The 2012 MacBook Pro Reviewby Vivek Gowri on July 18, 2012 2:00 PM EST
The 2012 MacBook Pro is a pretty intriguing product. It’s the latest and last in a line of standard-setting notebooks that helped shape the direction of the notebook industry over the last 5 years. This design has been around for a while, accompanied by the same general specsheet formula: the latest Intel processors, a performance-class GPU, a high quality display panel, and a $1799 starting price. These things haven’t changed since the original Intel MacBook Pros from 2006 (with the exception of the odd low-end 2009 MBP15, which started at $1599 and came with an Nvidia 9400M IGP).
The unibody MacBook Pro is one of the best engineered portables around, and the longevity of the design speaks to that. But at this point, it’s an aging design. Nearly four years in, the design has endured well, but it retains features that are starting to matter less and less - a DVD drive, Firewire, an IR window for the remote that hasn’t been included with new Macs in years. Possibly even Ethernet. I know some of our editors and readers rely on having an Ethernet connection, but I personally haven’t plugged an RJ45 jack into a notebook in years. Like, five or six years. You can see that Apple agrees - the Retina MacBook Pro has none of those things. The optical drive has been unceremoniously dumped, as has the IR port. The Firewire port and Ethernet jack have been traded for a second Thunderbolt port and an HDMI out (finally, HDMI comes to Macs - hooray for no longer needing those infernal adapters!). Based on my usage model, I make that trade twelve times out of ten. Two ports I never use for one I use regularly and one I will use going forward, and becomes worth more as more Thunderbolt accessories become available.
And when you think about it in those terms, you see where the normal 2012 MBP is flawed - it’s a design that’s rooted in the past, a four year old design with a one year stay of execution. That normally wouldn’t be a problem, but with the future being sold alongside it, it becomes a much more difficult sell. Especially when you consider this: if you were to buy the base 15” MBP and upgrade to a 256GB Samsung 830 SSD and 8GB memory (bringing it to spec-parity with the base rMBP), you’d be approximately $100 shy of the rMBP pricing. That’s $100 for a smaller, lighter notebook that’s just as fast and has a *significantly* better display. If you’re eligible for student discount, that difference is actually zero, because the rMBP has a greater student discount than the base MBP15. The rMBP is pretty pricey, but when you think about it, it’s a pretty good deal.
There are only a few legitimate reasons I can think of to skip the rMBP and get the MBP15, with the most reasonable of them being that you’re very fundamentally opposed to the soldered memory and custom SSD form factor. Another is if you’re highly dependent on a DVD drive and Ethernet and don’t want to pay for or carry around an external SuperDrive or GigE adapter. Or, you have a hard-set $1800 budget and simply don’t care about an SSD, extra memory, or having a good screen (or plan to upgrade them later).
But here’s my take – the 2012 MBP is a great notebook and a very solid portable system. I just don’t want one. For my money, I’ll either save some and get a discounted 2011 MBP15 or spend a bit more to step up to the Retina. And maybe this is telling, but as soon as I was done with the benchmarking and the major part of the writing for this review, I stopped using the MBP and picked up a base Retina. It’s the future, simple as that.