Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2013) review: Apple's high-end laptop gets better battery life and a lower price

If you're looking for legacy items, such as Ethernet, an optical drive, or FireWire, keep looking. And yes, Apple apparently considers Ethernet to be a legacy port.

Josh Miller/CNET

While our review unit is the (significantly) more expensive $2,599 model, you can quite easily trade down to the $1,999 model if you don't need the extra storage space or discrete GPU. For a hair under 2 grand, you get a 2.0GHz Core i7, and cut the RAM and SSD in half, to 8GB and 256GB. In the less-expensive version, you get Intel's Iris Pro graphics, the higher-end version of the improved integrated graphics offered with Intel's Haswell-generation processors.

In our benchmark testing, you can rightly expect the high-end configuration supplied by Apple to perform extraordinarily well. Some of our tests, including Photoshop and iTunes, display a natural OS X bias, but in each of the tests, it excelled, with the exception of a single-app Photoshop test, which suggests that program may not be fully optimized for Mavericks yet. In hands-on use, it felt just as fast as the original model, which is to say this is more than enough power for even heavy multitaskers, video editors, and photographers. The scores reflect a modest to medium jump in most cases over the 2012 version of this system, as seen in the charts below. However, true power users are no doubt waiting for the $2,999-and-up Mac Pro desktop, which will be available in December 2013.

Upgrading from last year's Nvidia GeForce 650M to the newer 750M is a great excuse to fire up a few games on the MacBook Pro, especially as it's easier than ever to be a Mac gamer. Steam, GOG.com, and other game distributors have robust Mac sections now, and Windows games are being ported to OS X within months, not years.

Both BioShock Infinite and Metro: Last Light, excellent 2013 PC games, are available on Macs now, although in somewhat limited versions that cap the graphics options and resolutions, preventing them from truly showing off what the MacBook Pro can do. Diablo III allows you to fully crank up the resolution to 2,880x1,800, and the game ran with settings maxed at about 23 frames per second. Dropping the resolution to 1,968x1,230 (a 16:10 resolution close to 1080p), the game ran at 44 frames per second.

Our old Mac standby, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, ran at 35 frames per second at the highest detail settings and full 2,880x1,800 resolution. The game ran at 81.2 at a more reasonable 1,680x1,050 resolution. Last year's Retina MacBook Pro ran that test at 70.8 frames per second (1,680x1,050) and crashed at the higher resolution.

Josh Miller/CNET

One of the main reasons moving to the current generation of Intel CPUs is important is because of the improvement to battery life, always a key factor in a laptop. Apple promises 8 hours from this system, and last year's model ran for a bit under 7 hours. The summer 2013 MacBook Air -- the first Haswell MacBook -- exceeded Apple's own estimates in our tests, running for more than 12 hours. Our 15-inch 2013 MacBook Pro fell right in between those two numbers, running for 9:52, which is especially impressive for a 15-inch laptop.

Conclusion

If you like the idea of investing in a higher-resolution laptop, and can live without an optical drive (a concession that seems more reasonable every day), the updated 2013 version of the Retina MacBook Pro, especially in its 15-inch incarnation, remains an irresistibly powerful yet reasonably portable laptop.

This has been a year of incremental, and mostly internal, upgrades for Macs, from the Air to the iMac, but a handful of price cuts to base models help the entire line from feeling too stuck in time. The only really "new" Mac coming this year is the Mac Pro desktop, which is far from a casual/consumer machine, but will be idolized by anyone interested in technology design and aesthetics.

Its $2,599 price is a major hurdle (as is the $1,999 base model), but there is no other laptop this year (or last) that combines powerful components, design, display, and flexibility quite like the MacBook Pro.

QuickTime iTunes Multimedia Multitasking test (in seconds)

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)

Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (15-inch, June 2012)
119
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch, October 2012)
186
Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (October 2013)
192
Alienware 14
199
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)
244
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus
248
Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)
333

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (October 2013)
60
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (15-inch, June 2012)
64
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch, October 2012)
68
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)
73
Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)
82
Alienware 14
92
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus
119

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance

HandBrake test (in seconds)

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (October 2013)
177
Alienware 14
180
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)
445
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus
506
Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)
532

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance

Call of Duty 4 (Retina comparisons; in fps)

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (October 2013); resolution tested at 1,680x1,050
81.2
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (15-inch, June 2012); resolution tested at 1,680x1,050
70.8
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (October 2013); resolution tested at 1,440x900
34
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch, October 2012); resolution tested at 1,440x900
25.5

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)

Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)
865
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)
782
Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (October 2013)
592
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus
509
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (15-inch, June 2012)
419
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch, October 2012)
417
Alienware 14
233

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (October 2013)
OSX 10.9 Mavericks; 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-4850HQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 750M + Intel Iris Pro Graphics; 512GB Apple SSD

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)
OSX 10.9 Mavericks; 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-4258U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM ; 1GB Intel Iris Graphics; 256GB Apple SSD

Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (15-inch, June 2012)
OSX 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

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,749MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400: 128GB SSD

Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)
OSX 10.8.4 Mountain Lion; 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 4240U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,024MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 128GB Apple SSD

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with 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

Alienware 14
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700MQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M; HDD#1 256MB Lite-On SSD HDD#2 750GB, 7,200rpm Western Digital

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    Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (2013, 15-inch screen)

    Part Number: ME293LL/A
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    • Resolution 2880 x 1800
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