The best Mac builds for CEOs, engineers, designers, and more

Ensure you're ordering the correct Mac configurations for users. Follow these guidelines to best match system configurations to departments' typical needs.

iMacs, a common selection for many office personnel, have a vast range of configuration options.
Image: Apple

Businesses often ask me which Macs are best for specific staff members, and how Macs should be configured for different users in various departments. While there are always exceptions to every rule, here are basic Mac builds businesses can use as baselines for common needs.

Accountants and finance staff

Apple's 21.5" iMacs possessing default 1.6GHz CPUs, 1 TB storage, 8 GB RAM, and 1920x1080 resolution should meet the needs of most Mac office bookkeepers, accountants, and finance staff. With AppleCare, the iMac price as of this writing is $1,268.

C-level executives

I don't meet many C-level executives who are convinced they don't need a thin and light laptop. The 13-inch MacBook Air with a 1.6GHz CPU, an upgrade to 8 GB RAM, and 256 GB storage (1440x900 resolution) should meet most executives' needs, although organizations should also consider a Thunderbolt display (for desktop use) and a Magic Mouse 2 and a Magic Keyboard. The MacBook Air is $1,548 with AppleCare. The Thunderbolt display and wireless peripherals add $1,177.

Data entry clerks

The default iMac, described above for accountants and finance staff, is overkill for data entry. But Apple's base iMac is that potent, so it remains the smart choice for basic clerical work.


For architects, draftsmen creating 3D drawings, engineers, and others demanding stout graphics performance, businesses should consider 27-inch iMacs with a Retina 5k display supporting 5120x2880 resolution. The 1 TB storage and 3.2GHz CPU are reasonable selections. The model possesses a capable AMD Radeon video card boasting 2 GB video memory. Businesses should opt for the upgrade to 16 GB memory. Current pricing places the cost, with AppleCare, at $2,368.

General business professionals

One of the most common deployments is a general desktop computer. Often used by everyone from paralegals and nurses to customer service staff and public relations practitioners, the default 21.5-inch iMac is, again, a smart choice.

Graphic designers

Some users require larger displays, more robust video cards, and vast storage. While it's difficult to specify a desktop standard that meets the needs of every graphic designer, desktop publisher, digital photographer, and similar professionals, here's a solid baseline from which to begin.

Consider a 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display, a system capable of high 5120x2880 resolution and possessing 2 GB onboard video memory. The base 3.2GHz model boasts 8 GB RAM and 1 TB storage, priced at $1,968 with AppleCare. I recommend upgrading to 16 GB RAM and 2 TB storage, which increases the cost to $2,468.

Human resources specialists

HR specialists should be well served by the default 21.-5-inch iMac. However, almost every HR department I've ever supported as a consultant has required local printers. Sensitive information is often printed within these departments, so shared network printers often don't pair well with an HR specialist's printing needs.

HP's LaserJet Pro 400 M402dn supports printing 750 to 4,000 pages a month, prints up to 40 pages per minute, and possesses two trays holding 100- and 250-sheets, respectively. At $299.99, the duplex printer is priced fairly and is Apple AirPrint compatible.

Legal staff

While paralegals can get by with a base 21.5" iMac, attorneys and legal executives typically prefer a smaller footprint. While individual preferences will shape most legal staff purchases, Apple's MacBook is a solid consideration for such professionals. The 256 GB, 1.1GHz, 8 GB, 12-inch MacBook runs $1,548 with AppleCare. Legal executives needing a larger display should consider adding Apple's $999 Thunderbolt display and external wireless mouse and keyboard, too.

Managers and departmental directors

Managers, directors, and department heads typically invest time and energy managing team members, coordinating meetings and projects, and mentoring subordinates. The Mac build depends upon the industry, so standardizing one build for all managers and directors is difficult.

For instance, managers for an insurance services firm likely need no more resources than those provided by the general professionals' standard iMac; managers for a manufacturing company might find themselves tasked with maintaining 3D component drawings and scientific documentation and similar responsibilities requiring greater computing capacity.

A standard iMac should work for most managers and directors. In situations where managers are also responsible for scientific calculations, 3D CAD drawings, and other challenging roles, a high-end iMac or the entry-level Mac Pro, mated to a Thunderbolt display, may prove the best bet. But you're no longer really talking about just equipping a manager at that point, but an engineer or a scientist that also happens to manage people.

Programmers and coders

Programmers and coders are a particular lot. I've worked with many over several decades. They're going to tell the business what system they want. But for general development and testing, a MacBook Pro offers considerable performance and the ability to work remotely, from coffee shops and outside the office. The 15-inch, 2.2GHz model with 16 GB RAM and 256 GB storage runs $2,348 with AppleCare. That's typically more than enough horsepower to run the native OS and several applications while also powering a staging VM in the background.

Receptionists and executive assistants

Anyone who's spent any time working within corporate environments knows it's the receptionists and executive assistants who really power firms' daily operations. They're the gatekeepers, and as such, frequently balance numerous tasks simultaneously. Most business professionals who believe themselves to be excellent multitaskers could learn a thing or two from most executive assistants, I suspect.

Display real estate is a critical factor for these workers, so businesses should specify a 27-inch iMac. While the entry-level 27-inch 3.2GHz, 8 GB, 1 TB model boasts a Retina display (which is overkill for these staff members' resolution requirements), it's a nice perquisite for those users who are often the first to arrive and last to leave. At $1,968 with AppleCare, it's also a reasonable investment for a fast, reliable computer, large display, and capable keyboard and mouse.

Sales professionals

Sales professionals need MacBook Airs. Let's face it. These professionals could get by without a computer, as they thrive on relationships. A laptop is simply a business aid that better enables them to develop and maintain relationships. Apple's 13-inch, 1.6GHz, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB storage model should more than meet their needs. Budget $1,248, including AppleCare, for each purchase.

Video editors and animators

Organizations employing video editors and animators needs to be prepared to pull out the checkbook. Mac Pros aren't cheap. But they're potent, and these creative professionals require blazing CPUs, vast amounts of storage, and considerable video power. Fortunately, the Mac Pro delivers.

The base model boasts a 3.7GHz quad-core Intel Xeon CPU, 12 GB RAM, and dual 2 GB video cards and 256 GB storage. Upgrading to 32 GB RAM and 1 TB flash storage, and adding AppleCare, will run businesses $4,548, and that doesn't include a keyboard, a mouse, or a display.

Your specs

Every business possesses its own nuances and requirements. How do you specify Mac builds within your office? Join the discussion and tell us how your recommendations might differ from those presented here.

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