MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display Review

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A 13-inch version of Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display has been rumoured since its larger stablemate was first released in the summer, and it seemed a pretty obvious move anyway.

Unveiled during Apple’s October keynote, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display proved to be exactly what we expected; a smaller version of the 15-inch model, with the same innovations and departures from the regular MacBook Pro form factor.

Thankfully, it’s also exactly what we wanted.

The Retina MacBook Pro is a new take on the notebook, breaking with the traditional MacBook Pro design in favour of a lighter, thinner notebook.

MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display

At three quarters of an inch thick and weighing 3.57 pounds, it’s 20% thinner and almost a pound lighter than the regular 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Naturally, such a small body has forced a rethink regarding internal components.

The optical drive is gone, and instead of a bulky hard drive, solid state storage is used. This high-end model has 256GB, but there’s also a cheaper version with 128GB.

This is the only difference between the two models.

MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display

The 13-inch model has the same connectivity outlets as the 15-inch Retina MBP, including high-speed USB 3.0 ports.

Off the shelf, the cheaper 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display costs £1,449 (UK) and $1,699 (US), with the more expensive version costing £1,699 or $1,999.

Custom options to increase storage to up to 768GB or upgrade the processor to a 2.9GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 are available if you order through the Apple online store.

Apple's incredible Retina screen comes to its smaller MacBook Pro

Of course, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro’s most exciting feature is its Retina display. Cramming in four times as many pixels as a standard 13-inch MacBook Pro (which itself is no slouch in the resolution department), it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, reproducing images and text with crystal clarity. Photographers, graphic artists and video editors will love it.

Like all of Apple’s 13-inch MacBooks, this one lacks a discrete graphics chip. Instead, it relies on the Ivy Bridge processor’s built-in Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset.

Not that this is much of a drawback. Intel’s integrated graphics have improved with every release; the Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset is around 60% more powerful than the Intel HD Graphics 3000 used in the previous generation of Core-i processors.

MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display

Like all new Macs, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display comes supplied with OS X 10.8: Mountain Lion and its bundled applications such as the Safari web browser, iTunes, Calendar, Contacts and Mail.

Also bundled are the current versions of the iLife applications, iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand.

Specifications

The 13-inch MacBook Pro’s Retina display boasts a 2560×1600 pixel resolution. It crams in four times as many pixels as a standard 13-inch screen. It has more pixels than any competing 13-inch or even 15-inch notebook, and two million more than an HDTV.

The Retina display also has a 29% better contrast ratio and a 75% reflection reduction over the standard model’s screen.

The late 2012 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro uses the latest Intel dual-core Core i5 processors, running at 2.5GHz.

MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display

Hyper Threading means each of the processor’s two cores can run two threads simultaneously, for a total of four virtual cores.

At times of heavy need, the chip’s Turbo Boost feature reallocates unused resources to temporarily increase its clock speed to up to 3.1GHz.

Buy from the Apple online store and you can upgrade the processor to a dual-core 2.9GHz Intel Core i7, which Turbo Boosts to up to 3.6GHz.

The 13-inch notebook’s logic boards are too small to support discrete graphics, but the integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset is surprisingly powerful, and can handle 2560×1600 pixels on up to two external displays, at millions of colours.

MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display

The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display uses solid state storage instead of a hard drive. 128GB and 256GB are available off the shelf, or you can upgrade to 512GB or 768GB if you buy on the Apple online store.

The storage chips take up much less room in the notebook than a hard drive.

Together with the optical drive being dropped, this has allowed for a much thinner, lighter design than the standard 13-inch MacBook Pro. The 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro has 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3L onboard memory, but unlike the 15-inch model, you can’t configure it with more if you buy online.

The new notebook has a comprehensive range of expansion ports too.

There’s two high-speed USB 3.0 ports, one on each side of the MacBook.

On the right-hand side it’s joined by an HDMI port and an SDXC card reader, and on the left, there’s two Thunderbolt ports, a headphone socket and dual mics.

Apple’s famous magnetic power supply plug has been redesigned to fit the thinner form factor. Known as MagSafe 2, the connector disengages when tugged or pulled, so if your dog runs into the power cable while you’re charging, it won’t pull your notebook off your desk.

MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display

There are no FireWire 800 or Ethernet ports, but if you need these protocols, you can get adapters that fit the Thunderbolt ports.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display uses Apple’s high-quality 720p FaceTime HD camera for video chat.

It also enjoys the famously long-life battery, which gives up to seven hours of wireless web surfing, enough to last the whole day between charges.

Apple's incredible Retina screen comes to its smaller MacBook Pro

Performance

Benchmarks

Xbench (testing CPU and storage): 375.86
Cinebench 10 Single core: 4535
Cinebench 10 Multi-core: 9755
iTunes encoding: 447 seconds
Movie encoding (iMovie): 187 seconds
Doom 3: 86.3 FPS
Call of Duty 4: 63.9 FPS

The Retina screen is a sight to behold. Images are reproduced with breathtaking crispness and clarity.

Pixels are so small and tightly packed you can’t distinguish them at normal viewing distances, so text looks as smooth and precise as a printed page.

There are no rough or fuzzy edges at all. So much detail is preserved that if you take a photo of a signpost and add it to your iPhoto library, you can read the text in the photo’s preview.

A 29% improvement in contrast ratio over the screens used in standard MacBook Pros makes the blacks look more solid and the whites more vivid, giving a far more realistic reproduction when looking at photos.

The 75% reduction in reflections is very welcome too.

Throw in a 178 degree viewing angle, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina screen looks good from wherever you look at it.

MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display

But don’t take our word for it. Go to your local Apple store, take a look at a standard MacBook Pro screen, then at the Retina display. The difference is amazing.

Being based on flash storage means the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is extremely quick to start up. Its SSD has up to four times the bandwidth of a standard hard drive, managing sequential read speeds of up to 500MBps.

Applications open quicker, files transfer faster and your Mac feels snappier and more responsive.

In our Xbench test, in which we benchmark the storage drive and CPU, the Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro scored almost 200% higher than the equivalent model in the standard MacBook Pro range, which features an identical processor.

Solid state storage is quieter too, and lighter on the battery.

MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display review

We streamed the BBC iPlayer’s news channel at full screen over a Wi-Fi network for four hours, 35 minutes on a fully-charged battery, which is very good considering this is a very demanding test.

You can put the Retina MacBook into standby mode simply by closing the lid; open it again, and it’s instantly on in exactly the same state as when you closed it. It can last for up to a month in this standby mode.

In our benchmarking tests, the new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro put in very similar scores to the similar-spec regular 13-inch model; the Retina screen certainly hasn’t taken a toll on its performance.

The only exceptions were the aforementioned Xbench test, where the Retina MacBook Pro’s solid state storage gave it a huge advantage over the standard model’s hard drive, and the iTunes encoding test, where the lack of an internal optical drive meant we had to rip our test CD using a USB SuperDrive, which was inevitably slower.

Apple's incredible Retina screen comes to its smaller MacBook Pro

Verdict

Following the success of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, it was inevitable that Apple would bring out a 13-inch version.

And if you’re familiar with the mid-2012 15-inch notebook, the new late 2012 13-inch model is exactly what you’d expect.

The optical drive has been dropped and the hard drive replaced with solid state storage, saving both space and weight.

The Retina display packs in an incredible 2560×1600 pixels, which is more than any other notebook except the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro. That’s over two million pixels more than an HDTV.

Despite there being no room for discrete graphics, this screen has not taken a toll on the notebook’s performance, which matches that of the similarly-specced 13-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro.

We liked

The screen is amazing. It’s really, really gorgeous, reproducing both images and text with crystal clarity.

With 29% better contrast, a 75% reduction in reflections and a 178 degree viewing angle, it looks lovely from anywhere you look at it.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is very light and portable too. Swapping the hard drive for caseless SSD storage and dropping the optical drive has allowed for a much slimmer, lighter design.

At three quarters of an inch thick and weighing 3.57 pounds, it’s 20% thinner and almost a pound lighter than the regular 13-inch MacBook Pro. And with the latest Intel Core processors, featuring HD Graphics 4000, it’s as powerful as it is portable.

We disliked

The only obvious drawback here is the price.

At almost one and a half thousand pounds for the cheaper of the two models, it’s definitely not for those on a budget.

Even the professional visual artists, graphic designers and photographers whom the Retina range is aimed at should ask themselves whether they really want a 13-inch model, or should spend a little more and get the better-spec15-inch version.

The missing Ethernet and FireWire 800 ports are no great loss as if you really need these ports, there are Thunderbolt adapters.

The optical drive is also gone, but you can buy an external drive such as the Apple USB SuperDrive if this is an issue for you.

Final verdict

Apple’s late 2012 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display isn’t for everyone. Many will baulk at the price, and even those who are willing to pay it should ask themselves whether the small saving and slightly smaller size is enough to recommend the 13-inch Retina notebook over its 15-inch counterpart.

But there’s no denying its quality.

The Retina screen takes notebook displays to new heights; its Ivy Bridge processors are very powerful and the new form factor makes it the most portable 13-inch MacBook yet.

If you’re not yet ready to leave behind legacy technologies such as the optical drive, FireWire 800 and Ethernet connectivity, there are options to get around their absence.

Some might find the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display prohibitively expensive, but it’s ideal for graphic artists, photographers, video professionals or indeed anyone who benefits from its incredible screen.

By Ian Osborne, TechRadar


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