The current enigma of the Retina MacBook Pro

With only the MacBook Air getting Intel's new CPUs, the expensive Retina Pro is the odd man out.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
2 min read
The Retina Pro now has a CPU that's a generation behind.

It's hard to imagine, but Apple's MacBook lineup has been turned on its head. As of right now, the highest-priced MacBooks are a technological generation behind the least expensive MacBooks, making for shopping confusion if you're about to invest in a new system from Apple.

The cause of the confusion is this. At WWDC 2013, Apple introduced laptops updated to the latest generation of Intel Core i-series processors. These fourth-gen chips are also known by the code name Haswell, and they promise improved performance, better integrated graphics, and greatly boosted battery life. These CPUs were launched earlier in June, and are just starting to make their way into Windows laptops and desktops.

But, the only MacBooks to get the new chips, as of WWDC, at least, are the 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air models. The 13- and 15-inch models of the MacBook Pro, itself not significantly updated in some time, did not get updated to Haswell, but more importantly, the high-endMacBook Pro with Retina Display, available in 13-inch and 15-inch models, was also left off the update list.

The just-updated MacBook Air.

I have no doubt the Retina MacBooks will get fourth-gen Core i-series CPUs at some point, and hopefully before too long. But, at the moment, you can only get Haswell in the Air. That means you have to choose between a higher-res Retina screen resolution, or the better battery life of Haswell. Or between the 16GB of RAM you can only get in a Pro and the faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi in the Air.

That's a shame, because at between $1,499 and $2,799 for a Retina MacBook Pro, you'd be right to want the latest CPU technology, especially with the early battery life numbers we're seeing from the first Haswell laptops.

Will the Retina Pro get a quiet update in the near future? Or will these systems keep last year's CPUs until the fall or even into 2014? If you're shopping for a MacBook, the new MacBook Air models get a strong recommendation, especially with the 11-inch Air doubling its SSD storage to 128GB and the 13-inch Air dropping its starting price to $1,099. But while the current, unrefreshed Retina Pro is still a powerful machine, and one of my all-around favorite laptops, I'd consider holding off on such a major investment at least through the back-to-school season to see if Haswell and faster Wi-Fi will make an appearance.