MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro: Which laptop should you get?

MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro: Which laptop should you get?

MacBook buyers guide: How to choose the best new MacBook - the thin, lightweight MacBook Air, or the robust and powerful MacBook Pro.

You've decided that it's time to replace your aging Mac with one of Apple's new laptops. Or maybe you're jumping onto the Mac platform for the first time. MacBook Air, MacBook Pro both old and with the new Retina display — there are a lot of options. They run the gamut of prices, too. What do you get for your money? And which model is best suited for you?

Note: Originally published November 2013. Updated to reflect new April 2014 MacBook Air specs and pricing.

Current MacBook models and their prices

Apple's MacBook line comprises two separate product categories: the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. The two systems are differentiated by their size, weight and relative performance, as well as their price.

The MacBook Air is Apple's lightweight laptop. It comes in two different form factors - 11-inch and 13-inch. It's Apple's least expensive laptop, starting at $899. The 11-inch model costs $899, the 13-inch model costs $100 more, $999.

Base models in both sizes come equipped with 1.4 GHz processors, 4GB of RAM and 128 GB of Solid State Drive (SSD) storage. The SSD works using PCI Express, or PCIe, dramatically faster storage interface than Serial ATA (SATA), used on older systems.

You can configure to order the MacBook Air with a faster processor, more RAM and more storage capacity. RAM and CPU speed can't be altered after the fact. SSD storage is upgradable, though not easily - Apple doesn't make the SSD user-accessible, so if you decide you need more storage you'll either have to take the MacBook Air apart or have a technician do it.

The "standard" 13-inch MacBook Pro is the next model up. It's priced at $1,099.

That system is the only Mac left that includes an internal optical "SuperDrive." It also sports 4GB of RAM and a SATA-connected 500 GB hard disk drive, making it the last Mac laptop that still uses a regular hard drive, too. The processor is clocked at 2.5 GHz. Customization options include a faster processor, more memory and different storage options including a larger hard drive or SSD.

For $1,299, you can have the new MacBook Pro with Retina display. It comes equipped with a 2.6 GHz dual-core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128 GB of SSD storage. Retina display-equipped MacBook Pros eschew the conventional hard drive and internal optical drive found in the regular 13-inch MacBook Pro; as a result the Retina display models are thinner and lighter than their conventional alternatives.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display brings up the rear. It's equipped with a 2.2 GHz quad-core i7 processor, 16 GB RAM and 256GB of SSD storage. It uses Intel Iris Pro integrated graphics. This year, the Retina display model is the only 15-inch model Apple makes. It's priced at $1,999.

There's a higher-end 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display worth mentioning separately - it's the only model that sports a discrete graphics chip. Equipped with a 2.5 GHz quad-core i7 processor, it also includes Nvidia GeForce GT 750 graphics. It's Apple's extreme performer, with a price to match - $2,499.

Just like other MacBooks, MacBook Pros with Retina display can be configured to order with faster processors or more storage capabilities.

Screen size versus display density

The MacBook Air is not yet available with a Retina display - both the 11-inch and 13-inch models sport regular-resolution LED panels. The 11-inch MacBook Air has a native resolution of 1366 x 768, while the 13-inch model uses a 1440 x 900 pixel display.

Some quick back of the envelope calculations (and simple observation) confirm that the 11-inch MacBook Air is a bit of an oddball - it has a different aspect ratio than every other MacBook model. Most MacBooks incorporate a 16:10 display; the 11-inch MacBook Air has a 16:9 display. This means that the 11-inch MacBook Air actually has a wider-looking display than other MacBook models; it's a bit more cinematic (the aspect ratio is consistent with your HDTV, for example).

In any case, the 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air models have pixel densities of 135 pixels per inch (PPI) and 128 PPI respectively. They're sharp, clear displays capable of generating millions of colors, but they're not Retina.

Neither is the $1,099 MacBook Pro. That model sports a native resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels packed into a 13.3-inch display. It's in the same ballpark as the MacBook Air - around 113 PPI.

The "Retina display" moniker began with the iPhone and quickly migrated over to the iPad. And since 2012 we've seen MacBook Pros with Retina displays as well. That doesn't mean that the MacBook Pro has the same pixel density as, say, an iPhone 5s or an iPad mini with Retina display - it simply means that you can't make out individual pixels looking at the screen from an average distance.

In this particular case, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display sports a native resolution of 2560 x 1600 - even higher-resolution than the iPad Air. Although the screen is the same size as the regular 13-inch MacBook Pro, the pixel density is doubled - 227 PPI. The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display has a native resolution of 2880 x 1800 pixels. That's about 220 PPI.

The difference between Retina display and standard display is profound - Retina displays show more detail in photographs and make it easier to read text at smaller point sizes. Obviously there's a finite limit to how well your eyes work, so the best thing to do is to check them out in person at an Apple retail store and figure out what suits you best.

Haswell

With the exception of the "standard" 13-inch MacBook Pro - a holdover from Apple's 2012 product line - all MacBooks now ship with variants of Intel's fourth-generation Core processor, known by its code-name, "Haswell."

Haswell is an improvement over the Ivy Bridge chip found in last year's models, incorporating a smaller die size and improved power management, which is why this year's models have such improved battery life.

Haswell-equipped MacBooks also sport faster graphics processing through Haswell's Integrated Graphics Processor (IGP) - up to 40 percent faster than before, according to Apple's own tests.

Graphics speed gets progressively better further up the MacBook food chain. The MacBook Air uses Intel HD 5000 graphics, while the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display uses Iris graphics, which are faster. The 15-inch MacBook Pro models sport Iris Pro graphics, which are faster still thanks to the addition of EDRAM memory. (The high-end 15-inch model also sports a discrete graphics processor which is automatically activated when running graphics-intensive apps like games and Photoshop.)

Battery Life

An important consideration for your next laptop should be how long you'll be able to work on it away from a power outlet. After all, carrying around your power cord with you all the time means more bulk, which sort of defeats the point of having a portable computer in the first place.

The diminutive 11-inch MacBook Air sports about 9 hours of life (surfing the web; you'll see about an hour less if you're watching videos). The 13-inch MacBook Air, which has almost a third more battery capacity, can last to up to 12 hours without needing to get plugged back in. This model currently rules the roost in terms of battery capacity.

If watching downloaded movies is your bag, an improvement to the 2014 refresh of the MacBook Air yields better battery life when watching movies downloaded from iTunes; up to 9 hours on the 11-inch model and up to 12 hours on the 13-inch model.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display manages to eke out a very impressive 9 hours, despite its high-resolution screen. And the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display also manages a respectable 8 hours, despite all the heavy-duty hardware under the hood.

You can expect the standard 13-inch MacBook Pro, with its 2012-era tech under the hood, to require a recharge after about 7 hours.

Connectivity

All of current crop of laptops - everything except the $1,199 MacBook Pro - comes with 802.11ac wireless networking, or "Gigabit Wi-Fi." In practice, an 802.11ac-equipped Mac is capable of transferring data wirelessly up to three times faster than the 802.11n Wi-Fi found on older machines like the standard MacBook Pro.

That is, of course, predicated on the availability of an 802.11ac-equipped base station, like Apple's new AirPort Extreme and Time Capsule, as well as other 802.11ac-based systems working on the same network. Otherwise your new MacBook Pro will step down to the fastest speed available. 802.11ac is backwards-compatible with 802.11a, b, g and n standards.

Bluetooth 4.0 comes standard across the product line.

Expandability

The MacBook Airs both come equipped with two USB 3.0 ports and one Thunderbolt port. The Thunderbolt port can be used for connecting to an external display, a RAID system and other devices (it's daisy-chainable, too). The 13-inch MacBook Air adds an SDXC card slot, making it easy to import images and movies from SD card-based cameras.

SDXC card slots are standard across the MacBook Pro with Retina display line. They are also the first Apple laptops to support Thunderbolt 2, a faster high-speed interface that works at twice the bandwidth of the original Thunderbolt. What's more, there are two Thunderbolt 2 ports. There are also two USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI connector, so you can attach your MacBook Pro directly to an HDTV if you'd like.

The $1,199 MacBook Pro has a built in Gigabit Ethernet connector, FireWire 800, a single Thunderbolt port, two USB 3.0 ports and an SDXC card slot.

Operating system

All new Macs ship with OS X 10.9 "Mavericks" pre-installed. Mavericks, which was released in October, 2013, features some new user interface elements like tabbed Finder windows and file tagging, along with some new apps like a redesigned Calendar, and for the first time on the Mac, Maps and iBooks. iCloud integration is greatly enhanced as well, so you'll see improved workflow efficiency if you share files and data between your Mac, your iPhone and your iPad.

But what really makes Mavericks exceptional is the under-the-hood changes that Apple has developed to improve power efficiency and performance. Laptops running Mavericks will last longer than ever before on a single charge thanks to important changes like Timer Coalescing and App Nap, features that more efficiently use the laptop's processor and conserve battery life. Safari Power Saver keeps the Adobe Flash plug-in from loading unless you say it's ok.

Who should get a MacBook Air?

I liken the MacBook Air to a roadster, like a Mazda Miata. It looks lightweight, and on paper the specs don't blow you out of the water. But get behind the wheel and it's a completely different experience - it's lithe, nimble and a lot of fun to drive.

In the same token, the MacBook Air is a pleasure to use; its solid state architecture, streamlined with PCIe, makes it fast and responsive. For many Mac users who are surfing the Web, running productivity software, even light graphics and design work, the MacBook Air is a perfectly balanced machine that won't cost you a lot of money and does a lot.

The downside is the limited storage capacity. 128 GB isn't a lot, especially if you're a digital pack rat, and SSD costs a lot to upgrade. The inexpensive - and inconvenient - solution is to migrate content to an external hard disk drive.

Who should get a standard MacBook Pro?

The standard-issue MacBook Pro fits a niche between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro with Retina display. It also fits an important niche in the ecosystem: it's a laptop for people who need a lot more local storage space than they can afford with an SSD-equipped system, or built-in optical storage - useful if you're frequently reading or burning CDs and DVDs.

The downside is that it lacks the faster Wi-Fi, faster graphics and better battery performance of this year's models. So there are compromises.

Having said that, the 13-inch MacBook Pro remains a popular option for many Mac users looking for a good, reliable laptop with plenty of capability. Which is why Apple's left it in current lineup. If you're looking for a flexible machine with lots of storage, this is a great option.

Who should get a MacBook Pro with Retina display?

At $1,299, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is a better value than ever. The size is right for most people; the price is right for many as well. This year's crop of rMBPs are faster and more capable than ever, thanks to an efficient processor core and the incorporation of Mavericks.

If you're doing heavy duty graphics work on your laptop - editing huge Photoshop files, editing digital video, or if you're looking for maximum performance, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is going to be your best best. The Iris Pro graphics are surprisingly spritely for an integrated graphics chipset, and the Nvidia graphics on the higher-end 15-inch MacBook Pro offers no compromises.

Still undecided?

If you're still having trouble choosing between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, make sure to pay our Apple notebooks discussion forums a visit and become part of our awesome online community.

Any way you slice it, the MacBook line is better than ever in 2013, and whatever your choice, you'll end up with the best laptop on the market.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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There are 112 comments. Add yours.

davjaxn says:

I currently have a mid 2011 13" MacBook Air and it easily has another 2 years if life in it for me, likely even more. I think this is a testament to the quality and capabilities of Apple notebooks.

That said, if I were to get a new MacBook now it would be the 15". For me portability isn't too important.
For me the ability to take it with me but also have a sizable screen when using it at home is important. And the 15" serves this perfectly. Any of the MacBooks, be they Pro or Air, are plenty powerful enough for most any user. So it really comes down to screen size and storage.

Love the article. Thanks for the fantastic overview of all the options.

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El Hache says:

I love my MBA. It's so light and portable and the battery life is unbeatable. I typically only do word processing, web browsing, watch some movies, and light iMovie editing, but if you're doing anything more CPU intensive you may want to go with the pro. For what I use it for its perfect.

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HisHolinessThePope says:

Good info here!!!

I'm just ticked that bought a 2012 MacBook Pro for $1499 (to get the i7) and I could have waiting a little longer and got an upgraded Retina:(

G.4 says:

Resale value on MBP's is really high. You should sell now while you can still get a nice price for it and upgrade.

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Becjr says:

Excellent case points for aiding in decision making on these devices Peter. Thank you.
Despite my graphics background, I'm leaning towards the Air because of it's lighter, more streamlined package. It kind of reminds me of the decision I made to purchase a Bondi iMac waaayyy.....
(That Bondi is still running to this day, by the way.)

Terence Dilliway says:

Great info from everyone. I just wanted to point out that, although pricy, it is possible to get a powerful MBA that handles everything. I bought a £2K MBA with 8GB ram, i7 CPU, and 512GB SSD with the 11'' form factor. This gives me power and portability. My only regret is that I can't just unhook the screen and use it as a 'tab-book', i.e. hybrid with touch screen like many newcomers to the Win8 ultra book space. Still, with multiple VMs running most all OSs, my trusty MBA is still wowing me! :-)

Algus says:

Really good breakdown, I appreciate that you addressed the battery. I'd love to see battery tests on the whole lineup. I love the idea of a 12 hour battery life but I wonder how badly you'd cut into that by doing heavier work.

RobertsDP says:

I currently have a HP dv7 17 inch and it's been holding up for a good 3 years, but it's too big for me to take to class everyday so I'm looking into getting a MB pro 13 w/ retina... But boy o boy do the options add up fast... Maybe I will splurge on one this Christmas

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sir17reeder says:

I think I would probably fall into the MBA category but the thing is I would prefer the retina display. Fingers crossed for retina MBA or iPad Pro rumors sound interesting too.

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samsin92 says:

This article was much needed. Now I know for sure that the 13-inch rMBP is the laptop for me. Since I'll be needing it for some photo editing, some video editing but mostly programming and simulation softwares.

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Galley says:

I'm ready to upgrade from a 2008 24" iMac to the 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display. I could use portability more than a huge screen.

Peter Cohen says:

Thanks to Thunderbolt you can have both, assuming you want to buy an external monitor. ;)

Jim Gramze says:

How about an article on Macs and external monitors? It's a little tricky if you don't go Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt with an Apple monitor. Without the right cable you end up with Thunderbolt to, say, DVI and limited resolution. If you have a big more-than 1080p monitor it wont work without dual-DVI which requires both a USB and Thunderbolt port. It's an important distinction!

Phacetious Plebbe says:

I have been using a regular flat screen TV, with my 2012 MBA, and a HDMI to MiniDP adapter. It works well, although I notice of late that my adapter seems a bit shaky. I would recommend to people that they consider the HDMI route, as the Thunderbolt/MiniDisplayPort feature allows for audio AND video transfer to the external screen. You can get a big enough display, you get excellent video, almost cinematic, and also audio. It is a beautiful thing.

Rowanova says:

I did an old fashioned columns on paper comparison of MacBooks and options. An MBA 13" or an rMBP13", both with 8 GB memory and 256 GB storage, and both with their base processor, are nearly the same price. The MBA 13" came to $1399, the rMBP 13" is $1499.
The MBA has the advantages of being lighter, cheaper (barely), and amazing battery life.
The rMBP 13" had the advantages of a Retina display, a lot better processor, better graphics, and more ports. That's a lot of advantages for only $100 more.

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czhDavid says:

Well if I buy a macbook I would always go for battery life! Not only that it will last now but i hope that one day i will be swearing that my macbook air will hold only six hours instead f twelve like it used to and not that my MBP will last only 2-3 instead of 7

ut666 says:

Completely agree, did the same comparison, and to me with those specs, especially as 8GB memory is a good way to future proof imho, it was a no brainer, the rMBP 13 stood out.

lee.michael.f92 says:

For me it would have to be the retina 13". I need portability with power and the screen is perfect for when I have to so some serious graphic design work on the fly (literally)! My wife has the new air and it's great but my new 13"is pretty thin already and it fits just as nicely in my bag with no fuss.

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DanielWhitaker says:

I'm looking at buying a MacBook for university next September, I have a budget of £1000 or thereabouts and this article has really helped me, thanks a lot iMore!

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brokenlizard20 says:

Love the MacBook Pro. Well worth the extra investment.

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falconeight says:

With the price, size, and weight similarities apple made the 13 inch air a terrible purchase. Its either a rMBP or a 11 inch air.

yashendra2797 says:

I'm thinking of buying the 13" MBA. I needed to know whether it could run any or all apps of Adobe Creative Cloud (Photoshop or After Effects, etc). Keep in mind, I can't upgrade the laptops as in India they only sell the base models...

Thanks in advance for your help!

Peter Cohen says:

You can check the Adobe Creative Cloud tech specs page for specific requirements.

http://www.adobe.com/products/creativecloud/tech-specs.html

Looks like the video apps like After Effects and Premiere Pro have system requirements well beyond the 13 inch's capabilities, at least for GPU-accelerated effects.

yashendra2797 says:

Oh. That's sad. The MBA is awesomely thin!

memmerp says:

The original iPad mini is still fantastic and I can't yet justify changing over to the new retina model yet. If I could get $250 for for this one toward a trade-in, I might consider even going up to the Air. The iPad Air is so light now, I think it may be comfortable enough to hold for long periods of time. That is my biggest concern.

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richard451 says:

The Air is rocking the craptastic TN display with the MBPr (god what an awful name) sports an IPS.

RoboWarrior says:

This is a great guide for those that have a tough time choosing which Mac to get. As for me, the high-end MacBook Pro 15" is the way to roll.

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williamsbh76 says:

Got my wife a 2012 MacBook Air earlier this year but it just isn't enough for me. I don't do a lot of editing but videos, gaming, a big time multitasking are everyday activities. The loaded 15" rMBP was the only way to go for me. I've had it over a week and love it! I'm sure that I will be riding it for a long time.

czhDavid says:

Multitasking was never a problem with me and my MacBook Air ( 2013 haswell). And I don't think that MACs are good for heavy gaming. Buy a PS4 or Xbox one and MacBook Air that is my opinion

williamsbh76 says:

I feel you but I'm on the road too much and I play mostly stuff like WOW and STO. The dedicated graphics card, amount if Ram, and i7 are more than enough for most gaming.

pakenham says:

Thanks for the article this is just what I needed to decide what to buy.

joemm12000 says:

Very extensive comparisons of the different models of macbooks. Planning to upgrade from the 1st generation macbook air.

memmerp says:

With Haswell in the mix now, you probably should go with the Air. The performance between the two is negligible and your paying absolutely to much for the model with discrete graphics. Yes the screen quality is night and day, but you pay a considerable price in terms of money and battery power. You will end up losing display perfection anyway because you will have to turn the brightness way down to get the battery efficiency apple is talking about.

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Clegg05 says:

A lot of great info. I've been holding onto my aluminum unibody MB since early 2009 (by far the longest life I've ever gotten out of a computer), but I still think it might be worth waiting for the price of PCIe storage to come down a bit more. I'd love a 13" MBPr, but with a huge library of RAW photos in Aperture, I feel like I would have to upgrade to at least 500GB of storage. Plus the longer I wait, the more bang I can get for my buck.

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hoobie1928 says:

Very informative. I plan on getting a Mac soon. I believe I will head the 2.5 hours to the nearest apple store and test drive them. This was a great starting place! This will be my first Mac and I wanted to educated as much as possible before buying!

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pattylt says:

I hemmed and hawed and finally went into an Apple store and held all of them. While I may not need all the processing power of the rMBP, I decided that it is light enough and right enough. Mine will spend most of the time on a TV tray in the living room with some occasional traveling so portability wasn't my highest priority. I had a hard time figuring out what exactly my highest priority actually is and decided that I wanted the most power I could get. Weight, battery life and yes, even money were lower on my list. I will use this for all my video and photo editing with a bit of occasional gaming in there and of course the usual surfing stuff.

Finally, decided the rMBP at 15" with the all the ram I can stuff it with and I will start with the 256g flash drive. I debated the discrete graphics and decided that since I am not a professional photographer/videographer, the on chip graphics will be just fine. I'm putting some serious bucks away each payday and figure it will be my holiday present from me to me.

Dang! It's fun to go back and forth trying to make up your mind. Let's hope my mind holds until the savings are ready.

Nouman Shahid says:

I decided to go with retina mb 13 inch after days of research on internet. It's hard to decide between 13 inch MacBooks this year.

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nikkisharif says:

Great article!!! I own a mid 2012 base 11" MBA & a mid 2012 custom-configured 15" MBP and I'm loving them both. The MBA is for my frequent travels and I like to use my MBP at home due to the power & larger screen. I had my 2007 13.3" MB for 5 years before I upgraded & it still ran like a champ. So I'm sure I'll get several more years out of these babies. Yes they may seem a bit pricey but I'm a firm believer that you get what you pay for. If you're looking for a quality laptop, then you should definitely be purchasing a MacBook.

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asuperstarr says:

Air...

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mikespad says:

I'll be getting my daughter the 13" MBA next summer as a high school graduation gift for use at university. For myself, I currently have a 2007 Mac Pro that I use with FCP 7 for video editing. I'm anxiously awaiting the comparisons between the upcoming Mac Pro vs the 15" rMBP with Nvidia graphics card. But, the 15" with the Iris Pro graphics card might be adequate for my needs, especially since I've endured the 2007 Mac Pro all these years as it is. Of course, the arguments for/against a desktop vs laptop are all part of the decision process.

evilokole says:

def rmbp...it's amazing what they have done to the mac pro line...i predict macbook air will be gone, replaced by ipad air....macbook pro retina will replace the macbook air line...

iLuis23 says:

I currently own an Early 2011 MBP and it still runs amazingly smooth. I've been wanting to upgrade my hard drive with an SSD but they're pretty pricey, still. I use mine to listen to music, watch movies, and some moderate web browsing and it does it perfectly. I'm happy with my baby for now but I'm sure in about 2 or 3 more years I'll need to upgrade.

georojas says:

I really need a MacBook Air. Time to save those pennies!

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marchie_78 says:

After carrying around a heavy 15 inch MacBook Pro for 5 years to all sorts of meetings I think I would go for the MacBook Air. I just find that for what I do at work that would hit the sweet spot.

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Justin Thiel says:

I think it mainly comes down to the Retina display now. For me, the Retina display is one of those features that makes the Mac stand out above other laptops. I would opt for the MacBook Pro and I do hope that the MacBook Air has Retina next year.

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Solamar says:

We hearing any rumblings on an updated Thunderbolt display? I really want one, but really want updated USB 3.0 in it and Thunderbolt 2 to go with my new rMBP.. kind of silly to buy the old screen.. Was really surprised they didn't at least update that at the iPad / MBP event.

I'm hoping we don't just see a 4k screen.. I don't need it/can't justify the cost.. just want an update to the current offering to bring it forward to current port standards and form factor like the iMac's..

rokuvaan says:

I would go for the MacBook air. Love how thin and light the laptop is. Beautiful design.

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BeyondtheTech says:

I love my Air, but the comparatively anemic processor to the Pro's are starting to get to me, especially now that the Pro's are shedding their thickness and weight faster than I ever expected. Next one will be a Pro for me, no doubt.

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zdn1042 says:

I'll be honest, I'm not very knowledgable of Macs. I've never been too fond of them considering the price. Heck, I still use a desktop at home. Last month, I was at my sister's house and decided to check out her 2011 13" MBA and my first impression was "WTH is with its size." It's so thin and so light. As I was using it, the first few minutes left me confused to how the basic functions work. The way the trackpad works (I'm a big user of the mouse), even the location if the maximize/minimize and close button have changed. But slowly I got more and more used to them. It was a confusing hour, yes, but more than confusing, I've also had a lot of fun trying stuff out. After some more uses, and those commands that once were unfamiliar became somewhat of a second nature. Now I'm happy to say that the next that I'll be in front of a MacBook, I won't look like a total noob. Also, that it has made me more open-minded (I'd like to give the rMBPro a try) with my options in the future as it really is an excellent device.

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Ken Vrijland says:

First of all, i never had a macbook air. But the reason for that is not the price, design or light weighted model. It's only because i believe my household doesn't need a macbook air. I've got my iPhone on the road, my iPad on the couch and my macbook pro for my work. I don't think the macbook air can fill gaps or fit between them.

vajrakagyu says:

I have ditched my MacBook Pro, bought a Mac Mini and use the iPad Air for mobility and at work.

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vajrakagyu says:

I have ditched my MacBook Pro, bought a Mac Mini and use the iPad Air for mobility and at work.

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cburke1982 says:

MBA is what I will be upgrading to soon...

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jngmin00 says:

I currently have MBA 13" with 256gigs of SSD. I love my MacBook Air because all I do is email, browsing the web, and using Pages for most of my school studies. I don't need to play games, or do things that require a lot of power and ram so MBA seems to be the right choice for me. Next time though, I hope Apple put IPS display in MBA because I don't like the current very reflective, not-so-wide-angled-view display. :(

EggTarts says:

Peter great article. I currently run on a mbp 2011 13" and thinking of getting a powerful one like the 15" w/nvidia, but would you suggest waiting for the broadwell chips next yr? i heard they increase the power efficiency by 30% and since i fly a lot, batt time is important. Suggestions?

Peter Cohen says:

There are always improvements down the road. I think the safest thing to do is to buy when you need new hardware, and just accept that something better is coming soon - that way you won't suffer too badly from buyer's remorse. :)

De-Wet Nagel says:

I seriously love technology... Wish my budget allowed me to own all of it!

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auribe14 says:

I have a 4 year old MBP, and if I were to replace it right now I would have to get another. My business requires Windows to run the ordering software we use, therefore VMWare. Not sure how well that runs on an Air, not even accounting for the percentage of HD space it would take up.

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Peter Cohen says:

Running Windows in a virtual machine is probably better suited for the MBP.

czhDavid says:

Tried it for a day and Air was running Windows 8 in parallels just fine :)

williamsbh76 says:

My wife runs parallels on her 2012 13" MacBook Air 8GB ram with no problems. Depending how much strain the software puts on the system I think you'll be fine.

czhDavid says:

I was runnning visual studio 2012 which I consider a as a heavy duty program.

c_hack says:

I'll probably be getting the MBPro instead of an Air next spring for 3 reasons: ports, retina display, speed.

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chaffee04 says:

Just got the 13 inch MBA a few days ago and loving it. Can't believe how snappy it is.

ynzer71 says:

Very helpful article. I purchased a 13" MBP in mid 2012. My reasoning was that I needed storage (mostly for family photos) and portability. Even if it's just inside the house. I'd go crazy sitting in one spot all day (as my back would testify)

I travel extensively for work. And my employer subjects me to Microsoft products. A big honkin' HP Elite Book laptop. I'm not sure where the "Book" part of the name came from. Perhaps they were thinking of an unabridged dictionary when they drew that parallel? No matter how you look at it, it's a beast to lug around. So on the advice of my aching back and my good sense I managed to get a MacBook Air (also 13"). Over the past 10 months or so I've transitioned almost completely to my Air. For things that I absolutely HAVE to do using my company issued laptop I often remote in.

Both the Pro & Air have given me zero problems. However my parting comment is that once you go SSD you never want to go back. My Pro collects a lot more dust than my Air. In fact, if I could do it all over again I would have gotten an iMac (for wife & kids who don't put a premium on portability) over the MBP.

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Geomastra says:

Thank you Peter. This will be my first time buying a Mac. I will be using it mostly for editing pictures and some movies. Your article was very helpful on my decision on which one to buy.

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goodevening says:

I am in need of a new computer and I am having a really hard time trying to decide between the two. I really want to buy one that will last me at least a few years though.

czhDavid says:

I was bit scared from mac book air as I use it for software development in Java, PHP ( that is pretty much light use). I use it also for creating a 3D graphics in OpenGL and Blender. And I have to say a never experienced that i would not have enough power.
So if you are going for 13inch go for Air. If you use it for editing photos or heavy video editing ( Cutting your video for your blog doesn't count. I mean a serious work with photos or videos, don't overate yourself) go for 15 inch MacBook Pro with retina.

Jet Dario says:

Thanks czhDavid for this comment... I was looking for someone who use MBA 13" for software development, I'm also a Java Developer and planning to work with game dev using adobe flex. now I know what to buy, i've been visiting iStore once a week for over 3 months just to evaluate which one I will buy. price is a very big factor for me the reason I consider MBA. again, thanks man. ^_^

vishal tyagi1 says:

Hi Jet,

I am a Java developer too and looking to buy a Mac. Just wanted your feedback that which Mac did you buy? Did you buy a standard configuration or did you enhance anything in the configuration? And most of all, how is the performance? Are you able to run Eclipse with atleast couple of heavy softwares (photoshop and lotus) ? Do you have any suggestions for me?

Please let me know. Any help is appreciated.

Thanks a lot.

Jet Dario says:

you need to enhance it... i7 processor and 8GB RAM if you will be using VMs, if not, then enhancing it to 8GB RAM is enough if a lot of heavy stuff will be running in your machine.

neelshah says:

Awesome Breakdown as always. Love iMore's buyer guides. Currently have a 2010 MacBook Air, which is running great. Love the portability and the screen resolution. Looking forward to apple going all retina sometime soon (I hope), and then I'll be making my next laptop/desktop purchase.

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Joshua Webb1 says:

Get the pro it's simple. It's not much heavier anyone

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HoangJm says:

Absolutely Macbook Pro with Retina ! look fantastic , im thinking of buy one for his xmas

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Ryanz says:

I'm going for a MacBook Pro. My only decision is 13" (8GB, 266GB) OR the base model of the 15".
It will be my first Mac and it will be my 'new' desktop. I just have a hard time getting over the $2049 price tag of the 15"...though I do like the 15" size as well as the quad core.

Nathan Bael says:

I think it depends. If I were to buy an air, it would only be the 11". If I wanted a 13" laptop, I would always take the pro over the air.

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hartill says:

Thanks for a review that doesn't make me feel bad for being unable to afford a top-of-the-like laptop. I bought the 13-inch base model this summer. I love it. No, it doesn't have a Retina screen or a Haswell chip. But I'm hopeful that it will last several years. And though it's easy to get up in the new gadget, new feature vortex, it's clear you didn't.

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G.4 says:

I definitely want the new 13" Pro with Retina Display. But for work I have to use a software suite that's only been written for Windows. If I partition the hard drive and run Windows through boot camp, will this slow down and lag my whole computer?

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Lance Collins says:

I want a MacBook Pro retina so much.

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briti12 says:

I personally like the MacBook Pros better, the one I have right now works super well. I don't know too much about all the other things, but this article definitely informed.

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tienkou says:

Help! I will be converting to mac soon. I currently use my Lenovo for web surfing, downloading, streaming watching movies. Occasionally I will use Photoshop and word processing. I think I should get the air. Should I spend extra on ram or storage. I don't know how mac work with external hard drives when all music and photos are not on the main drive.

meashishnd says:

IMO for my self i would like to choose MB AIR its just looking really so stunning very innovative and Perfectly design product i have yet seen in my life. a perfect Laptop Product from Apple Inc.

agarwal.apar says:

Thanks Peter for a great write up. I am planning to buy 11 inch MBA however I would like to know if it supports Vmware workstation software or Microsoft Virtual PC? I am into setting up test labs for my work purpose and it would be great if I can run Microsoft Windows 2008 R2 and above in a virtual environment

Peter Cohen says:

The MacBook Air certainly can run virtualization software. The Mac software you'll be looking at is VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop, most likely. Bear in mind that the 11-inch MBA is Apple's slowest Mac. While it meets the needs of those software apps, your mileage will vary in terms of how fast it'll run Windows and Windows apps. You'll probably be better off with a MacBook Pro.

luc9488 says:

I'll have one of each please :) Honestly, if I could, I would have one of each. They each have their own purpose in my eyes. It would be lovely to be able to throw an 11" MBA in my bag for travel purposes. For me at this time, I had to settle on the 15" MBPr. It's just such a workhorse.

Jamie Beech says:

My daughter will be attending college next year as music major, I was wondering what the perfect laptop would be for a music major. Macbook-pro or MacBook Air?

Peter Cohen says:

If she's going to be doing any multitrack recording, I'd recommend the MacBook Pro, preferably with as much RAM as you can afford. Logic and other audio editing software eats as much RAM as you'll throw at it.

Murphdog456 says:

I just got my first Mac last week a 15" Retina Pro it's perfect I went with the base one it has all I need. I have plenty of storage with my NAS and Cloud. I never used Apple products until this holiday season starting with an IPad Air Retina Which I quickly grew to love then added an apple t.v. nice. Now this Mac Pro. I currently use a Samsung Galaxy note 3 but if Apple makes a bigger screen Iphone I'm going all apple.

Art Tabb says:

Bought the MBA to take on holiday to Florida, but the 1080p video from my wife's Canon 70D choked it using iMovie. Taking advantage of Best Buy's 14-day return/exchange, we ran to the nearest one and swapped it for the 13" retina MBP. It is perfect for our needs (iMovie and Photoshop CC) when on the road. We have the latest Mac Mini i7 with Fusion Drive and 16G RAM in the den at home that does the heavy lifting when we return from trips, but the MBP can do a lot of it in hotel rooms, just a LOT more slowly.

iOSX says:

I was originally gonna get a non-Retina MBP but I managed to scrape up the extra cash and got the 13" Retina MBP, with 256GB of storage.

JAL Payen says:

How about connecting your cellular-enabled iPad Air with a OS X Server Mac Mini via Edovia's Screen app? You have the best of both mobile worlds (Mac and iOS) wherever you go and spend so much less money.

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Derrick4Real says:

What about video encoding times?

how long to encode 1 hour of H.246, .mp4 and aac audio.

I'm debating 13 inch, MBA, 1.4ghz i5 cpu 8GB ram vs 13 inch MBPro retina 2.4ghz i5 cpu, 8GB ram.

I don't care what's best for the task. I understand the retina is faster but want to know the times because if the difference in time isn't much i won't care. It won't be worth the added cost. And cost is a big issue. And once i'm done re-encoding my stuff i won't need to do it again. Anybody have any idea about rough encoding times for either of these? It doesn't have to be one hour. Any equal comparison is fine. I'll be converting whole movies mostly.

Peter Cohen says:

We don't have the resources at iMore to do comprehensive benchmarks like what you're looking for, as much as we'd like to. I'd recommend comparing the benchmarks produced by Macworld in their MacBook reviews section if you'd like hard numbers of video encoding.

Derrick4Real says:

Thanks. I really didn't expect iMore to know. I'd hoped "the community" may know and have encoded movies. I can't believe nobody's has encoded anything. But, yeah i've searched around a lot but most reviews give numbers from some program i'm not familiar with. The only thing i need to know is time. Unfortunately most of these just give some number from a program that doesn't mean much to me. Thanks though.

crazygonzo says:

The answer is neither because they aren't a tablet and you don't want to live in PASTville so it's iPad Pro all the way :) Macbook Air WAS a nice netbook though.
But seriously I'm going large - 11" inches minimum (hopefully soon), no Mini 8" BS etc. Besides Apple needs to do something with tablets since it brings them more money than the whole Mac business ever did. Tablets are losing value in peoples minds and they are becoming cheap secondary devices for many so Apple has to release a superior product if they want to sell such a thing for $700 or 800, it's their only chance because otherwise the publics opinion/POV will be damaged and later it'll be even harder to convince people on spending that amount of cash (the market is already filled with alternative options and even with strong branding/advertisements it's an uphill battle for them).

renyay says:

Hi There,
I'm shopping for a new Mac laptop and I'm a total tech novice so I found this article pretty helpful. I am a little confused as to how current this article is though. I see that the Mac Book Air section has been updated for 2014, what about all the info for the Mac Book Pro's? What I gather from the article is that the 13" Pro has some slightly dated hardware (which I'd like to avoid), is that still the case?
I'm going back to college and really just need a computer for school. I'm not doing anything graphic, just writing papers and accessing the internet. Watching some Netflix and listening to some music too. Seems like the 13" Air would be prefect, but would others recommend the Pro? I have no need to upgrade to Retina. I'm currently using a MacBook from 2008, so the new computer alone will be a fantastic upgrade. Thanks for any feedback!

graigsmith says:

It sounds like with what you listed get the air. You won't miss the weight of the pro. I have the pro and it's too heavy. Wish I had the air.

Gary Horsman says:

I had a mid-2009 MacBook Pro 17-inch up until recently. I noticed it was running slowly as time went on and after five good years, I knew it was the right time to bite the bullet and get a new MacBook.

It was sad to know that Apple was dropping their 17-inch displays on laptops. I love the extra real estate for the graphic design work I was doing. In that case, it makes sense to switch to an iMac, but then you lose the portability.

So I decided to get the top-of-the-line MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina display, loaded with 16 GB of RAM and 500 GB SSD. It cost a whopping CAD$3000, but I follow the principle of buying the most advanced computing power and features you can afford. And by comparison to my older MacBook, the new model is shockingly fast. It was worth the extra expense, for sure.

As for other graphic designers on a tight budget, you may be well served to get an iMac or, for mobility purposes, a MacBook Air will run your Adobe suite very adequately.

Erica Smith3 says:

The new mac book pro is just great. It has great reviews and thats because it serves as the perfect graphic design computer. It's ranked #1 here http://www.squidoo.com/best-photo-editing-laptop

Alpha Tauri says:

This is a great article for those deciding.

Man, getting a new MacBook for me is all a [want] for now. My Winter 2011 13" MBP still runs fine and fast especially that I've upgraded the RAM to 8GB and storage to SSD. Maybe I'll finally get a new one in around 2 years time when I can no longer upgrade the OS.

graigsmith says:

If you play games. You probably need a MacBook Pro retina. It has faster graphics. If you do a lot of photography. Then you would probably like the extra power and resolution of a MacBook Pro. But I wouldn't say it was necessary. If you do photography a lot you could get by easily with a MacBook Air. If you travel a lot. You definitely want a MacBook Air. I travel a lot and bought the 15 inch mac book pro with retina. Wish I had something lighter. If your a college student and taking notes and traveling to different classes. The air would be good for that. You can still game on an air if you turn down graphics features.

dannysapples says:

I actually cannot believe that comparison article between Air and Pro missed, IMHO, the most important difference between those two: colour gamut. It is single-handedly the main reason I opted for Pro over Air. Colours on Air are really badly washed-out comparing to Pro, particularly reds, it's not even funny. And I'm not talking about pro photography, but the difference is very clear even on a average quality wallpaper. Where on Air display they're sort of there, they really do come to live on a gorgeous colourful Pro display. I haven't seen as bad display as the one in Air in any Apple device for a very long time. Even premium PCs perform much better (Sony, Samsung).

elise11 says:

Is the Air screen any better, worse, or the same, as the 2008 white macbook screens?

jerryrigged says:

I had 2nd or 3rd gen MacBook Air 13" till it was stolen. It was great notebook... Very light with great battery life. I've recently got the 15" MacBook Pro Retina for myself (i7, 8 GB ram, 256 GB HDD, integrated graphics). I'm not a road warrior anymore, and for trips to bookstore or vacations, the 15" is perfectly portable. Love the display! For my daughter who's just starting college, I got the 13" MacBook Air (i5, 4GB ram, 256 GB HDD). She primarily writes papers, browses internet, and other light-weight computing. Battery life and portability are high priorities for her and there is none better than the 13" Air!

arumbaya says:

The Retina Mac Book Pros looks very ugly though.the front bezel is logo free.. no branding whatsoever..just black ugly bezel..I hate that look..I wish it had "MacBook Pro" logo on the bezel like the non- retina models..for this fac alonet,I'd buy a MacBook Air instead.I don't want to stare at a ugly product.