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The best MacBook builds for 2021

Learn a long-time technology consultant's recommended best Mac laptop builds for 2021, whether you're an average, mobile or even demanding business user.

Apple offers various Mac laptop builds for a reason. A MacBook configuration–the combination of system architecture and design, display size, CPU, storage and memory–that works well for one user may not suit the purposes of another. Here are the configurations I recommend users consider based on their needs and the type of system required.

Standard all-around Mac laptop

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Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air is a capable machine.
Image: Apple Inc.

The base 13-inch MacBook Air, powered by Apple's efficient M1 system on a chip (SOC), comes well equipped for $999 and will serve well standard students and professionals needing reliable access to web and cloud services, FaceTime, Teams and Zoom meetings capability, email and common productivity software used to create and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations. With a 13.3-inch display, 8GB RAM, 256GB of SSD storage and a backlit keyboard, the MacBook Air is ready to work.

$999 at Apple

Best Mac laptop for mobile professionals

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Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air can be configured to meet mobile professionals' needs.
Image: Apple Inc.

Users who frequently find themselves working outside the office will find Apple's M1-powered 13-inch MacBook Air rises to the challenge. At just 2.8 pounds and less than three-quarters-of-an-inch tall at its thickest, the 13.3-inch MacBook Air is highly portable and easy to maneuver into a svelte case and onto makeshift workspaces. Ordered with the M1 CPU and the 512GB storage upgrade to help traveling professionals store more files locally, the MacBook Air runs $1,249 and is ready for the rigors of the road with up to 15 hours of wireless web-surfing battery life.

$1,249 at Apple

Best Mac laptop for demanding business professionals

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The Apple M1-powered MacBook Pro can manage the rigors of demanding business professionals.
Image: Apple Inc.

Sometimes additional horsepower is required, such as when regularly editing photos, rendering video, recording audio productions or working with scientific data. In such cases, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, configured with Apple's impressive M1 CPU and upgraded to 16GB of memory and 1TB of SSD storage, is a capable performer. At $1,899, the build will serve most demanding business professionals well, while additional upgrades, if necessary, remain available. As they say in racing, "speed costs money, how fast you want to go?"

$1,899 at Apple

Best desktop-replacement Mac laptop

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The 16-inch MacBook Pro is more than capable of replacing most desktop workstations.
Image: Apple Inc.

Occasionally users seek a desktop replacement Mac that's not only as powerful as a high-powered workstation but also portable. The 16-inch MacBook Pro is the solution. While smaller-brethren 13-inch models possess the expansion capacity to power multiple external displays, the larger version's 16-inch display supports up to 3072-by-1920 resolution, which may well replace the need for an external monitor for some users. Regardless, the system's base build at $2,399 includes a potent 2.6GHz 6-core 9th-generation Intel Core i7 CPU, 512GB of SSD storage, an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M GPU, 16GB of DDR4 memory and plenty of ports for expansion.

$2,399 at Apple

Best Mac, pound-for-pound

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Apple's base 13-inch MacBook Pro isn't just the best feature-to-price value among Apple laptops, the model may well be the best computer available, pound-for-pound.
Image: Apple Inc.

The standard 13-inch MacBook Pro, especially with the advent of Apple's own M1 SOC Silicon, may well be the best computer, pound-for-pound, available. Originally associated with sports, the pound-for-pound designation recognizes best performance in class, and the MacBook Pro excels when compared to competitors with up to 2.8-times faster CPU and up to 5-times faster graphics performance versus previous models. So great is my faith in the base configuration that I've repeatedly purchased the model for my family and businesses. Now with an M1 CPU, 8GB memory and 256GB storage, you can't go wrong buying the $1,299 base system that's ready for most common tasks and even audio and video production work.

$1,299 at Apple