Practically perfect: Apple’s 2013 MacBook Pro 15 with Retina reviewed
4.9Overall Score
Price (RRP): $1599 (starting from); Review model was $3199 Manufacturer: Apple

Apple’s already excellent MacBook Pro receives an update from Intel’s latest line of processors, complimenting the top-notch screen most PCs are envious of. Is this the best laptop around?

Features

It’s been one year since Apple phased out its 17 inch MacBook Pro, replacing it with a 15 inch computer that was thinner, featured more grunt, and came with a screen that had a bit less real estate and yet supported a much meatier resolution.

Some have complained, but most people have moved on, noting that Apple’s MacBook Pro with Retina screen is one of the company’s best computers yet, making a device that is not only powerful, but relatively thin to boot.

Now in its second generation, the MacBook Pro with Retina has been updated and sports Intel’s fourth-generation processors, also known as Haswell.

The chips used in the 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina differ slightly in architecture when comparing screen sizes, with only dual-core chips possible in the 13 inch model, while quad-cores can be installed in the 15 inch version.

Fourth generation quad-core Intel Core i7 processors are used in the 15 inch MacBook Pro as a matter of course, while the 13 inch MBPs come with dual-core Core i5 processors, with the possibility of being customised in build-to-order with dual-core Core i7 processors.

Graphics is also different based on the model you order, with Intel Iris graphics from the fourth-generation Core technology available on the 13 inch, while the 15 inch models can choose between having only Intel Iris Pro or both that and a 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT750M graphics chip.

Memory on the MacBook Pro is clocked at 1600MHz across the board, with as little as 4GB available, and as much as 16GB.

No optical drive is standard on the MacBook Pro with Retina, and is one of the ways Apple manages to keep the package so thin. Another way is the reliance on PCIe-based flash storage, which comes with a minimum of 128GB on the 13 inch, and a minimum of 256GB on the 15 inch. Both models can be expanded to support up to 512GB or every 1TB of solid-state storage.

All of this sits inside of a aluminium chassis, with speakers flanking the keyboard on either side, and a large glass trackpad underneath the space bar.

Ports on either computer include two Thunderbolt 2 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI port, an SDXC card slot, and a headphone port. Apple’s MagSafe 2 proprietary power connection is provided to charge the laptop with.

Wireless connectivity has been bumped up alongside the new Intel chips, with 802.11ac wireless support in the machines, all the while supporting 802.11a/b/g/n, with Bluetooth 4.0 included in the system, too. Ethernet connectivity is not here, however, though Apple does make an adaptor for its Thunderbolt port that brings wired network support back to the laptop.

There’s also the screen, with the 13 inch model sporting a 2560×1600 display relying on In-Plane Switching technology (IPS), while the 15 inch runs natively at 2880×1800 on an IPS panel, both machines running with resolutions greater than Full HD.

Our review model was a 15 inch – a top of the line 15 inch, no less – and thus featured a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor clocked at 2.3GHz, 512GB flash-based storage, 16GB RAM, and both the Intel Iris Pro and the 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 750 graphics chipset.

Performance

About this time every year, Apple applies an update to its MacBook Pro range, the aluminium-clad machines receiving a shot of power from the new Intel chips, and a few new features to boot.

This year (late 2013), Apple’s changes aren’t all that numerous, but they are necessary, especially for the company to bring the popular MacBook Pro series inline with what other companies are doing.

To do this, there’s the inclusion of a new processor, graphics chip, and a few new connectivity options, all of which make this top of the line, at least as far as Apple is concerned.

And yes, there’s still that special screen that started the higher-than-Full HD movement in other computers, supporting a resolution of 2880×1800.

As per last time, the screen is just absolutely lovely. Apple hasn’t really made any improvements here, but the company didn’t really need to, as the Retina screen in this machine is among the best laptop displays in the world.

Text is razor sharp and next to impossible to fault, while images and colours just look amazing. There are no issues with viewing from any angle, and it looks good regardless of where you’re sitting, something we wish we could say about the MacBook Air.

In fact, the only time you might notice a bit of image blur or quality loss will come from an application that hasn’t been updated to support Apple’s Retina screen, of which there are still some available.

Light enough to hold with one hand.

The weight and thickness is also something that will leave you speechless.

Technically, this isn’t an Ultrabook. Apple doesn’t make Intel-spec-matched Ultrabooks – because “Ultrabook” is an Intel devised standard, and Apple doesn’t do these – but it wouldn’t matter if it did, because the hardware doesn’t match up, and is too powerful for Ultrabook design.

And yet, despite knowing this, Apple’s MacBook Pro with Retina is only marginally thicker than some of the thinner Ultrabooks out there, with a closed thickness of 1.8cm, and yet packs in more power than most Ultrabooks can manage.

It does this with a weight of two kilograms (ever so slightly over, actually), which is only a bit heavier than many of the Ultrabooks out there, and yet once again, isn’t technically like the Windows PCs out there that have been put on a diet.

The aluminium chassis Apple is using feels just as strong as ever, and is very hard to fault.

If you could, it might be that connecting metal-pronged devices to the ports on the side and hearing that scratching metal-against-metal noise is like nails grating against the side of a chalkboard, but that’s a minor issue, and one that only a few sensitive chaps like this writer might succumb to.

Regardless, when you take that formula of thin, light, and well built, and then marry it to the sort of tech prowess Apple has thrown in this thing, that marriage is among the most successful we’ve ever seen, and is unlikely to result in anyone divorcing from this computer.

Hell, even as a Windows user — a pretty dedicated one, no less — this journalist is considering jumping to the Apple side, a statement that shocks even him.

The reasons for this come from how well this combination of parts work, and in a very typical Apple way, the company has made everything feel close to perfect.

We’ll start with the new processing innards, and on the 15 inch, the increase to Intel’s fourth-generation hasn’t made it a super duper speed increase on what we saw last year, but it’s still impressive nonetheless.

As a journalist, this reviewer is required to use Adobe Photoshop and Audition often, and both of these apps have no problem opening things up quickly and letting us get to work.

Regular office apps of course fly, and there’s virtually no lag or slowdowns jumping between the various apps as we need them.

Gaming is also a treat and with a 2GB GeForce graphics chip on-board, we found we were able to immerse ourselves in a little game of the excellent Portal 2 (a geek favourite), even if we wish we had brought a better mouse selection than the trackpad (Apple’s trackpad, regardless of how good it is for everyday things, isn’t a useful gaming device).

Overall, it’s an impressive performer, and we suspect this will tide anyone over for the next two years.

Over in the battery life department, Apple’s recommendation for maximum runtime doesn’t stray too far from what you get, provided you’re not taxing the system considerably.

For the most part, Apple suggests that a maximum of 8 hours are possible from the 15 inch Retina machine, and if you don’t make the system work for it, you can find it easily gets that.

Battery life, as always, is really dependent on what you’re doing. The battery meter we use for our Mac laptop testing seemed to suggest that the more downloading we did over Steam and game playing, we could pull a little over three hours out of the MBP 15 inch. If we decided to spend that time writing and surfing, the battery performance doubled and was closer seven.

That’s not terribly far off the mark, and given the parts inside as well as the size and weight, is pretty damned impressive.

Then there’s the rest of the package, such as the inclusion of Mac OS X 10.9 “Mavericks” which flies along with the machine, the backlit keyboard with multiple degrees of backlight control, two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, support for 802.11ac wireless connectivity (even though neither the iPhone 5S or iPad Air have it) and terrific speakers.

Previous complaints about the computer getting warm can still be acknowledged here, something that’s even more noticeable with an aluminium chassis, but to Apple’s credit, the move to the fourth-generation chips has reduced temperatures considerably, and we never found it to get remotely uncomfortable.

All in all, it’s an excellent machine, and about the only things we can fault are the inclusion of only two USB 3.0 ports – which we can forgive since Thunderbolt 2 is also included – and that the machine just puts so many other computers to shame.

It’s also expensive, which is a negative point, but one people who demand the best are probably quite forgiving on. Case in point, the 15 inch model we reviewed comes in at over $3000.

That’s a lot of money for a laptop, but it’s also one of the best laptops we’ve ever seen, and so while we don’t quite agree with the high price, at least there’s a good reason why it can demand it.

Conclusion

Apple’s MacBook Pro with Retina in late 2013 is one impressive beast, and this is a computer that will make PC users think seriously about jumping ship.

It raises an interesting question, though, and one we’d love to have answered: if Apple has crafted such a wonderful piece of technology in this size and form-factor, why is it so hard to get other manufacturers to do this with Windows machines?

We suppose we’ll all have to wait for the answer on that one, but right now, Apple’s late-2013 MacBook Pro with Retina is pretty much best in class as far as laptops go.

It’s thin, fast, beautiful, and built very well.

Seriously, if the new MacBook Pro with Retina isn’t close to perfect, we don’t know what is.

 

Practically perfect: Apple’s 2013 MacBook Pro 15 with Retina reviewed
Price (RRP): $1599 (starting from); Review model was $3199 Manufacturer: Apple
Typical beautifully designed machine; Brilliant screen; Not an Ultrabook, and yet insanely thin; Includes 802.11ac technology, even though new iPhones and iPads don’t; Decent battery life;
Only two USB 3.0 ports; It puts other computers to shame;
Overall
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Value for money
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Ease of Use
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4.9Overall Score
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