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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

The high-end 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, priced at $1799, has a dual-core 2.6GHz Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of flash storage.

Speed improvements
The new Retina MacBook Pros use PCIe-connected flash storage, which can be much faster than the SATA-connected flash that earlier MacBook Pros used. The smaller-capacity flash in the 2.4GHz laptop was relatively pokey at writing data, but it was fast at reading; and matched against last year's entry-level model with its 256GB SATA flash storage, the laptops had identical speeds. On the new high-end 2.6GHz Retina MacBook Pro, copying 6GB of files and folders from one spot on the drive to another was 34 percent faster than the same task on the early 2013 2.6GHz model.

Like the 13-inch models preceding these, the new Retina models rely on integrated graphics. This year, however, the systems use Intel's higher-end Iris graphics. Our tests show the new MacBook Pros getting between 45 and 65 percent higher frame rates than the early 2013 models, with their Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics.

We also ran our benchmarks on a recent 13-inch MacBook Air—a $1099 model with a 1.3GHz dual-core Haswell Core i5 CPU, 128GB of flash storage, 4GB of RAM, and Intel HD 5000 graphics. The new entry-level $1299 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro was 13 percent faster than that MacBook Air in both our Handbrake and MathematicaMark 9 tests. Cinebench OpenGL and Heaven graphics test results were about the same, but the frame rates we obtained on the Valley benchmark test were 25 percent higher on the Pro than on the Air. The 13-inch MacBook Air is a pound lighter and a little thinner than the MacBook Pro, but of course it also lacks the ultra-high-resolution Retina display of the MacBook Pro.

Battery life
Both new 13-inch MacBook Pros lasted much longer on a single battery charge than the early 2013 models did. The new entry-level 13-inch Retina lasted 10 hours, 51 minutes in our wireless Web browsing test, while the high-end 13 lasted 10 hours, 11 minutes. The previous model lasted just 7 hours, 15 minutes. For its part, the MacBook Air lasted 12 hours, 42 minutes in our Wi-Fi Internet browsing battery test.

Bottom line
With much-improved battery life and graphics performance, the late 2013 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display should have owners of older Mac laptops looking to upgrade. The entry-level model's 128GB of flash storage may not be spacious enough to accommodate all of your media files, however, and you should seriously consider doubling the 4GB of soldered-down RAM to 8GB at the time of purchase. The high-end model's higher price seems to be justified by its faster CPU, standard 8GB of RAM, and 512GB of superfast flash.


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