Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display

Apple's MacBook Pro line has now gotten an entirely expected upgrade to current-generation Intel CPUs, just in time for the holiday shopping season. In our hands-on initial testing, these new 13-inch and 15-inch models look and feel just like the previous generation, but the promise of longer battery life, somewhat improved performance, faster Wi-Fi, and lower starting prices is enough to make this a significant overall update.


The high-end, high-price Retina Display versions of the MacBook Pro had previously been stuck in an unusual position. While other systems, from budget laptops to premium hybrids, had all moved onto Intel's latest CPU platform, known as either the fourth-generation Core i-series or by the code name Haswell, the MacBook Pro still used last year's processors.



(Credit: Josh MIller/CNET)


The first Mac systems to get Haswell were the 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air back in June 2013. The iMac all-in-one desktop followed. That left the more expensive MacBook Pro a generation behind its less expensive Air counterpart in CPU power and battery life. That's important because our Labs testing has shown that Haswell offers significant improvements to battery life in PC and Mac systems. Apple promises 9 hours from the 13-inch model, and 8 hours from the 15-inch, and we'll offer updated battery life scores as we test the new Pro models.


Note, however, that this update applies only to the thinner MacBook Pro models with Retina Displays. Currently only the 13-inch version of the 'classic' MacBook Pro appears to be available for sale. The 15-inch version is presumably relegated to the same lonely afterlife as its 17-inch relative. For the sake of expediency, we'll now refer to the current 13-inch and 15-inch Retina Display models simply as the MacBook Pro.


Updated components and a lower price The flagship MacBook Pro with Retina Display retains its very high screen resolution, which results in crisper text and clearer photos (2,560x1,600 pixels for the 13-inch model, 2,880x1,800 for the 15-inch model). Unlike some Windows PCs with higher-res screens, OS X is more interested in scaling your onscreen content to look its best (or what Apple thinks will look best), rather than giving you full unfettered access to that very, very high resolution. The tile interface in Windows 8 does something similar with the handful of higher-res PCs now available.



(Credit: Josh MIller/CNET)


Like the recent MacBook Air and iMac updates, the new MacBook Pro models feature 802.11ac Wi-Fi, faster PCIe solid-state drive (SSD) storage, and Thunderbolt 2 ports for data and video output.


We were pleasantly surprised when the 13-inch MacBook Air saw its starting price cut to $1,099 earlier this year. The MacBook Pro follows, with its prices going from $1,499 for the 13-inch version down to $1,299; and from $2,199 down to $1,999 for the 15-inch version. That's a break from traditional Apple pricing, where prices would remain the same generation over generation, with updated components adding value.


The thin body, somewhere between a MacBook Air and the old MacBook Pro, remains the same, 0.71 inch thick in both screen sizes. Internally, you get a fourth-gen Intel CPU (Core i5 in the 13-inch, Core i7 in the 15-inch), and Intel's latest onboard Iris and Iris Pro integrated graphics, although the 15-inch model has optional Nvidia GeForce 750M graphics.



(Credit: Josh MIller/CNET)


The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, while the 15-inch version defaults to 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD (which Apple described as a 'quarter terabyte'). Our review configuration of the 15-inch MacBook Pro is the step-up model (and it's a big step) for $2,599, with a faster 2.3GHZ Core i7, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and the Nvidia GeForce 750M GPU.


A power-packed thin design As in the first generation of these MacBook Pro models from 2012, the current versions exist somewhere between the chunkier idea of a 'pro-level,' power user laptop and the slim ultrabook ideal. Denser than they look at first glance, they aren't exactly a carry-all-day-every-day package, although one could conceivably pull that off with the 13-inch MacBook Pro.


For the very heights of premium laptop design, at least on the 13-inch front, look to the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus or the Acer Aspire S7, both of which pack high-end parts into very slim, sturdy, sexy bodies. That said, the price cut for the 13-inch MacBook Pro gives it a leg up on those.



(Credit: Josh MIller/CNET)


The 15-inch MacBook Pro is more striking, especially considering its slim chassis can include a decent discrete graphics card. Still, from the outside at least, these are the same MacBook Pros as last year. Like the 2013 MacBook Air and iMac updates, the new features are internal in nature, or software-based, if you're considering OS X Mavericks to be part of the overall package.


The keyboard and trackpad remain essentially the same as seen on the last several generations of MacBook. Other laptops have matched, but not surpassed, the backlit Apple keyboard. And the trackpad, with its multifinger gestures, remains the industry leader, even as Windows laptops move to more touch-screen controls, at least partially to compensate for the hassle of using a touch pad with Windows 8.


The Retina Display remains a main selling point, and crosses over between the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro. Some new and upcoming Windows laptops go for even higher resolutions, and it's not unreasonable to ask when we'll see this trickle down to the MacBook Air line. The Retina screen is at its best when displaying text or professional photography. Videos rarely go past 1080p and most Mac games can't display higher resolutions to begin with.


If you like the idea of investing in a higher-resolution laptop, and can live without an optical drive (a concession that seems more reasonable every day), the updated 2013 version of the Retina MacBook Pro, especially in its 15-inch incarnation, remains an irresistibly powerful yet comfortably portable laptop.


We're currently running both the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro models through our benchmark and battery drain tests and will update this page with results and a review score.


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