Retina MacBook Pros get mild processor bump and pricing change; will Mac users keep buying?

Retina MacBook Pros get mild processor bump and pricing change; will Mac users keep buying?

A bit more than a week ago, Intel offered new Core i5 and Core i7 chips to augment its line of "Haswell"-era microprocessors. Apple wasted no time getting the new chips into its own production; on Tuesday the company introduced refreshed Retina MacBook Pros containing the new processors. Are Apple's tweaks to the MacBook Pro line enough to keep people buying them?

Mild performance boost

For people interested in performance bumps, this is a pretty mild change — a 200 MHz frequency increase across the product line: 2.4 and 2.6 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processors on the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, up from 2.2 and 2.4 GHz; and 2.2 and 2.5 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processors on the 15-inch model, replacing 2.0 and 2.3 GHz chips.

Integrated graphics processors remain unchanged. Apple didn't use this opportunity to bump discrete graphics on the high-end 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, either. Nvidia's GeForce GT 750M remains. Unfortunate, considering newer mobile chips from Nvidia are reportedly more power efficient.

Storage offerings remain unchanged in this go-round. Apple is still being nothing short of parsimonious with flash-based storage in the Retina MacBook Pros: 128 GB and 256 GB are standard on the 13-inch and 15-inch base models, respectively. That forces customers either to the high end 13-inch or high-end 15-inch models if they want more internal capacity (configure-to-order options let you pay $500 to bump the laptops from 512 GB to a full terabyte).

Apple did try to sweeten the pot a little bit by doubling memory configurations on base models. The 13-inch now sports 8 GB of RAM, while 15-inch starts out with 16 GB. Prices remain unchanged in those configurations, so Retina MacBook Pro customers get just a bit more bang for their buck. Apple's also lowered the price of the high-end 15-inch configuration (2.3 GHz, 16 GB RAM) from $2599 to $2499.

Cheaper MacBook Pro

One other bit of good news for penny pinching MacBook Pro customers: The 13-inch standard MacBook Pro, equipped with a 2.5 GHz Intel Core i5 "Ivy Bridge" processor — Apple's very last computer with an internal SuperDrive — has had a price reduction. It's down $100, to $1,099.

In my time at an Apple retailer I've found that the standard 13-inch MacBook Pro is a popular choice for families buying computers for high schoolers and college students alike. So the $100 price drop is a timely move for families that have waited until now to get their kids a new computer for the fall semester.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro base configuration remains unchanged. It comes with 4 GB RAM and a 500 GB hard disk drive. But the benefit here is that the regular MacBook Pro is Apple's only laptop that can actually be upgraded after the fact — you can buy third-party RAM and a replacement SSD or hard drive if you'd like to boost its performance. Other MacBook models feature RAM that's soldered in place and not upgradeable.

The MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro may have Apple's engineering and marketing attention. But the now two-year-old MacBook Pro continues to be a steady seller week in and week out. Some folks like it for the integrated optical drive, saving them another $80 if they buy an external Apple SuperDrive. Digital pack rats hyperventilate at the idea of having to make do with 128 GB or even 256 GB of quicker flash-based storage, and simply don't trust the availability or reliability of cloud-based storage; that 500 GB hard drive can be very appealing.

Reading the tea leaves

In April Apple refreshed the MacBook Air with an even more modest Haswell refresh — a 100 MHz boost, with $100 downward repricing to help drive sales. And drive sales it did — the MacBook Air was a standout in Apple's recently quarterly earnings call, and was picked up as the laptop of choice in several large educational deployments Apple saw this past quarter.

The standard 13-inch MacBook Pro and the high-end 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro are a bit easier to bear with their $100 price reductions, but I don't think either change will dramatically change the mix: Apple's counting on the MacBook Air being where the heat and light are, as evidenced by their recent "Stickers" television ad. It's the first time I can remember Apple advertising a Mac laptop on TV since the Retina MacBook Pro was introduced in 2012.

Intel is behind schedule to release its replacement for the Haswell microprocessor, code-named "Broadwell." While the company is likely to get out some Broadwell chips before the end of the year, it doesn't look likely that Apple will have the supply it needs to completely rework its Mac product line using the new processor. Though it's possible that at least one Mac model will get the new chip — perhaps the fabled Retina MacBook Air that we've heard rumors about for nigh on a year now.

My expectation is that Apple is shaking the tree with this Haswell refresh now to keep people interested in the Retina MacBook Pro going into fall. But we probably won't see any more major changes to the MacBook Pro product line until 2015, once Broadwell chips — or perhaps even Intel's next generation Skylake chips — are more readily available.

Excited to get one, or are you still waiting?

Do the new Retina MacBook Pro configurations make you want to pull the trigger on a new Mac? Is the regular MacBook Pro more appealing at its lower price? Or is it too modest of a change to bother with? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Peter Cohen

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

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Reader comments

Retina MacBook Pros get mild processor bump and pricing change; will Mac users keep buying?

32 Comments

Do you know how the "Apple Retail Store" gift card (for educational purchases) works? Can you deduct the gift card off the purchase of the Macbook, or do you have to buy something from the retail store on a subsequent visit?

Peter, I wonder what your recommendation would be to future proof MacBook Pro's for 3-5 years. I could wait for Skylake which will likely deliver significantly better battery, overall speed and graphics. But either way, should we get say 16gb of ram, the biggest SSD we can afford and the fastest processor available? Which one (or combination) would you suggest?

Overbuy to the limit of your budget. Yes, you can wait, but as Peter said in a post a few days ago you can ALWAYS wait... but you'll never buy if you do. Think about what affects the apps you use in your work and max that stuff out first. For example, for normal work, 8gig of RAM is fine. But if you're in Photoshop or doing video a lot, get 16. Same for storage. I have a 256g SSD on my Air and it's plenty - but I do web dev. Someone working with a lot of large files might want 512g at least.

Will the Mac you can buy two years from now be more powerful? Sure. But in the meantime you'll be doing your work with the Mac you have now. If it's still got headroom, fine. But if not, if you're bumping up against its limits, buy something new. Sell the current one to defray the cost. Then in 3-4 years, do the same thing.

That's what I do - every 3 years or so I sell what I have and usually get about 50-60% of the price I paid for it. So a $1500 investment gets me back $800-1000. I turn around and buy the equivalent of what I had, but newer (and with adjustments if needed) which usually costs about what I paid 3 years earlier. So my cycle goes like this - pay $1500... sell for let's say $800. Add another $700 to that and buy the new machine. What this means is that every 3 years I have a new machine for an out of pocket investment of about 50% of the price.

pftaylor:

When I got my 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro last April, I expected it to last me 5 years. It has 16 GB RAM and 512 GB SSD. I'm very happy with the combination, but that's entirely based on my specific needs: I use it for everything from testing games to running Windows software (don't ask), podcasting, and all the stuff I do professionally. My needs may not mirror your needs at all.

The only thing that I might have done differently — and still might do, once third-party drives are available — is get 1 TB of storage. It's a lot of money but it'd be worth it for me to rely on the cloud less than I have to now.

Hey Peter, I have a question for you that may be slightly off topic, but here goes. Will an MBA be capable of running Windows on Parallels or Fusion, while using a 27" Apple display? I'd want it to run fluidly so as not to bog down my work flow, or cause "laptop road rage".

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If you do this, get 8gig of RAM on the Air. That way you can give the Windows VM 2-4 gig without issue. If you spend long stretches of time in Windows the other approach is to use Bootcamp and simply reboot into Windows when you need it.

Still waiting. I'm more interested in graphics improvements with Broadwell since Apple is using integrated graphics on the retina 13.

I'll jump for a Retina Macbook Pro at some point, but so far my 2010 Macbook Pro with an upgraded 1TB SSD will suit me fine for the time being. :-)

An SSD is the best bang for your buck if you don't want to shell out $1500+ for a new Macbook Pro. Went from a 2 min boot-up time to 30 secs. It also helps that it's the "hi-res" version with maxed out specs.

Once this one dies, or Apple releases a feature I "can't live without", then I'll spring for the retina. :-D

No - I am not interested in the new models. I have a 2012 15" MacBook Pro, which is about to have its optical drive pulled in favor of a SSD. When my current MBP gets too old I am going to be torn, as I need large storage (photography while traveling) and I just don't feel comfortable with the non-upgradable direction Apple is going in their designs. I guess I have to try out a hackintosh next time...

I agree on the non-upgradeable path being an issue. You said you do photography on the go, how is not having a dedicated video card going to affect you?

I'm getting a MacBook later this year. I'm planning on a 512g 13" Retina Pro, but if the 13" Air goes Retina and has a 512g version, then that will be my new toy instead. I plan to use mine for basics, including web browsing and backing up my iPhone and my music and movie collection, nothing that really needs horsepower (or screen real estate).

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Uh, no!! I'll admit a retina Mac looks promising, but my 2012 Non-retina, that I already use less often since my iPad Air is now my main device for everything, is doing just Fine with it's 512GB SSD, 8GB and 2.2Ghz i5. I'll admit that I still have to buy an external optical drive since the built-in one died. But in a few years when I am due for an upgrade, I'll add another SSD and get a bigger value for it. Overall, I think this Mac has another 2-3 years in it.

I have a mid 2007 white macbook that I bought for $200 off of craigslist just to try out the OS (long time Windows user). I'm getting a rMBP in September and am trying to decide between the high-end 13" or the entry level 15". I'm going to be using it for school working in Windows server for a class using vmWare Fusion and probably doing some photo editing as well. I'm leaning for the 15" because of the 16 gigs of ram standard. I'm looking forward to it either way!

Personally, I would try to save enough to get the best possible video card. That is something you will be stuck with for the life of the machine, along with memory and processor speed. You already plan to max memory and processor speed isn't that big of a bump to justify price. I would wait a bit and try to save for the model that has a dedicated graphics card, assuming one of them will.

Bought the top of the line 15" Retina in 2012 with all available BTO upgrades. After two years it is still better than pretty much everything on the market. It lacks the newest WLAN standards, TB2 and "only" has a SATA SSD, but these things do not really bother me (none of my 12 base stations does have newer standards either, and so far no TB2 peripherals here). I will change my tune when Apple releases a 4k or Retina Thunderbolt Display though, as I will certainly want that and my machine would not be able to drive that.

Since I only take iPads on the road and the MBP stays at home all the time, the risk of damaging the machine have also been eliminated.

Why would it have a negative effect on Sales of the Macbook pro range?

In fact if the processor further improves performance and doesn't affect battery life in a negative manner than sales should continue as they are or maybe even get a slight bump.

Sure there are those that life their life waiting and waiting and waiting some more just to get the latest big change in design but for the majority of users they purchase the device when they are ready to purchase and rarely do they sulk because they bought something that was refreshed after the fact, unless they do it a day or two before Apple announce a complete refresh of the range with massive design changes then it makes little difference to the normal person.

Most people don't buy a PC or Laptop device on a whim!

Apple is gaining customers from PC users are are sick to death of a horrible operating system that has gotten worse.

The only reason I have a PC on hand is that I need to support a particular Printer that, while Apple Mac's can print to the printer they cannot print properly to that printer and I need to be able to print these shipping labels. Otherwise that PC would be switched off, locked away in the cupboard along with the other PC's!

I have been planning to buy a 15" Pro for like a year now, but I am waiting for the Broadwell models.

Doesn't change my plans at all. I was already planning on getting the top pre configured 15" rMBP at the beginning of September for school. I am a bit ticked off that while that model went down in price in the states, it actually went up in price by $50 here in Canada.

After owning a premium MacBook Pro 15" Retina 2.6, 16GB, 512GB SSD, 750M laptop for the last few months I am certainly going back to a Windows based laptop in the future. The fact you can't upgrade the SSD at all (not even third party) is so ridiculous. Now that Apple is using PCIe based SSDs you can't find them anywhere and even OWC does not carry them. Ask Apple to upgrade the internal SSD and they will be glad to sell you a new MacBook. That and Mavericks is way behind in usability of Windows 7 IMO. There is no comparison. Windows 8 is garbage IMO. Premium PC laptops in the same price range as their MacBook Pro counterparts outshine Apple in every way. I also am waiting until Summer 2015 when the less power hungry Broadwell CPUs are deep into the market and NVidia puts out something better than their 800M series GPUs which are barely any better than their 700M cousins in real world applications.

I see the refreshes as more incentive to just pounce on a refurb or a close out at best buy or similar. It's not worth buying a new one and paying the difference for the insignificant processor bump. Buying a new one at an apple store is probably the worst deal you could get.

Very good point on the refurbs and BB close outs. I just hate that broadwell will be the next improvement of the 13 inch graphics because I want a 13, but with no option for a dedicated graphics card, I need the most power I can get.