MacBook Pro vs. iMac: Which one's right for you?
We break down the pros and cons of the iMac and MacBook Pro.
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If you can’t choose between the iMac 24-inch and the MacBook Pro 13, you’re not alone. Both computers run on Apple’s M1 processor, and both cost around $1,299. The choice boils down to features and form factor. Do you want a large display that’s comfortable to use for hours on end and easy to share with the whole family? Or do you want a laptop you can move around the house, airport, or coffeeshop with no fuss whatsoever?
Performance and Speed
Because the MacBook Pro 13 and the iMac share the same M1 processor, their performance is virtually identical. Compared to most laptops running on midrange AMD and Intel processors, Macs have better performance and better battery life than the competition. If you need a Mac for heavy productivity and light 3D applications, such as Adobe Creative Cloud software, you shouldn’t have a problem with either of the Mac desktops.
However, there is a caveat. The base iMac 24-inch has fewer graphics processing cores than the MacBook Pro 13 (seven cores instead of eight cores). In real-world applications, this missing core hardly makes a difference—it averages about three fewer frames per second in World of Warcraft on medium settings, for instance—but it could affect your workflow if you will use your computer a lot for graphics-heavy applications. Conversely, you can always upgrade the MacBook Pro 13 to the MacBook Pro 14 or MacBook Pro 16 if you need more power, as both the 14 and 16-inch models offer the M1 Pro and M1 Max processors.
Our pick: Draw
Portability and Shareability
Unsurprisingly, the biggest differences between the iMac and the MacBook Pro arise from their form factor. The iMac is an all-in-one desktop: It must always be connected to a power outlet, but in return, you get a 24-inch display and very loud speakers. If you want a PC you can share with the family, the larger display and tethered location make more sense.
Meanwhile, the MacBook Pro 13 is a laptop with a 13-inch display. There is nothing preventing you from sharing the MacBook Pro with others, but you may end up misplacing the laptop or taking it out of the house with you when the other person needs it. That’s also the advantage of a laptop: you are not tied to a desk, meaning you can work from your favorite cafe or your bed if need be.
The MacBook Pro 13 is especially good for portability, as it’s thin, lightweight, and has a 13-hour battery life. Even if you need to use Adobe Premiere all day, you will still get a full workday’s worth of use from the laptop before you need to recharge. Right now, it’s one of the laptops with the longest battery life on the market.
Our pick: Draw
Ports and Features
Even though the iMac and the MacBook Pro are for very different use cases, their feature set is surprisingly similar. The base model for both the iMac and MacBook Pro only comes with two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack. For wireless connectivity, they support Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi 6. Because they use the same processor, they also share the same screen support. Each computer can run one 6K resolution display at 60Hz and one 4K display at 60Hz simultaneously. From there, things begin to diverge a bit, starting with the ports selection.
However, if you don’t mind spending a bit more money for an upgraded model, the $1,499 iMac adds two Thunderbolt 3 ports and an Ethernet port. You also won’t miss your MacBook’s keyboard or mouse: the iMac ships with the Magic Keyboard, Magic Mouse, and Magic Trackpad. The upgraded Magic Keyboard has TouchID, and the Magic Mouse and Trackpad have swipe features identical to those on the MacBooks’ trackpads. The only feature you won’t find on an iMac is the Touch Bar, which is still a MacBook Pro 13 exclusive.
One feature the iMac does upgrade over the slightly older MacBook Pro 13 is the webcam. The MacBook Pro 13 has the same old 720p webcam as last generation’s MacBook Pro 13. Meanwhile, the iMac has an improved 1080p webcam with better camera AI than ever to bring crisp, vivid video to your calls. Both the iMac and the MacBook Pro 13 have a Retina display, but the iMac’s is brighter and bigger, so it may be the better choice for stationary content creators.
Our pick: Draw
Both the iMac 24-inch and MacBook Pro 13 retail for $1,299, but you will have an easier time finding a discount on the MacBook. We’ve seen it go as low as $1,099. We haven’t seen such steep discounts on the iMac yet, but the upside is that the iMac comes with a lot more color options than the MacBook Pro 13 (both the MacBook and the iMac come with the same hardware options).
Our pick: Draw
And the winner is…
It’s impossible to declare a winner here. The MacBook Pro 13 and iMac 24-inch are identical in their performance, and they provide all the features you’d want from their intended experience. The MacBook Pro 13 is a perfect travel companion, as it’s thin, light, and its battery lasts virtually forever. Meanwhile, the iMac is an excellent desktop PC, as its larger display, loud speakers, and comfortable mouse and keyboard make it a pleasure to use at home. They both retail for the same price, too.
This choice boils down to whether you want a laptop or a desktop. If you need a PC you can carry with you wherever you go, you prefer smaller screens to work with, or you hate desktops, then the MacBook Pro 13 is perfect for you. On the other hand, if you plan on sharing your PC, want a big screen to play back videos and images, or you like to work from your desk, then the iMac would provide a better experience.
Buy the MacBook Pro 13 for $1,299 from Amazon
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.