The 13″ MacBook Pro’s value shortfall

Sections: Features, Laptops, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Macintosh/Apple Hardware, Opinions and Editorials, Originals

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I’ve been reading a lot of 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina reviews over the past couple of weeks. All of them agree that the ultra high resolution display is a wonderment, the ultrathin form factor is light and easy to carry, and most reviewers say they aren’t especially troubled by the rMBP’s lack of an optical drive.

However, pretty well everyone also complains that the standard 128 GB flash drive’s data capacity is too small, that the lack of Ethernet and FireWire ports is inconvenient, and that the $1,699 price for the entry level 13-inch model is on the high side for a machine that has only dual-core CPU availability and an integrated graphics processor, only 128GB of storage, and requires a bunch of expensive adapters and cables for basic office and peripherals connectivity.

Flash drive capacity and processor clock speed are BTO upgradable at the time of sale, but it’ll cost you another $500; $300 for the 256GB SSD option, plus another $200 for the optional faster CPU (alas still dual-core). Now you’re up to $2,199, which happens to be the price of the base 15-inch rMBP, which comes standard with a 256 GB SSD, a much-faster quad-core CPU, and a discrete graphics processor unit as well, making the 13-incher hard to justify and a relatively poor value, unless its smaller footprint and lower weight are really important to you.

For me, at that price point, opting for the 15-incher would be a no-hesitation no-brainer. Portability and lightness are all well and good, but I lived with a 17-inch PowerBook for four years, used it in waiting rooms and in the car, and found it reasonably manageable.

I do like my current 13-inch MacBook’s heft and relative compactness better, but miss the PowerBook’s larger display, and am sure I would find the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display a treat if I could justify the cost of one with need rather than merely want.

Apparently my assessment isn’t unique. A interesting bit of scuttlebutt out of Taiwan this week indicates that 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro sales are, at least in the early going, less robust than expected, and the 15-inch model is the better marketplace performer.

Digitimes’ Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai report that Foxconn Electronics (Hon Hai Precision Industry) has reportedly enjoyed an increase in 15-inch MacBook Pro orders in the second half and is currently supplying 10-15% of Apple’s total MacBook shipments, up from its original single-digit percentage allotment, according to sources from the upstream supply chain. This has not been confirmed by Apple, but if it’s accurate intelligence, it underscores my relative value assessment.

The non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro has been Apple’s best-selling Mac system for some time, because, in my estimation at least, it offers bona fide superb value at a base price of $1,199—possibly the most bang for your buck that Apple has offered in a Mac system ever. For $500 less than the new 13-inch rMBP, the old-school 13-inch MBP 13″ MacBook Pro gives you the same CPU and GPU performance, similar battery life, greater versatility and connectivity with built-in FireWire 800 and Ethernet ports, an SDVCard slot, an optical drive, and serious storage capacity with a standard 500GB hard disk drive. Yes, the HDD is slower than the rMBP’s SSD, but for the sort of stuff most of us do with computers most of the time, any Mac with an Intel dual-core CPU is wicked fast for real-world use. The non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro is also of course thicker and heavier than the rMBP, and has a nice, but low-resolution 1280 x 800 display, which is arguably its most serious shortcoming.

If you must have higher resolution than that, a more compact, lighter-weight form factor, and a standard SSD, the 13-inch MacBook Air, recently reduced to that $1,199 price point deserves honorable mention, being as it has a non-Retina class but still reasonably high=resolution, 1,440 x 900 screen, probably isn’t meaningfully slower for many users’ real-world speed-needs, gets the same nominal 7-hour battery life, and likewise starts at $500 less than the rMBP price-of-entry, an amount of difference for which you could get a 4th-gen iPad with a Retina display, or an iPad mini with $130 bucks left over to spend on connectivity adapters.

At $1,699 with its very modest entry-level spec, I would rate the 13-inch rMBPs chance of filling the old school MacBook Pro’s boots as best-selling Mac at approximately zero. It’s a nice laptop, but value-wise it just doesn’t deliver the goods from my perspective.

How about from yours?

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  • David Bakker

    And it only allows for 8GB of memory.., in one of their pro-est machines that’s a big booo. I was totally ready to upgrade to the retina MacBook Pro 13″ but it is too expensive and with only 128 GB, 8gb ram, no thanks.

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  • Barry Ward

    I stupidly rushed to buy a 13″ retina the moment they were announced and spent an extra £160 on an i7 CPU upgrade over the i5 (still dual-core). After testing it out, i wasn’t too impressed that it didn’t handle Second Life too well considering the “Pro” label. Then i found for £60 LESS, i could exchange it for the 15″ retina display with its quad-core chip, larger screen, dedicated 1GB graphics card, and much better speakers. So thats exactly what i did. So very pleased with the 15″ performance, and hardly seems any heavier than the 13″. Happy days. But really, in my opinion, the 13″ retina should not be classed a Pro machine.

  • Darwin

    Digitimes has a very well know history of being completely wrong about everything. Thanks for playing though.

  • Deb Holz

    I opted for the non-Retina 13″. I got the 2.9GHz dual-core Intel Core i7, 8GB 1600MHz memory, 750GB 5400-rpm hard drive for $1350, which is still a large amount in my world. I am pleased with the speed and storage capacity. I doubt this option will be available for long, so I decided to take the plunge. I tend to keep computers until they die. Resale value is not an issue for me. My last laptop was a much-beloved PowerBook 12″ G4. It died this past summer. We still run a Sawtooth as our print server at home. I couldn’t justify the price for the RMBP when it is not upgradable, barely fixable, with less connectivity, and no optical drive (some of my old software is still on DVD and I haven’t completely migrated to the cloud, nor am I always blessed with wifi). Maybe if I sat at it all day, but my work computer is a MacPro with a Apple Cinema display.

  • Princella Rae

    Oh Thanks For this update actually my family member need this MacBook Pro and from last few months she is using a MacBook Air and she will really happy to see about MacBook Pro News. Once again Thanks For this.