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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  • dillettante - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    The superdrive can be replaced with more internal storage. I use a SSD for a fast system drive and supplement that with a large mechanical HDD for data storage.

  • chemist1 - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    Agreed, for many that might be the most significant advantage of the older form factor. Also, you would need the older form factor if you wanted a dual-SSD RAID configuration for better performance.
  • Bonzauker - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    Exactly the reason why I stay away from the retina, at least at the moment. I put one 256 GB as main drive and the 750GB replacing the DVD. For my job, a notebook with only 256GB is useless.
  • GotThumbs - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    I choose to read this additional Apple review since it was written by a different reviewer, but feel it provides little value over just posting the spec comparison sheet directly from Apples website. This is simply a comparison between Apples past iterations of its own past parts bins. How much time was spent on this anyway?

    It would have been more informative if it had included other vendors similarly spec'd systems in the performance. While they won't have resolutions comparable to the Retina screen....Apples hardware is made up of many PC components available in the market place. Of course this excludes Apples proprietary designed reiterations of PC components (SSD).

    I think the only point that really needs to be made that if your an Apple is yet another version of the old case with overdue upgrades in the internals. Non-Apple users need not bother.

    I used to like to read Anandtech because It would provide an opportunity to learn about new technology and provided comparable performance information between components and systems in a clean and unbiased manner.

    From now on...maybe it would be best if any Apple product review begins with..This review sponsored by Apple.

    I'll still continue to read Anandtech, but know that any Apple review is just an advertisement/endorsement and thus read it with limited expectations of an unbiased comparison whats currently available in the marketplace.

    At least this reviewer provided readers with information on an option for savings by passing over Apples overpriced upgrades and go thought a vendor for the parts at a price savings. I'm sure Apple reps were not happy, but it helps provide a small sense of reader centric writing instead of pleasing Apple.

    $2,200 for a laptop...when there are PC alternatives available for hundreds less....yet no mention or comparison of those systems. If readers are only browsing, email and FB' this really worth the money? Only if your a tech-fashonista.

  • Sunburn74 - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    Well said. Pretty much a review for people who have already decided they want to buy a mac and nothing else.
  • Sunburn74 - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    In addition, in this day and age, to sell any machine costing over $1000 without a SSD is an absolute travesty.
  • nevertell - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    Anand has stated before that there is little to no cross shopping between apple and pc laptops.
    It is difficult to review different hardware with different OS's. Whilst many components may seem to be the same, apple has been known before to slip their own secret sauce into the hardware to be able to do things that just wouldn't be possible with the standard PC hardware, like the scaling hardware in the rMBP.
  • Freakie - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    Scaling hardware? And I haven't really seem much secret sauce in Apple's hardware. I see lots of lazy sauce, and people confusing design flares with engineering prowess.
  • pmhparis - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    So, in your opinion Apple didn't innovate with the rMBP+OSX scaling Where can i find it then? Not on any PC+Windows nor on any PC+Linux.

    You clearly refuse to see that its the whole package that makes the rMBPs scaling a class above everything else out today. Too much emotional investment in windows like so many others. At least it makes it easy to see that your complains are biased.
  • Super56K - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    I think it's more emotional investment in the hatred of Apple as a whole.

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