How fast a Mac do I need is a question our readers often ask. It depends on why you want a Mac. Which is the best Mac for video editing, is different to the best Mac for web design. In this feature, we look at common tasks like gaming, music making and programming and determine which Mac for you should buy.
The Mac you should buy should be fast enough to perform the task you need to do. While you can never have too much Apple Mac, so to speak, you can get more Mac than you need. You don’t need a new Mac Pro costing £2, 495 just to use Facebook. However you might want to consider it if you’re in the business of video editing and time is money.
So how fast a Mac you need depends on the task you want to do with your Mac. We’ve put together a list of common usage tasks and the Mac, and speed of Mac you should consider.
How fast a Mac do I need for video editing?
Video editing is one of the most demanding tasks you can perform with a Mac. A faster Apple Mac will enable you to render video more quickly. If you’re looking to edit high definition video in Final Cut Pro X we advise you to go for Macs with Intel i7 processors. Final Cut Pro X makes good use of the Hyper-Threading in the Intel i7 CPU to render video faster. You’ll also need a Mac with a large amount of storage space. A good budget option is the 2.3GHz Mac mini (£679) with an i7 processor. Take it up from 4GB to 8GB RAM for an additional £80.
The 21.5inch 2.9GHz iMac (£1, 299) is also a good choice. You can boost it to a 3.1GHz i7 for an additional £160. Alternatively for a powerful video editing powerhouse take a 27-inch iMac (£1, 749) up to 3.5GHz i7 for an additional £190. This iMac comes to £1, 939 in total but will get the job done.
If you’re looking to edit the latest 4K video then you should consider the new Mac Pro (starting from £2, 499).
One thing to note is that you don’t need any of these higher systems if you just enjoying editing home video in iMovie. So a Mac mini 2.5GHz i5 is perfectly capable of handling most video tasks, including light editing in Final Cut Pro X.
How fast a Mac do I need for audio recording and editing
Audio recording and editing doesn’t require the latest Intel i7 Mac. So you can get away with a much more lightweight model, like the Mac mini or a MacBook. An entry level Mac mini (£499) is perfectly good for audio recording, and with four USB 3.0 ports, thunderbolt, Firewire 800, audio in, audio out and an SDXC card slot he Mac mini has a great array of connections. This makes it ideal as a recording device.
The iMac 21.5-inch is also a good choice if you want an all-in-one system for audio recording. However, many audio recording engineers prefer a MacBook because they can carry it to studios more easily. You don’t need the Retina Display model, and we’d be tempted to go for the 13-inch 2.5GHz model (£999). This has a good range of connections, including two USB 3 connections, Thunderbolt and Firewire.
How fast a Mac do I need for gaming?
Gaming itself covers a wide spectrum of experiences. However, typically gamers want the fastest system possible. If you’re into gaming you’ll probably want a fast Mac, but you don’t gain much from the i7 processor. Instead, it’s better to focus on the CPU with a faster clock rate and combine it with a machine with a discrete graphics card (this is separate from the Intel CPU, many Macs combine the CPU with an Integrated graphics card). Essentially you need an iMac or 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (the top of the line model with an NVIDIA GeForce GT750M). We think the Retina display model is overkill so unless portability is vital we’d go for the iMac. The best Mac for gaming would be the 27-inch iMac: 3.4GHz (£1, 749) although you can get good power from a 21.5inch iMac. We’d be tempted to replace the 1TB hard drive with a 256MB Flash Storage drive for £160. If storage space is important for non-gaming tasks we’d go with a 1TB Fusion Drive, also £160.
Read more: Best Mac for gaming and Lab Tested: New 27-inch iMac speed results
How fast a Mac do I need for Art and design?
Everybody wants to be able to design faster, but you don’t need an Intel i7 for Photoshop. It doesn’t really get much from it. So we’d focus on picking one of the cheaper models and taking the RAM up to at least 8GB and replace the stock drive with a fusion model. If you get a higher end Mac Mini (£679) and add 8GB RAM (£80) and a 1TB Fusion Drive (160) you get a great little design machine for £919. You can now spend any other money on a decent display.
How fast a Mac do I need for 3D image modelling?
This is another one of those areas where you just want the fastest Mac available. If you are into 3D modelling, especially 3D animation, then you might want to consider going all out for a new Mac Pro (£2, 499). If money is no object then the £3, 299 Mac Pro offers dual graphics cards with 3GB GDDR5 VRAM each. The time it saves in rendering may quickly pay for itself. If you can’t afford a new Mac Pro then get the fastest iMac you can afford.
How fast a Mac do I need for Web design?
Web design is another area that you don’t need a truly fast Mac. Some designers like a large display so they can manage multiple sites and editing tools at once, so we’d advise picking up an entry level Mac mini (£499) and combining it with a large display.
Programming is a varied task, and it largely depends on the programming you are doing. If you’re learning to program using tools like Xcode and Python, then a MacBook Air is a great choice. It’s easy to carry a MacBook Air around and it is a fully-fledged Mac OS X capable of running Xcode and other development environments.
If you’re working on thousands of lines of code then you’ll want a Mac with more clout the MacBook Air. We’d suggest a 2.3GH Mac mini. Assembling code makes good use of the i7 processor, and you can boost to a 2.6Ghz i7 for an extra £80) and boost the RAM up to 8GB (£80) or even 16GB (£240). You can also take the Mac mini's drive up to a Fusion Drive for £160. It’s £999 in total, which is a good all-round price to pay for this great programming box.
How fast a mac do I need for creating business documents?
If you spend most of your time using a Mac in a business environment, using programs like Mail, Keynote and Microsoft Office, then you won’t really need a top-of-the-line iMac. Instead, we’d focus on portability by going for a MacBook Air. It’s great to be able to carry your Mac around the office. The 11-inch model is fine for working on the go, but the 13-inch MacBook Air offers a little more screen estate for working with continuously. We’d go for the 13-inch 128GB MacBook Air at £949 and take the RAM up to 8GB for an extra £80.