Why the heck would anyone buy the non-Retina MacBook Pro? Well...

Why the heck would anyone buy the non-Retina MacBook Pro? Well...

With the "standard" 13-inch MacBook Pro and its Retina display-equipped counterpart only $100 apart, you might think that few people would be interested in the older MacBook Pro. It's thicker, heavier, has a lower resolution screen, is less power-efficient and isn't as speedy. You'd be wrong. Turns out the "standard" MacBook Pro is still selling briskly.

I spend my weekends working at an Apple Specialist - an independently-owned Apple retailer, not a corporate Apple Store (yes, we still exist). We sell and service the entire range of Mac and iOS products except for the iPhone, and this time of year especially we get a lot of people who come in to buy a new computer for themselves or their family members - kids in school, spouses who need new machines, moms and dads.

Laptops consistently outsell desktop machines - no surprise there, that's been the industry trend for years. So it's also no surprise that the majority of people walking in the door who are shopping for a new computer want to compare the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

Now, many people who I talk with aren't that familiar with the Mac product line. So they listen with open minds about the MacBook Air, the MacBook Pro, and the Retina MacBook Pro, trying to understand the differences in price, features and functionality. Week in and week out, that old, chunky, heavy and slower 13-inch MacBook Pro continues to sell well. Let's look at the reasons.

Storage capacity

In October Apple refreshed the Retina MacBook Pro line with Haswell microprocessors, faster Wi-Fi, some reconfiguration and a lower price for the 13-inch model - it was $1,499, but now it's $1,299 (albeit with half the storage capacity as last year's base model). So there's now a continuum of prices for the 13-inch MacBook line in $100 increments:

  • 11-inch MBA, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD: $999
  • 13-inch MBA, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD: $1,099
  • 13-inch MBP, 4 GB RAM, 500 GB HD: $1,199
  • 13-inch rMBP, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD: $1,299

Every single system except for the standard MacBook Pro is identically configured for RAM and storage. As it turns out, that 500 GB hard disk drive is a really important selling feature for a lot of customers.

People are scared at having not enough storage capacity: many of them are upgrading from an older machine and can't get their head around the idea of paying for a new computer with less storage capacity. In some cases less storage just won't work: a big iTunes library or lots of photos make it impossible. Moving data off to an external hard drive, network server or cloud storage can be a tough sell for someone who wants to take their stuff with them and doesn't want to have to deal with Internet access to get their files.

I explain the strengths and benefits of flash storage: speed, reliability, power efficiency. By the end of my speil the customers understand that flash is a superior technology to hard drives. But the relative dearth of capacity is troubling to them. And many customers are either unwilling or unable to curate what they already have enough to make a smaller, more efficient storage system work.

SuperDrive

Absence of storage capacity is one important factor. While it's a distant second, another issue comes up when they ask where the discs go in. The Retina MacBook Pro line, like most other Macs, eliminates the CD/DVD "SuperDrive."

In particular, the absence of an optical drive affects customers who haven't yet migrated their music libraries from CD to iTunes, or those who are doing it bit by bit; folks who have movies on DVD they want to watch; and people who need to load or offload content stored on optical media - work archives, especially.

Having an optical drive is less important for software installations as most developers have moved to digital distribution, either through the Mac App Store, their own web sites or other download services. Again, that's a teachable moment - many of the people coming in the store to buy a new computer haven't bought one in several years, and aren't aware that fewer and fewer boxes of software are being sold. In fact, we don't sell a single software app on disc except for Microsoft Office.

Apple offers an external SuperDrive for $80. What's more, the Mac will work with almost any external CD/DVD burner - you can pick up an inexpensive one from online catalogs for $25 or less - but it's a barrier to entry, seen as yet another expense and an inconvenience to portability.

Upgradability and repairability

This isn't something that comes up for everyone, but a certain contingent of Mac buyers are do-it-yourselfers who don't mind cracking open the case of their Mac to install and upgrade new parts as needed. I can relate - I've done this to a lot of my Macs in the past.

The Retina MacBook Pro is a closed box. RAM is soldered to the motherboard. Flash storage is removable, but with the most recent models, Apple's changed the flash memory interface to something that third-party SSD makers haven't yet been able to create upgrades for.

The non-Retina MacBook Pro, meanwhile, is - at least by Mac standards - pretty easy to get inside and work on. While there are no user-accessible doors or latches as there have been on past MacBook pro designs, the MacBook Pro can be disassembled. RAM is on SO-DIMMs that can be popped out and upgraded, and the hard drive uses a standard 2.5-inch Serial ATA (SATA) interface, so it can be replaced or upgraded with commodity drives from a variety of vendors, including SSD drives.

Being able to upgrade later means making do with a less expensive configuration for now, then expanding later as your budget allows and system requirements demand. What's more, the same thing that makes the non-Retina MacBook Pro upgradable makes it more repairable, and repairable for less money than its Retina display counterparts.

Not the right solution for everyone

I don't want to leave you with the wrong impression: the Retina MacBook Pro is not a flop. It's been successful for us and for Apple. Heck, I'm using one to write this article now. And by any measure, the Retina MacBook Pro offers better a better price performance balance than the standard MacBook Pro.

The high-resolution display especially appeals to content creators - designers, videographers, photographers, all of whom depend on visual clarity for their work. The display quality, light weight and terrific performance combine to make it a great match for any professional Mac user looking for portability and power.

But even then, there are compromises. The 4 GB RAM and 128 GB flash on the base 13-inch model leaves scant room either in memory or storage; customers often end up going up a notch to the $1,499 configuration, which doubles RAM and storage capacity to 8 GB and 256 GB, respectively.

Without jumping up to the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, that $1,499 configuration provides the best combination of power and specs for long-term use, at least for now. Some customers have suggested that Apple should mate the Retina display to an updated version of the standard MacBook Pro.

The MacBook Air also remains a popular choice for people on the go - our customers who value saving a few extra pounds when they travel, and who are interested in all-day battery life, for example. The 11-inch model also appears to parents buying a laptop for their school-aged kids; the small size appeals to many of the kids, and the somewhat smaller price tag appeals to the parents.

But given the choice, many customers will continue to get the standard MacBook Pro because of the combination of low price, more storage capacity and internal optical drive.

Optical storage's total elimination as standard issue on the Mac platform is imminent - that MacBook Pro is the last model with an internal CD/DVD burner. But I think Apple will have to double the amount of standard flash storage on its laptops without increasing the price before mainstream consumers will be able to get over the hump of paying more for less.

What the future holds

The bottom line is that flash storage remains dramatically more expensive than a conventional hard disk, and there is still a significant number of Mac customers willing to settle for a lower-performing system with lots of storage capacity.

Obviously it's just a matter of time: when the MacBook Air first appeared, it cost $1,799 and came with a hard disk - a 64 GB SSD was only available as a very expensive option. SSD eventually came standard, but 64 GB was standard issue on the base model until fairly recently. Prices are coming down as more and more devices switch to flash memory and as flash memory production increases.

But for now, this helps to explain why Apple left the standard MacBook Pro in the mix. Despite all of its limitations, it remains a popular and comfortable choice for many people who are either buying a Mac for the first time or upgrading from an older system and looking for something that can keep up with today's operating system and applications.

It'll be really interesting to see what Apple does in 2014: whether it gets rid of the standard MacBook Pro all together, refreshes it or does something to sweeten the Retina MacBook Pro pot further. If I had to guess, I assume that the standard MacBook Pro isn't long for this world, and that before too long you'll have to buy a flash storage-based, SuperDrive-less MacBook. But for now the option remains.

I've had my say - now I want to hear from you. Do you think the non-Retina MacBook Pro is still a good value? Did you opt for the Retina MacBook Pro or the MacBook Air instead? Sound off in the comments.

Peter Cohen

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

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Why the heck would anyone buy the non-Retina MacBook Pro? Well...

68 Comments

I strongly believe the non-Retina MacBook Pro is a viable and cost effective option because it retains the ability for user upgrades. I was able to upgrade to 16GB RAM and a 750GB SSD for a mere $650. While it still has the older Ivy Bridge processor, it's performance is nothing to sneeze at, especially with the combination of increased RAM and flash storage. I agree with Peter; unfortunately I think it's just a matter of time until users are forced to flash based storage and with that the lack of user upgradability.

User upgrade-ability is precisely why I would stick with the 13-inch MBP at this time. The ability to easily swap out memory and drives is a huge plus.

"OMG. You wont believe how gorgeous the Retina MBP looks"
"Cool, can you show me"
"Sure, later when I get home because all my media is on an external drive"

I'm not anti the Retina version at all, but it does make me roll my eyes when I see someone buy a $1500+ rMBP and then have a $60 external drive full of games/media/RAW files tethering them to a desk.

I bought a Retina MacBook Pro 15 last year and I loved the machine, but 256GB was just ridiculous so I "downgraded" to the non-retina version and replaced the optical with a dual 256GB SSD and 1TB HDD combo. I may not have Retina anymore but I do have a notebook computer that no longer has compromises. And in the end that's pretty important.

Peter, you touched on some very key points. I remember when the refreshed MBPs the 1st thing I noticed was Apple cut the MBP price by cutting back the hardware.
I don't use my SuperDrive that often anymore, but when I do need I'm glad it's there.
If given the opportunity to make a choice I could easily by last years model MacBook Pro. They should continue to function quite well for the next 3 to 5 years easy

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Hi Peter
I thought long and hard last year when I bought the mid-2012, Ivey Bridge MBP with nonRetina, nonGlare screen. Visited the Apple store several times to view the Retina model, trying to convince myself it was the way to go. Each time I came to the same conclusion: I just don't like viewing my photographs on that glossy screen. It's colors are super saturated and overly contrasty: I've strived for neutral color for 30+ years. And it looks too much like a cheap, shiny HP laptop. The new Haswell processor is tempting, as is flash storage. I just can't get passed that shiny screen.
roger

I agree. I went into the apple store and the screen popped, but nothing that made me feel like I needed it over the regular MacBook Pro. Plus the long term ability to switch internals on my own made it a better choice for long term. The super drive was an added bonus

I don't quite understand. The standard MBP uses a glossy screen too - Apple did away with matte-finish screens several years ago.

I could have sworn that last year in August I priced out a non-Retina MBP with a matte screen upgrade. We ended up not getting the machine during our sales-tax holiday, which was specifically why I thought about getting the machine earlier than expected. Meanwhile, our current 2007 MBP is still chugging along.

The hi definition matte display MBP was available on the Ivey Bridge MBP until the Haswell MBP was released this past summer. It was the last Apple computer with matte display.

I'm not sure it would matter. Most that would buy it are more budget/hdd space minded.. they generally are not 'spec' minded in the sense of how fast is the cpu or gpu. They just want the space and price.

I went from a 17" non unibody MBP and since Apple has stopped making a 17" option the Retina MBP was really my only option for screen real-estate. That wasn't the reason I went to the 15" Retina MBP. I wanted the resolution, I also wanted the thinner unit. I wanted the Haswell (Crystalwell) processor. I haven't really missed the bigger screen though it did take a little getting used to. The speed is incredible. The battery life is beyond my expectation and the size is exactly what I wanted. Best computing money I have ever spent and I am an IT Professional with pushing 3 decades of experience.

Unfortunately Apple has innovated itself right out of sales of MacBook Pros for me and probably many others.

I for one need more hard drive space than what an SSD can supply at an affordable price. $500 for an upgrade to 1TB? No doubt SSD is the future, unfortunately I live in the present and cannot afford that much money for internal storage. Having to haul around external drives kind of works against the idea of a portable computer.

I also would like to have accessible memory slots. $300 for 16GB of RAM? 16GB costs roughly 1/2 that on the street

I personally could care less about an internal super-drive as I haven't used mine in years.

$300? where? It was $99 jump last I looked from 8GB. They are driving the price down.. not up.. SSD is finally getting down to .50 per GB. Soon, this time next year probably, it should be under .25 or less per GB. I expect the rMBP to drop in price another $100-300 easy. SSD upgrade prices to drop as well.. By then OWC should have the mPCI figured out and 3rd party upgrades available.

It was just last year when the rMBP first introduced it capped out at $4k for a spec'd out system. They did a few stealth drops between then and release of 2013 model. Now spec'd out it's $3,299... Price will keep dropping.

It's easy to overlook where this started pricing wise.. it actually has dropped quite a bit.. and will continue too.

I think the glossy screen would be a little annoying. Only thing I can think of that would make me stay with the non retina.

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Yep, talked my mom into dumping her old Windows laptop for a 13" non-retina MBP for these reasons exactly. She loves to work with lots of pictures and videos and needed the extra storage space provided by the 500GB HDD and wanted a built-in SuperDrive. In fact, that's not far off from why I bought my non-retina 15" MBP last year. I then added my own SSD and more RAM and love it. I did max out the resolution though.

1. price.
2. storage
3. Screen resolution isn't important to you.

For many on this site they need the cutting edge tech, and they have disposable income to spend on upgrades, mind you for an already pricey computer relative to windows offerings. For many others though, me included, the added price in the retina model's and even the air are not worth the trade offs. For example, if you need 500GB or 1tb of storage you're going to pay through the nose for it with a retina macbook pro or air cause they have ssds. And if you don't care about solid state drives then it's not a good trade off. I'm thinking of djs, people that carry lots of media, photogs, music producers, People that produce lots of media on the go like filming and editing products at conventions.

And some people simply only have $1000 or so to spend, period. Like students, people on a budget, people with kids. And maybe a small screened, no storage air doesn't cut it. Just like 3D tv or even 1080p there are plenty of people that don't find retina worth paying extra for.

Me personally if the base macbook pro had a Haswell it be a no brainer buy for me. It wouldn't be top of the line but i don't need that.

Just to illustrate my point on price.

macbook pro w/o retina, 500gb, 8mbs ram, 13 inch screen $1299
Macbook Air 512gbs, 8mbs ram, 13 inch screen $1699
Macbook pro retina 512gbs, 8mbs ram, 13 screen $1799

Point is if the above (storage, screen size, and ram) are most important to you then you have to pay a lot more to get the same capacity. If you don't care about ssd or retina $400 or $500 more is a lot to pay for an Air or retina macbook pro when the "upgrades" aren't a priority for your needs. The article is a bit misleading because they they aren't actually $100 apart for the similar specs. FYI: me i decided to compromise and got less storage because the haswell processor is important to me and because of that i bought nothing as it's not in my budget now. But if haswell's not, like you're not I can see an argument for why you'd rather pay hundreds less.

"I think Apple will have to double the amount of standard flash storage on its laptops without increasing the price before mainstream consumers will be able to get over the hump of paying more for less." Yes. Exactly.

We all agree that the retinal display makes viewing things on our devices better, but beyond that, what else makes it superb over a device with a non-retina display. I've had laptop computer for years, and have enjoyed each one of them. I'm not one of those people who says that I've got to have a retina display because I don't. I can do the exact same thing with a non-retina display that I can with a retina display. Period, and unless a deal for the retina version is too great to pass up financially, I'd purchase a non-retina version without giving it a second thought.

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I am a student going for advertising. I'm heartset on a MBP but can't decide which to go with. Pictures and music are important to me like any other college aged girl, but I also plan to use InDesign and Photoshop for projects and more. I'll probably put a few thousand pictures and songs on to the computer. Graphics aren't the most important thing in the world to me seeing as my assignments will be more idea and creativity based. Any ideas on which I should go with? I've been asking around and can't seem to get a good concrete answer. My worry is that I will be spending all of this money on a non-retina and the technology of it, although apparently efficient, will be irrelevant in a few years. I plan to hang on to this computer for at least 4 or 5 years and would hate to be outdated by new technology.
I'm obviously not a huge computer person, top of the line isn't exactly my biggest concern, But I bought the iPhone 4 when I could have bought the 4s if I'd saved a little more and now I regret it because of how terrible the memory and speed is in it. Again, I don't know much about this stuff, so take it with a grain of salt, but I don't want to have the same regrets with something as expensive and important as a computer.
I know this isn't the best place something to ask something like this but you all seem pretty knowledgeable :)

The non retina is still a good option and will easily last that long. Not to mention if it starts slowing down you can upgrade the ram and add a SSD by yourself saving lots over what apple charges. So you wouldn't have to buy a completely new machine for those upgrades.

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So if I get the non-retina and configure it what things should I change on it? Memory, processor and hard drive?

I gave my daughter $1000 when she graduated from college this past May. She chose the non-retina MacBook Pro because it was $999 with student discount, and she liked the storage capacity and the fact that it still had a SuperDrive.

It makes no sense at all to me to buy the non-retina MBP and your article did nothing to convince me. Most people don't upgrade their laptops or use optical drives.

That's fine. My article wasn't a challenge to make anyone change their mind. It was an explanation why the non-Retina MacBook Pro is still a palatable option to many Mac buyers.

Hi Peter,
I just stumbled across your article this morning. I think you make some very good points. I am one of those people thinking about making the move to the Mac world (beyond my Ipod Touch). I don't really need to. My 2011 Dell XPS 15 has been upgraded to a SSD drive recently and the performance boost is amazing, even with a single Core I7 processor. I could easily enjoy this computer for another couple of years before buying anything new.

So, when considering a Mac, needing one is not the issue. For me, it is about wanting to learn, and becoming proficient with the Mac OS. I have spent the last couple of months researching, watching YouTube videos, etc..., and this has sparked interested in owning one. Now, the question is, which one? I have never seen a Macbook with retina display. My Ipod Touch has a retina display, and I admit the screen resolution and clarity is pretty amazing for such a small device. My Dell, of course, does not have a retina display. 1360 x 768 is just about max for that machine, and honestly, I am perrfectly fine with that. Besides, I have my laptop connected to a 26 inch 720p HDTV via an HDMI, which I use for my primary monitor. Again, this looks great to me, and more than suits my needs. I am not a graphics designer, movie editor, etc... I am just an ordinary user who wants to try something new.

However, in my quest, I have come to the realization that my laptop computer has, in effect, become a desktop computer. It rarely, if ever, leaves my desk. I have two tablets (Samsung Galaxy Tab and Dell Venue Pro 8) that suffice for the times that portability is needed. As I look at my home desk setup, I realize that a lot of valuable desktop real estate is being taken up by my laptop. I considered the Macbook Pro (both non-retina and retina), but realized that I would be in pretty much the same boat, with the laptop functioning as a desktop. So for that reason, I am leaning strongly towards the Mac Mini because: 1) It frees up space on my desk. 2) I like the option to purchase a 1 TB fusion drive, which will give me speed as well as plenty of storage space. 3) I will be able to load a complete image of my current Windows 7 computer onto the new Mac, which will allow me to run both Mac OS and Windows 7with Bootcamp or Parallels with plenty of space to spare, enabling me to wean myself off of Windows gradually. 4) I can use all of my exisiting peripherals (erognomic keyboard, mouse, usb hub, etc....), making it less of a financial investment.

So, in a nutshell, the decision on what to purchase is a personal one. People should get what makes them happy. And those who decide to buy the older MBP, do so because that is what is best for them, for whatever reason.

I normally go for one of the higher configurations (I did upgrade my PowerBooks / MacBook Pros annually since 2002 as my company passes the "old" models on to other staff) and my main concern is not storage (no laptop, no matter if HDD or SSD, has enough anyhow, not even for my iTunes or Aperture libraries alone, them being 7 and 4 TB) or the optical drive I might need once a year. We have a MacMini server in the closet (mainly as a media server) which also shares its external optical drive – for the occasional software CD/DVD that is fine.

My latest (2011 and 2012) MBPs have been close to $4k. For that price I somehow expect a laptop that can cope with my iPhone and iPad as far as the screen is concerned, as this is what I am looking at most of the day. Once you have seen a "retina" MBP's screen, you will simply hate everything else. I happily trade in storage and optical drive for the lightness, less bulk and screen quality of the retina models every time.

No one will ever "have to" buy a retina Macbook or Macbook Pro any more than anyone "has to" buy the trash can /Mac Pro edition. It's a choice people make if they don't care about upgrade ability or repairability. I have a 2008 Macbook Pro that runs fine and there is quite a market for used Macs that are more affordable and just as relevant and usable as the non-repairable/non-upgradeable Mobile Mac options. Just because it isn't the newest model doesn't mean that non-retina MacBooks/Macbook pros will suddenly disappear from the market. I'm not interested in a non-upgradable or non-repairable Mac, regardless of the retina screen. That just doesn't move the needle for me.

2 reasons why I got the 2012 mac:
- User servicable Hard Drive and RAM (that easily extends the macs life for an extra few years).
- The ability to still use optical disc drive (Vs. carrying one around and pay extra for it).

Ironically, my optical drive just gave out right after its warranty expired!!!! So I am currently trying to find a replacement on eBay or iFixit because Apple is stupid to believe that I will pay $160 for something I can do myself.

Anywho, Got mine on Amazon for Black Friday last year. It was $1034 minus a $50 gift card balance (got it as a gift). So the total cost for 500GB HDD and 4GB RAM was $984 ($1040 with CA tax). I then purchase a 512GB SSD for $315 and 8GB RAM for $35 on Amazon and install them to my MacBook Pro. And with the exception of the Data Cable failure (was still under warranty), and the optical drive failure (no longer in warranty), the SSD and RAM are flawless!!!

It's still a very popular computer for the average person at my store. The two reasons: storage capacity and super drive. The average user still thinks they use CD's when in reality the probably don't (or at least, don't need to). Many of these people also neglect the fact that media can be backed to an external hard drive, especially when the strong majority of them use he computer at home. Personally, the speed of an SSD outweighs the capacity of an HHD, especially when drive failure comes into the picture.
Remember when people had trouble letting go of that floppy drive?

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Or they use cd and dvd, make cds and dvds, and actually understand you can buy an external drive but don't want to because it's not convenient.

The standard Macbook pro is an awesome computer for musicians. I have replaced the optical drive with a second hard drive. The main bay drive is an ssd for speed, and the second drive is a 1 tb one for storing audio files when not in the current project. Until SSD becomes cheep and has big capacity, the retina MacBook pro wont work for me.

funny i noticed most djs have a non retina macbook pro. I used to dj pre computer days so i always notice people's gear and have in the back of my mind that i'll buy a tables again but i always notice i don't see people using airs and such and i've never seen a retina mbp thought i'm sure someone does it somewhere. But i never even thought of removing the optical drive and replacing it.

I'd agree with the over-pricing of memory, and especially storage. The low storage capacities on the newest models is a problem, and upgrading to better storage capacities is still very costly. I hope it'll start to come down in price soon.

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I completely agree with all of this - the small hard drive and lack of expandability are the biggest issues. If money is of no issue, it looks like SSDs *may* reach acceptable size - a 2 TB SSD in 2014 would match my needs, although it'll likely cost $1,000. ( I recently had to "downgrade" from a fast 1 TB HD to a slow 1.5" TB HD because I no longer could fit in 1 TB and was tired of offloading everything.)

But there's an aspect of the lack of expandability that I don't think has been voiced yet: Now, when a customer buys a rMBP, it's suddenly like getting a phone plan, but worse. Upgrades are fantastically expensive, but the customer knows the way the laptop is now is the best it will ever be. So they have to sit there and guess if tis worth doubling the price in case they need the power 2 years from now, or will they never really need it and just blow the money?

This kind of buying anguish was never a big deal in the past, because you knew that as your storage needs increased, you could just swap the hard drive and upgrade the RAM. (Which has always happened for me.) So you didn't have to always buy the most expensive system possible to hedge your bets. Now you delay your purchase for months, running spread sheets, trying to figure out what storage you could get away with... If you can delay your purchase by an entire year, you make it to the next model, which might have more storage for the same price... that fear of no-upgrades sure delays the purchase rate for me..

I'm planning to buy a non-Retina MBP for these exact reasons. I don't like the storage options on both the Air and Retina MBP and I have a large CD collection. The thought of having an external hard drive and SuperDrive tethered to my laptop all the time was unappealing, so I decided against the Air and Retina MBP (despite the fact that they are newest and "best" Apple laptops). I just hope Apple doesn't discontinue the non-Retina MBP before I get around to buy one.

First of all, thank you for such a detailed and informed article.

I am a graphic designer about to graduate from school, and going to a job where I'll have an iMac. I used to have a lot of movie and music files but now I mostly use Netflix and Spotify. Most of my photos and working files are stored on google drive, and older files are on my computer.

I just ruined my MacBook Pro from massive water damage. I went to the store to get a new one, but I'm not sure whether I should get rMBP 125gb or rMBP 250gb? My old MBP would be sluggish because I usually have Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign open, plus Chrome, Mail and Spotify open at all times.

Like I said, most of the data I need is in the Cloud. Should I spend the extra $200 and get more storage?

the Primary Reason for choosing the older NON-Retina would have to be the User Upgradeability.
at least thats what it was for me. My Hon got me the MacBook Pro for my Birthday this year, and despite the Retina Display Version being available, I guided Hon towards the Non Retina Version, i7, 750GB HDD & 8GB RAM, for the sole purpose that I (too late) learned about the Limited and for some, rather Expensive Upgrade Options for My Hon's Macbook Air.
Processor speed is not that essential, as I do not use my unit to Direct or Navigate NASA or Aero Troops, that a Nano Second Delay can have dire consequences. the option to be able to increase the storage capacity is the most essential upgrade I think should be available.
I am not saying the Retina Display is not better in looking, but I have it on my Pads, Pods and Phones (4 Pads, 2 Pods, 6 Iphone), so I dont really need it in the Laptop.

I just bought a "still in box" early 2010 MBP. Here's why. My first Mac (laptop) was a late 2009, 13 inch MBP which I talked my 82 yr old mother into buying for my 50th birthday. Man what a great machine that was!!! In fall of 2011, that Mac was stolen from my house in Long Beach, Ca. (no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the area) and so I afterwards, with tail wagging, sallied forth to the Mac store to order a loaded 13 inch with large capacity SSD and the WORKS!! I returned it two weeks later. It was a COMPLETE LEMON. The audio didn't sync with the video. It kept going to black screen for no reason and it was always a different sequence of key pushes to get it back on. SO, after Mac took a MONTH to return my $2400, I went into the Mac store and bought one from the store shelves. When I got home, (it's now Jan. '12) and opened it up, I realized they had sold me a EARLY '11 model but the config wasn't that much different from the current model so i chose not to return it. BIG MISTAKE. This MBP is such a stinker!!! Same video issues as before with the recurring black screen. Horrible mouse pad to pointer coordination. Too little time/space to list all the problems. Meanwhile, I had to crack open my gf's early 2011 model and replace the entire top case!!! Just because her mac had moved from a dry clime to the beach and moisture had condensed inside causing a power on/off issue!! THREE LEMONS in a ROW!! Unbelievable. This week I spoke to a fellow sound engineer/musician and the MacBook subject came up. He informed me that he had the 2010 model and it was a ROCK!! Thanks for REMINDING me. Plus, the 2010 was the last year there was an audio INPUT jack on the side. You may say..."oh noooo there isn't" but, the mini output up to 2010 also served as the INPUT jack and made it easy to transfer analogue to digi files, record to Garage Band or Logic and much more!! So, you see...finding a 2010 still in the box this week was like finding the 1965 Fender Strat that had been under your grandfather's bed for 35 years. It will take some getting used to..about 5 seconds...and I will have a friend for...well, who knows but anyone want this POS I am typing this on right now.?? Didn't think so.
James E. Spurgin lll

Thanks for a well-written article. I think the bottom line for a laptop is that people want it to be useful for what they want to do without dragging along external accessories. The superdrive and storage capacity are both features that I value. But an overriding concern for me is screen real-estate. That's why I've got a circa 2012 17" MacBook Pro. The larger screen is great, with much less eye strain, whether reading or watching video. I might like a retina display, but not if it means looking at a smaller picture. If this machine ever dies, I'm not sure what I'll do, as the 17" machines are no longer made.

Thanks Peter for the interesting article (and even more so for the discussion it's helped to generate). Like others, I want to upgrade (my 2010 Macbook) and I'm conflicted about going with the Retina or non-Retina version. I'm a web designer and enthusiast photographer living in Vietnam. I've always got Photoshop, Lightroom, iTunes, Skype, Chrome, Word and a few other applications open simultaneously. On one hand I would dearly love to have a Retina display and a more portable laptop (and the design is gorgeous) but on the other, the lack of storage and upgradeability are significant issues. I can't really depend on a good Internet connection for cloud-based services here so having enough storage is a big deal. The thing is, the base cost of a new 15 inch MacBook Pro Retina is already stretching my budget and unless I upgraded to 16GB RAM and 512GB storage, I feel I would regret it later. With these upgrades pushing the Retina version firmly out of my budget, I will have to make sacrifices either way. So in the end it's about priorities. I've survived without Retina up to now and carrying around a slightly heavier laptop won't kill me. I think I'll go with the non-Retina version, max out the RAM, replace the optical drive with an SSD drive ... and perhaps pick myself up a decent external IPS monitor for the increased resolution when I need it.

What's make me thinking about not getting a retina display one is because, really i don't need it. I'm an audio engineering student, and having a really nice and detailed display isn't really for me. And also that there isn't an optical drive which makes it even more troublesome too.

I have bought many Apple computers (and iPads and iPhones) over the years but now I am moving on - I just I could find a computer manufacturer out there that makes a similar stable product. I make music on computers and I don't need a retina display. Screw it - why is this better, really? What I need is a matte screen. Just that. The glossy screens they insist on are a drag to work with. I really hate them. Apple no longer gives you the option to buy them. I will not buy a closed box either as I have extended the life of the computer I am writing on by increasing the memory and the RAM. I don't need the latest thing just something that works. I will no longer blindly update Apple software when they tell me too as new updates often make changes for the worse. Thank you ITunes. Thank you Final Cut Pro. No more.

Hello Peter and bravo for your article. My comment will include a question for advice from you (Peter) and all that read it. I 've read all the comments so far, and also forums, YT videos, actually I'v been trying to decide which one of the two to buy for 3 full months now. First of all my options are:
1) MBP 13', i7 dual core, 8 GB RAM, 1TB HDD and
2) Retina MBP 13', i7 dual core, 16 GB RAM(but also considering 8), 512 GB SSD.

The heaviest program that my laptop will run is Photoshop, no games, no video editing, no music making. I'm a university student intending to use this laptop for 6-8 years at least, so also in my future job as an economist (mentioning that to make clear that no heavy programs will be used). The things that make it so hard for me to decide are not the storage, as the Retina model will be purchased with 512 GB if I choose that, neither the disk drive, which IS useful, but ok I'll get used to not having one in the end. The most irritating thing about the Retina model are the missing Ethernet port (and NO, we are not in the full wi-fi era yet) and some functional details that are except for very beautiful, very user friendly. I'm referring to the battery indicator in the left side of the base MBP, the light indicator that shows when the laptop's off, in sleep mode etc, even the power button...why couldn't they keep it up right and make it a button in the keyboard? I think that after Jobs' death they lost it somehow...
I understand that making a lighter and thinner laptop couldn't include a drive, but why ethernet?

Along with your very welcome suggestions I would like you to answer me if the Retina display in 13' inches makes so much more difference than the non_Retina one.
Which would you buy..?

Thanks in advance,
John

Hi Peter,

Thanks for your article, it was very thoughtful and helpful. I'm a 'do-it-yourselfer' upgrader and I was wondering how the new 13" Macbook Pro Retinas compare to the last 15" Macbook Pro (mid-June 2012) with respect to graphics? I only ask because I could now, feasibly buy a 15" Macbook Pro (with a 512mb Nvidia 650m GPU) and still have a quad core CPU (which I assume is still faster) for $100 less than buying the mid-level (October 2013) 13" Macbook Pro Retina ($1,499). I could even upgrade my ram to 16gb (+$130), replace my superdrive with an 240gb crucial SSD (+$120) which I'd run the OS from and basically have a 15" Macbook Pro with 16gb ram, 740gb HDD/SDD quad core for $1,650 which is only now, $50 less than the lowest price (that I can find) for the highest-level 13" Macbook Pro Retina ($1,699). Which of these three different options do you think are the best for graphics processing?

Mid-level 13" Macbook Pro Retina October 2013 as is at $1,469 (lowest price found, no modifications/upgrades)
vs.
Top-level 13" Macbook Pro Retina October 2013 as is at $1,699 (lowest price found, no modifications/upgrades)
vs.
15" Macbook Pro June 2012 upgraded at $1,650 (total price)

Does the Haswell's integrated GPU on a 13" Macbook Pro Retina really compete with an Nvidia graphics card when taking into account these price points (including upgradeable RAM and HDD/SDD which I assume help speed up everything)?

in 2012 I bought a 13" MBP with non retina display, I can't see how the Retina model is an upgrade. Less storage and no Disc drive?
Maybe I'm one of the few people left who still buy Music CD's, but doing away with the 'SupeDrive' seems like a step backward. Yes it is possible to download most things, but that requires reasonable internet access to achieve full functionality. It depends what you use your computer for, but for me, a disc drive-less computer is a no-go.

Well, I really do not see why the SSD "MUST" be smaller than a traditional HD.
Given the current (reasonable) price of large SSD units, I have actually upgraded to a 960 Gb Crucial M500 all the Macbook pros owned by my family, including the two 13" (mid-2009 and mid-2010) owned by my sons, my wife's mid-2010 15" and my late-2011 17".
A large, fast SSD makes an old MBP to rejuvenate... And I see absolutely no reason for replacing my current excellent 17" equipped with a fabulous 1920x1200 screen with matte finish, to that smaller, and terribly glossy Retina screens... Which does not provide as much real estate, as for most programs the effective resolution is halved to 1440x900, albeit the fonts are more sharp-edged...
A lot of people doing my same work (audio and video processing) stay away from Retina MBPs, for a number of reasons:
- GLOSSY SCREEN, that's a nightmare when working outdoors, or under bright lights!
- lack of up-gradable HD
- lack of native Firewire interface (the Thunderbolt adaptor disconnects too easily for being safe for live concerts, etc.)
- lack of optical CD/DVD burner (which in the audio/video field is still almost mandatory, at the end of a concert you MUST leave a copy of it on a disc to the manager)
It is really a pity that Apple discontinued the 17" model. And even a greater pity that also the 15" MBP with matte display is gone...
The 13" is only glossy, either Retina or not...
This means that currently no one in my business will buy a new Apple laptop. When my late-2011 17" will become obsolete (I suppose it can last at least one or two years, indeed, thanks to the upgrade of the SSD and the 16 Gb RAM), I will be forced to leave Apple for another brand... Currently it would be HP, as they are still making 17-inchers with matte display and Firewire port...
They can even host TWO SATA SSD units, making it possible to run a 2TB Raid...
Apple, please awake, professionals need these powerful machines, and are ready to pay for them....

From a personal point, I'm not one for the rMBP. I'm one of those DIY types myself and having the Optical Bay is essential at the moment as my current setup uses both SSD (for OS X and Apps) and HDD (for user profile and such). From a sales standpoint, most all of your points are correct. I work at the Navy Exchange as the Apple Rep and usually everyone goes for the MD101 because it's the most cost effective. No one want's to pay more for a high end MBP to get more RAM even though you'd be getting more flash storage, and maybe a faster processor. Plus, on the newer traditional MBPs, you could install RAM up to 16GB. You can't do that on the rMBPs on the floor. You're limited to only 8GB no matter what unless you go to Apple's web site and build a custom machine. Personally, I could get past not being able to have the dual drive and only have the one SSD so long as there was plenty more space and was cheaper (or there were alternatives like OWC or Crucial), but what I can't get past is the lack of upgradability and DIY repair, mainly the inability to upgrade RAM as desired and the lack of a replaceable battery if the current one goes dead. I don't want to have to go into Apple every time something is wrong, especially once the unit is out of warranty. The RAM issue could have been fixed simply by placing the RAM side by side instead of stacked and the rMBP would still have a low profile. Plus, I don't think that soldering the ram really has that many benefits over replaceable sticks, but that's just my opinion.

This article brings to light some things that really annoy me about Apple. For me refreshing the base Macbook Pro is a no-brainer. It would sell like hot cakes. Letting it fester smacks of the Apple philosophy that they know what you want/need better than the customer does. Being able to swap the RAM is import to me because I buy my machine with with a base configuration an upgrade them over time. While I don't use the SuperDrive often I do use it for Archiving import data and occasionally creating Audio CDs and DVDs for family members (older generation still uses that stuff). I don't want to inconvenience of lugging around another accessory.

So if it were me I would:
* refresh the chipset/processor and a quad Core i7 option
* replace SuperDrive with a bluRay r/w drive
* add a retina option

How well do think that would sell?

today my 2011 mpb died, it has a 512 ssd and cost me $1000 at the time and now I cant even use it in the new apple line up, really annoying. Especially seeing how much 3rd party drives have come down and how expensive it is to do it thru apple as usual.

function follows form is apples new moto.

Hey guys! I'm planning to buy a MBP. I have two options in my budget:one is a 13 inch model with retina 2013 october model with i5 dual-core 2.4 haswell/8gb ram/256 ssd and also 500 gb external hdd .The second one is a 15 inch non retina june 2012 model with 4gb ram /500hdd/i7ivy bridge quad core 2.3 up to 3.3 . I want it for music production and i want to buy the non retina one because is upgradable so i'll add later 16 gb ram and a ssd. I really dont need retina cause i dont use it for photo editing and stuff like that. I think the processor is better even though the 13 inch has haswell but the 15 inch one has quad core i7 instead of dual core i5. The price of the retina MBP is with 40 bucks more than the non retina one . Any suggestions?

As someone who just had to make this choice myself, this article is spot on. I chose the standard Pro over the retina and have absolutely no regrets. I maxed mine out with a TB HDD (which to get a TB on the rMBP would have cost a small fortune on top of what I was already spending) the intel i7 and 8 gigs of Ram. Even though the Retina screen would have been nice, the standard screen is still brilliant and looks fantastic (better than any laptop screen ive ever had). My battery still clocks in with about 7 hours of life ( ive actually squeezed over 8 out of it with some tweeks and light usage). the only benefit i really wanted from the RMBP was the SSD, but when the price comes down I can always upgrade it myself ( aswell as the ram to 16 gigs). If you are on the fence, get the standard Pro, it is a fantastic computer that has the ability to be made more fantastic down the road.

Im on the hunt for a 15inch ivy bridge atm as I still resent being forced into apples confined view of what they think my computing life should be like. I also have a 1000 dollar ssd I am not about to just toss because apple wants me to buy their over priced hdd tech.

If they offered a 15 inch haswell in a unibody I would get one new.

I bought my wife the 13 in Retina and she loved it until recently. She takes and edits lots of photos and after owning the laptop for 3 months now has a completely full storage disk. We don't have an external drive for it because like you said it is bulky to carry with you. How can she clear her storage disk using internet storage?
Thanks for you help.

-Matt

Matt, you would first need to decide where you want to store her files. Places like Dropbox or Google Drive are what I use the most. If your wife has a Google account then she already gets some storage space on Google drive (I can't remember how much they give you by default but I think its 10-15 gigs). You can purchase more storage as you need it. Once she has uploaded her files, she can delete them from her Mac's storage which will free up some of that space. I understand your frustration trying to deal with only having 128GB of storage.

Picked mine up today. Best Buy's sale, on top of the education discount made it about 400 dollars cheaper than the baseline retina MBP. Although the screen is meh, I have a powerful Mac which I can future proof by upgrading the ram and installing an ssd.

Hey I had a concern I an incoming college student and
will be majoring in Chemical Engineering. I am looking to purchase either a MBP or rMBP best buy is having a sale and combined with my student discount the MBP will cost $990 plus tax and the rMBP with 8gb ram and 258gb flash storage will be $1275 plus tax or the other rMPB with 4g ram and 128gb flash storage will be $1080 plus which one should I go with?

Ha! Interesting article... actually found it when googling "warm color retina", though it has nothing to do with that. :)

Graphic designer here... with a mac for the first time. I just switched from a 3-year old 17" 8GB i7 full-hd sony (which started falling apart after a year) to a 13" 16GB MBP retina. I kept the standard CPU and minuscule SDD (128GB).

My thoughts when choosing that combination - I obviously need the best screen, so retina was a no-brainer. I had to up the RAM as much as possible, to ensure that I can use the MBP for years to come, but doubt a bigger CPU will make much difference when it comes to performance. And a small hard drive forces me to backup my files and archive. Still on a regular external drive, will switch to time capsule soonish.

It bothers me that the MBP basically cannot be repaired. I gotta trust that the laptop will prove to be resilient... three years of use is the minimum, I would love to see my 16GB last for 4-5 years.
Remind me in 3 years how that plan is going? ;)

Another reason to choose the MBP was the high resale value. As long as it is still working as expected in 3 years, I should be able to sell and upgrade.

I never ever want to have the same frustrations I had with my sony. Ever. When it started with serious trouble after two years, the repair people were surprised to even see it alive - according to them, vaios don't usually last that long. It killed 2 hard drives (incl. SSD) within the last 8 months. The battery was dead, everything was falling apart, I had to reinstall 3 times within the last year, and intricate vector files caused it to overheat - with 8GB RAM. I spent app. $500 on repairs within the last year.

So again, the fact that the MBP is pretty much a closed system bothers me. I would usually upgrade SSD or RAM after a while, but now will just have to make do with 16GB. I am hoping to never have to deal with the constant maintenance a Windows system requires, too.

Now off to find more info about that warm color, dang it.

Greetz from Germany,
Gila (CrossTheLime)

2 years ago I purchased a 15" Retina MacBook Pro took it home installed Cubase DAW and got a big surprise,
IT'S NOT COMPATIBLE :-(
I had to return it for non Retina. Presently Cubase 7.5 DAW and lots of other music production software are not compatible with retina. Which is another reason people buy them.
Apple should have kept the 1280x800 resolution as an option.

i am going into college and i want to get the non retina macbook pro with the core i7 chip. I hope that would last in the future but I'm not sure

No one should be buying a sealed laptop unless its a $250 chromebook. Apple will continue this practice until consumers respond by not buying. A non upgradeable/serviceable machine is rediculous. At a minimum they should have access to the battery, memory and harddrive, as all of these commonly go bad. Charging a premium for a machine that is more expensive to own/maintain is not a good business model. This will come back to bite them.

Hello everyone !!! Nice article :-) !! Need an advice .I am web developer now intended to learn ios development . In India Macbook pro non-retina is available. can i consider this as i am on budget? price for non-retina in india is around 1000 USD and for Retina is 1450 USD .

Greetings!!!

Thanks Peter for the nice article. I am now in the market to get a macbook. And definitely it is by doing research as to what to buy. For me... getting more for less.
The nonretina macbook pro 13 inch is the only remaining one. Acceptable price. And with that as you mentioned.
1. Storage.... definitely 500 gb is the minimum. The 256 SSD rMBP or rMBA is still somewhat short of what I know will be an issue after a few months of use.
2. Upgradability - if the retina models are upgradable just like before, then getting the base model of the retina and later upgrade is definitely a plus. Unfortunately... it isn't. So even if the base mbp is NON retina but upgradable... I can live with it. Add memory, changed into SSD... works with me later.
3. Optical - I been using a windows laptop for some years (due to budget constraints) and that one has no optical. Yes it is very light and easy to carry, but on instances when I need this and I dont carry it, big bummer. But at home definitely using discs is still there, not that much use as before but definitely still used.
4. What the future holds. This is where my dilemma resides... getting the non retina model or wait. If I wait and later apple discontinues this and provide a non-upgradable option... bummer... If apple upgrades this with a newer processor...hmmm less likely but still a bummer...
So hopefully I make the right choice in getting this and hope for the best.
Thanks again for the article.
Addendum:
What I forgot to mention is this still carries the FW connector and my home storage still uses this technology.
And the LAN port which I use for my home and even out of town use. Getting an extra connector and shelling out extra is something that I am not agreeable.