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Which Apple MacBook Air, iMac or Retina MacBook Pro should I buy19 June at 13:08 from atlas
Congratulations on your fine choice of Apple hardware. These products really are the best designed and engineered systems on the market.
If you're considering buying directly from the Apple online store, you'll get the most choice in hardware as the online store offers Built To Order (BTO) configurations that regular stores don't normally carry.
So presuming you've narrowed down your choice of family line along these lines.
Apple MacBook Air - small, light weight, great all day battery life, don't need one of the more powerful MacBook Pros with the Retina display.
Apple iMac - powerful desktop unit with great HD 21" or 27" screens.
Apple Retina MacBook Pro - portable, powerful, with great connectivity options and an awesome retina super high definition LED LCD screen.
Apple MacBook Air 2012
Is now Apple's entry level Mac since the White plastic MacBook line was discontinued. You have a choice of the smaller and most portable 11" screen or the more viewable 13" screen.
Memory options include a base 4GB of RAM which is baseline and just enough for today for basic email, web browsing and document creation. Recommend the 8GB option to "future proof" your purchase and reduce load on the flash storage which in low free memory situation will be paging and slowing performance.
The processor choice is either the base model dual core i5 or the optional dual core i7 with higher speed and slightly larger cache for a bit more processing performance. For most users, the extra RAM is money better spent over the CPU, but if you want the best performance or do some light photo editing or other processor intensive tasks, go with the i7.
The last consideration is SSD storage which is home to your photos, music, videos, documents and apps. The base 128GB is adequate for a lot of people, with optional 256 or 512GB capacities. My advice here is go with the option that bests suits your needs. You can always buy a 1TB external USB3 powered drive for extra capacity / backups etc, so I wouldn't be concerned with the SSD capacity given the ability to move larger files and media libraries to fast external solutions.
Apple iMac 2012
This is one powerful and sleek all in one Mac. After you decide on your preferred screen size - 21" or 27" you have a few more important choices to make.
Memory in this new 21" iMac is practically non-upgradable. There is no RAM access door on the bottom of the system like in iMacs from 2008 - 2011. As the RAM is located behind the LCD screen which is now held in place by adhesive, the cost of upgrading RAM aftermarket outweighs the cost of Apple's BTO memory at time of purchase. Recommendation - Your 21" iMac comes with 8GB of RAM and if you do any sort of video or large format photo editing, considering going to 16GB for the 21".
The 27" iMac has a user accessible RAM door behind the Aluminium pedestal and is configurable up to 32GB for the 27" option. Recommend going with 8GB memory and purchasing quality aftermarket RAM to avoid the Apple Tax.
Processor options for the 2012 iMac's are numerous. The 21" models receive Intel Core i5 units with 6MB of L3 cache at base speeds from 2.7 to 2.9GHz. 27" models receive Intel Core i5 units with 6MB of L3 cache at 2.9 or 3.2GHz.
Optionally the 21" can receive an i7 3.1GHz CPU with the 27" optionally receiving an i7 3.4GHz.
Anyone considering working with video editing would be best opting for the Core i7 processors with hyper threading and large L3 cache for extra processing performance.
Serious video editors will opt for the 27" iMac with i7 processor as the discrete graphics options for the 27" models is a superior unit to what the 21" models offers.
Speaking of graphics, NVIDIA GeForce GT is standard issue. The 21" gets either the 640M or 650M version with 512MB of GDDDR5 memory. The 27" base model starts with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M with 512MB of GDDR5 memory, optionally to the 675MX card with 1GB GDDR5 memory or best specification GFX680MX with 2GB GDDR5 memory.
What you do with your iMac will dictate your choice of graphics chipset and for the average user I see no reason to opt up for the higher spec cards.
Storage options. Numerous configurations here also. Base configuration for the 21" is 1TB internal slow spin hard drive, base configuration for the 27" is 1TB fast spin hard drive. Two important things to consider with storage in 2012 iMac - practically non upgradable due to location behind the screen underneath the logic board. Best to purchase an option you can live with for the life of your iMac. Recommend upgrading to some flash storage to improve outright performance. Either go with the Fusion drive option or straight out SSD. 27" BTO options include hard drives up to 3TB, 1TB or 3TB Fusion drives or 256 / 512 / 768GB Flash storage (Solid State Drives) With Thunderbolt connectivity and USB3, media can be stored externally at internal speeds. Have no fear going with an SSD only option given the external connectivity offered by the iMac.
Retina MacBook Pro 2012
Need portability and power? Welcome the MacBook Pro with Retina display. The 13" model new to 2012 is likely going to be a popular choice with consumers as the 13" MacBook Pro is the most popular Mac.
Memory is soldered onto the logic board so pick your memory now as there will be no easy aftermarket upgrades unless you are very handy with a soldering iron and don't mind risking damaging your very expensive Mac. 13" models come standard with 8GB only. If you need more opt for the 15" model with 8GB base and 16GB optional of the best configuration.
CPU choice is easy. The 13" is dual core only with base Intel Core i5 dual core and optionally i7 dual core. If you need quad core, the 15" is a must have with standard quad core i5 and optional best configuration of i7 2.8GHz with 8MB of L3 cache for superior processing power.
The 13" rMBP solely uses Intel HD4000 integrated graphics where the 15" uses both integrated and discrete NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M with 1GB GDDR5 memory. If gaming is on the agenda, best opt for the 15".
Lastly storage - Flash drives options for the 13" start from 128 to 768GB and the 15" starts at 256 with options to 768GB. With Super-fast USB3 and Thunderbolt connectivity, you may not want to go for the large SSD as external storage will be readily available.
As the memory and storage is becoming more integrated into these machines, the question of serviceability and possible repair costs needs to be addressed. From a technician point of view, all these items discussed are toasters. Once broken and out of warranty, you may as well throw them out and by a new one as you'd do for a faulty toaster.
To protect your investment past the 12 month warranty, I personally recommend purchasing Apple Care 3 year warranty as peace of mind in case of a hard drive failure after 12 months. Also I highly recommend extending your household insurance to accidental damage on your Mac. I have seen so many Macs come in with liquid damage from spilt water, tea, coffee, coca cola, beer, wine, rain and seawater that it becomes a necessary investment for your expensive Mac.
Happy Computing :-)