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Feeling generous? The right Mac can be the perfect gift

Christopher Breen | Dec. 15, 2014
Only the worst sort of ingrate would complain about finding an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch stuffed in their holiday stocking. But if you want to really impress your favored Apple fan, there's nothing that does the job like placing a brand-new Mac under the tree. But, budget considerations aside, which current Mac is the most appropriate for the Apple lover in your life?

The non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro is underpowered with just 4GB of RAM, 500GB 5400 mechanical hard drive, and Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics processor. Honestly, it feels like last year's (or the year before's) MacBook.

The first two 13-inch MacBook Pros--priced at $1,299 and $1,499 respectively--are distinguished by the amount of storage they offer, with the first providing 128GB of flash storage and the second, 256GB. Each has a 2.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor and Intel Iris Graphics. The $1,799 model bumps the processor to 2.8GHz and has 512GB of flash storage. All three come with 8GB of RAM.

The two 15-inch models have greater differences. The $1,999 version has a 2.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 256GB of flash storage, and Intel Iris Pro Graphics. The pricier $2,499 model has a 2.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, the same 16GB of RAM, 512GB of flash storage, and two graphics systems--built-in Intel Iris Pro Graphics and a separate NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M card with 2GB of VRAM.

As with the MacBook Air, you won't find a passel of ports on these laptops. They all sport two USB 3 ports, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, and an SDXC card slot. The non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro is the one remaining Mac with a SuperDrive for playing CDs and DVDs. It also has dedicated Ethernet and FireWire 800 ports. It, unlike the others, has 802.11n Wi-Fi (versus 802.11ac).

Who should you give it to?
If you want a MacBook Pro and don't want to play for a Retina model you could go with the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, but given its weak specs it almost makes sense to shop for a used 15-inch model from a year or so ago. If you only want brand new, this MacBook would appeal to students who promise to not look enviously at their friends who have MacBook Airs.

The choice between the 13- and 15-inch Retina models comes down to storage capacity, size, weight, speed, and, of course, expense. If the person you're giving the gift to is accustomed to a heavier laptop, is fine with a smaller screen, and does "real work" on it rather than surfing the web, texting, and picking up email, the $1,499 model with 256GB flash drive makes a lot of sense. If they deserve more (meaning slightly more speed and 512GB of storage), turn to the $1,799 MacBook Pro.

If, on the other hand, they consider themselves to be a power user and damn the weight and size, only a 15-inch Retina display MacBook Pro may do. For the speediest graphics performance you'll want to go with the top-of-the-line $2,499 model. Those dual graphics cards can make a difference, plus they'll look kindly on the extra storage to lug around large images and video files. If they're "If they like big, but not necessarily the best" then it's the 256GB version.

 

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