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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  • CalaverasGrande - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    Two things, it may sound silly but in the workplace we still need to use wired connections 9 out of ten times. It simply isnt feasible or desirable to have enterprise level wifi installed in all locations.
    This, and the optical drive is still used as a handoff medium more often than thumb drives. There is a perception that thumb drives can carry viruses more than opticals. Of course they are both just as likely, but this does not change the perception.
    As far as "the high price of Apple". If you compare Apple gear to business grade dell and HP the prices are almost identical.
    And the bloatware on HP is much worse than the extras Apple gives you.
    Me personally I went with a Mac Book Pro because I can always instantiate a VM of Win 7 or XP on my Mac. Much more difficult to go the hackintosh route.
  • gochichi - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    I disagree that the most sensible reason to not get a rMBP is out of some theological conflict against soldered on memory.

    And yes, I look at my laptop from 2010 and how affordable it has been to upgrade it to a 128GB SSD and 8GB of RAM and it makes me wonder just how well exactly is the rMBP going to age. Its aging is so important because it's an advanced prototype right now. It needs to age. But I don't think it'll age well from the resale value perspective. I also don't believe it is very usable on actual software.

    Let's put it this way, when on the rMBP I would rather use TextEdit and have the text look properly than use Pages or Word. That's a problem, that's not Pro as in professional, that's pro as in prototype. You're holding the future, but not the present. I found it unusable for anything but elite ipad duty (or is it a chrome book... basically if you're on safari it's amazing) .

    Now the way it runs say Starcraft 2. Wow, on high settings it looks beyond amazing but too low a frame rate.

    I think the retina is just not ready for duty. I was excited to have it and sad to return it. I think if you're actually wanting to get something accomplished I would go with a 13 air or a 1680 by 1050 15" pro or a 17"pro (from 2011).

    The rMBP is wonderful but its not the most utilitarian device this year. I'm waiting for 2013 myself. Waiting for software support? You gotta be kidding me.
  • gochichi - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    rMBP. The future, and really depending on how much money you have and/or how comfortable you are with the hassle of selling your used equipment at a good price it's not wrong at all to get it. I would even say that $/$ it's a pretty high value proposition in the lineup. For instance compared to a 13" Air with 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM...

    The problem arises when you ask me yet again to upgrade all my software whether I want to or not. I've been a Mac user from PowerPC days, and interestingly enough the 15" Pro model laptop was the first Intel based Mac (just like this is the first Retina Mac). No matter how you got your software, it has a value, you're already good at using it and all that jazz and it is a big deal that the screen on the rMBP is basically emulating a compatible resolution on a ton of software. And much like Rosetta before, the emulation "works" but leaves a lot to be desired.

    It's an amazing value, and if you're comfortable with being a guinea pig waiting who knows how long to wait for compatible software for who knows what price then its great.

    In having returned it, it leaves me scratching my head for what to get instead. I have a lot of equipment but non of it is Mac. I've been toying around with 2011 MacBook Air (11" mind you) and I like using that more the rMBP because it runs everything natively and I can hook it up to my 27" Dell U2711 just fine. As I escalate the upgrade options and reach ever closer to the rMBP I hesitate. I don't think I should hesitate but I do. For the year is 2012 and if I'm going to spend a ton of money to get something done, for some end goal I guess. I think buying four shares of apple with the money and then selling those shares in 2013 would be a great way to go.

    I completely understand how the rMBP is a fantastic product and a brilliant move for Apple. But things are changing, some critical things appear to be changing. For instance, the resale value of Mac equipment is fluctuating more than it has in the past. The closed, cellphone-like equipment is creating a cellphone-like frenzy and sudden disinterest. My interest in a 2010 AIr is slim indeed, while a 2010 MacBook Pro with an SSD is still desirable.

    No Mac for me in 2012? I think this may be the answer for me. I passed up a used 2011 13" Air for $850 because "it wasn't good enough" and now I'm punching my throat about it. I also passed up a used 2011 11" Air with 256GB SSD for the same price. Why? Because I had to have the rMBP. Just to realize that even though the thermal/noise characteristics are amazing, the battery life also, everything is emulated through it. And it's not so easy to find a fantastic case for it either (it will be in 2013...) which is what you need when you have a $2,000 iPad/portable iMac without a screen. It has unique features, and I'm hardly the wealthiest guy on these forums so your mileage may vary.

    Also worth noting is that wealth is a huge thing in determining whether ANY 15" Pro is for you. (Enthusiasm goes a long way too, like in my case). So back to the wealth thing... my point is that a lot of the people justifying a $2,000 laptop are simply well off in their careers and likely in their 40's or 50's at which point I'm not sure the retina offers much value compared to the sheer brightness of the standard 15" (The low-res one at that). This may also be a mute point because those same eyes may not experience the level of frustration that I experienced while watching poorly emulated resolutions on the rMBP.

    I wanted a work horse, and in so many ways it's just an unsatisfying time to purchase. If unlike me you already have a Mac and a work horse, hold on to it for ten more months.

    Final comment on software. So you have say Office 2011... worth $100-$300 depending on who you ask. You have CS 5.5... you have all this stuff already, YOU should determine when you want to upgrade and not your hardware. Your hardware is at the service of your software.

    Last but not least, Windows 8 handled the rMBP display like a Pro. It also ran hot on Windows, but if Mac OS would handle the display Windows 8 does, I'd be too busy to tell you about how happy I was. Windows 8 isn't even out officially, so buying a $2k laptop on the promise that Windows 8 runs it well, seems impatient of me. And it doesn't fit the primary bullet point that I had when I set sail on all of this: To have a Mac on my technology repertoire.

    Oh nice firefighter selling your 2011 13" Air for $850... where are you now?

    Peace out. Hope this rambling helped (it's all I was trying to do).
  • LuckyKnight - Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - link

    If ASUS can offer a nvidia GPU in their 13", come on Apple get with it :) I would love something portable as a 13" that can play games.
  • Les Likely - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    The 15.4" matte display is really nice but I'm dismayed to discover that the hardware is not capable of booting into Mac OS X 10.6.8 from either an internal or external HDD partition.

    I suffered with Mac OS X Lion for a year - definitely an unstable dog of a cat. Result: I still don't trust Mountain Lion. And now we have a crippled generation of hardware, to add injury to insult - but there's no way to rig a safety-net.

  • thecuber - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    How much difference in performance would the extra 512 MB on the GPU cause?

    It's the only thing holding me back from buying the MBP15
  • thecuber - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    How much of a differenece would the extra 512MB memory on the GPU make?
  • thecuber - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    How much of a difference does the 512 MB in vRAM make a difference. It's the only thing holding me back from buying a MBP15.
  • Systembolaget - Sunday, September 2, 2012 - link

    I'm much in favour of the reviews that show that the Retina MBP is not there yet and especially so under Windows, and on the other hand, the non-Retina MBPs are getting old. But, if you're into 3D CAD, rendering and FEM/CFD, what choice do you have now?

    These all have the same processors and are roughly in the same price bracket. The Apple is ageing and has no IPS panel. The Dell is plasticky and has no IPS panel. The Lenovo lost its fantastic keyboard and now proffers a terrible screen. The HP has a decent IPS panel, but is the most expensive. At the moment, it looks like one can only buy the wrong machine...

    - Apple MacBook Pro
    i7-3720QM quad-core 2,6 GHz 6 MB L3 cache
    8 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
    750 GB SATA 6 GB/s 7200 RPM
    1680 x 1050 NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M 1 GB GDDR5
    2.379,00 €

    - Dell Precision M4700
    i7-3720QM quad-core 2,6 GHz 6 MB L3 cache
    16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
    750 GB SATA 6 GB/s 7200 RPM
    1920 x 1080 AMD FirePro M4000 Mobility Pro 1 GB GDDR5
    2.482,00 €

    - Lenovo ThinkPad W530
    i7-3720QM quad-core 2,6 GHz 6 MB L3 cache
    16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
    500 GB SATA 6 GB/s 7200 RPM
    1920 x 1080 NVIDIA Quadro K2000M 2 GB GDDR3
    2.151,42 €

    - HP Elitebook 8560w
    i7-3720QM quad-core 2,5 GHz 8 MB L3 cache
    8 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
    750 GB SATA 3 GB/s 7200 RPM
    1920 x 1080 NVIDIA Quadro 2000M 2 GB GDDR3
    2.840,53 €
  • 1andrew - Friday, October 12, 2012 - link

    Great review by Vivek, but I have to disagree with him. I returned my MacBook Pro with Retina display for refurbished the 2012 MacBook Pro.

    The MacBook Pro with Retina display simply isn't ready yet. Vivek does say that it will take roughly 1 release cycle for software to catch up with the new display, but he doesn't emphasize this enough. As a student, I use Microsoft Work for hours a day. The blurry pixillated text strained my eyes and drove me insane (although Microsoft finally fixed that last week)

    I also enjoy playing games on my laptop. Install Windows via Bootcamp turned into a nightmare The bootcamp install kept failing to make a bootable USB drive, and without a DVD drive it was my only option. I eventually switched over to Windows computer to make the bootable USB drive. Furthermore, Windows 7 hasn't been upgraded for the retina display even with the 150% DPI scaling many of the user elements are too small. Finally, the MacBook Pro isn't fast enough to run most games at full resolution.

    The MacBook Pro with Retina display amazed. I loved the thinner form factor, but as my only computer I need a DVD drive. Life without ethernet was miserable. If only Apple included a Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter or an external DVD drive.

    Simply put, there those of us who need a fully fledged laptop.

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