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Comparing Apple and Windows computers

This report covers Apple Macintosh laptops and desktops and the considerations involved in choosing between PCs and Macs. ConsumerSearch has separate reports on Windows-based desktop computers, gaming computers, laptops and cheap laptops. If you are interested in the Apple iPad, iPad 2 and iPad mini, we have a separate report that covers these and other tablet computers.

Apple's MacBook Pro laptops, and its iMac and Mac mini desktop computers, continue to use Intel's third-generation Core processors, nicknamed Ivy Bridge. Ivy Bridge CPUs bring a slight performance gain and much better integrated-graphics capabilities than their well-regarded Sandy Bridge predecessors.

However, Apple's MacBook Air line has been upgraded to use Intel's fourth-generation Core processors, called Haswell. Haswell does bring with it some performance gains, but the most noteworthy improvement comes in the area of power usage. Apple claims 12 hours of battery life for its Haswell-powered MacBook Air laptops, and experts say that estimate, if anything, is conservative. Other Apple systems will likely be getting their own Haswell upgrades, most likely starting this fall, and perhaps as soon as September if some Internet rumors prove to be accurate.

For now, the biggest deal with the MacBook Pro line continues to be the introduction of the Retina display -- a high-resolution screen just like the iPad's much-praised display -- in some models. Although the Retina display was initially offered only in MacBook Pros with 15-inch screens, Apple has since introduced a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, which is similarly gorgeous but a tad less powerful.

Turning to Apple's desktop offerings, the last round of iMac updates brought with it a breathtaking design that drew lots of oohs and aahs. Proving beauty is more than skin deep, however, available high-performance processors and discrete graphics lead critics to say that the iMac is a class leader in the all-in-one space -- Windows or Apple -- even though it lacks some niceties such as an optical drive or touch screen.

Among the options available on the new iMac is Apple's hybrid Fusion Drive, which combines a decently sized 128 GB solid-state drive (SSD) with a more than ample traditional disc drive to offer 1 TB of storage. Experts are blown away by how fast the Fusion Drive grants access to the most-often-used applications and files, and how quickly it allows the iMac to boot up -- in just 15 seconds, according to some reports. The iMac continues to use third-generation Ivy Bridge processors for now; Internet rumors say that an upgrade to Haswell technology is in the works.

The Mac mini remains Apple's least expensive desktop computer, at least in its base configuration. However, step-up configurations offer high-end processors and the same Fusion Drive to make it anything but entry-level -- both in performance and price. That leads experts to say that the Mac mini could be the best choice among Apple desktops for those not interested in an all-in-one. As with the iMac, rumors suggest that an upgrade to fourth-generation Intel Core processors will be coming sooner rather than later.

What of the Mac Pro, you say? The current version has only modestly changed in recent years .It still sports professional-grade Intel Xeon processors, making it a heavy-duty computational powerhouse best suited to power users and commercial applications. It is Apple's most user-configurable, most user-upgradable and most expensive computer. Apple has promised a major upgrade by the end of 2013, including a move to Intel Xeon E5 processors and up to 12 cores of computational power.

When evaluating Apple laptops, desktops and tablets, we look to reviews from top sources such as PCMag.com, Macworld, CNET, Laptop Magazine and others, taking into consideration their expertise and how thoroughly they test each product. Based on their feedback, we score the computers on how well they perform and how easy they are to use -- as well as on other factors such as bang for the buck -- to find the very best choices.

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Apple MacBook Pro MD213LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop with Retina Display (OLD VERSION)
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from Amazon.com
New: $1,999.00   
Average Customer Review:  
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Apple Mac Pro MD770LL/A Desktop (OLD VERSION)
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from Amazon.com
New: $2,499.00   
Average Customer Review:  

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