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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  • tipoo - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    If you want one, I'd advise waiting at least until the end of October, a few sources have been saying the 13" is next up on the Retina upgrade docket. If it's anything like the 15"s, that means a few hundred more for a far better screen, SSD, and more RAM.

    As for the current one, pretty easy to extrapolate, slightly better battery life, slightly better CPU performance, up to 60% better GPU.
    Reply
  • secretmanofagent - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    That makes no sense to me. The 13" to my knowledge has never had a discrete graphics card, and it would be very close to the 13" MBA (and has never had quad core). It would make more sense to drop the 13" MBP and just do the updates on the MBA. Reply
  • joer80 - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    I agree with this review. (Owner of rMBP.) Good job AnandTech! Reply
  • nikolayo - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    Am I the only one who believes that in 2012 a 1440x900 screen is entirely inadequate for a top-tier notebook which MBP aspires to be? Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    On this site, probably. I love my 1920x1080 on 15". Reply
  • pmhparis - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    I appreciated my Dell e6500s 15" 1920x1200 too but
    - it was heavy, & I carried it work-home half the time on my back
    - It had throttlegate problems where GPU use would throttle the CPU down to 10%
    - It's middle of the road build quality meant that it was coming apart at the seams.

    My daughter's 2009 MBP is in great shape even if has a few dents from being put in a bookbag that was dropped a couple times.

    I now have a rMBP that I'll certainly use 2 x longer than any PC I've had up to now. Why is it that some people believe that a PC that is cheaper but needs to be replaced more often is less expensive?
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    Wow, I don't see how you manage to engage in any of the conversations to which you replied. You just ended up bashing on Dell notebook, praising an Apple notebook and making a general statement that is (as most general statements) very flawed. Good job! :D Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    Whoops, read OP as adequate, not inadequate. Reply
  • sudokill - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    If you buy a 2012 MBP, ditch the optical drive and put a 256GB SSD, upgrade to the higher res screen, you essentially get the rMBP price. But for losing the retina screen, you get completely replaceable parts (keep in mind the warranty is still the same at 1 year for both), over 1TB of total internal storage (you keep the original 750GB HDD), same SSD speed, ethernet port, FW port, and the ability to upgrade/change components. The retina screen is nice, but is it really worth all that??

    The most important is the peace of mind... if any little component goes bad on the rMBP after a year, you'll have to scrap the whole thing or pay an arm or leg to fix. With the regular MBP, you can easily replace your own parts.
    Reply
  • inplainview - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    That is if you live in the US with the crappy warranty. However in Europe the warranty is two years... Reply

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