Is the Retina Macbook Pro a Waste of Money?
We pay a premium for certain features in computers and computer peripherals that are not entirely functional. One of those is a slim profile. When LCD flatscreens came out, people paid a premium for these, despite the fact that they were worse than CRTs in almost every respect except for their size. They were dimmer, lower-resolution, had a fixed number of pixels (native resolution), had a worse viewing angle–and they were expensive, hellishly so at first. But they were thin, so we bought them. Eventually, their popularity helped bring prices down, and now you’d be hard-pressed to find CRTs for sale at all. They went the way of the floppy.
Laptops are similar: everything about them is inferior to desktops except for their size and mobility: they have weaker CPUs, less memory, smaller hard drives, fewer features, smaller screens, can only be expanded externally, and are more expensive. And yet, I know people who buy laptops but never move them from their desks. That makes no sense; laptops are all about mobility; everything else is a drawback.
We pay for a smaller profile; the smaller it is, the more we pay, in both greater cost and lesser features.
When the Macbook Air came out, I saw the same problem, magnified. Compared to the 15“ Macbook Pro at the time, it had a slower CPU, a smaller screen, fewer ports, and lacked an optical drive–and yet it cost almost the same. People asked me if they should get one, and I always gave the same answer: only if you place a huge priority on ”sexy.“
Today, a co-worker had a similar reaction to the Retina Macbook Pro: it was priced for sexy. They said they did not need the retina display, and outside of that, you were just paying for the sexy.
I don’t think that claim stands up to scrutiny, however.
For example, I no longer ward people away from the Macbook Air. It matured, especially with the speedy SSD, and became a good machine in its own right–not to mention, the price has dropped considerably (from $1800 to $1200 for the base 13” model). It’s not a high-powered computer, but it functions extremely well, and is still sexy–but this time for a reasonable price.
Within the context of the Mac line, the Retina Pro is also worth the cost. Consider the difference between the base 15“ for both the regular Pro and the Retina Pro: you pay $1800 for the regular, $2200 for the Retina. However, it’s not just the retina display that you get. The CPU is the same, but the RAM is doubled in the Retina, you get an 256 GB SSD instead of a 500 GB HDD (an overall plus due to performance increases), and double the GDDR5 memory.
If you don’t need the display, don’t need the RAM, don’t need the video, and prefer capacity to HDD access times, then of course, get the non-Retina model. But that’s not because it’s a better value; it would purely be a matter of preference.
Take the regular Pro model, double the RAM and swap in a 256 GB SSD to make it closer to the Retina specs save for the resolution, and the price goes up to $2400–$200 more than for the Retina–and you still lack the Retina display and the extra graphics memory. In this sense the Retina model is priced competitively with the older Pro (and/or the upgrades are way overpriced, which is also likely).
Here’s how the basically stack up:
|Unit||13” Macbook Air (high-end)||13“ Macbook Air (high-end, upgrades)||15” Macbook Pro (low-end)||15“ Macbook Pro (upgrades)||15” Retina Macbook Pro (base)|
|CPU||1.8GHz dual-core Core i5 (TB: 2.8 GHz)||2.0GHz dual-core Core i7 (TB: 3.2GHz)||2.3GHz quad-core Core i7 (TB: 3.3GHz)||2.3GHz quad-core Core i7 (TB: 3.3GHz)||2.3GHz quad-core Core i7 (TB: 3.3GHz)|
|Storage||256 GB SSD||256 GB SSD||500GB 5400-rpm HDD||256GB SSD||256GB SSD|
|GPU||HD Graphics 4000||HD Graphics 4000||NVIDIA GT 650M / 512MB GDDR5||NVIDIA GT 650M / 512MB GDDR5||NVIDIA GT 650M / 1GB GDDR5|
|Monitor||1366 x 768||1366 x 768||1440 x 900||1440 x 900||2880 x 1800|
|Optical Drive||—||—||Superdrive 8x||Superdrive 8x||—|
Apple seemed to do a fair job of balancing the pricing (within the parameters of their profit-taking, of course). The closest real challenge is the upgraded Macbook Air vs. the base Retina Pro, especially if you’re not at all interested in graphics.
Even then, the $500 price difference can be accounted for. The processors may seem similar (both i7s with similar GHz ratings), but compare a dual-core at 2 GHz with 4MB of L3 cache to a quad-core at 2.3 GHz with 6MB of L3 cache (not to mention double the L1 and L2 cache), and I betcha you see enough of a difference. Geekbench reports 50% higher performance from the Retina’s CPU.
Aside from that, you have one machine with a 13“ 1-megapixel display vs. a 15” 5-megapixel display, not to mention the difference between integrated chipset graphics and that plus a serious GPU… you’d have to really not care about graphics.
Of course, that’s where it really comes down to preferences. I really want the resolution and the graphics abilities, if not for today then for the future; I want the upgradability to 16GB of memory… and especially, I want the 15“ screen. The processor difference may not seem like too much now, but in 3 years, I think the difference will be rather marked.
I know many people may object to the whole context, saying that you can get similar specs in Windows laptops for a much cheaper price. True. Even counting the retina display (though that will be adopted by PC makers soon, I am sure), it would seem that Macs are overpriced. But such comparisons fail to recognize some important qualities which differ between product lines. How many Windows laptops are built as well as any of the Macbooks? So many are flimsy, cheap-feeling, poorly designed, and often seem ridiculously thick and bulky compared to Macs. The Windows laptops which are not are often priced closer to Macs. Macs are not that much more expensive, they just don’t make the cheapo discount versions. Then there are advantages to the Mac in general: the same company makes the machine, OS, and much of the software, not to mention favored mobile devices, allowing for a seamless integration you can’t get elsewhere. Relative security without the cost in cash and performance for anti-virus software. And, interestingly, a lot of the software is cheaper (when do new versions of Windows cost $20?), often more versatile (e.g., multi-language), and usually much easier to install and use. Okay, off my flame-war soapbox, sorry.
Back to the point: I am very much OK with how the Retina Pro stacks up against the other Macbooks, and expect to be very pleased with what I get. Not to mention that I am moving up from a 2008 Core 2 Duo with 4GB of RAM, meaning a 350% increase in CPU speed, a 400% increase in RAM, and generally a lot more of everything everywhere. I doubt I’ll be disappointed.