MacBook Pro Vs. MacBook Pro with Retina Display

9 Mins read

The launch of the new MacBook Pro with Attendant Design Retina display has created some confusion among users, who now have a choice between the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Pro Retina display.

Did You Know?

Retina display refers to a display wherein the individual pixels cannot be discerned by the naked eye. This value differs from product to product, with smaller displays (iPhone) having higher values (326 ppi) and larger displays (MacBooks) having lower values (220 ppi). This is due to the viewing distance, that differs in these products.

Macintosh machines have been gaining ground steadily, thanks in part to their more secure platform, and the good looks they come with. Of course, PCs are no slouch either when it comes to good looks, but one just can’t compete with Apple in the looks department.

MacBook Pro with Retina Display

And if you’re more inclined to look beyond the looks, as you well should be―you will, after all, be spending upwards of a stack on these―you have nothing to fear. The specs of the current models will satisfy even the most hardcore users. Once you have decided to pick up a Mac, you have to choose one from their extensive family. Apple has models galore, and you can choose one depending on your use.

In today’s article, we are going to consider the MacBook Pro vs. MacBook Pro with Retina display. Though it may seem that only the display has changed between the two models, this is far from true. There are many differences in the two models, and in the sections below, we highlight these differences and guide you to choosing the better of the two.


13-inch MacBook Pro 13-inch Macbook ProWith Retina Display

13.3-inch LED-Backlit Display 13.3-inch LED-Backlit Retina display

1280 by 800 pixels 2560 by 1600 pixels

2.5 GHz Dual-core Intel Core i5 2.4 GHz or 2.5 GHz Dual-core Intel Core i5
2.9 GHz Dual-core Intel Core i7 2.8 GHz Dual-core Intel Core i7

Memory (RAM)
4 GB or 8 GB 1600 MHz Up to 16 GB 1600 MHz

Up to 1 TB 5,400 rpm HDD or Up to 512 GB SSD Up to 1 TB Flash Storage (SSD)

Intel HD Graphics 4000 Intel Iris Graphics

MagSafe Power Port MagSafe 2 Power Port
2× USB 3 Ports 2× USB 3.0 Ports
1× FireWire 800 Port —
1× Thunderbolt Port 2× Thunderbolt Port
— 1× HDMI Port
Superdrive No Optical Drive

Integrated 63.5-watt-hour Lithium-Polymer Integrated 71.8-watt-hour

Up to 7 Hours Wireless Web Up to 9 Hours Wireless Web
60 W MagSafe Power Adapter 60 W MagSafe 2 Power Adapter

.95 inches thick
4.5 pounds .71 inches thick
3.46 pounds

802.11n Wi-Fi 802.11ac Wi-Fi

Gigabit Ethernet —

Bluetooth 4.0

FaceTime HD Camera

Full-size Backlit Keyboard

SDXC Card Slot


MacBook Pro
If you look at the table above, you can see that almost everything has improved with the new Retina display Mac. Don’t be fooled with the higher clock speeds of the older versions, the latest Haswell processors present in the Retina model, coupled with the Iris and Iris Pro integrated graphics are much, much better than the older processors and Intel 4000 HD graphics.

The breakdown in other parts of the machine as well should bring you to the same conclusion that we came to, that the Retina display model is far better than the non-retina model. But with a price difference of a hundred bucks, I’m sure you will need more than just a paragraph to be convinced.

Reasons to Buy the MacBook Pro Retina Model

While it is almost a rule of thumb that newer is better, let’s see if it applies in this case. Of course, when it comes to technology, newer is definitely better, but you should also keep the price in mind. New tech can cost a bomb, and you don’t want to sell your house to have a dapper computer. When it comes to the Retina display model of the MacBook Pro, the first thing you would notice is that the price is a hundred dollars more. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? To decide, let’s see what you get for those extra hundred bucks.


Let’s start with the most noticeable factor: The display. You get a much, much better screen. 2560 × 1600 pixels as compared to the older 1280 × 800 pixels. That alone should be worth the extra hundred dollars. The higher resolution makes a huge difference, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Processor, Memory, and Graphics

Moving on from the price, the new Retina display model features Haswell processors, and Intel Iris Pro graphics, again a boost over the older processors, and HD 4000 integrated graphics. Though discrete graphics would have been better, these 13-inch models only come with integrated graphics and remember that you are only putting in USD 100 more over the older model, and it is definitely worth it. Also, Apple has been more generous with the RAM limitation on the newer model, the Retina display can now take up to 16 gigs of RAM, compared to the maximum of 8 gigs on the older machines.

Storage Space

When it comes to storage, the norm is more the better. You can never really have enough of space. With the world going HD, space is now even more of a problem. We would like to say that so-and-so amount of storage space is enough, but it simply depends on from user to user. Luckily, on the newer MacBook Pro, you can choose the amount of storage you need, right up to a gargantuan 1 TB SSD. No doubt, the price will increase accordingly, but the option is nice to have. For those users who don’t need so much space, the base model comes with an ample 128 GB of space, but more importantly, on an SSD. SSDs don’t feature moving parts, and read/write speeds are phenomenally faster that HDDs. If you need more space and don’t want to shell out the USD 300 to upgrade to a 512 GB SSD, then you have the option of picking up a 500 GB external HHD for your storage needs. However, with the cloud sector booming, this is becoming less and less necessary.



The newer Retina display model also does not feature an optical drive, which counts significantly to its svelte size, shape, and weight. This might be a problem for some, but optical discs are being used lesser and lesser these days, so it should not be too bad. You could also opt for an external optical drive; these are not too expensive, and even the extra 20 bucks that the drive costs make the newer MacBook worth it.

Apart from all this, there are numerous other benefits that the Retina display model has, like the presence of an HDMI port (absent in non-retina models), and the upgrade of the USB ports to USB 3.0. Additionally, there is an extra thunderbolt port as well. The newer model also features Apple’s latest MagSafe 2 technology, which comes on both, the port and the adapter.

Size, Weight, and Battery Life

Thanks to the inclusion of the SSD, and the exclusion of the optical drive, the newer MacBook Pro with Retina display is now even thinner and lighter than its predecessor. At less than 3½ pounds, this is a very light machine indeed, almost a pound lighter that the non-retina model. It is also significantly thinner, at .71 inches, compared to the older model at .91 inches. In all this slimming and trimming, Apple has ensured that the battery life does not suffer; in fact, with the newer model you get up to 9 hours of wireless web surfing, compared to the 7 hours its predecessor offered.


In addition, there are a few miscellaneous features that both laptops share, like the Facetime HD camera in front, the keyboard, the SDXC card slot, and the latest OS Mavericks. These features are already the latest, and hence, were not improved in the new model.

Wi-Fi, though has been improved, and the Retina display models will now feature 802.11ac Wi-Fi, as compared to the older 802.11n Wi-Fi. We can’t really say that this is more beneficial right now, though, in the future, it surely will be.

So, if you take a look at the various features that you get with the newer MacBook Pro, it is well worth the extra 100 dollars that you are going to pay for it. Remember the comparisons here are the base models, these can be configured with better and higher configurations, which will affect the prices. As a product with newer technology, we would have had no qualms recommending the newer version anyway; the price of the older machine just makes it easier to do so. If Apple drops the price of the older version to about USD 700 to USD 800, then there may be a compelling reason to opt for the old. At this price point, however, it’s a no-brainer.


The model under the microscope is the high-end 15″ model, which contains a 2.2ghz Sandy Bride quad-core i7 processor, 4gb ram and a 6750m from AMD. That’s a big upgrade from the previous generation. I’ve also opted for the high-res screen, which is a given in my (mac!)book. *pun intended*

Apart from the high-end 15″ Macbook pro, Apple also offers two 13″ models and a single 17″ machine. Across the board, each model enjoys a faster processor, faster ram, and thunderbolt.

The latter is very interesting and a first for any laptop on the market! I’m actually not going into too much detail about it but basically, it’s Intel’s answer to USB. The connection is capable of transferring video, audio, and data, all simultaneously at very high speeds. That means that a DVD movie will transfer to external storage in about 6 seconds once supported hardware comes out.

When deciding between models realize that the 13″ models all share an Intel HD 3000 graphics as a sole provider. This is a source of frustration for gamers out there because the chip is pretty weak for modern games. The smaller models also use the gaps between the keys as speaker holes and lack a subwoofer; expect a slightly more tin sound.

The 17″ model has a 1920×1200 display and similar specs to the 15″ Macbook pro. This is both a good and bad thing. The good thing is that you’ll have slightly more screen real estate but gaming on the native resolution will definitely struggle.

MacBook Pro


As noted Apple has retained its famous unibody design for this generation of Macbooks. I don’t consider this a bad thing. Built from a single piece of aluminum, this laptop is very scratch resistant and clean looking. My previous Macbook Pro (same design) definitely withstood the test of time. (not a single scratch!)

In my view, this is the best-looking laptop apart from the Macbook Air. Its design is very symmetrical. Everything is exactly where you’d expect it to be. Like how the speaker holes match the vertical space used by the keyboard keys. The width of the hinge also perfectly matches the horizontal keyboard space. Using a combination of black and silver, Apple managed to create something very aesthetically pleasing. However, I’d have loved to see some Macbook Air elements take over. The battery indicator for one seems unnecessary to me and the DVD super drive is bound to disappear. Guess we can expect those changes in a redesign later on.

Still, the Macbook Pro 2011 is the sturdiest and best-looking laptops out there, a real winner!


The 15″ model comes standard with a resolution of 1440×900. This can be upgraded to 1680×1050, something everyone should do. Apple uses a high-end TN display, so still no IPS unfortunately.

The viewing angles are decent. It’s possible to read a text and distinguish details at any angle. However, inevitably, the screen washes out from the sides, especially grays become yellowish; notice the app store panel lines. I also noticed that the screen has a weak-spot for lower and upper angles. Even at a small degree colors started to fade. This is why we want IPS panels, they’re just noticeably better at this. Still, the MacBook Pro has one of the better screens out there. Colors really pop and the pixel density feels just right. People looking for ultra-realistic color reproductions will have to look at production screens, what else is new?

MacBook Pro

For the first time ever Apple managed to jam an HD facetime camera into the glossy display. This is a logical step in the evolution of video calling between Apple devices. To test this I called my laptop using the iPhone 4 and configured the facetime app.

Calling is easy and direct. Simply click a phone number or e-mail in your contacts and the system will attempt to set up a facetime call. This process can sometimes take a little longer depending on the network, but after the initial process, it’s usually a smooth ride. The image is crisp and pleasing, but without being overwhelming. The image is still soft, and comparable to Logitech solutions at best. Still for such a small camera that’s a solid achievement.


Now it’s time to put the internals to the test. This is Apple’s fastest notebook offering so my expectations were sky high. The first thing I wanted to have a look at is the battery. Apple advertises 7 hours of battery for every Macbook Pro model it offers. That’s down from 8-10 hours for the previous generation. Most of this is probably due to the faster processor and a new way of testing that supposedly better represents real world results.

I fully charged the laptop and left the settings at default. The brightness sensor was turned on for more realistic results. During the test, I used everyday apps like Microsoft words and Safari. To mix things up some light 3D work was thrown into the mix.

Application test

The time it takes to launch an app is essential for a proper user experience. The Air does really well at this so I used it as the benchmark. The Macbook Pro comes with a new generation of 750gb 5400rpm drives. The extra data density and latest Seagate technologies should give it the edge over previous Pro models. But how close can it get to its SSD speedy thinner sister?


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