The 15” professional notebook has been the focal point of Apple’s mobile strategy for decades now, going back well into the PowerBook days. So naturally, the MBP 15 (at least the low end SKU) is very well settled in the Apple notebook lineup. 

The 13” Pro though, has been a little bit questionable ever since the SNB MacBook Airs launched last year. And this year, with the price drop of the 13” MacBook Air to match the 13” Pro at $1199, that line has gotten even more questionable. The Core 2-based MacBook Airs were all too slow to be viable machines, but the SNB Air from last year brought it a lot closer to the Pro. This time around, with a 1.8GHz ULV Ivy Bridge and an SSD underhood, the MBA 13” is fast enough to be equal or better to the 13” MBP in normal daily use case scenarios. If the extra computing horsepower matters a lot (and let’s face it, it’s not all that much faster - the extra 700MHz doesn’t make as big a difference as you’d expect because of Turbo, and the Air’s SSD goes a long way towards making the system more responsive and covers up for any CPU shortfall) you’re probably better off either stepping up to a 15” MBP or picking up a discounted 2011 MBP 15”. 

The Air 13” is fast enough for day-to-day use, and the higher screen resolution and significant edge in terms of portability make it pretty compelling versus the Pro’s comparatively portly body and disappointingly low-res 1280x800 display. Which isn’t to say that the MBP 13 doesn’t have its advantages - it’s significantly more upgradable (the Air has soldered in, non-upgradable memory, as well as a non-standard form factor SSD, while the Pro has a bog-standard SATA port), as well as an LCD with a wider colour gamut. Plus, if you rely on physical media, it’s the only one with a DVD drive. 

To me, and I suspect to many consumers, the form factor and screen resolution are enough to sway me towards the Air. As someone who owned and loved a 13" MacBook Pro for a long time (a base 2011 model with a Vertex 3 MAX IOPS), I just don't see the allure in the current one. The custom SSD form factor seems like an overblown issue, because Apple is now shipping SSDs with controllers good enough that I don't think they need to be replaced, and a number of SSD manufacturers make upgrade kits for the Air anyways. With that said, I absolutely don't like what Apple is doing about non-upgradable memory, because it means that if you're not willing to pay Apple sometimes absurd memory upgrade pricing, you're stuck with a system that'll be RAM starved after a couple of years. If you switch laptops frequently, that's not as big an issue, but otherwise, it's definitely something to consider. But to me, the Air just feels more modern than the Pro, and if you're buying a system in the next month or two, I think the base 13" Air is the better one to get.

Now with that said, there are also rumors of Apple launching a 13-inch version of the rMBP before the end of the year. Take rumors with a grain of salt but the possibility is something you'll have to be prepared for. 

The non-Retinized Display: Still Good Concluding Thoughts
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  • sambamac - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    I've been thinking a lot about it. Ok, the retina is a fine screen. But I will go for the 2012 non retina non-glare 1650x1050, because I will put a 750 7200 rpm (only a additional 56$) and an extra 256 SSD for the system ( I will separate the system from the data ). When the 16GB Modules will be available I will upgrade the memory to 32Gb. I really work on an external monitor. 15" is just too small to do edit or retouch fotos. I really need the portable solution, because I travel a lot. And the possible 32Gb will help a lot to boost photoshop work based on dozens of layers.
  • Freakie - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    16GB modules wont ever come for DDR3 in the 204 pin form factor (laptop), so give your hopes up now. If you really want the best photoshop performance then you should be switching to a Windows laptop especially since it's easy to put 32GB on a Windows laptop, create a RAMdisk with a good chunk of that and then put your Photoshop Scratch Disk directory on it. (instant 5GB/s transfer rate on your scratch disk by using your RAM instead of a mechanical or solid state drive). Or if you are dead-set on using OSX then you can easily hackintosh OSX on the laptop and still have the more powerful hardware.
  • sambamac - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    Why you know that 16GB modules won't ever come? Is there a technical problem?

    Yeah, it's a good idea with the Ram Disk....

    thanks for input!
  • Freakie - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    Yeah basically. RAM follows standards and what-not, which means the people who make the RAM have to follow certain guidelines if their want to be able to use the DDR3 label for the RAM. That way RAM is as compatible as possible. As it stands, the DDR3 standards don't really allow 16GB sticks for laptops because the sticks are too small. They can't do 3D stacking of the memory without being out of spec, to my knowledge. And most RAM is still manufactured on large processes like 48-60nm and so they can't just pack more in on the area they have. We probably wont see 16GB sticks for laptops until DDR4.
  • sambamac - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    Ok, I see! Thank you for these explanations!
  • arkweld - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    I just made the same decision. Anandtech opts for the rMBP because it's better value? Really? What a ludicrous statement.

    For $2300 you get an MBP with hi-res, optical drive, ethernet, FireWire, more storage capacity, expandability and the exact same battery life, processor and RAM as the $2800 rMBP. A unit which has the only advantage of a arguably better display, negligible perfomance increase and a half-pound weight reduction. Anandtech opt to pay $500 more for less capability.

    If you want an SSD to boost your performance you can add one to an MBP at any time in any capacity.

    If the future is removing features for a screen of dubious value, then we are going backwards. Especially when you are paying $500 for the privilege.
  • The0ne - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    Yea, your consideration for the type of work you do is inadequate. You should be considering Windows laptop for this. You want both the CPU performance and the GPU to handle the 2D/3D side of things. Sure it may not be as light, or any other reasons but you get your work done fast and "easy". Not entirely sure on the easy word but meh :)
  • sambamac - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    And which system is adequate?
  • jcannon1018 - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    Any ideas on how the lower end model would graphically compare to the high-end model? Running at native 1440x900 with Diablo 3, 512 vs 1gig, huge difference?
  • Deepcover96 - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    I went back and forth on which one I would get. The Ethernet port almost pushed me towards the Pro, but the better display on the Air made up my mind. Like you said, The Air and the rMBP feel like the future.

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