Is the non-Retina MacBook Pro still a sensible laptop choice?

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

submit to reddit

It was not without some twinges of disloyalty that I chose a 13-inch Haswell MacBook Air over the still-available non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro for my Mac system upgrade last fall. After all, I consider the 13-inch aluminum unibody MacBook/MacBook Pro to be the best value Apple laptop for non-power users ever made (and perhaps forever, now that it’s the last Mac laptop standing with upgradable storage capacity and RAM, as well as serious data storage capacity at affordable prices, which is probably why it’s still being offered for sale alongside the newer Retina MacBook Pros).

MacBook Pro

However, there was the been-there, done that, factor. I have a late-2008 model unibody MacBook, and a new 13-inch non-Retina Pro would be very similar, but with more speed, Intel graphics, a non-swappable built-in battery, a backlit keyboard, and some added connectivity. That familiarity wouldn’t necessarily stop me. I’ve owned a WallStreet PowerBook G3 and three PowerBook G3 Pismos (my second-place choice for best-value Apple laptop ever). But when you only upgrade systems at four-year intervals, you kinda’ like to get something a bit different.

Then there was the undeniable seductiveness of the MacBook Air form factor, the fact that at the time it started at $100 less than the non-Retina Pro. That price differential is still the same in Canada where I live, but in the U.S. the spread is now $200 in favor of the 13-inch Air.

MacBook Air

Aside from price considerations, the non-Retina MacBook Pro hasn’t been upgraded since June 2012, and the 1.3 GHz Haswell CPU in the MacBook Air I bought allows a 12-hour nominal battery life. Finally, I was also curious about the speed of having an SSD, and the silence appeals to me. (Incidentally, the 13-inch Retina Pro is available with various capacity SSDs too.)

That said, when a friend who asks my advice on Mac purchases every four years or so recently queried about replacing her old-school plastic MacBook, I unhesitatingly recommended the non-Retina 13-inch Pro. She was wary of the non-expandability and upgradability of the newer MacBook models, and for the sort of use her computers get, the old Pro is an ideal upgrade from her old MacBook.

As a relatively inexpensive compact workhorse, the non-Retina MacBook Pro has much to recommend it. The final (presumably) version currently offered has an 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge CPU with momentary bursts of Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz, and an Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics processor unit.


Basic spec includes 4GB of 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM memory (upgradable to six or eight GB), a 500GB 5400-rpm hard disk drive (also relatively easily swapped), a built-in battery providing a nominal seven hours of battery life, and an 8x burner SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW).

The display resolution is only 1,280 x 800, but in some respects, that has its advantages, especially for those of us with aging eyes. The MacBook Air’s 1,440 x 900 resolution is nice in some ways, but better suited to my old 17-inch PowerBook G4’s larger physical size panel.

The MacBook Pro is also offered with optional 128GB, 256GB or 512GB solid-state drive. Hard drives up to 1TB are also available.Prices are:

  • 500GB Serial ATA Drive @ 5400 rpm
  • 1TB Serial ATA Drive @ 5400 rpm [$100.00]
  • 128GB Solid State Drive [$200.00]
  • 256GB Solid State Drive [$400.00]
  • 512GB Solid State Drive [$700.00]

Even with my swish new MacBook Air, I find I still end up using the Core 2 Duo MacBook a lot, and it acquits itself amazingly well for a 4-1/2 year old machine. The Air is faster, but not all that much faster for many of the things for which I use computers, and I think I would have been quite satisfied had I made the alternate determination and gone with a non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro for my system upgrade.

MacBook Pro

Consequently, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a last-holdout non-Retina MacBook Pro to anyone looking for a reliable workhorse laptop with lots of HDD capacity, connectivity, and expandability. This is one of Apple’s best laptop designs ever.


Print Friendly
  • Lostforinspiration

    Hi Charles

    Would this recommendation still stand in Sept 2015 with the new retina 13″ MBP in the frame?

    I love the idea of being able to upgrade, but unsure of the capability of the non retina version for everyday use over the next 5 years or so