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As soon as Apple rolled out the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display last summer, all the Mac addicts we know began clamoring for more Retina models, and this past fall Apple obliged, introducing a 13-inch version. From the outside, it looks just like its big brother: The same jaw-dropping LED-backlit display, with four times the pixels (2560x1600 in this case). The same advanced ports, including two Thunderbolt ports, two USB 3, HDMI, SDXC, and MagSafe 2. The same thinner, lighter design — this model just 0.75 inches thin (that’s a mere seven one-hundredths of an inch thicker than a MacBook Air) — and weighing only 3.57 pounds.
But inside, it’s pretty different. To achieve the same seven-hour battery life, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina has to make a few concessions. You can choose from two dual-core processors. A 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 comes standard, or you can upgrade to a 2.9GHz Intel Core i7 for $200. The 15-inch Retina MBP models all have quad-core processors. The 13-incher comes with 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM, and that’s it, no upgrade options either at purchase or afterward, while the 15-incher can double that to 16GB if you build to order, for another $200 surcharge. The 13-incher’s Intel HD Graphics 4000 is no slouch, powering the 4-million-plus pixels in the Retina display plus two 2560x1600 external displays. But the 15-inch Retina MBP also has a discrete graphics card (the Nvidia GeForce GT 650M) that it can switch to for really graphics-hungry tasks.
So while you can still see four times as much of your image in pixel-for-pixel view when using a Retina-ready editing application like iPhoto, Aperture, or Photoshop CS6, if you’re doing a lot of heavy video editing, you’ll get better performance from the 15-inch Retina MBP. It scored 12,026 in Geekbench, but this new 13-inch version in the standard configuration topped out at 7,451. The 128GB of flash storage (upgradeable to 768GB, if you don’t mind paying $2,999 total for your laptop) is plenty fast, clocking up to 305MBps read and 256MBps write. Literally everything we did felt incredibly fast, from startup to big file transfers to launching applications.
The bottom line. You can shave nearly a pound of weight and save $500 by choosing this over the 15-inch Retina MBP. The only reasons not to are if you edit huge video files frequently, or you want to wait to see what Apple’s got coming next — say, quad-core chips, next-gen Wi-Fi, a higher RAM limit, maybe even 4G connectivity. We can dream, but this Retina MacBook Pro works like a dream already.
13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display
Specifications: 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 with 3MB shared L3 cache, 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM, 13.3-inch 2560x1600 LED-backlit display, Intel HD Graphics 4000 with 768MB VRAM, 128GB flash storage, MagSafe 2 port, two Thunderbolt ports, two USB 3 ports, HDMI port, headphone/optical digital audio-out port, SDXC card slot, 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0, 720p FaceTime HD camera, backlit keyboard, stereo speakers, dual microphones
Amazing display. Thin and light, only about half a pound heavier than MacBook Air. Flash memory is super fast. $500 cheaper than 15-inch version. Many more apps are Retina-enhanced than when the 15-inch model first came out.
Can’t upgrade RAM at all. Can’t upgrade storage after initial purchase. No quad-core option or discrete graphics card. Apps not updated for Retina display are unbearably blurry.