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13-inch Retina MacBook Pro review: The force is with Apple's workhorse laptop

Roman Loyola | May 27, 2015
From the outside, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display looks like the MacBook Pro we've come to know from the recent past. The major changes to the laptop are only apparent once you start using the machine: increased speed, and a new Force Trackpad that provides new input functionality.

(On a side note, Apple updated the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro during this review process. We'll have a review of those laptops coming soon.)

Along with the processor upgrade comes a graphics upgrade. The new Intel Iris Graphics 6100 is still an integrated graphics processor, but Apple says it's 40 percent faster than the Iris Graphics 5100 integrated graphics in the previous Retina MacBook Pro. Apple also says the flash storage is also up to two times faster than before.

Last but not least, Apple says the it has improved the battery life of the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, touting ten hours of "wireless web" use and 12 hours of iTunes movie playback. The previous model was rated at 9 hours for both use cases. (Battery life will be addressed in a separate article.)

Performance

As expected the performance difference between the new 2.7GHz and the 2.9GHz Retina MacBook Pro is marginal, with the 2.9GHz laptop about 5 percent faster than the 2.7GHz laptop in Geekbench 3 tests. But remember, the price difference between these models doesn't just cover the processor upgrade; it also include more flash storage capacity.

Even when compared to last year's 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, the new models are only 7 percent faster than the older laptops they respectively replace. In order to see gains over 10 percent, you have to compare the new laptop to models released in 2013.

The graphics improvement is much more impressive: The new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro had a 29 percent increase over last year's models in the Cinebench OpenGL tests. It's not the 40 percent that Apple touts, but Apple's testing was done with a different benchmark that includes three video games.

In the Black Magic Disk Speed Test, the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro posted an average write speed of 1156.1 MBps and an average read speed of 1299.9 MBps.

The performance charts for Geekbench and Cinebench are posted here. The charts include data points from the MacBook, MacBook Air, and recent Retina MacBook Pros for your reference.

Bottom line

I've always been a fan of the MacBook Pro with Retina display. Though my personal preference is for the 15-inch model, the 13-inch modeled I tested are attractive laptops in their own right. If you're have a older non-Retina Mac laptop, it's a good time to upgrade. Obviously, you'll see a huge performance boost, but you'll also be wowed by the Retina display and the Force Trackpad is cool. (If you're sticking to your older Mac laptop because of its matte display, you'll be disappointed to find that Apple no longer has a matte display option. It's glossy only.)

 

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