Apple unveils minor bumps to MacBook Pro laptops

Almost-too-small-to-see refresh features more RAM in lowest-priced Retina models, $US100 price cut to sole non-Retina configuration

Apple has refreshed the MacBook Pro line with minor upgrades of the processor, a small price cut to the aged non-Retina model, and additional RAM for the least-expensive Retina configurations.

The updates - the first since October 2013 -- were expected, as some of the pricing and component changes had leaked over the weekend from China.

Apple gave minor performance increases to the Retina MacBook Pro with slightly faster Intel Core i5 and i7 processors in the 13-in. and 15-in. models, respectively, and boosted the stock system memory of the entry level 13-in. notebook from 4GB to 8GB, matching the configurations of the other two laptops in that screen size.

For the 15-in., Apple increased the RAM of the least-expensive model from 8GB to 16GB, again to sync with the higher-priced notebook.

Prices of the 13-in. and 15-in. Retina MacBook Pros stayed the same: The three smaller laptops started at $1599 and climbed to $2199, as the solid-state drive (SSD) increased from 128GB to 512GB. Likewise, the $2499 and $2999 prices of the two 15-inch models did not change. Those configurations sport 256GB and 512GB SSDs, respectively.

The only price change was to the entry-level MacBook Pro. That model, the only one without a Retina-quality screen, has not been refreshed for more than two years. It is also the sole model with a traditional platter-style hard disk drive, and the only that sports an optical drive.

In a press release, Apple claimed that the low-end MacBook Pro was "a very popular system with Windows switchers," perhaps because the sticker shock as they looked at the higher-priced models was even more stunning: The average Windows notebook costs hundreds less than Apple's cheapest.

Apple will probably refresh the line again in 2015 when quantities of Intel's next-generation "Broadwell" architecture are available. Those processors, made using the 14-nanometer fabrication process, are designed to be even more power efficient than the current "Haswell" Core CPUs, which power the current line of Apple notebooks. The Broadwell chips have been delayed again, and won't be widely available in laptops and desktops until early next year.

In the June quarter, Apple sold 4.4 million Macs, a record for the period and an 18% increase over the same three-month stretch the year before. Industry analysts cited the popularity of the lighter and thinner MacBook Air line as the biggest reason for the sales boost.

Apple last revamped the MacBook Air in April, when it dropped prices by $100 on all four stock models. Last month, the Cupertino, Calif. company launched a new, lower-priced-but-slower iMac all-in-one desktop computer.

The refreshed MacBook Pros are available now at Apple's online store, its chain of brick-and-mortar outlets, and at some of its authorized resellers.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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