Welcome to 9to5Mac’s official Mac Holiday Gift Guide! This has been an exciting year for Mac lovers, thanks to the cool new 12″ Retina MacBook and 21″ Retina iMac, as well as great accessories from Apple and others. I’ve been canvassing all things Mac throughout the year, so what you’ll find inside are some great options at various price levels — everything from stocking stuffers and apps to “best gift I’ve ever received” material. Also included: the best (limited time only) prices I’ve found anywhere on new Mac computers.
Before you go further, I’d recommend that you bookmark and/or send this page to your favorite people, because either you or someone you care about is going to get a great gift from this guide. Beyond great Macs, apps, and accessories, some of my picks are designed to help an old Mac run better than new…
Small Stocking Stuffers: USB Hubs, Card Readers + Cables
It’s always handy to have extra USB ports — particularly powered ones that can recharge your iPad or iPhone even if the Mac is turned off. Moshi’s iLynx 3 ($60) is the hub I use, adding multiple ports to the front (rather than the inconvenient back) of your Mac. Most Macs have SD Card readers built in, but none of them has a CompactFlash reader — the card type used by many high-end DSLR cameras. If you only need CompactFlash support, Lexar’s Professional Workflow CFR1 ($17, shown) is a high-speed USB 3 card reader at a great price — the one I purchased for myself, and have found to be very reliable. Lexar’s Professional USB 3.0 Dual-Slot Reader ($34) includes both SD and CompactFlash slots, handy for 11″ MacBook Air users. And if you need Lightning cables for your Mac or iOS gadgets, Anker’s 3-foot Lightning to USB Cables are only $6 each, a great deal for authorized cables.
If you want something more deluxe than a USB hub and are willing to go beyond stocking stuffer pricing, Thunderbolt 2 docks let you connect high-speed hard drives, audio devices, and monitors to your Mac all at once with a single Thunderbolt cable — ideal for turning a small MacBook Air or Pro into a full-fledged desktop machine, or radically expanding the connector options for any Mac. My guide to the best Thunderbolt 2 docks picks OWC’s Thunderbolt 2 Dock ($224, shown at center) as the top overall choice for features and pricing, but there are other alternatives.
Ring Out With Joy: Great Mac Speakers + Headphones
Having spent years loving various affordable speakers from JBL and parent brand Harman, notably including the iconic clear Soundsticks ($170, also available in a $188 Bluetooth wireless version), I’ve shifted over to more contemporary Mac-matching audio accessories in recent years. Bowers & Wilkins’ MM-1 ($499, center) places more powerful, higher-quality audio drivers inside two black and silver housings that can straddle the sides of any Mac screen, while its similar-looking A7 ($800 new, $640 recertified) is even more powerful, an all-in-one enclosure with a booming subwoofer and AirPlay streaming capabilities. The company’s P5 Headphones ($300 wired, $400 wireless, reviewed here) have similarly Mac-matching looks and excellent sound quality; their leather earpads are the most comfortable I’ve ever felt in a pair of on-ear headphones. Pair them with a $20 BlueLounge Posto headphone stand to declutter your desk.
The Ultimate Mac Upgrade: A Solid State Drive (SSD)
Unless you’re willing to buy a brand new Mac, the single best way to make your old Mac run crazy fast (and quiet) is to install a Solid State Drive, also known as an SSD. The SSD replaces either your Mac’s traditional hard drive, which is a little trickier but yields massive speed improvements, or the SuperDrive CD/DVD drive, which is easier but generally not as fast. Adding an SSD made my older iMac five times faster for loading apps and files, basically instantaneous, and enabled it to wake and sleep in seconds. To do this, you’ll need an SSD (go with Samsung’s awesome 850 EVO for desktop Macs, or model-specific alternatives for MacBooks), this special screwdriver kit to open any Mac, and for certain Macs, a thermal sensor cable.
Here are my full SSD guides for iMac hard drives, MacBook Air/Pro SSD capacity/speed bumps, and MacBook, Mac mini, and Mac Pro hard drives. Alternately, here’s my guide to swapping out the SuperDrives in iMacs, Mac minis, and MacBooks for SSDs. Readers have sent me so many “thank you!” emails that I know they’ve been thrilled with their SSDs. Your old hard drive or SuperDrive can go in an affordable external USB enclosure as a spare.
Magical Holidays: Apple’s Magic Keyboard + Trackpad 2, or Logitech Rivals
The mouse — a part of Macs since 1984 — is on the way out, as multi-touch gestures continue to become more integral parts of the Mac and iOS experience. Rechargeable keyboards are also becoming more popular. Earlier this year, I wrote 9to5Mac’s guide to the best Mac keyboards, anticipating that Apple was working on better sequels to its aging Wireless Keyboard and Magic Trackpad. Lo and behold, Apple released the $99 Magic Keyboard and $129 Magic Trackpad 2 (both reviewed here), and they’re perfect gifts — the sorts of items any Mac user would love, but perhaps not buy on their own. Each comes with a Lightning cable to recharge an integrated rechargeable battery. By comparison, Logitech’s $95 K811 Easy-Switch Keyboard adds backlit keys and 3-device simultaneous pairing for the same price, while its $75 Rechargeable Trackpad is an alternative with multi-touch support at a much lower price. If you’re OK with AA batteries, Apple’s older Magic Trackpad is available for $70.
Office Decor, Desk Declutterers + Stands
To help you sort through the many Mac-matching lamps, posters, desks, shelves and chairs out there, my guide to the best Mac office decor provides a look at great options across various materials and styles. A rare sale on Herman Miller’s famous Aeron chairs and Embody desks makes them ideal high-end gifts for the holidays; BlueLounge’s $25 Portiko power strips and $10 Pixi cable managers are nice entry-level options.
I’ve written a guide to the best Mac stands and mounts, ranging from portable flip-out stands to stationary desktop stands with storage inside. For closed MacBooks, Twelve South’s new BookArc ($50) is a good pick; the same company’s HiRise ($70) is a better pick for open MacBooks. My iMac sits on Just Mobile’s Drawer ($58, right), which matches the silver and black looks of Macs while storing peripherals, spare change, cables, and other desktop clutter.
Virtual Gifts: A Few Great Apps
It’s hard to give apps as gifts, but I have three Mac app recommendations that are top picks of 9to5’s editors. Pixelmator ($15) is a far more affordable alternative to Adobe’s Photoshop, including photo editing and painting tools that are optimized for each new version of OS X, with full iOS Pixelmator compatibility. Macphun’s Creative Kit 2016 ($150, currently on sale for $90) is an incredible bundle of photo processing tools; my review explains how they can be used to make even boring photos awesome. Tweetbot ($5) is the Twitter client your Mac deserves, featuring full OS X El Capitan compatibility and numerous customizations, including single- or multi-column modes.
Store Photos, Videos, Music + Backups: Great External Hard Drives
As photo, video, and music collections grow, most Macs strain to hold everything without running out of space. That’s why external hard drives have become so popular — they store whatever your Mac can’t manage on its own. If you have an iMac, Mac mini, or Mac Pro, the external drive I’d recommend is G-Technology’s affordable G-Drive USB (left). Starting at $150 for a 2TB model, you can double its capacity for only $40 more, a great investment in a fast, professional-grade drive that will last for years. For MacBook Air and Pro use, portable drives such as OWC’s thumbdrive-sized Envoy Pro mini (center), Seagate’s slim Seven and LaCie’s stylish Mirror (both at right) offer tradeoffs in size, capacity, and pricing. My article discusses the benefits and tradeoffs you’ll get from cheaper, higher-capacity drives versus more expensive, longer-lasting ones, so you can choose what’s best for your needs.
Free Your Mac: The Cheaper iTunes Server
Years ago, the only way to run a small, quiet iTunes media server was to buy a Mac mini — a $450 solution I went with and liked. But this year, I wanted to free my Mac from server duty, so I researched less expensive options. For $113, the iview Cyber PC gives you the ability to run the PC version of iTunes off a computer the size of a thumb drive, plugged directly into any HDTV’s HDMI port. Pair it with a tiny $38 SanDisk 128GB USB flash drive and you’ll have space to share movies and music across your Apple TVs, iOS devices, and other computers with ease.
Give The Gift Of Multitasking: Extra RAM
Installing more RAM is easy for older Macs. My guide to choosing and installing quality Mac RAM ($90-$180) explains which Macs are capable of being upgraded, which will help them run multiple apps without slowdowns. You’ll generally need a small Phillips head screwdriver (found alongside many others in this screwdriver kit) to open your Mac; very little skill is required for RAM installation.
Power-Up: Keep Your MacBook Running For Days
Keeping a MacBook running for days without access to a wall outlet isn’t easy. ChargeTech’s ChargeAll battery packs (shown above, reviewed here) work as portable wall outlets, ranging from $86 to $225 depending on the power you need. The $150 version shown above adds 5-7 hours of additional Mac run time. Users of the USB-C-powered 12″ Retina MacBook have an easier alternative: Anker’s PowerCore+ 20100 ($70) is a USB-C charger with more than enough power to fully refuel the super-thin Mac.
The Best Gift Of All: A New Mac
A new Mac is the sort of gift most people dream about — the best computers Apple makes today for work or school. My personal recommendations would be the following Macs for the following situations:
- A Retina iMac for desktop office and/or serious photography/videography use.
- A Retina MacBook Pro for portable productivity with Apple’s best overall combination of power, pricing, and screen quality.
- An 11″ MacBook Air or 12″ Retina MacBook for portable work or school use when power is less important than pricing and physical size. Go with the Air for a lower price and more power, the Retina MacBook for a better screen and less power at a higher price.
- A Mac mini to replace your aging Windows PC, or serve as a Mac media center/server for your home.
Regardless of the Mac you choose, the best prices I’ve seen anywhere are at B&H Photo Video. If you’re in any state other than New York, you’ll save a lot on sales tax with B&H, too.
More From This Author
Check out more of my reviews, How-To guides and editorials for 9to5Mac here! I’ve published a lot of different topics of interest to Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod, Apple TV, and Apple Watch users, as well as a great holiday gift guide for iPhone users, and a separate holiday gift guide for Apple photographers.