Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (preview)

The new slimmer, lighter 13-inch Mac notebook gets a high-res display

Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display
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Pros

  • Ultra high-res Retina Display
  • Updated processors
  • Fast flash storage

Cons

  • No option for 1TB storage
  • No discrete graphics
  • No removable memory or hard drive

Bottom Line

Apple’s Retina notebook display comes to its 13-inch MacBook Pro, as does a processor update and the introduction of flash-only storage. The portable Mac powerhouse does get harder to tinker with after you’ve bought it, though.

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Alongside the fanfare of the iPad mini and new new iPad, Apple released a slew of updates for its desktop and laptop lines. The MacBook Pro upgrade sees a new high-resolution ‘Retina’ display for the 13-inch model, as well as some changes under the hood to keep up with constantly-evolving PC competitors.

Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display: the screen

The Retina Display that has been so lauded in the iPhone 4, the new iPad, the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and most recently the iPhone 5 isn’t much more than a brand name — each product has a different amount of pixels per inch.

The idea is that from a standard viewing distance, a viewer with standard 20/20 eyesight shouldn’t be able to distinguish individual pixels on the screen, making everything look smooth and detailed and crisp.

The new MacBook Pro with Retina Display gets a 2560-by-1600-pixel display for its 13.3-inch screen, which is 227ppi, slightly above the 15-inch model’s 2800-by-1800-pixel 220ppi. This resolution is commonly used on 27-inch desktop monitors, so it’s impressive to see so many pixels in such a small area.

It’s an IPS display, so expect wide viewing angles, and improved contrast and anti-reflective coatings compared to current models.

Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display: the hardware

The 13-inch MBP compared to its 15-inch sibling.
The 13-inch MBP compared to its 15-inch sibling.

New processors — an Intel Core i5 dual-core 2.5GHz CPU with Turbo Boost of up to 3.1GHz (on a single) core, and an optional Core i7 dual-core 2.9GHz with Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz for $200 extra — are the centrepiece of the new MacBook Pro’s engine room upgrade.

More interesting, though, is the 13-inch MacBook Pro’s move to entirely flash-based storage, abandoning spinning-disk hard drives in favour of solid state technology. Flash storage is much, much faster than magnetic-disk storage — about four times as fast according to Apple’s testing — but it doesn’t offer the same storage density per dollar.

The only difference between the two models of 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display offered is the choice between a 128GB or 256GB flash drive as standard. You can also choose a 512GB or 768GB flash drive, with commensurate bumps in price — from the base 13-inch 128GB model, the 256GB, 512GB, and 768GB drives can be optioned for $300, 800 and $1300 respectively.

The 13-inch models don’t get a discrete graphics option like the 15-inch MacBook Pro. Both 13-inch units on sale use Intel’s HD Graphics 4000 chip, running on the processor itself as a function of the move to Ivy Bridge hardware. This GPU will run the screen’s native resolution just fine in desktop, productivity and photo/video editing applications, but don’t expect great performance from demanding gaming or 3D graphics apps.

13-inch MBPwRD (what a lovely acronym) models have 8GB of DDR3 low-voltage 1600MHz RAM as standard, with no option to upgrade to 16GB or any larger sizes. Since the memory modules are soldered onto the notebook’s motherboard, there’s no chance of upgrading them at a later date.

Apple also touts a FaceTime HD camera, dual mics, better speakers, ‘three-stream’ 802.11n Wi-Fi (that’s a maximum of 450Mbps through three 150Mbps 802.11n connections), Bluetooth 4.0 and the updated MagSafe 2 power connector among the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display’s specifications.

Naturally, the new notebooks are running the latest Mac OS X Mountain Lion operating system. A battery rated for seven hours of ‘wireless web’ and 30 days of standby time is a slight upgrade from previous models, although the inclusion of Mountain Lion’s Power Nap standby does handle mail, calendar and reminder updates while the system is asleep, and sorts out backups and patches when the system is plugged in and hibernating.

Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display: Conclusion

The new miniature MacBook Pro gets a screen that’s arguably better than its larger brother’s, and includes hardware upgrades that keep it competitive. If you like your laptops properly portable — and 15-inch models can be a bit bulky, we agree — the new MBP looks like it’s the new non-Ultrabook benchmark, as long as you don’t want to upgrade its internals after you buy it.

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