The 7 best Macs of all time, from iMac G3 to M1 MacBook Pro

Apple has been in the computer business since the very beginning. Over the years there have been absolute classics, dating all the way back to the company’s first product, the Apple I, in 1976.

However, it is with the Macintosh range that Apple computers have really found their place. They were so successful that today the best Macs are synonymous with quality, durability and performance. But even with such a rich history, it’s possible to spot a few key milestones along the way. These are the greatest hits, a list of the best Macs in history that have helped propel Apple to new heights.

Macintosh 128K (1984)


Do you remember the Super Bowl ad for the Macintosh 128K? You know this one. Dubbed “1984” and directed by Ridley Scott, it features a young athlete smashing an on-screen Big Brother, freeing hordes of captive viewers from captivity and conformity. This ad was for Apple’s Macintosh 128K and was to herald a new era of computing.

This desire was not misplaced. Like the ad itself, the Macintosh 128K was a watershed moment. Not only did it give rise to the name Macintosh which is still used for Apple computers today, but it totally changed the perception of what a computer could be.

1984 Apple Macintosh Advertisement (HD)

Small and light, the Macintosh 128K was a true personal computer, something that could fit into anyone’s living room. It was also affordable, lowering the barriers to entry for people who might have shunned the computers of the past.

And it spread a range of features that we take for granted today. It was the first computer to popularize the computer mouse, something that had been dreamed up a decade earlier but never made it into the mainstream. Its operating system standardized the easy-to-use graphical user interface, with windows and desktop metaphors that competitors sought to emulate. And it showed that there was an alternative to IBM, whose products had a virtual monopoly on the market.

iMac G3 (1998)

Couple using iMac G3.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company was a complete mess. A flawed product strategy, years of mismanagement and disappointing sales have combined to push Apple to the brink of bankruptcy. Yet just a year later, Apple would release a computer that would not only save the company, but also revolutionize the whole industry.

Everything that went into the iMac showed that it was unlike anything that had come before. It came in bursts of color, a drastic departure from the beige boxes that were dominant at the time. Its casing was translucent so you could see inside, helping to demystify how computers work. And it had a carrying handle, not because Apple expected you to move it often, but to help overcome the fear many people had of computers and encourage them to touch it.

Everything was deliberate and aimed at making the computer accessible, user-friendly, even fun. It would never have worked if the software was a nightmare to use, but Apple succeeded here too. Like the Macintosh 128K that preceded it, the iMac was renowned for its ease of use.

But it wasn’t just a toy – it was also fast, way more than you’d expect given its innocent attitude. And, perhaps most importantly, it made it easy for people to connect to the Internet. It was perhaps the first mega-hit computer of the Internet age, setting the stage for everything that followed, and was certainly one of Jony Ive’s greatest accomplishments.

iMac G4 (2002)

Apple iMac G4 with Mac OS X

If the iMac G3 helped Apple take the fear factor out of computing, its successor, the iMac G4, established the company as the king of cool. Ditching bright colors for sleek white and silver, the iMac G4 adopted the design language established by the iPod and used by Apple for years to come.

Its origin came thanks to a moment of inspiration. After the success of the iMac G3, Steve Jobs and Jony Ive struggled to find a successor. During a walk in the garden of Jobs, the epiphany came. Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve’s wife, had planted a profusion of sunflowers. I spotted them and began to draw excitedly: with a monitor attached to a movable arm, the next iMac would seem so fluid it could reach for the sun, just like a sunflower.

Unlike the iMac G3 with its CRT display, the G4 introduced flat LCD panels to the Mac lineup, redefining the thinness and lightness of an Apple computer. Its LCD panel was a key selling point, but it also excelled when it came to ergonomics. The cantilever monitor arm not only looked good, it could be easily maneuvered into a comfortable position for anyone using it. And with all the components hidden in the base, it prompted stunned reactions of “Where’s the computer?” puzzled spectators.

Steve Jobs said the iMac G4 “has a beauty and grace that will last for the next decade”. Unfortunately, it actually only lasted two years before it was discontinued. But its legacy lives on as proof that Apple has combined stunning design with great functionality and superb software.

First generation Intel Mac Pro (2006)

Old Mac Pro

When Apple relaunched the Mac Pro in 2019, it instantly drew comparisons to the 2006 Mac Pro thanks to its “cheese grater” front panel design. But other than that unusual face, what else made the first Mac Pro special? In the end, a lot.

A year earlier, Steve Jobs had promised that Apple would soon switch from PowerPC processors to Intel chips. It promised a huge performance boost, and nowhere was that clearer than with the Mac Pro. It was the first Mac to hit the 3.0 GHz mark, which Jobs conceded was not possible on the older PowerPC architecture.

Additionally, Apple has hit the nail on the head by loading every Mac Pro with not one but two Intel Xeon processors. The chips were 64-bit and increased the performance per watt of the machines. In fact, Apple claimed to offer double the performance of the previous Power Mac G5.

All that power was housed in a chassis that’s as striking inside as it is out. Once opened, there were no messy cables and fiddly screws. Everything was neatly compartmentalized, the discs simply snapping into place. It showed that Apple understood that design wasn’t just about how something looked, but also how it worked – something Steve Jobs had been preaching since the days of the iMac G3.

First generation MacBook Pro (2006)

The first generation Apple MacBook Pro laptop from 2006.

While the 2006 Mac Pro was Apple’s most powerful computer when it first transitioned to Intel chips, it wasn’t the first. That honor goes to the 2006 MacBook Pro. And it was such a leap forward that it truly earned the “Pro” moniker.

Compared to the PowerBook G4 that preceded it, the MacBook Pro offered up to four times the performance thanks to the Intel Core Duo processor, the first dual-core processor in a Mac. It did so while occupying a thinner and lighter aluminum chassis, and its display was two-thirds brighter than the PowerBook, starting a trend of brilliantly bright MacBook Pro displays that continues to this day.

It was also the first Mac to introduce the beloved MagSafe, which has made a welcome comeback in recent years. And at the top of the screen was the first built-in iSight webcam, which the PowerBook G4 completely lacked.

The transition to Intel processors led to a monumental increase in performance for Apple’s Macs, and one of the places where this was most evident was in the first MacBook Pro. It was so significant that it prompted a name change that is still with us all these years later.

First generation MacBook Air (2008)

Macbook Air

We all know Steve Jobs was a master at the keynote presentation, but nowhere was it more evident than when he unveiled the iconic first-generation MacBook Air in 2008. After explaining how the device was thin and light, Jobs then walked over to a side table and pulled out a MacBook Air from a manila envelope, to cheers and disbelief from the audience.

But it wasn’t all bluster. The MacBook Air was unlike anything we’ve seen before. Jobs explained that Apple intended to do several things: create a laptop that was thinner than the competition, but more powerful, with a better screen and a better keyboard. And boy, does the MacBook Air achieves this.

Steve Jobs introduces the original 2008 MacBook Air – Steve Jobs|Apple|Steve|jobs steve|apple computer

At its thickest point, the MacBook Air was thinner than the thinnest point of the world’s thinnest ancient laptop – that’s how amazing Apple’s feat of engineering was. Unlike competing devices, it comes with a larger 13-inch screen and a full-size keyboard. And it had a full-power processor that destroyed the competition.

It was so unprecedented that it drew stunned gasps from Jobs’ audience on several occasions. Its achievement was to show that it was possible to build an ultra-thin laptop without the compromises that other companies were forced to make.

MacBook Pro M1 (2020)

The MacBook Pro with the default wallpaper, which hides the notch.

The transition to Intel processors may have brought huge gains in 2006, but nearly 15 years later, Intel’s chips were becoming more of a hindrance than a help for Apple’s Macs. They ran too hot for Apple’s slim aspirations, and didn’t run fast enough either. Something had to change.

That something was a complete transition to Apple’s own chips, and it completely revitalized the Mac lineup. Macs no longer seemed like overpriced underperformers — in fact, they were absolute bargains with the power and efficiency of Apple silicon. The The MacBook Air M1 was a prime example, and yet it’s the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros that feature here.

After all, no one doubted that Apple couldn’t replicate the capabilities of an ultra-thin laptop like the MacBook Air. But to replace the performance of a high-powered processor and a discrete graphics card? It was a challenge that many of us were skeptical of.

And yet, Apple has totally succeeded. The redesigned chassis brought back beloved features like MagSafe and extra ports, while the performance of the M1 Pro and M1 Max did things no one had seen before in a laptop of this class.

Yet, what was even more amazing was that the MacBook Pro managed to do just that while seriously boosting battery life, something it continues to do the trick with on its competitors. If nothing else, these MacBook Pros were proof that Apple’s move to its own silicon was going to pay off in the long run, and in many ways it’s only just beginning.

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