Weighing in on the MacBook Pro vs. Retina MacBook Pro debate, Resexcellence’s Joshua Coventry has posted a glowing review of the most recent, and likely the ultimate old-school MacBook Pro 15.4″ revision that was released in June 2012. The mid-2012 15″ Pro got Intel Ivy Bridge Core i processors, more powerful discrete graphics from NVIDIA, and USB 3.0 connectivity, but I’m doubtful there will be another upgrade of the non-Retina Pro models when Intel’s next-generation “Haswell” CPU family comes on-stream later this year, especially with the late-2008 form factor models having been passed over in the mild refreshment of Apple’s Retina MacBook Pros last month.
However, Coventry praises the MacBook Pro without Retina Display as still being one of the best laptops you can buy in this price range, with hardware quality and software features far exceeding anything in the Windows PC market. He likes it so much he bought one himself and says it’s by far the best computer he’s ever owned, the best Mac he’s ever owned, and, configured with a 2.3 GHz Intel Core i7 processor, it’s the most powerful Mac he’s ever used as well. Rendering tasks such as video production, photo editing, sound production, illustration, simulations, 3D rendering, and gaming are all a breeze, especially after he D.I.Y. upgraded to a 7200RPM 750GB Western Digital Scorpio Black hard drive and 16GB of RAM.
You can’t do that with a Retina MacBook Pro. You can order a B.T.O. 768GB flash SSD with the 15-inch rMBP at time of purchase, but it’ll cost you a nosebleed-inducing 700 bucks extra on the base model. An upgrade to 16 GB of RAM is another $200, which—with the base model price of $2,199—brings the grand total to $3,199. If you need an external SuperDrive optical drive, add another $79, taking you up to $3,278.
By comparison, the non-Retina MacBook Pro starts at $1,799, and includes a standard internal SuperDrive. A 750 GB , 7,200 RPM hard disk drive can be ordered for $150 more and an 8GB memory option is $100. Grand total: $2,049, albeit with slower HDD rather than SSD storage and half the RAM. However, if you want to go the D.I.Y. Route, Other World Computing will sell you the 7200RPM 750GB Western Digital Scorpio Black HDD that Joshua Coventry has in his MacBook Pro for $99.97, and a 16GB RAM upgrade for $129.99, lowering the total cost to $1,929.96 and bringing the RAM to parity with our B.T.O. rMBP spec.
Aside from the lower price, another cool thing about the old-school MacBook Pro alternative is that you can spread the cost out by going with the base machine to start with, then installing the upgrade bits later. Upgrading the hard drive and memory yourself doesn’t void Apple’s warranty—standard or AppleCare—and Coventry notes that while it isn’t officially removable by the user, the battery can be replaced fairly easily as it is not glued to the case like the one in the rMBP is, but simply held in place by a few screws and a connecting cable (although be aware that tampering with the battery while your MacBook Pro is under warranty will void the warranty). With the rMBP, you’re stuck with whatever spec your computer leaves the factory in Asia configured with.
Granted, with the non-Retina Pro you’ve still got a slightly slower 2.3GHz Ivy Bridge CPU to the base rMBP’s 2.5GHz chip, slower HDD storage rather than SSD, and, of course, a somewhat bulkier form factor with no Retina display, but you can upgrade to a 2.6GHz Ivy Bridge at time of purchase for $200, opt for SSD storage (512GB – $700.00 extra) and you still get a really nice display and a machine that can be upgraded and repaired much more easily than the Retina MacBook Pro. Joshua Coventry opted for the Hi-Res Antiglare Display option, and says the brightness, contrast, viewing angle, and color accuracy are all fantastic, and that’s from a high-end graphics professional who uses his MacBook Pro as a work platform for web design and development.
It partly boils down to how much you can afford, and how much of a desirability premium a Retina display adds for you vs. the versatility and potentially longer lasting value added of an upgradable machine. Personally, I lean toward the latter, and I can get a Retina display a lot cheaper in an iPad.
How about you? If the older design (but still deliciously attractive and capable) MacBook Pro exerts more appeal, you’d be well-advised to grab one soon while the grabbing is still good.