This Is The 13-Inch Retina MacBook Pro You Should Get

From the first time we saw the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, we've been thinking: "Well, that's great, but can it be a little smaller?" Done. You can now buy a beautiful, bright, pixel-perfect display attached to a souped-up ultrabook.

But the new models might not be everything you dreamed of. Here's a guide to figuring out which version you want (if you actually want one).

For Almost Everybody

It's the Core i5 2.5GHz (Turbo Boost to 3.1GHz) processor with 256GB storage.

  • Why the 2.5GHz processor? You will use this thing like a MacBook Air with a Greek god of a screen. And this processor clocks faster than the processor the current Airs max out at -- the top-end Core i7 2.0GHz processor. It'll run your programs more than adequately, even if things like encoding time won't blow your shoes off.
  • Why 256GB? You don't want to be paying for too much onboard SSD storage, given how expensive it is. Only 128GB is a pretty tight squeeze -- especially given how massive some professional software installs can be. Having 256GB is a nice medium, and you can add high-speed external storage with Thunderbolt.

The Exceptions

Take a second before deciding you're definitely getting a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. Yeah, super-high resolution screens are great. We're excited about them all, especially that pie-in-the-sky super HD Samsung Series 9. But you need to take a good look at what you're actually getting in this machine. Traditionally, despite their popularity, 13-inch MacBook Pros have been one of the worst buys in tech.

Check out the official specs. A few things should jump out at you:

  • There is no option to add a discrete graphics card. That's a huuuuge deal. It's how things have always been for the 13-inch MacBook Pros, but for a while there, people had turned them into Apple's standard laptop. Now, however, the retina screen is juicing up the 13-inch model as a Pro-level machine again. For a lot of things that a professional would be using it for, that Intel HD 4000 (Ivy Bridge) integrated graphics setup just won't cut it. Likewise, the gorgeous display will also probably attract the traditional "Oh, I'll get the Pro so I can game on it" crowd. While Ivy Bridge is serviceable, there's no way in Gehenna that it's going to crank out game graphics at native resolution.
  • Memory is not configurable. Unlike the 15-inch retina display MacBook Pro, with the 13-inch, you get 8GB of RAM, and only 8GB of RAM. Since retina display MacBook Pros are among the least tinkerable gadgets on the planet, you won't be adding it yourself. That too is going to hinder the MacBook Pro 13 in some professional settings, especially considering that one of the main virtues of that super-HD retina screen is being able to run a ton of programs at once in one workspace.
  • It's only dual core. You're getting the dual-core i5 and i7 chips, not the quad-core versions found in the 15-inch retina screen version. So while 2.5GHz and 2.9GHz will feel fast in everyday use, heavy-duty multitasking and other involved tasks will take a hit there too.

That said, this could still be a great machine for photographers, designers and a host of other folks who can make use of that display. This offers the best performance you can get when you absolutely can't fit a 15-inch laptop where you're going.

If you're constantly working with external drives, or conversely need everything on one local drive, this is the sweet spot for most people -- if, you know, you actually need one of these things to begin with. Just be aware, going in, that you're not dealing with an out-and-out monster like the 15-inch retina display MacBook Pro.



    "this could still be a great machine for photographers, designers and a host of other folks who can make use of that display". Except they won't be able to because the OS will still see it as a much lower res screen and it will make all the toolbars and stuff huge. OTOH, something like the forthcoming Asus U500Z, with a 15" full HD screen, will give you lots of extra pixels you can actually use.

      You do realise you can vary the scaling anywhere from double, right back to native res right? If your eyes are up to running at the full resolution then great, if not, choose your scaling factor. Either way it puts 1080p to shame.

        No, I did not. I've asked the question a few times and never got an answer. Obviously it is different to iPad, then. Personally, I have never had an issue with the PPI of any computer screen I've ever used and everyone but me absolutely hated the 1920x1200 screen I had on my 15.4" demo laptops and my M4400. I a also yet to see any TFT display that scales well, so working at anything other than native res, or a whole multiple of it, will always be awful.

          On the display 15 inch retina machine at work, although I'm not sure they've been fully upgraded have a slider that gives you roundabout information for the resolution. I found it quite frustrating when trying to find actual information for the gentleman I was serving at the time.

      Doesn't the OS give you an option to use the extra pixels apart from the "best for retina" option? Unless that part is different to the 15" rmbp.

      I wouldn't be doing photo editing or the like on a laptop screen let alone on of those screens.

      I have a colour accurate calibrated screen on my desktop for this type of stuff, and it doesn't give me anywhere near the amount of eye strain my Asus UX31E screen does. And I think a lot of this attributes to the fact its an LED screen.

      I would think the attraction with a retina screen is that it would make text, movies and gaming a lot more attractive. Not so much the practicality of it. Also I believe its more of a trend setting thing that ASUS and Dell were already doing awhile back.

        Who said anything about photo editing? I have to do all manner of on-site work and I'd rather carry an ultrabook than a workstation.

      As a keen photographer myself, I can tell you that you have misunderstood the statement. What this laptop will gives is not the ability to 'fit more on the screen', but rather the ability to much more easily discern the quality of photographs thanks to the super-high pixel density.

    No discrete graphics. Non-configurable RAM. Dual core only. (And you forgot to mention, no additional storage.) Yet "this could still be a great machine for photographers, designers and a host of other folks who can make use of that display."

    Yeah, because nobody who works with Photoshop and Illustrator all day enjoys quad-core processors, discrete graphics cards, or large amounts of RAM and storage.

      "Yeah, because nobody who works with Photoshop and Illustrator all day enjoys quad-core processors, discrete graphics cards, or large amounts of RAM and storage."

      Now, now, only those who work with Photoshop and illustrator all day are allowed to put it on tax and money pit it even though it's useless.

    Yeah I think apple dropped the ball on this. I just can't see the dual core CPU, and integrated gpu handling the screen resolution. 8 gb of ram is acceptable, but lack of dedicated gpu... just isn't acceptable.

      For normal office works are ok, but if you plan to play games... O.o really on retina screen with HD4000?? that's a let down actually

        Why the frak are you buying a light 13" laptop if you want to play games?

        Battery Life
        Pick 2

          so I can bring them everywhere and if I need to play game then I could. specially when travelling ,ti's good to travel light

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