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.
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