Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch) review: A rebooted MacBook Pro for the ultrabook era

While Thunderbolt remains an underused connection, I did find it handy in the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro for hooking up multiple monitors easily , so having multiple ports of this type can be useful.

The default CPU in both the $1,699 and $1,999 configurations of the 13-inch Retina Pro is an Intel Core i5; the extra $300 only gets you a 256GB SSD versus a 128GB one. But that should be more than fast enough for even heavy multitaskers. In our CNET Labs benchmark tests, initial results show the new MacBook Pro performing on par with the 13-inch non-Retina Pro and 13-inch Air, which has a low-voltage Core i5. In all cases, the 15-inch Retina Pro, with a quad-core Core i7 CPU, was significantly faster.

In hands-on use, the Pro felt fast and lag-free, even when rapidly switching between apps, or juggling multiple Web pages, office documents, and video streams.

All this is to say that, like virtually any current-gen Intel Core i5 laptop, the new Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro is more than fast enough for even strenuous multitasking. With the higher screen resolution and ability to output to multiple displays at once, you may be tempted to maintain a very large desktop and run a lot of apps at once -- you can feel confidant doing so that you won't run into lag or slowdown.

With only Intel's integrated HD 4000 graphics, this won't be your main gaming machine (the paucity of Mac games notwithstanding). It'll do fine for World of Warcraft or a Call of Duty game in a pinch, however.

Much more important, especially for 13-inch laptops, is battery life. Apple has always set the standard for long life in both laptops and other categories -- so much so that some recent Apple products seem to be evolving into giant batteries with small bits of electronics attached. In our video playback battery drain test, this system ran for 6 hours and 57 minutes, which is near the top of the 13-inch laptop heap. The 15-inch Retina Pro ran for 6 hours and 59 minutes, and the current 13-inch MacBook Air ran for 7 hours and 27 minutes.

Interestingly, Windows PCs are making a big push toward battery life with Windows 8, and even more so with Windows RT. We have yet to fully test the battery life claims of RT, but PC makers are claiming 12-plus hours from ARM-based hybrids.

Apple's service and support options are, at the very least, polarizing. The support section of the Apple Web site is clean and easy to navigate, and more importantly, the large number of Apple retail stores makes getting in-person service relatively painless.

Your $1,699-plus laptop only includes one year of coverage, and only 90 days of telephone support. This makes buying Apple's extended AppleCare warranty a virtual necessity to protect your sizable investment, and at $249, it's a big add-on to your total cost of ownership.

That said, actually using a retail store Genius Bar for service is unlike any other PC tech support experience, and I've had several pain-free visits over the years. For some people, it's worth switching to the Mac platform just for that.

Conclusion
The 13-inch laptop remains the closest humankind has come to the perfect computing product. It's big enough to work on all day, but small enough to carry around on a regular basis. With the proliferation of Windows-based ultrabooks, and the success of Apple's own MacBook Air, the original 13-inch Pro model felt dated, even bloated. This modern-feeling refresh carefully skirts the line between power and portability, which may be an even more important feature in the end than the vaunted retina display.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Load test (average watts)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations:
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch w/ Retina Display (October 2012)
OSX 10.8.2 Mountain Lion 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 3210M, 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz,768MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000, 256GB Apple SSD

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch w/ Retina Display (June 2012)
OS X 10.7.4 Lion; 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 650M + 512MB Intel HD 4000; 256GB Apple SSD

Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (Summer 2012)
OS X 10.7.4 Lion; 1.8GHz Intel Core i5; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 384MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Apple SSD

Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (Summer 2012)
OS X 10.7.4 Lion; 1.8GHz Intel Core i5; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 384MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Apple SSD

Asus Zenbook Prime UX32VD
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1333MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 620M / 64MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 500GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Dell XPS 12
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,333MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 256GB LITEONIT SSD

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Where to Buy See all prices

Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13.3-inch)

Part Number: MD212LL/A
MSRP: $1,499.00 Low Price: $1,689.00 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Resolution 2560 x 1600 ( WQXGA )
  • Installed Size 8 GB
  • Weight 3.57 lbs
  • Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • CPU Intel Core i5 2.5 GHz
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