EletiofeBest MacBooks (2023): Which Model Should You Buy?

Best MacBooks (2023): Which Model Should You Buy?

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in 2020, Apple’s MacBooks entered a new era. The company announced it was moving away from the Intel chips it had been using since 2006, and rolled out the first Macs with the Apple-designed M1. Cut to 2023 and the company now offers the choice between 11 custom processors, the latest of which is the M3 lineup—powering the new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro and the 24-inch iMac.

Just like Apple’s iPhones, the chips run on the ARM architecture and afford the company greater control over its hardware and software. These processors make Apple laptops both more powerful and more power-efficient, meaning greatly improved performance and battery life. You get other perks, like the ability to run mobile apps originally made for iOS. Despite all these advances, choosing a MacBook is still difficult. Here’s what you should spend your hard-earned money on.

Updated November 2023: We’ve added details on the new M3 chips and the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro. We also added a section for Honorable Mentions.

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Is It a Good Time to Buy?

If you need a new 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro or 24-inch iMac, now is a great time to buy, as they have the latest M3 chipset. The 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Air with M2 are perfectly capable machines, but they’re next in line to get the M3 treatment. According to a report from Bloomberg, Apple is planning to refresh the MacBook Air with the M3 chip between the spring and summer of 2024.

The Best for Most People

Apple MacBook Air (13 Inch, 2022)

Apple’s MacBook Air (7/10, WIRED Recommends) comes with a ton of upgrades both inside and out. The company officially ditched the signature wedge design for a boxier chassis. It comes in two newer colors—midnight and starlight—in addition to the traditional space gray and silver options. The display is also bigger and is equipped with an updated webcam. Coming in at 13.6 inches (it’s 13.3 inches on its predecessor), the screen has thinner borders, a brightness of 500 nits, and a notch that houses a 1080p camera.

Apple didn’t throw in additional ports, but the MacBook Air has the same MagSafe treatment as the high-end MacBook Pro models. Now you can attach the power cable magnetically to the laptop to charge it, freeing up both Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports. Speaking of, there’s support for fast charging if you purchase the 67-watt USB-C power adapter, which Apple claims can juice up the laptop up to 57 percent in 30 minutes. I only have to charge it after about eight hours of use. When working outdoors with the screen at full brightness, the battery usually lasts for about six hours.

Under the hood is Apple’s M2 chip, which offers a decent boost in performance compared to the original M1 processor. You get an 8-core CPU with the option to choose between an 8-core or 10-core GPU. I tested the model with an 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, and 8 GB of unified memory. The MacBook Air ran smoothly on standard workdays when I had apps like Slack, Spotify, Telegram, and Messages running simultaneously along with 10 to 15 tabs open on Google Chrome. However, I did notice its limitations on hectic days when I increased the tab count to 30. Whether I was switching tabs, scrolling, or minimizing and expanding windows, the experience felt sluggish. I even triggered the dreaded rainbow wheel a few times. My recommendation? Upgrade the unified memory to 16 gigs for a smoother experience.

The M2-powered Air is an ideal option for most people who need a reliable laptop for everyday tasks and a little bit more. If your workload is graphics-intensive, I suggest snagging one of the 14- or 16-inch MacBook Pro models below.


If You Want a Bigger Screen

Apple MacBook Air (15 Inch, 2023)

The 15-inch MacBook Air (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is the first large-screen option within the Air lineup. Seriously, you don’t need to splurge on a 14- or 16-inch MacBook Pro just to get a big display now. It packs all the same features as its smaller sibling (see above), including a redesigned chassis and a 1080p webcam. Even with the larger design, it remains thin and lightweight. At 3.3 pounds, it’s a little over a half-pound heavier than the 13-inch model and slightly lighter than the 14-inch MacBook Pro.

It’s powered by the same M2 chip, too, complete with an 8-core CPU and 10-core GPU. (Unlike the smaller MacBook Air, the base model comes with a 10-core GPU instead of 8.) If it’s within your budget, I highly recommend upgrading to at least 16 GB of unified memory. Having used the M2-powered 13-inch MacBook Air with 8 GB of memory over the past year, I’d often see the rainbow wheel whenever I’d have several tabs and windows open. This time, I tested the 15-inch MacBook Air with 16 GB of memory, and it handled 40 Chrome tabs, three separate windows, and multiple apps without any hiccups.

I’m also a fan of the improved speaker system. Instead of using the same quad-speaker setup as on the 13-inch model, this MacBook comes with a six-speaker system that includes two tweeters and two sets of force-canceling woofers. The difference is noticeable. It delivers better sound clarity, and I don’t have to crank it to max volume whenever I watch a movie. Another noticeable change? Battery life. Even though Apple claims both the 13-inch and 15-inch have up to 15 hours of wireless web browsing, I experienced better results with the larger model. I’d have to plug in the 13-inch MacBook after seven or eight hours of use, while the 15-incher hit 18 percent after about 10 hours of use.

I never once felt the need to connect the 15-inch MacBook Air to an external monitor, which is something I regularly did with the 13-inch model. If you spend all day working on a laptop and don’t mind toting a slightly larger machine—that’s still fairly lightweight—then it’s worth it.


Best Budget MacBook

Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

If you don’t want to spend too much, then stick with the MacBook Air (9/10, WIRED Recommends) that runs on the M1 chip from 2020. It remains one of the most powerful laptops you can get for the price, and mine is still going strong. It’s not the snazziest Apple laptop, but it lasts more than a full workday, with the battery hitting 22 percent after I ran it almost nonstop from 9 am to 7 pm using Safari and work apps like Slack. (I had to plug in the old Intel model by 4 pm.)

Unlike older MacBooks using Intel chips, this one can instantly wake up from sleep whenever you tap the keyboard or trackpad or lift the screen, just like when you tap your iPhone or iPad to wake it up. There’s no fan here, so it remains whisper-quiet even under the heaviest loads. There is a thermal heat spreader to dissipate heat, but it also never gets too warm.

It comes with 256 GB of storage, but you can upgrade to another model with an extra graphics core and 512 GB. Unless you need more storage, the extra core isn’t worth the jump in price. Instead, spend $200 more for 16 GB of RAM, which will let you run a greater number of apps simultaneously without slowdowns. My biggest gripes with this machine? The 720p webcam isn’t great. M1 and M2 Macs also natively support only one external monitor.


For Power-Hungry Port Lovers

Apple MacBook Pro (14 Inch and 16 Inch, Late 2023)

Less than a year after releasing the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro with the M2 Pro and M2 Max, Apple has already launched successors powered by the new M3 chips. In addition to the M3 Pro and M3 Max, you can now configure the 14-inch model with the entry-level M3 chip—replacing the 13-inch Macbook Pro, which Apple no longer sells through its store. The 16-inch can be paired with the M3 Pro or M3 Max. Apple also introduced a new Space Black color, which includes a special treatment that reduces fingerprint smudges, but it’s only available on high-end models.

Both sizes have the same chassis as their predecessors, which comes equipped with Mini LED screens (providing deeper blacks and rich color like on the iPad Pro) and a 120-Hz refresh rate for smoother-looking interactions. Apple did bump up the brightness by 20 percent, though. It packs a variety of ports, including an HDMI, three USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 (the 14-inch version with M3 has two), an SD card slot, a high-impedance headphone jack, and a MagSafe charging port. You’ll also get a 1080p webcam, a six-speaker sound system, and support for Wi-Fi 6E along with Bluetooth 5.3.

Of the three processor choice options, the M3 Pro and M3 Max are significantly more powerful than most people need. Editing 4K videos? Rendering 3D models in CAD? Producing music? That’s what these machines are intended for. If you’re mostly working through a web browser and typing up documents, these chipsets are overkill. You should opt for the M3-powered version instead. I (Brenda) have been testing the 14-inch MacBook Pro with this chip. Performance is smooth—even with multiple apps running simultaneously in the background (like Slack, Spotify, Messages, Notes, Zoom, and Telegram) and about 30 browser tabs open. I do recommend going for 16 gigabytes of RAM if you can swing it.

WIRED contributor Christopher Null tested the 16-inch MacBook Pro with an M3 Max (9/10, WIRED Recommends). He says the improvements are incremental but measurable compared to any prior-generation MacBook, noting that “with each benchmark [he] threw at the system, it blew everything else [he’s] ever tested out of the water.” Geekbench 6 scores were three to five times faster than new Intel-based PCs, and the Cinebench rendering test had the highest score he’s seen by 46 percent. When running benchmark tests in High Power Mode (a feature exclusive to the 16-inch MacBook Pro that enhances performance for more graphics-intensive projects), he didn’t see much of a difference aside from a Cinebench GPU test that improved by less than 10 percent.

As for battery life, the 16-inch MacBook Pro reached an impressive 19 hours and 20 minutes of YouTube video playback time on High Power Mode. After running three different power tests on a fully bright, all-white screen, the machine managed to hit just over 15 hours. The 14-inch MacBook Pro with M3 reached 22 hours of YouTube playback time. I (Brenda) had the brightness set to about 50 percent and toggled off automatic brightness and True Tone via the Settings. During a typical workday, I still had about 53 percent battery left after using the computer for almost seven hours straight. With the display settings toggled on, I would consistently hit about four or five hours before the machine tapped out. I recommend turning off those settings to optimize the battery life.

If you’re stuck on the exact combination to go with, we recommend the 16-inch MacBook Pro with an M3 Max chip for those who want a big display and excellent battery life. For intermediate content creators, the M3 Pro coupled with either size will suffice—the 14-inch MacBook Pro is similar in size to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, making it easier to travel with, but the 16-inch MacBook Pro might feel ginormous.

The 14-inch with M3, on the other hand, is ideal for anyone who wants a few of the “Pro” features but doesn’t want to spend nearly $2,000 to get it. Most people should just stick with the M2-powered MacBook Air models, but if you really want the 120-Hz screen refresh rate, extra ports, or the slight bump in power thanks to the built-in fan, then you’ll be more than happy with it.


Which M-Series Chip Is Right for You?

Photograph: Apple

Now that Apple offers not one but 11 in-house chipsets for MacBooks, choosing the right one might feel a bit overwhelming. It all depends on what you plan on using the MacBook for.

M1: This is the base-level chip of the lineup. It has an 8-core CPU and up to an 8-core GPU with support for up to 16 GB of unified memory (RAM) at an extra cost. It’s much faster than any previous Intel-powered MacBook Pro, and it is the practical choice for most people. It packs more than enough processing power to get you through common day-to-day tasks—even light gaming— and it can handle more intense jobs like photo and video editing. Only the MacBook Air from 2020 uses this chipset.

M1 Pro: The next step up is the M1 Pro. It has up to 10 cores in the CPU and up to a 16-core GPU, with up to 32 GB of unified memory. Apple says performance and graphics are both twice as fast as on the M1. We found it to be considerably more capable than the base chip, and it’s the ideal option for anyone who works heavily on MacBooks for music production or photo and video editing.

M1 Max: Like the M1 Pro, the M1 Max has a 10-core CPU but a heftier 32-core GPU (with support for up to 64 GB of unified memory). Apple says it’s four times faster than the M1 in terms of graphics. As proven in testing, this chip is extremely powerful, as it handled every heavy-duty task with ease. It’s the clear choice if you need a computer that can handle multiple streams of 8K or 4K video footage, 3D rendering, or developing apps and running demos. You probably already know if you need this much power.

Photograph: Apple

M1 Ultra: The M1 Ultra is the second-most-powerful of them all. It’s basically two M1 Max chips connected with a technology called UltraFusion. It packs a 20-core CPU, 64-Core GPU (which can be configured with up to 128 GB of unified memory), and 32-core neural engine—complete with seven times more transistors than the base M1. Even with the M2 Ultra now available, the M1 is plenty powerful and a great option for anyone who needs a heavy-duty processor for working with intense visuals and graphics. It’s available only on the first-generation Mac Studio, Apple’s beefy desktop computer, which Apple no longer sells directly through its site. You can still find it through third-party retailers, but we recommend purchasing it only at a discounted price.

M2: You might think the M2 is better than the M1 Pro or M1 Max, but you’d be wrong. It’s a base-level chip like the M1, with slightly more processing power. It packs an 8-core CPU and up to a 10-core GPU (two more GPU cores than its predecessor), along with support for up to 24 GB of unified memory. Apple says the second-generation chip has an 18 percent faster CPU and a GPU that’s 35 percent more powerful. The M2 is great for daily tasks like word processing and web browsing, but tasks like editing multiple streams of 4K footage and 3D rendering should be reserved for the M1 Pro or M1 Max (or the next two chips).

Photograph: Apple

M2 Pro: The M2 Pro is the next step up from the M2. It has up to 12 cores in the CPU and up to a 19-core GPU, with up to 32 GB of unified memory. Apple claims performance is up to 20 percent faster than the 10-core M1 Pro and graphics are 30 percent faster. We recommend this chip for intermediate video and photo editors. It’s a marginal upgrade compared to the M1 Pro, but it’s the best option for those who want a more future-proof processor.

M2 Max: The M2 Max packs up to a 12-core CPU and up to a 38-core GPU (with support for up to 96 GB of unified memory). According to Apple, graphics are 30 percent faster than the M1 Max. The M2 Max is an excellent choice for those who work with graphics-intensive content, including graphic design, 3D modeling, and heavy-duty video footage. But as with the M2 Pro, it’s an incremental upgrade if you’re coming from an M1 Max.

M2 Ultra: This is the successor to the M1 Ultra, making it the most powerful of them all. It’s available on the second-generation Mac Studio and the latest Mac Pro. Composed of two M2 Max chips, using Apple’s UltraFusion technology, the M2 Ultra has a 24-core CPU and a GPU configurable with 60 or 76 cores. Apple claims the CPU delivers up to 20 percent faster performance and a 30 percent faster GPU than the M1 Ultra. This is the chip to get if you’re working with extremely heavy-duty content that you believe the M1 Ultra, M2 Pro, or M2 Max simply won’t be able to handle. You’ll know if you need a chip this robust.

Photograph: Apple

The M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max are the newest additions to the existing lineup of M-series chips. Unlike its predecessors, which were built on 5-nanometer process technology, the M3 chips are built on a 3-nanometer process. This packs more transistors into a smaller space and enhances both power efficiency and the speed of the chip.

According to Apple, all three processors offer significant improvements in CPU core functions and graphics rendering. They come with a few features new to Apple silicon too, including dynamic caching, ray tracing, and mesh shading—all of which you can read more about here. Below, we break down the difference between these three chips.

M3: This is the newest entry-level chipset. It packs an 8-core CPU and up to 10-core GPU with 24 gigabytes of unified memory. When compared to the M1, Apple claims CPU performance is up to 35 percent faster and GPU performance is up to 65 percent faster. The company says the CPU and GPU are both 20 percent faster than the M2. As with the M1 and M2, it’s great for basic tasks like word processing, sending emails, using spreadsheets, and light gaming. It’s available on the 14-inch MacBook Pro (late 2023) and 24-inch iMac (2023).

M3 Pro: As the successor to the M2 Pro, this is technically now the second-most-powerful chipset. But with a 12-core CPU and an 18-core GPU, Apple claims the M3 Pro’s GPU is only up to 10 percent faster—making this a marginal upgrade from last year’s version. Compared to the M1 Pro, however, the M2 Pro is up to 40 percent faster in GPU performance and 20 percent faster in CPU performance. It’s available on the latest 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro. It’s the ideal in-between for those who need a chip that’s more powerful than the M3 but won’t utilize the full power of the M3 Max.

M3 Max: This is the next step up from the M2 Max and the most powerful of the three latest chips. It has a 16-core CPU, 40-core GPU, and up to 128 gigabytes of unified memory. According to Apple, the CPU performance is up to 80 percent faster than the M1 Max and up to 50 percent faster than the M2 Max. As for GPU performance, it’s said to be up to 50 percent faster than the M1 Max and 20 percent faster than the M2 Max. The M3 Max is available on the latest 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro. We recommend this chip if you’re still on an older Intel-powered Mac and mainly use your machine for working with graphics-intensive content.

Honorable Mentions

Photograph: Apple

Apple releases new MacBooks at a somewhat quick pace, so you might feel inclined to buy the latest and greatest. But these slightly older models are still good options, as long as you find them on sale for the right price. Apple no longer sells them directly, but we recommend checking third-party retailers (like Amazon, Best Buy, or B&H). Just cross-check the price with the latest models and make sure you’re spending decidedly less on the older machine.

  • MacBook Pro (13 Inch, 2022): This is the best option if you want the Touch Bar at the top of the keyboard, since it’s the last model to come equipped with one. Under the hood is an M2 chip, which performed fairly well in our tests but did feel sluggish at times—the laptop stuttered a bit while editing video footage and photos. But unlike the MacBook Air, it has a fan, which allows it to eke out more power over a longer period. It’s helpful if you’re working on pro-level tasks but can’t spend the premium that Apple charges for its bigger Pro models. We only recommend it if you can find it for $1,000 or less.
  • MacBook Pro (14 Inch and 16 Inch, Early 2023): If you don’t want to spend a ton of money on the latest 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro (9/10, WIRED Recommends), the M2 Pro and M2 Max (which only launched earlier this year) are more than capable for handling intensive, graphically demanding production work. In our testing, both the 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M2 Pro and the 16-inch MacBook Pro with the M2 Max delivered smooth performance and playback after being put through stress tests (like editing 4K and RED Raw footage, as well as adding 3D effects). We recommend only snagging this one for around $1,800 or less.
  • MacBook Pro (14 Inch and 16 Inch, 2021): These MacBooks (8/10, WIRED Recommends), powered by the M1 Pro and M1 Max, were the start of a new era for Apple’s high-end machines. The company introduced a redesigned chassis with more ports, a 120-Hz refresh rate, and a MagSafe port. Even though these launched in late 2021, you don’t have to steer clear of them—both processors are still plenty powerful. In our testing, we found the M1 Max felt one-to-one with the $6,000-plus Mac Pro. It didn’t struggle at all while editing heavy-duty footage. However, it’s growing increasingly tough to find in stock at third-party retailers. If you do manage to find one, we suggest only purchasing it if it’s on sale for around $1,500 or less.

Quirks and Issues

Photograph: iFixit

There are eccentricities and problems with Apple’s laptops that you should know about before you buy.

Bland Touch Bar: When Apple debuted the Touch Bar in late 2016, it touted the thin touchscreen strip above the keyboard as the next generation of user input. This shift didn’t pan out. There was little interest from third-party software designers in doing anything innovative with the tiny display. Most of Apple’s newest MacBooks do not have the Touch Bar anymore, a clear indicator that the company is moving away from it. The company only sells one MacBook with it now.

Palmy trackpad: Apple’s trackpads are among the best in the computer business, but with the newest MacBooks these input devices have been blown up to unbelievable proportions and crammed against the bottom edge of the keyboard, right where you rest your palms while typing. Although there’s supposed to be intelligent palm rejection software at work, the trackpads are susceptible to accidental input.

Parched for ports: Aside from the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, the rest of Apple’s MacBooks feature one port type: USB-C (usually only two). It might not work with some of the devices you own. You’ll want to invest in a few adapters if you plan on hooking your computer up to a projector or want to use things like USB drives and SD cards.

MacBooks to Avoid

Photograph: Apple

Older MacBooks with butterfly keyboards (2015-2019): Apple’s notorious first- to third-generation “butterfly switch” keyboards are gone from the entire current MacBook lineup. And good riddance. Former WIRED editor Jeffrey Van Camp and senior writer Lauren Goode both had multiple issues with the 2017 Pro keyboard. If you’re buying an older-model MacBook, Apple does replace the keyboards for free and did add extra dust guards to the late-2018 and early-2019 models. Apple has detailed instructions on how to clean the old keyboard if yours gets flaky, which is a decent first line of defense against busted keys. Apple also extended its keyboard repair program to cover repairs on all Macs that have been purchased between 2015 and 2019, regardless of warranty status. Still, unless you’re getting it really cheap, we suggest sticking with the newer models that feature the much-better Magic Keyboard and the newer, more advanced processors.

The old MacBook Air models (with a silver bezel): Apple’s slim laptop was groundbreaking when it debuted in 2008. Unfortunately, the MacBook Air didn’t undergo many changes until 2018. These older Airs rock a dowdy-looking, non-Retina screen and weak Intel chips that are years old. The old laptops might not require the dongles that a newer MacBook might, but the newer laptops will undoubtedly feel faster for longer. Don’t let their lower price tag tempt you—there are way better laptops you can nab for that kind of cash. How to spot it: The older Air has a thick silver border (bezel) around its screen instead of the black glass of the new models.

The old 16-inch MacBook Pro from 2019: This is a fine laptop that’s not too old, but its price makes no sense when compared to the new 16-inch MacBook Pro. You’re much better off sticking with the new M2 Pro= or M2 Max-powered 16-inch MacBook. How to spot it: The product name usually includes “Intel.”

2020 Intel-powered MacBook Air and MacBook Pro: These models have been completely eclipsed by the late 2020 models with Apple’s M-series chips, from performance to battery life. They’re only worth buying if you can snag them for well under $500. Anything close to $900 and you should just pay up for the MacBook Air with M1. It’s superior.

Get AppleCare+

None of Apple’s MacBooks are cheap, and replacement parts are nightmarishly expensive. Since the entire computer is fully integrated into Apple’s tightly designed aluminum chassis, you’re one coffee spill away from a shockingly large repair bill. This is why Apple’s AppleCare+ is worth it—starting at $100, AppleCare extends your factory warranty to three years, gives you matching telephone support, and throws in two accidental damage repairs as well. After paying a minimum $99 service fee, whatever you did to zap your shiny new Mac will be undone, and you’ll be back to hammering away on your keyboard.

Education Discounts

Apple always offers small discounts on hardware for students and teachers. All you need to do is purchase something through Apple’s Education Store, choose the product you want (you should see the discounted pricing), and go through the motions to place the order like normal. You don’t need to show any proof that you’re a student at the time of purchase, but you should be honest, as Apple can email you at a later date and ask for verification.

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