I Need a New Mac for Content Creation! What Should I Buy?


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MacBook Air

Photo: Phillip Tracy/Gizmodo

Welcome to Gizmodo’s first installment of “What Gadget Should You Buy?” where we help you, our dear readers, choose the right gadget for your needs.

We’re kicking things off with a timely request from a content creator who is in the process of upgrading his macOS devices. Auto blogger and former Jalopnik editor Jason Torchinsky is in need of a new desktop and laptop or something that can double as both. Jason is looking to stay within the Apple ecosystem and needs macOS devices capable of running Photoshop, Illustrator, 3D software, and dozens of browser tabs, all while being connected to multiple monitors.

Here is some additional background information:

I work at my desk 80% of the time, but absolutely need to be mobile when I travel as well. Two machines seems expensive, but I’m not sure there’s a good way to dock the laptop? And I don’t want some clunky, space-eating dock solution that’s a pain to dock/undock. I want a modern DuoDock. I think? Or a decent desktop and cheaper laptop? I’m not sure.

Quick Facts

Budget: $2,000 to $2,500

OS preference: macOS

Current system: 27-inch iMac (2013)

Wants: Apple laptop and desktop or hybrid; USB-A ports; a travel companion

Best choice: MacBook Pro 14

MacBook Pro 14

Image: Apple

I’d pick the MacBook Pro 14 with an M1 Pro chip, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. Jason can purchase one from Amazon for $1,749, leaving enough room in the budget for a monitor, external storage, a hub, and accessories.

The MacBook Pro 14 has several advantages over the cheaper models besides its M1 Pro chip being considerably faster than the M1. Where the Air and Pro 13 support only one external monitor, the MacBook Pro 14 with M1 Pro can connect to two external displays with 6K resolution at 60Hz via the HDMI and Thunderbolt ports (no dock required). Another boon for creative pros is the SD card slot, a convenient feature for when Jason is editing photos or videos on the MacBook Pro 14’s glorious mini-LED display.

What Jason will need is a hub or dongle for USB-A inputs to connect to external storage solutions or peripherals. And a monitor isn’t supplied here so Jason will need to be clever about how he uses the rest of his budget, assuming he doesn’t already own a monitor. But when he’s traveling, Jason can use Sidecar to turn an iPad into a second monitor or connect to a portable monitor, like this one from Asus.

Alternative: Mac mini + MacBook Air

Mac mini

Photo: John Biggs/Gizmodo

While $2,500 is a lot of money, buying two fruit-branded systems is almost out of the question. Almost.

If Jason prefers owning two systems–one portable and one stationary–his best option is to purchase a Mac mini and MacBook Air. Specifically, a Mac mini with 16GB of RAM (don’t go with 8GB, Jason) and a 1TB SSD for $1,299 (or $1,399 with 10-gigabit Ethernet). The mini desktop has two USB-A ports and the M1 chip is quick enough to run creative apps. It isn’t perfect: 16GB of RAM isn’t much for a desktop, the M1 chip is weaker than the M1 Pro, and connecting multiple displays–while possible–requires you to use both HDMI 2.0 and USB-C ports.

What’s nice about this option, however, is that it leaves about enough budget for a MacBook Air with 16GB of RAM so Jason can have a stationary home setup and an on-the-go travel laptop. He will need to cough up more cash for monitors if he doesn’t own any (forget about the Studio Display), and the budget is stretched thin at this point. Jason might be frustrated by the MacBook Air’s port selection–two Thunderbolt inputs–so he may as well add a port-filled hub to the bill.

What I don’t recommend and why

  • Mac Studio: Too expensive, not enough room in the budget for a laptop.
  • Mac Pro: Too expensive, runs on Intel.
  • MacBook Pro 13: Not worth the extra price over the MacBook Air.
  • iMac 24: Not enough room in the budget for a laptop; ports.

Would you recommend something else? Let us know in the comments! And if you need help deciding on which gadget to buy, then fill out our simple questionnaire.

By lita