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Five reasons why I love my 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro

December 3, 2012

A Dying Macbook Pro
My aging laptop from 2007 finally breathed its last recently. My old one was a 15 inch Macbook Pro with 4GB of RAM and a 160GB hard disk. Back in its day, it was a very nice computer, but fast forward five years and it certainly had been showing its age.

My initial plan was to buy an 11-inch Macbook Air. Why the 11-inch? Well, I found over the course of my 15-inch Macbook Pro’s life that it was too big to tote around everywhere. Oh sure, the extra screen space was nice. But the weight and size of it just made it a bit too big for my tastes.

The 11-inch Air seemed quite portable in comparison, yet powerful enough to meet my needs since most of what I mostly write on my computers. I was so very sure that the 11-inch was the absolute perfect computer for me, so I headed off to the Apple store to get one.

A Trip to the Apple Store
Apple is a very smart retailer, the company knows how to set its stores up and it leaves absolutely nothing to chance. When I walked into the store, I made the mistake of looking to my right as I was going in. I noted the new “retina” 13-inch Macbook Pros.

I thought to myself “Hmm. I wonder what those retina screens look like? It couldn’t hurt to peek at one.” And that’s just what I did. I was quite impressed with the resolution and gorgeous looks of OS X in retina. I’d heard some bad things about the retina Macbook Pros though, particularly that there was “stuttering” or “lag” while scrolling.

So I started browsing around on the 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro in the store. I went to various sites and watched carefully for any lag or scrolling problems. I didn’t see any. The laptop performed very well on any site I went to, and it did very well opening or closing apps. In fact, the SSD in it was amazingly fast compared to my ancient 15-inch Macbook Pro’s hard disk.

13-inch Macbook Pro

After a few more minutes, I decided that the retina Macbook Pros were neat but I needed to go get my Macbook Air. I walked over to the section that had the Airs and started looking at the 11-inch Macbook Air. Damn, that screen was UGLY compared to the 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro. I mean, it just looked pixelated and nasty compared to the high resolution icons on the Dock on the 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro.

11-inch Macbook Air I Hardly Knew Ye
I knew instantly that my quest for an 11-inch Macbook Air was doomed. The retina screen on the 13-inch Macbook Pro had utterly seduced me. I walked back over to the 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro and peeked at the screen again. Gorgeous! I knew I could not buy another laptop without a retina screen.

But which 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro should I get? The default config was nice, but it only had 128GB of storage, and I felt that wasn’t enough. I decided to go with the slightly upgraded model that had 256GB of storage. Unfortunately, this added about $300 to the base price and thus my final cost was $1999.

Wow! For $200 I could have gotten a 15-inch with much a much better processor, and a dedicated Nvidia graphics component. But then I remembered the size issue, and I knew I could not get the 15-inch, regardless of how much better the specs were.

So I went with the 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro and I love it!

#5 Portability
As I noted earlier, there really is a big difference when toting around the 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro compared to a 15-inch. It weighs about a pound or so less than the 15-inch. And the smaller size means you can use a smaller bag or case for it.

You might not think that such a thing would mean much, but if you have to tote around your laptop you’ll quickly realize that less weight and size really do matter. After a certain point with a 15-inch, you just wish you could make it less of a pain to carry around.

I barely notice the 13-inch while I’m out and about with it. It’s light enough to be taken everywhere, while still giving me a large enough screen and plenty of computing power to get my stuff done.

#4 Form Factor
The size and shape of my 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro feels pretty darn close to perfect for me. It’s an amazingly comfortable laptop to work on.

I can lay in bed with it and write while laying down or sitting up. Or I can use it (as I am right now while I’m typing this) as a stand up workstation (my Macbook Pro is on top of my washing machine at the moment, the perfect stand up computer stand).

It just flat out feels good to use a computer this size. It gives me just what I need in terms of screen space, without any bloat to take up space on my lap or on a table or even a washing machine.

I can totally see how awesome it would be to have this laptop on an airplane. The small form factor would fit well in such a tight space.

#3 Speed
Before I got my 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro, I’d never used an SSD before. I’d heard they were fast, but I never used one. Wow. What a difference. Applications load a lot faster than with a hard disk, and the computer closes down or starts up much faster.

It’s not just the SSD either, the 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 is no slouch. It does a fine job running everything I need. I know that some folks have been disappointed that the 13-inch model doesn’t have a quad core processor. That hasn’t been a problem for me at all, in any way.

Overall, the 13-inch Macbook Pro is – dare I say it? – quite zippy!

#2 No Dedicated Graphics Card
No doubt it will surprise some people to see me mention this one. After all, isn’t it always better to have a dedicated graphics card instead of an integrated one like the Intel HD 4000 that comes with the 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro?

Well, no. It’s not always better to have a high-powered graphics card. Each time they come on they draw power and also help to heat up the machine. If you aren’t a hard-core gamer (and I’m not, I’m purely a casual gamer) or someone who does a lot of photo or video editing, then you really don’t need one.

I’ve found that the Intel HD 4000 works very well for casual gaming, as well as for all the other tasks one uses a Macbook Pro for over the course of a day. I’ve even gotten World of Warcraft to run at 35-40FPS on my 13-inch wonder. Now, is that enough for a hard-core gamer? No, probably not. But then why would such a gamer even be buying a Macbook Pro on the first place? They’d be better off with an AlienWare laptop running Windows instead.

I’ve also run other games such as Pinball HD, Monopoly, and Cooking Dash 3. They all run as smooth as butter. I don’t see any slow down or choppy graphics on my Macbook Pro. For a casual gamer, the Intel HD 4000 seems to get the job done nicely.

For me, the integrated graphics on my laptop has more than enough graphical horsepower, and I’m very glad that I don’t have a dedicated GPU draining my battery down. If I did have one, I’d choose to turn it off most of the time anyway.

#1 Retina Display
Well, of course you just knew this was going to be one of, if not the biggest reason. The retina display just looks amazing on this computer. Text, photos and video look superb.

It looks so good that sometimes it’s really hard to go back to using my desktop iMac. It’s not that the iMac’s display is bad or anything. It’s a 27-inch iMac, it looks great for what it is but I can see the pixellation now and I don’t like it at all.

Once you go retina, you really can’t go back. If you try to, you’ll always be wishing you had a retina display on your non-retina machine.

Final Thoughts
There’s been quite a lot of negative things written about the 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro. The spec addicts in various online forums have criticized it as “not being worth the money” or “too underpowered to be a Macbook Pro.” The presstitutes in the media have also panned it for similar reasons.

Don’t believe any of it, make up your own mind. Drop by your local Apple Store and put a 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro through its paces. Run a bunch of applications, visit image heavy web sites, run some games. Poke around on it, and see if what you’ve read online is actually true or not. I found that a lot of it wasn’t, at all.

You might be surprised at what such a small laptop can really do if you give it a chance. Great things come in small packages.

What’s your take on the 13-inch Macbook Pro? Will you be buying one? Tell me in the comments below.

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6 Responses to Five reasons why I love my 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro

  1. Jim Lynch on December 10, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Hi Tom,

    Glad you are digging your 15″ retina, they are awesome machines for sure. I don’t think you can go wrong with either one, really. The size choice just gets down to the needs of the individual user.


  2. Tom on December 10, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    I have a 15″ Retina and my wife has a 13″ Retina and we both love them. My wife also choose the 13″ Retina over an Air. She also had been set on a Macbook Air until she wandered in the Apple store and saw the 13″ Retina.

    I can see hers and your reasons for getting it, but the 15″ Retina is a better choice for me. Quad core Ivy Bridge I7 and 16 GB ram give it workstation performance in a 4 Lb ultra thin package.  

  3. Jim Lynch on December 4, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Hi Mark,

    Glad you enjoyed my column, and glad you are liking your Macbook pro. :smile:

    Yep, I run virtual machines in VirtualBox and haven’t seen problems either. Ubuntu 12.10 seems to run quite well. 

    Hopefully, my column will get a few folks to check out the 13-inch Retina Macbok Pro that might have been put off by some of the inaccurate information about it that has been put out there.  

    • Mark on December 4, 2012 at 1:23 pm

      I also own a MBP 15″ with a 750 GB hybrid drive and 16 GB of RAM and it was simply too heavy to carry around back and forth to work. 
      I have Linux running on that one as well and I still want to install Oracle, but I had problems installing it. 
      I’m also an IT guy (SQL Server DBA) and I can’t say enough good things about this new laptop.  The haters simply haven’t given it a fair chance.

    • Pieter on June 9, 2013 at 7:59 am

      You actually did :D I’ve been waiting for Haswell and I’m confident that the 13″ Retina is the one for me. So thank you very much!

  4. Mark on December 4, 2012 at 8:30 am

    I love my 13″ MBP Retina.  I have the same configuration you just reviewed and I completely agree.  I run a Citrix session, VMWare Fusion with Windows 7, stream audio and still have yet to encounter any kind of lag or display problem.
    You gave a great a review and I completely concur.  This is a great laptop.

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