The MacBook Pro is Apple’s line of professional-grade laptops. And just before Halloween this year, Apple unveiled an addition to its lineup of MacBook Pro notebooks: A 13-inch MacBook Pro, sporting a Retina display.
What does that mean? Which one’s the best deal, with or without a Retina screen? Let’s find out.
Medium or small
Apple used to make a 17-inch MacBook Pro, with a screen as large as its earlier desktop monitors and iMacs. But while the iMac and Cinema Display monitors have gotten larger, Apple laptops have gotten smaller. Now the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro is at the high end, both in terms of screen size and specs, while the smallest MacBook Pro you can get has a 13.3-inch screen.
Retina or low-resolution display
Apple’s trying to trademark the term “Retina” to mean a display that has pixels so small you can’t discern them with your unaided eye. 2010’s iPhone 4 was the first gadget to get such a screen, but this year Apple’s introduced two new iPads and two sizes of MacBook Pro which feature them.
To compare different levels of Retina-ness, people use a measurement called PPI, or pixels per inch. The iPad’s screen has 264 PPI, which gives text and Retina-sized graphics a crispness and sharpness that’s rarely found elsewhere. The 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros, on the other hand, have 227 and 220 PPI displays, which are closer to the sharpness of the 216 PPI Google Nexus 7 tablet. It packs a screen the size of the regular (non-Retina) 13-inch MacBook Pro into a chassis roughly the size of the iPad Mini, so you can imagine how sharp a Retina MacBook Pro’s screen is.
How’s the performance?
In general, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is more powerful and has more options for increasing its performance than the 13-inch models.
Both models of 13-inch MacBook Pro have dual-core processors; the 15-inch models all have quad-core Intel Core i7 chips. The 15-inch MacBook Pro also has a discrete Nvidia graphics card, whether you get the Retina or low-res version, while the 13-inch MacBook Pro doesn’t have one and does not have the option to upgrade.
The low-res versions of each size come with slow, 5400 RPM hard disk drives by default. But the Retina MacBook Pro models use flash memory (solid state drives) exclusively, which means faster speeds and no moving parts. They also start with 8 GB of RAM instead of 4, and the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro can be configured with up to 16 GB.
What do you give up by going Retina?
A DVD burner, for one. You can add an external one, although the drives sold at Apple’s store are likely to be expensive. The Retina MacBook Pros also lack FireWire 800 ports and Gigabit Ethernet, although they have HDMI out for connecting to HDTVs (which actually have lower-resolution screens than they do).
Besides that, you give up about a fifth of an inch of thickness and about a pound of weight from each laptop, for going Retina instead. But somehow, you don’t sacrifice battery life; all MacBook Pro models are rated at “Up to seven hours.”
Which one should you get?
That largely depends on how much you can afford, since the differences between the models basically amount to power and price tag. If you can afford a Retina screen, get it; they’ll be the standard a few years from now. Meanwhile, the discrete graphics card on the 15-inch model is a must, for gaming or graphics work, and a solid state drive will speed up most other day to day operations more than anything else will.
The cheapest, 13-inch MacBook Pro you can get costs $1,199. Meanwhile, the cheapest one that comes with a Retina display is $1,699, although it’s just $200 more than a 13-inch MacBook Pro with the 8 GB RAM upgrade and 128 GB solid state drive option that it uses. At the high end, the most powerful and expensive 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro costs nearly $4,000. Those last few ounces of power are the most costly, however, and the more powerful MacBook Pros are more uncomfortable to use on your lap because of how hot they get.
Consider your budget, and how much power you need for your workflow. Most importantly, though, have fun with whatever you get!