It's that time again — getting the best MacBook for back to school can help students crush their academic goals and exams. Here are our top picks, and one to avoid at all costs.
As a student, you'll need a MacBook that can handle your assignments and fit your lifestyle. You need to think about how big and light you want your notebook to be, how much memory and storage you need, and how much money you are willing to spend.
The screen size will affect how much you can see on your notebook and how easy it is to carry around. You might prefer a smaller screen if you have to walk long distances throughout your campus or study in small spaces.
The processor speed will affect how well your notebook handles multiple tasks and applications. For example, you might need a faster processor if you regularly use and switch between heavy software programs.
We have tested many MacBooks at AppleInsider and know which ones are worth your money. Here are our top picks to help you ace your studies - and one that you should skip.
Best MacBook for back to school — portability and screen size
The M2 is more than enough power for daily tasks like reading emails, messaging, and browsing online. When we tested it, the 15-inch MacBook Air had the same single-core score as the much more expensive 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M2 Pro chip.
The 512GB version we tested wrote to disk at about 3,100 megabytes per second with reads at about 2,800 megabytes per second, and the 256GB version wrote and read at about 1,450 megabytes per second. The fast speed is more than enough for the entry-level market.
Even with all this power, the 15-inch MacBook Air is only 0.45 inches thick. It is 9.35 inches by 13.4 inches, which is very compact for its screen size.
This MacBook Air has a beautiful Liquid Retina display with 2,880 pixels by 1,864 pixels at 224 PPI. The display has rounded corners that match the shape of the notebook. The screen is brilliant and colorful, with 500 nits of brightness, a P3 color gamut, and True Tone technology.
The 15-inch display gives us more room to work with different windows, and we do not feel cramped like we sometimes did on the 13-inch Air. At the same time, it fits on our desk, lap, or coffee shop table without looking weird or bulky.
With a bigger screen than the 13-inch MacBook Air and lighter than the 14-inch MacBook Pro, you may prefer the 15-inch MacBook Air if you care about portability and screen size.
We think it is an incredible addition to the MacBook line.
The 15-inch MacBook Air M2 is on sale from $1,199, with easy price comparison across every configuration in our 15-inch MacBook Air Price Guide.
Best MacBook for back to school — processing power
If your class assignments require a lot of power, the 14-inch MacBook Pro is the best choice.
Apple updated the MacBook Pro in 2023 with the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips, giving it a mighty boost in performance. This power boost is ideal for students taking courses that involve demanding projects, such as video editing.
After using the 14-inch M2 Pro MacBook Pro, we were impressed by its capabilities. It had a great design, great specs, and — thanks to M2 Pro — a lot of power.
This MacBook Pro has the same external design as the previous model, but the new chips make a big difference. They offer more speed, memory, and graphics power than the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips.
The M2 Pro model has a lot of memory bandwidth at 200GB/s, and it has either a 10-core CPU with a 16-core GPU or a 12-core CPU with a 19-core GPU. These all make use of the Unified Memory system, which reduces data duplication by sharing memory.
The M2 Pro also has a 16-core Neural Engine that is 40% faster than the M1 version, and a Media Engine that is slightly faster too. You may not care about the speed when browsing the Internet, but you may appreciate it when exporting a project in Adobe Premiere.
Of course, if you want the ultimate performance, go for the M2 Max models. The M2 Max supports a maximum of 64GB of RAM and 400GB/s memory bandwidth.
The M2 Max has different options for the CPU and GPU, with a 10-core or 12-core CPU and a 16-core or 32-core GPU. You can also get up to 8TB of SSD storage. Apple says the GPU in the M2 Max is 30 percent faster than the one in the M1 Pro, and benchmarks agree.
You can check out our 14-inch MacBook Pro Price Guide for the best deals on every configuration. At press time, discounted prices start at $1,799.
Exclusive Deals Through AppleInsider
M2 MacBook Air 15-inch
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Best MacBook for back to school — the budget choice
The MacBook Air M1 is a budget-friendly option with incredible performance thanks to the M1 chip. It has impressive specs and configurations that can handle any task you throw at it.
We have tried out the basic and the upgraded versions of the M1 MacBook Air. The entry-level one has an 8-core M1 chip with a 7-core GPU, while the upgraded variant has an 8-core GPU.
You can get 1TB or 2TB of storage for either version. Both versions have 8GB of memory by default, but you can also go for 16GB.
M1 MacBook Air
Equipped with Apple's M1 chip, the 13.3-inch MacBook Air has Touch ID, two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports and offers up to 18 hours of battery life.
The M1 Air is fast in everyday use and perfect for busy students. When using it, we could open all the default apps in 14 seconds from clicking to ready-to-use.
The M1 Air can run iOS apps natively, which means you can use your favorite iPhone and iPad apps on your Mac. Many of Apple's software, such as Final Cut Pro, the Affinity Suite, Pixelmator Pro, and other tools, have been updated to run natively.
One of the best things about the M1 Air is that it has no fans. Although it is slightly slower than the 13-inch MacBook Pro with fans, we think it is worth it for most users who do not need that extra speed.
The MacBook Air is completely quiet when it works, and it makes any other fan noise seem very loud once you get used to the silence.
Worst MacBook for back to school — 13-inch MacBook Pro
The 13-inch MacBook Pro that Apple released in June 2022 has the new M2 chip, but that does not mean it is a good deal. We would advise you to avoid this model.
The new MacBook Air is almost the same as the 13-inch MacBook Pro but costs $100 less.
Both MacBook models have the same M2 chip, but the 13-inch MacBook Pro has a fan that helps it run slightly faster for longer. However, this does not matter much unless you need to do intensive tasks. The M2 MacBook Air is already fast and powerful enough for most students.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is not very impressive compared to the premium models of the MacBook Pro with even last-gen M1 Pro and M1 Max chips.
These models have larger screens (14-inch and 16-inch), better displays (mini-LED with ProMotion), more ports (HDMI, SD card slot, MagSafe), better speakers and microphones, and much faster processors and graphics. They are also much more costly but worth it if you need a professional notebook.
Besides the M2 chip, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is not very different from the 2020 model with the M1 chip. It has the same design, display, keyboard, speakers, microphone, and ports as the old model.
Also, it still has the Touch Bar, which Apple is replacing with regular function keys in the newer models.
We recommend you skip the 13-inch MacBook Pro with an M2 chip. It is a minor upgrade that does not match its price.
You should instead get the M2 MacBook Air if you want a slim and light notebook, or save up for the MacBook Pro M2 if you need more power.