with Apple's Touch Bar, which replaces the standard function keys, and it supports Touch ID. The 13-inch Pro starts at $1,199.

The Apple Store lists two configurations for the MacBook Pro 13-inch, but when you deck them out with all the available features, they come out as the same machine. The main difference between them is that the base model starts with 256 GB of storage, and the other starts with 512 GB. The laptop weighs only 3 pounds and is about the same size as the MacBook Air, but not as thin. It also offers longer battery life -- up to 20 hours, according to Apple. In addition, the Pro includes a fan, which makes it possible to run high-performance applications for longer.

Some of the main complaints about the Pro are the same as the MacBook Air -- only two Thunderbolt ports, a 720p camera and no touch screen capabilities. Another concern is that the Pro is limited to 16 GB of memory and supports only one external display.

Although the MacBook Pro is slightly thicker and heavier than the MacBook Air, it is still well-suited to those on the go, especially if they need the additional battery power or are running applications that require more sustained performance. The Pro can easily handle virtualized applications on a platform such as Parallels Desktop while juggling multiple macOS applications and a browser full of open tabs. Although the Pro isn't suited for heavy day-to-day operations, such as power users working on complex, graphics-intensive software, it is a versatile machine that can move easily from one environment to the next. For many knowledge workers and perhaps some power users, the 13-inch Pro might be the best MacBook for business.

MacBook Pro 16-inch (2019)

Apple's M1 chip is unbeatable when it comes to performance in a MacBook laptop. Unfortunately, it is not currently available in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Instead, the larger system comes with an Intel Core i9 processor and can support up to 64 GB of memory and 8 TB of storage. However, its expected battery life is only around 11 hours. The Pro starts at $2,199 but can quickly add up to $6,079 if you max out the processor, graphics, memory and storage options, making it a fairly robust choice.

The 16-inch Pro is available in two basic configurations. The main difference between them is the processor options. The base model comes with a 2.6GHz 6‑core 9th‑generation Intel Core i7 processor, and the higher-end model includes a 2.3GHz 8‑core 9th‑generation Intel Core i9 processor. However, they can both be upgraded to a 2.4GHz 8‑core 9th‑generation Intel Core i9 processor, providing users with a powerful machine. The Pro also comes with a 16-inch Retina display, includes Apple's Touch Bar and supports Touch ID. However, it weighs 4.3 pounds, is much bulkier than the 13-inch model and has a much shorter battery life, although its memory and storage capabilities far surpass the 13-inch.

The MacBook Pro 16-inch is a solid workhorse that can benefit business users who need a laptop with decent screen size and a lot of memory and storage but still require some degree of portability. The 16-inch Pro also comes with four Thunderbolt ports, making it easier to support peripheral devices. The system can be a good fit for knowledge workers and even some power users, as long as they can live without the extra performance boost that the M1 chip provides. That said, the 16-inch Pro can still deliver excellent performance, especially when running the 8-core processor.

IMac 24-inch (M1, 2021)

The iMac 24-inch comes in two models, both with the M1 chip, an 8-core CPU and a 24-inch 4.5K Retina display. Each model starts with 8 GB of memory but can upgrade to 16 GB. The main differences between them are the GPUs, number of ports and amount of storage they'll support. The base model includes a 7-core GPU and two Thunderbolt ports, with the option to upgrade to 1 TB of storage. The higher-end model includes an 8-core GPU, two Thunderbolt ports, two USB 3 ports, gigabit Ethernet and can also be upgraded to 2 TB of storage.

The base model starts at $1,249, and the four-port model starts at $1,399. There are two configurations in the four-port category, with one option starting with 256 GB of SSD storage and the other with 512 GB. When they're both maxed out, they come to the same price -- $2,319. This cost might seem steep, but there's much to like about the 24-inch iMac. Its sleek design, low footprint, exceptional display, M1 performance and 1080p HD camera make this a desktop to please most users. However, even the higher-end model has a limited port selection and is expensive when you max out the memory and storage. In addition, neither model can support more than 16 GB memory, nor can its height be adjusted.

Apple iMac 24-inch specs

Even so, the 24-inch iMac offers plenty for a wide range of users -- depending on budget and use cases. It is probably overkill for most task workers and kiosk users, but it can be an excellent fit for knowledge workers who participate in video calls, create presentations, collaborate on projects, multi-task across applications or work with sophisticated applications such as customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. Some power users might also benefit from the 24-inch iMac, but it depends on their memory, storage and screen size requirement requirements, as well as on the applications they run.

IMac 27-inch (2020)

Apple's 27-inch iMac has been a favorite among desktop users for many years, and its 2020 upgrade continues that tradition with a desktop that's more powerful than ever. The system comes with a 5K Retina 27-inch display, a 1080p HD camera, two Thunderbolt ports and four USB-A ports. It is possible to customize it with up to 128 GB of memory, and it can support one or two external monitors. Gigabit Ethernet is standard on this computer, but customers can upgrade to 10Gb Ethernet.

The 27-inch iMac is available in three configurations, which are distinguished by the processor. The base model includes a 3.1GHz 6‑core 10th-generation Intel Core i5; the midrange model can use either a 3.3GHz 6-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 or 3.6GHz 10-core 10th-generation Intel Core i9; and the high-end model comes with a 3.8GHz 8-core 10th-generation Intel Core i7 or 3.6GHz 10-core 10th-generation Intel Core i9. The high-end system can also support up to 8 TB of storage and offers several graphics card options unavailable to the other models. The base system starts at $1,799; the midrange system starts at $1,999; and the high-end model starts at $2,299.

Knowledge workers and even many power users will be quite at home with this system. The 27-inch iMac shares many of the benefits of the 24-inch system but offers a larger screen size and greater memory and storage capabilities. Analysts, developers, graphic artists and other professionals can choose the level of performance and storage they need to meet their requirements. But these systems don't come cheap. A 27-inch iMac with a 10-core processor, 128 GB of memory, 8 TB of storage, 10Gb Ethernet and a Radeon Pro 5700 XT graphics card with 16 GB of memory comes to a whopping $7,499, which is steep for a system with limited configuration options. In addition, Apple has not changed its design in the last five years, and the heavy bezels have grown outdated.

Mac mini (M1, 2020)

The Mac mini stands out compared to other available options. Apple updated the mini in 2020, incorporating the M1 chip, an 8-core CPU, an 8-core GPU and Wi-Fi 6. The system also comes with 8 GB of memory but supports 16 GB. Apple offers the mini in two configurations, with the main difference being that one starts with 256 GB of storage and the other starts with 512 GB. However, they can both be configured with 2 TB of storage and 10Gb Ethernet, bringing the cost to $1659 for either configuration -- quite a leap from the $699 starting price.

All you get with the mini is the box itself and the power cord. The device measure 7.7 inches by 7.7 inches by 1.4 inches and includes an Ethernet port, two Thunderbolt ports, two USB-A ports, an HDMI port and a headphone jack. Users must provide a display, camera, keyboard, trackpad, mouse or any other peripherals they might need. While the cost of these can quickly add up, users can end up with a powerful system that is suited to their requirements. The mini has fewer ports than the previous version and does not support upgrades after the initial configuration.

The Mac mini can be a good fit for people who work at home but don't need the portability of a Mac laptop, although the mini can be just as useful in an office setting. Not only does it offer M1 performance, but it also lets users, or decision-makers, choose the peripherals they want, which can be especially important for those who need special displays. For task and knowledge workers who need a simple setup to carry out their day-to-day operations, the Mac mini might be just the ticket. It can be especially beneficial to individuals who already have quality monitors and want to leverage their investments.

Mac Pro (2019)

Like the Mac mini, the Mac Pro is a box that comes with a Magic Mouse, Magic Keyboard and USB-C to Lightning cable. The Mac Pro is available as a tower or rack, with prices starting at $5,599 and $6,099, respectively. The base configuration for either model comes with a 3.5GHz 8‑core Intel Xeon W processor, 32 GB of memory, a Radeon Pro 580X graphics card with 8 GB of memory and 256 GB of SSD storage. However, you can max out the system with a 28-core processor, 1.5 TB of memory, two Radeon Pro Vega II Duo graphics cards, 8 TB of storage and the Apple Afterburner card, raising the price to over $48,000.

The Mac Pro is a workstation that was engineered to support demanding workloads. Unlike other Mac computers, the Mac Pro provides 360-degree access to all components. It also includes three fans, a blower and internal ducts to create distinct pressure zones to maximize the system's thermal capacity. In addition, the workstation supports two MPX modules or up to four PCI Express (PCIe) card slots, including three full-length PCIe slots. It also comes with two 10Gb Ethernet ports, two Thunderbolt ports and two USB 3 ports. The system weighs nearly 40 pounds.

The workstation is a reliable and efficient machine that can handle sustained performance demands daily. It is not a machine for the average worker but rather the power user running performance-intensive applications such as advanced video or audio recording and editing software. It can also benefit individuals working in 3D modeling and rendering, computer-aided design or other graphics-intensive applications. Individuals working with advanced analytics and artificial intelligence might also benefit from the Mac Pro.

Next Steps

What are the best file managers for Mac devices?

Comparing iPhone vs. Android for business

Dig Deeper on Desktop management

Virtual Desktop