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13-inch Retina MacBook Pro: Thinner, lighter, and faster never hurts

James Galbraith | Oct. 31, 2013
If you've been holding out on getting a new 13-inch MacBook Pro, now's the time to buy

13-inch Retina MacBook Pro (Late 2013) compared to previous model
IMAGE: MICHAEL HOMNICKThe new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro (right) is thinner and lighter than its predecessor.

You may not know it to look at them, but the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display models are thinner and lighter than the Retina systems they replace. Lighter is always better in a portable—but factor in the new MacBook Pro's increased battery life and the faster integrated graphics, and you have a laptop you can love.

The new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros look very similar to the previous crop (released in February), but they are 2 ounces lighter and 0.04 inch thinner. Even when you compare a new model side-by-side with an early 2013 Retina MacBook Pro, the difference isn't obvious.

The new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros have the same connections and ports as the previous versions: one HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack, and an SDXC card slot.

The new laptop also has two Thunderbolt 2 ports, which are supposed to deliver faster throughput than the previous-generation Thunderbolt ports that the older laptop carried. Though some manufacturers have announced Thunderbolt 2 peripherals, none of these products have yet arrived in our lab for testing. Thunderbolt 2 uses the same cables and connectors as Thunderbolt—but to get the increased bandwidth, you need Thunderbolt 2 devices.

Like previous Retina MacBook Pros, the new 13-inch models lack ethernet ports, FireWire connectors, and optical drives. To get those extras, you'll have to devote available adapters to them ,and connect the optical drive externally. If you need FireWire and an optical drive more than anything else, you can buy Apple's non-Retina MacBook Pro with built-in SuperDrive and FireWire 800 for $1199.

Apple updated the built-in Wi-Fi to support the latest 802.11ac specification. As we found in the latest MacBook Air with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, the new spec permits much faster wireless transfer speeds.

The bright and glossy Retina display remains unchanged, which is fine with me. It packs a resolution of 2560 by 1600 pixels into a 13.3-inch-diagonal screen. When you use the laptop in the default 1280-by-800-pixel doubled mode, the individual pixels that make up images and text are not discernible.

All of the new 13-inch MacBook Pros come with fourth-generation Intel Core i5 (Haswell) processors. The entry-level 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro costs $1299 and packs a dual-core 2.4GHz Core i5 processor and 128GB of flash storage. Its relatively low storage capacity may limit the amount of music, movies, and photos that you can can keep locally, but you can work around that ceiling by using external drives and cloud storage. More problematic is the smallish 4GB of RAM included with the $1299 MacBook Pro, especially since you can't upgrade memory on these laptops after purchase. With that in mind, consider ordering your MacBook Pro with the $100 optional upgrade tp 8GB of RAM. Alternatively you can choose the $1499 model, which has the same processor as the $1299 laptop, but with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of flash storage.


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