This Is the 13-Inch Retina MacBook Pro You Should Get

By Kyle Wagner on at

From the first time we saw the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, we've been thinking: "Well, that's great, but can it be a little smaller?" Done. You can now buy a beautiful, bright, pixel-perfect display attached to a souped-up ultrabook.

But the new models might not be everything you dreamed of. Here's a guide to figuring out which version you want (if you actually want one).

 

For Almost Everybody

It's the Core i5 2.5GHz (Turbo Boost to 3.1GHz) processor, with 256GB storage.

Why the 2.5 GHz processor? You will use this thing like a MacBook Air with a Greek god of a screen. And this processor clocks faster than the processor the current Airs max out at, the top-end Core i7 2.0GHz processor. It'll run your programs more than adequately, even if things like encoding time won't blow your shoes off.
Why 256GB? You don't want to be paying for too much onboard SSD storage, given how expensive it is. Only 128GB is a pretty tight squeeze—especially given how massive some professional software installs can be. Having 256GB is a nice medium, and you can add high-speed external storage with Thunderbolt.

 

But there are exceptions

Take a second before deciding you're definitely getting a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. Yeah, super high resolution screens are great. We're excited about them all, especially that pie-in-the-sky super HD Samsung Series 9. But you need to take a good look at what you're actually getting in this machine. Traditionally, despite their popularity, 13-inch MacBook Pros have been one of the worst buys in tech.

Check out the official specs. A few things should jump out at you:

There is no option to add a discrete graphics card. That's a huuuuge deal. It's how things have always been for the 13-inch MacBook Pros, but for a while there, people had turned them into Apple's standard laptop. Now, though, the Retina screen is juicing up the 13-inch model as a Pro-level machine again. For a lot of things that a professional would be using it for, that Intel HD 4000 (Ivy Bridge) integrated graphics setup just won't cut it. Likewise, the gorgeous display will also probably attract the traditional "Oh, I'll get the Pro so I can game on it" crowd. While Ivy Bridge is serviceable, there's no way in Gehenna that it's going to crank out game graphics at native resolution.
Memory is not configurable. Unlike the 15-inch Retina MBP, with the 13-inch, you get 8GB of RAM, and only 8GB of RAM. Since Retina MBPs are among the least tinkerable gadgets on the planet, you won't be adding it yourself. That too is going to hinder the MBP 13 in some professional settings, especially considering that one of the main virtues of that super-HD Retina screen is being able to run a ton of programs at once in one workspace.

It's only dual core. You're getting the dual core i5 and i7 chips, not the quad core versions found in the 15-inch retina. So while 2.5GHz and 2.9GHz will feel fast in everyday use, heavy-duty multitasking and other involved tasks will take a hit there too.

That said, this could still be a great machine for photographers, designers, and a host of other folks who can make use of that display. This offers the best performance you can get when you absolutely can't fit a 15-inch laptop where you're going. If you're constantly working with external drives, or conversely, need everything on one local drive, this is the sweet spot for most people—if, you know, you actually need one of these things to begin with. Just be aware, going in, that you're not dealing with an out-and-out monster like the 15-inch Retina MBP.