Best MacBook for 2023

With M1 and M2 versions of the MacBook Air and now M3 updates to the MacBook Pro, it can be hard to choose. Our expects will help you find the right MacBook.

Updated Nov. 7, 2023 2:18 p.m. PT

Written by  Matt Elliott Joshua Goldman
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Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops, desktops, all-in-one PCs, streaming devices, streaming platforms
Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials
  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
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What to consider


The entry price is $999 for the M1 MacBook Air that was released in 2020. The newer M2 MacBook Air 13 starts at $1,099, and the 15-inch M2 MacBook Air starts at $1,299. The M3 MacBook Pro 14 starts at $1,599 while the higher-powered M3 Pro MacBook Pro 14 starts at $1,999. The M3 Pro MacBook Pro 16 starts at $2,499.

Size and display

If you'll be taking your MacBook with you to class or work or just down to your local coffee shop most mornings, the 13-inch MacBook Air is the better choice than the heavier Pro models. Unless you need Pro-level performance, we feel the 15-inch Air hits the sweet spot between roomy display and travel ease.


MacBooks have used Apple's own processors since the introduction of the M1 processor in 2020 that marked a huge improvement from previous Intel-based MacBooks in overall performance, efficiency and battery life. Apple has since released M2 and most recently M3 processors, with higher-powered Pro and Max versions of the chips offered in the MacBook Pro machines.


The graphics processor, or GPU, handles all the work of driving the screen and generating what gets displayed, as well as speeding up graphics tasks. Apple's M1, M2 and M3 processors integrate the GPU. The more processing cores the GPU has, the better the graphics performance.


MacBook Air models start at 8GB of RAM along with the baseline M3 MacBook Pro 14, while the minimum on the MacBook Pro model with an M3 Pro or Max chip is 16GB. MacBooks are able to smoothly run MacOS and the preinstalled apps with the minimum RAM offered, but doubling the RAM will make your MacBook feel faster and last longer.


MacBooks feature solid-state drives, or SSDs. MacBook Air models start with a 256GB SSD, and MacBook Pros offer a 512GB SSD at minimum.

$949 at B&H
MacBook Air M2 2022 laptop
Best overall MacBook
M2 MacBook Air (13-inch, 2022)
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$1,049 at Amazon
MacBook Air 15-Inch
Best big-screen, budget MacBook
M2 MacBook Air (15-inch 2023)
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$849 at Amazon
Apple's 2020 M1-powered 13-inch MacBook Air
Best budget MacBook
M1 MacBook Air (13-inch, 2020)
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$2,499 at Best Buy
Laptop open facing you with multicolor wallpaper
Best MacBook for creatives
M3 Pro MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2023)
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What is the best overall MacBook?

The 13-inch M2 MacBook Air isn't just the best overall MacBook, it's our pick for the best overall laptop. It's our favorite because it offers stellar performance from Apple's M2 processor, along with long battery life and a design that works for a wide range of users. And we feel that Apple's MacOS is more intuitive and easier to use than Microsoft Windows.

The M2 MacBook Air's 13.6-inch display is slightly larger than the previous M1 model's screen, and it sits in the sweet spot of providing enough screen space for getting things done while remaining eminently portable. The laptop has a starting price of $1,099 -- $100 more than the previous version -- but you can regularly find it discounted to $999 and sometimes as low as $899. And students can always pick one up from Apple with an educational discount for as little as $999.

Apple has introduced new MacBook Pros based on its latest M3 processors, but the MacBook Air line remains on the M2. It suddenly find itself a generation behind the new M3 Pro machines, but the M2 MacBook Air still offers more than enough power for most users while being more affordable and portable than the Pro models.

At CNET, we test all kinds of laptops -- from budget models for everyday tasks to high-performance laptops for gaming and content creation to everything in between. We've been reviewing MacBooks since the very first polycarbonate MacBook appeared, way back in 2006 -- and Apple's PowerBooks and iBooks before that. Each member of our team has decades of experience testing and reviewing laptops. We conduct performance testing under controlled conditions in the CNET Labs and via extensive hands-on use. This helps us find not only the best laptop overall but also the best laptop for your needs and in your price range.

Watch this: Apple MacBook Pro 16- and 14-Inch, M3 Series Review

Best MacBooks of 2023

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$949 at B&H

Best overall MacBook

M2 MacBook Air (13-inch, 2022)

The 2022 MacBook Air got its biggest refresh in years, moving to the M2 chip and adopting a new design. Thanks to that MacBook-Pro-like design, larger display (13.6-inch versus 13.3-inch), faster M2 chip and a long-awaited upgrade to a higher-res webcam, it's now my favorite Mac, with one caveat. At $1,099 from Apple, it costs $100 more than the previous M1 version. We have seen it on sale, however, for as low as $899.

The MacBook Air goes beyond the Pro models it mimics in one important respect: It adds new colors to the space gray and silver, with a new goldlike starlight and a deep, dark midnight finish. Midnight, which appears as a matte black finish, reminds me of the old matte black polycarbonate MacBooks of the mid 2000s, which I always thought had a sharp look. 

We've got a lot of different MacBook models, prices and specs to keep track of. To sum it up, the key reasons you're going to prefer the new M2 Air over the previous M1 model are:

  • Slimmer, more modern design in new colors
  • Upgraded full-HD webcam
  • Larger, brighter display (13.6 inches vs. 13.3 inches)
  • Faster M2 processor 
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$1,049 at Amazon

Best big-screen, budget MacBook

M2 MacBook Air (15-inch 2023)

Apple's latest MacBook Air is proof that you don't need a Pro to get a larger display. The 15-inch MacBook Air supplies a larger screen previously found only on the pricier Pro models. If you're eyeing the 14- or 16-inch Pro models primarily for the added screen size, the Air 15 is the more affordable option you should go for.

The roomy, 15.3-inch display is powered by Apple's M2 chip and 8GB of RAM. It also supplies a Touch ID sensor, two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports, a MagSafe charger and 18-hour battery life. There's also a built-in 1080p camera for FaceTime calls and a three-mic array and six speakers for spatial audio support. It's available in the same four color options as its smaller, 13.6-inch sibling. 

The baseline 256GB model costs $1,299 at Apple, and we've seen it on sale for as little as $1,049. The 512GB model starts at $1,499 and is also regularly discounted.

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$849 at Amazon

Best budget MacBook

M1 MacBook Air (13-inch, 2020)

This model has been surpassed, but not replaced, by the newer M2 MacBook Air. Because it's staying on as Apple's sole $999 laptop, it still deserves a place on this list. 

For many years, this Apple laptop was everyone's favorite laptop. It was reasonably priced, thin, light and built like a tank. It could last for years and take lots of falls and bumps. For any college student or coffee shop creative type, $999 would get you sorted. 

You get only two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, but for most people that's enough, as long as you can get a whatever-to-USB-C dongle.  

The 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro laptops, like the new M2 MacBook Air, have better displays, faster processors and more ports. The Pro models also have HDMI and SD card slots.

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$2,499 at Best Buy

Best MacBook for creatives

M3 Pro MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2023)

Apple's latest update its 16-inch MacBook Pro delivers M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max processors along with a new space black color. The screen is also slightly brighter, moving from a rated 500 nits to 600 nits compared with the previous M2 version. Other than the new color option, the design remains largely unchanged from the previous version, but under the hood the new M3 Pro chip offers better overall performance and, in particular, big gains in multicore and rendering performance. Battery life is strong, too.

Like the previous series, the 16-inch MacBook Pro with the M3 Pro processor starts at $2,499, and the M3 Max model starts at $3,499. It's our Editors' Choice for graphics pros and creators for its excellent combination of design, performance and battery life.

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Factors to consider when buying a MacBook

The first fork in the road you'll come to when shopping for a MacBook is whether to follow the Air path or head down the Pro road. For most people looking for an everyday home laptop or a work laptop for running basic office apps, a MacBook Air will suffice. An Air is also the better pick for students on tight budgets. For creative types who need the added processing and graphics muscle of Apple's new M3 Pro and Max chips, a MacBook Pro is worth the added cost. To help you find the right MacBook for your needs and budget, here are the main considerations to keep in mind.


The entry price for a MacBook is $999. That gets you the M1 MacBook Air that was released in 2020. Apple still sells it alongside the newer M2 MacBook Air models. Stepping up to a MacBook Pro model with an M2 Pro chip will cost you $1,999 or more, but you can get a less powerful 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro for $1,599. Here are the starting prices of Apple's current MacBook lineup:

  • 13-inch M1 MacBook Air: $999
  • 13-inch M2 MacBook Air: $1,099
  • 15-inch M2 MacBook Air: $1,299
  • 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro: $1,599
  • 14-inch M3 Pro MacBook Pro: $1,999
  • 16-inch M3 Pro MacBook Pro: $2,499

Size and display

If you'll be taking your MacBook with you to class or work or just down to your local coffee shop most mornings, an Air is the better choice. The 13-inch MacBook Air models weigh less than 3 pounds, and the roomier 15-inch Air weighs only 3.3 pounds, which is lighter than the 14-inch MacBook Pro.

Of course, the flip side to portability is screen size. The 16-inch MacBook Pro gives you ample room on which to work and multitask, while the 14-inch MacBook Pro tries to hit the sweet spot between roomy display and travel ease. Unless you need Pro-level performance, we feel the 15-inch Air does a better job of hitting that target.

  • 13.3-inch M1 MacBook Air: 13.3-inch display (2,560x1,600 resolution), 2.8 pounds
  • 13.6-inch M2 MacBook Air: 13.6-inch display (2,560x1,664 resolution), 2.7 pounds
  • 15.3-inch M2 MacBook Air: 15.3-inch display (2,880x1,864 resolution), 3.3 pounds
  • 14.2-inch M3 MacBook Pro: 14.2-inch display (3,024x1,964 resolution), 3.4 pounds
  • 14.2-inch M3 Pro MacBook Pro: 14.2-inch display (3,024x1,964 resolution), 3.5 pounds
  • 16.2-inch M3 Pro MacBook Pro: 16.2-inch display (3,456x2,234 resolution), 4.7 pounds


The processor, aka the CPU, is the brains of a laptop. MacBooks have used Apple's own processors since the introduction of the M1 processor in 2020. The M1-based MacBooks were clear improvements over Apple's preceding Intel-based machines in terms of overall performance, efficiency and battery life. The M1 MacBooks were more powerful with longer runtimes while also operating more cooly and quietly.

The latest MacBook Air models feature the M2 processor, and MacBook Pro models were just updated with the new M3 chip. The M2 MacBook Air models offer slightly better performance than the M1-based versions but not nearly to the degree of going from Intel CPUs to the M1. We have yet to test the recently released MacBook Pros based on Apple's new M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max chips, but expect to see similar gains from M2 to M3 as we saw moving from M1 to M2.


The graphics processor, or GPU, handles all the work of driving the screen and generating what gets displayed, as well as speeding up a lot of graphics-related (and increasingly, AI-related) operations. Apple's M1 and M2 CPUs integrate the GPU. The more processing cores the GPU has, the better the graphics performance. Here's the breakdown:

  • M1: 7-core or 8-core GPU
  • M2: 8-core or 10-core GPU
  • M3: 10-core GPU
  • M3 Pro: 14-core or 18-core GPU
  • M3 Max: 30-core or 40-core GPU


Memory, or RAM, is where the operating system stores all the data for currently running applications, and it can fill up fast. After that, it starts swapping between RAM and SSD, which is slower.  MacBook Air models start at 8GB of RAM along with the 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro. The minimum on the M3 Pro or M3 Max MacBook Pros is 18GB. If you buy from Apple, you can configure the laptop with more memory -- up to 16GB or 24GB on MacBook Airs and up to 128GB on the M3 Pro and Max MacBook Pros.

You can't upgrade the memory on recent MacBooks post purchase, so you'll need to get the RAM you need up front. MacBooks are able to smoothly run MacOS and the preinstalled apps with the minimum RAM offered, but doubling the RAM will make your MacBook feel faster and likely lead to a longer useful life of the product. 


MacBooks feature solid-state drives, or SSDs. MacBook Air models start with a 256GB SSD, and MacBook Pros offer a 512GB SSD at minimum. If you use cloud storage for your files, music collection and photo library, then you might be able to get away with a 256GB SSD without filling it up before too long. We were happy to see the 13-inch MacBook Pro with its paltry 256GB SSD go away; Pro users need 512GB at the very least.

How we test laptops

The review process for laptops consists of two parts: performance testing under controlled conditions in the CNET Labs and extensive hands-on use by our reviewers. This includes evaluating a device's aesthetics, ergonomics and features with respect to price. A final review verdict is a combination of both objective and subjective judgments. 

Our benchmark tests consist of a core set we run on every compatible system, including several we can run on both MacOS and Windows PCs. There's also an extended set of tests for specific use cases, such as gaming or content creation, where systems may have more-powerful GPUs or higher-resolution displays that need to be evaluated. 

For the hands-on, the reviewer uses the laptop for their work during the review period, evaluating how well the design, features (such as the screen, camera and speakers) and manufacturer-supplied software operate as a cohesive whole. We also place importance on how well everything works given the cost, and where the manufacturer has potentially made upgrades or trade-offs for the price.

The list of benchmarking software and comparison criteria we use changes over time as the devices we test evolve. You can find a more detailed description of our test methodology on our How We Test Computers page. 

Other laptops we've tested

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11: The latest X1 Carbon gets 13th-gen Intel processors and greener construction but is otherwise unchanged and remains a top pick for business travelers.

Asus ExpertBook B9450: This 14-inch business ultraportable is impressively light and eminently portable but costs too much when you consider the previous-gen CPU and a display that feels constricted. 

LG Gram 17 (2023): The Gram is amazing for its size and weight, but its dGPU is a generation behind, and the price is high.

Lenovo Yoga 7i 16: The 14-inch Yoga 7i has long been a favorite for offering more for less. The "more" on this version includes a 16-inch display with a low resolution that makes text fuzzy, and it's an awkward size for a two-in-one.

Asus ROG G15: Above-average performance and a nice design distinguish this budget gaming laptop from the competition.

Acer Swift X 14: The 14-inch Swift X delivers excellent performance and an OLED display in a small package, and with plenty of ports to boot. Its design, keyboard, touchpad and speakers didn't match the rest of the package.

Lenovo Slim Pro 7: Much like the Acer Swift X, the Slim Pro 7 gets you good performance in a small body, but the other parts aren't quite as nice. 

Asus Vivobook 16X OLED: Outside of its affordability for a big 16-inch OLED display, this Vivobook was a letdown. 

Dell XPS 17 9730: The performance and battery life are spot on, but the lack of an OLED display option, and an outdated 720p webcam, hold it back.

Laptop FAQ

Which is better: MacOS or Windows?

For many people, deciding between a MacOS laptop and a Windows machine will come down to personal preference and budget. Apple's base model laptop, the M1 MacBook Air, starts at $999. You can sometimes find it discounted or you can get educational pricing from Apple and other retailers. But in general it'll be at least $1,000 for a new MacBook, and the prices just go up from there. 

For the money, though, you're getting great hardware top to bottom, inside and out. Apple recently moved to using its own processors, which resulted in across-the-board performance improvements compared with older, Intel-based models.

Apple's great hardware, however, comes at a price. Also, you're limited to just Apple laptops. With Windows and Chromebooks (more on these below), you get an amazing variety of devices at a wide range of prices. 

Software between the two is plentiful, so unless you need to run something that's available on only one platform, you should be fine to go with either. Gaming is definitely an advantage for a Windows laptop, though.

MacOS is also considered to be easier and safer to use than Windows, especially for people who want their computers to get out of the way so they can get things done. Over the years, though, Microsoft has done its best to follow suit and, with Windows 11 hereit's trying to remove any barriers. Also, while Macs might have a reputation for being safer, with the popularity of the iPhone and iPad helping to drive Mac sales, they've become bigger targets for malware.

Are Chromebooks worth it?

Yes, they are, but they're not for everyone. Google's Chrome OS has come a long way in the 10-plus years since it arrived, and Chromebooks -- laptops that run on Chrome OS -- are great for people who do most of their work in a web browser or using mobile apps. They are secure, simple and, more often than not, a bargain. What they can't do is natively run Windows or Mac software. 

What's the best laptop for home, travel or both?

The pandemic changed how and where a lot of people work. The small, ultraportable laptops valued by people who regularly traveled may have suddenly become woefully inadequate for working from home. Or maybe instead of needing long battery life, you'd rather have a bigger display with more graphics power for gaming.

If you're going to be working on a laptop and don't need more mobility than moving it from room to room, consider a 15.6-inch laptop or larger. In general, a bigger screen makes life easier for work and is more enjoyable for entertainment, and it's also better if you're using it as an extended display with an external monitor. It typically means you're getting more ports too, so connecting an external display or storage or a keyboard and mouse are easier without requiring a hub or dock. 

For travel, stay with 13- or 14-inch laptops or two-in-ones. They'll be the lightest and smallest while still delivering excellent battery life. What's nice is that PC-makers are moving away from 16:9 widescreens toward 16:10- or 3:2-ratio displays, which gives you more vertical screen space for work without significantly increasing the footprint. These models usually don't have discrete graphics or powerful processors, though that's not always the case.

Which laptop is best for gaming or creating?

You can play games and create content on any laptop, but Windows is the better platform for gamers than MacOS. Windows laptops offer a wider variety of hardware and greater support for a wider variety of games. For content creation, Apple's MacBook Pros have long been favorites.

The types of games you play and what content you create -- and the speed at which you do it -- will vary greatly depending on the components inside the laptop. For casual browser-based games or streaming-game services like Nvidia GeForce Now and Xbox Cloud Gaming, you don't need a powerful gaming laptop. And similarly, if you're trimming video clips, cropping photos or live-streaming video from your webcam, you can get by with a modestly priced laptop, Chromebook or MacBook Air. For anything more demanding, you'll need to invest more money in discrete graphics like Nvidia's RTX 30- or 40-series GPUs or a MacBook Pro based on Apple's M2 Pro or Max chip.

The other piece you'll want to consider is the display. For gaming, look for screens with a high refresh rate of 120Hz or faster so games look smoother while playing. For content creation, look for displays that cover at least 100% sRGB color space or, better yet, 100% DCI-P3.