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Do you need the latest MacBook Pro or can you save money by going with last year's model?

Apple regularly refreshes its products, but sometimes newer isn't better. It's important to figure out how you're going to use a MacBook Pro—or any Mac—before you can be sure you're getting the best bang for the buck.

I could either get the base version of the 15" 2015 macbook pro, or the higher end 15" 2014 model. I want to use this machine for at least 4 years. I use photography software and am a maths+computer science major...Do you think the new Force touch trackpad is worth it, compared to the added computing power I'd get from the 2014 model? — S.M.

Apple updated the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro this past May. It upgraded the high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro's graphics processor and also added the "Force Touch" trackpad that we've been seeing more and more since the MacBook rolled out in April. But it really hasn't done much else with the device.

Apple was in a bit of a quandary. The 15-inch MacBook Pro demands a higher-power, higher-performance CPU. Intel has been much later than it originally expected to deliver fifth-generation Core i5 and i7 processors based on its "Broadwell" chip design, so Apple put in the same Haswell chips as were in last year's model.

That's not to say the 2015 version of the 15-inch rMBP went entirely untouched except for the Force Touch trackpad. As I said, the premium model got a faster graphics processor. All 15-inch models also got faster flash storage and some improved efficiencies that result in an additional hour of expected battery life.

As far as the Force Touch trackpad is concerned, I think it's really cool. I'm sure developers will make use of the API as time goes on, but remember that the vast majority of Mac users have Macs that don't support Force Touch-specific features, so I think we're a way off from seeing it as a "killer app" feature that you absolutely have to have.

Still, given your needs specifically — photo processing and computationally intensive work — you're probably better off going with the higher-end 2014 model, which is going to give you a very solid bang for the buck.

Really, though, you can't go wrong with either 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro model. I'm using an early 2013 model which I've had since it was new, and it's still the best Mac I've ever laid my hands on. I love mine to death — I'm sure you will too!

11 Comments
  • I have a late 2011 MBP. It was for my former job, which they paid for. When I left, I had the option of buying the machine. After a little extra work they had me do before I left, they ended up giving me the computer. It was a very nice gesture. While I don't have Bluetooth 4.0 or USB 3.0, it's still a great machine. I compensate for the lack of USB 3.0 with Thunderbolt, which is a good work around. Also, I was able to switch out my old hard drive for a 500GB SSD (which my former employer also bought for me), and move the old hard drive to where the Optical Drive used to be (I have it externally on the rare chance I use it). It has been a great workhorse and does all the things I need to do with Photoshop and other things. Getting a modern MBP would be nice, but I still have much more use out of this computer. If you have an older MBP like I do, consider, if possible doing what I did and getting an SSD. It makes things really quick and gives extra life to older hardware.
  • I have to say, I own the very first Retina Macbook Pro 15inch (mid 2012) and I am BLOW away at its performance to this day. Everyday I have it hooked up to a Thunderbolt display and I have one Safari with around 10tabs open, iTunes, iMessage, Mail, Notes, Pages, Photoshop and Sonos open and it never skips a beat. I mean its incredible to me the amount of performance my machine still has. That said I update every second I can, and run Mackeeper constantly to help keep the performance up. Its incredible how long this machine has lasted, I find myself bragging to my friends recently how my investment paid off big time. My ONLY complaint is that since it was the first ever Retina, I have issues with the screen. A couple of pixels have blown out all over the screen (which are only noticeable when I watch movies or have a black background website up), and there is a large discoloration issue right above the dock. I am sure that this issue has been resolved and I agree that the 2014 model would be a better choice, the 2015 added nothing that is "must have". I know personally the screen issue is starting to become to much of an issue for me so I am waiting for a "must have" feature to upgrade. (Secretly praying we get a gold one to match my iPhone and iPad) ha ha
  • I just upgraded to the 2015 MBP two weeks ago and absolutely love it. In my case, I upgraded from (yes) a 2008 MacBook. My MacBook was my work computer. As old as it was, it still ran Lion, Office 2011 and had a myriad of RDP app solutions available that ran on it for when I worked with applications that absolutely HAD to run on Windows. I leveraged the heck out of that laptop. My employer only provided me with a Windows machine (which I would RDP to rarely). My old MacBook was still soooooo much nicer than my POS Windows machine. It was just faster (I did upgrade RAM to 4GB) and generally performed lots better (Mac apps like Jabber, etc just worked better than their Windows counterparts for any number of reasons). So, obviously, I would've seen huge improvements even upgrading to a 2011 MBP. I opted for the new one, though, for the SSD improvements. I multitask for work a LOT and reviews of the new SSD and how much faster it was was the tipping point for me. The faster graphics card in it is nice, too as I occasionally game on my MBP.
  • If you are looking at the base 15" model, last year's will do. If you need to run dual 4K monitors without the fans spinning up or a single 5K monitor, the M370X in the 2015 model is a better solution. Other than that, if you already have a 2012 rMBP, I'd wait until next year's model which should hopefully be a full redesign with Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C and other niceties.
  • Shoot I even love my 2014 Retina MacBook Pro 13 inch which is very nice. It's the Mid-2014 model I believe and it's been almost a year since I've had it and I love it a lot. Sent from the iMore App
  • I fully expect Apple to skip Broadwell for it's quad-core laptops / desktops and go right to Skylake.. If Intel maintains it's schedule for Skylake, seriously, why would they upgrade to Broadwell.. I honestly; the nail in the coffin was when they opted to not wait on Broawell and go with Haswell. That, to me, signaled they were not going to go Broadwell, but skip to Skylake. Because of that, if you want the latest - wait if you can. Otherwise you'll be on the edge of port to port conversion hell. Skylake will be a major push / change to the ports on Macbook laptops. I think they are going to drop all ports and go all-in with Intel's new USB-C/Thunderbolt-3 combo port in the next generation. You won't see a power port, old usb, or display port.s Just the new USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 port. The writings on the wall really, once Intel released the Thunderbolt 3/USB-C combo port specification, that put a nail in the coffin for all other ports on the future Macbook Pro's.. Probably either 2, 4 or 6 ports. I say that because each new Intel control chip provides 2 ports each. I suspect they will have 4 ports. Maybe, MAYBE, 6 ports on the 15" - but probably 4. At best we'll see 4 ports on the 13" IMHO. Macbook Air's will probably have just 2 ports.
  • Expandability is a bit deal I think and its kind of sad much of the old choices are gone now, like adding more ram later. My late 2012 Mac Mini is still doing well and I was able to add 16GB of ram and a SSD and second hard drive also. It helps to extend the life of an older Mac. I don't see me growing out of this for quite a few years still. Its working better now than when I got it thanks to the upgrades. I still think the late 2012 Mac Mini is a great one if you can find it refurb. What I hope to upgrade soon is my Apple TV's.
  • I'm doing fine with my late 2008 MBP. Don't need any other laptop, MBP or otherwise. Money saved for something else.
  • This model has a defective graphics card that unmounts due to heat issues. I put it in the oven for a few minutes then cool it and pop it back in and works a few days then quits again.
  • I'm still using my late 2011 MacBook Pro and am happy with it. Apart from some high speed fan situations. I think that at the moment my hdd is the limiting factor and I intend to upgrade to a SSD to speed things such as browsing and Lightroom / PhotoShop up a wee bit. Otherwise I'm very happy with my machine. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I wish the forch touch has customizable options for example f.t. It and a new tab opens instead of double tap and click "open new tab"