• In The Market for a 13" Retina MacBook Pro? Get the 13" MacBook Air Instead

    I've done a bit of number crunching on the 13" RMBP and figured, it kinda sucks compared to the 13" MacBook Air and I'm not sure why you would bother buying one unless you're really in love with that retina display.

    For starters, the pricing on each machine is pretty close, with the RRP from Apple direct for the RMBP is $2199 and the MBA, $1925. Because the MacBook Air is a BTO, there's almost no discounts on it, but the 13" RMBP is a stock model and places like Good Guys or JB Hi-Fi will give you at least 10% off just by asking. So the real price for the RMBP is $1999 vs. the MBA for $1924.

    Specs wise, they're very similar too - let's see what's the same on both machines:
    • 8GB RAM
    • 256GB SSD
    • Intel 4000 Graphics
    • 13" screen
    • 2x USB 3.0 ports
    • 7hr battery
    • SDXC card reader
    • Bluetooth 4.0 + dual band 802.11 a/b/g/n (the RMBP is slightly faster, but it's so minor)
    • Dual core CPU

    What's different, and potentially, making one a better buy than the other?

    The CPU in the MBA is the Intel i7-3667U and in the RMBP packs the i5-3210M. On the surface, the i5-3210M looks better, but in real world use, are practically identical. The i7-3667U has 1MB more L3 cache (4MB on the i7 vs. 3MB on the i5). L3 cache makes a difference, so that's a win for the MBA. The stock clock speed on the i5 is higher (2.5GHz vs 2.0Ghz), but, when it comes to Turbo Boost, the i7 in the MBA can clock up to 3.2GHz, where as the i5 only goes up to 3.1GHz. So in reality, the MacBook Air's CPU is going to be *slightly* faster than the Retina MacBook Pro. Crazy, considering the thermal implications of each chassis, but that's the truth.

    The screen, of course, is anthoner big area of difference. The resolution on the MBA is 1440x900, which at 13" is very nice. The RMBP is 2560x1600, but, in "Retina" mode, is the equivalent of 1280x800, which sucks. You can scale up the display to operate at a non-native resolution, but based on my expereinces with the 15" RMBP, it's not a long term solution and not suitable for daily use. Sure, the Retina display at native res looks super nice, but at 1280x800 equivalent, you get *less* screen real estate on the Retina vs. the Air. The 13" MBP also has some issues with UI performance due to no discrete graphcs - Anandtech has a pretty good summary of the issue. For me personally, that is a deal breaker, as I *hate* UI lag, but it seems like most people don't even notice it.

    After those two differences, all that's left is the fact the RMBP has a HDMI port (saves you carrying a MiniDP to HDMI dongle) and two Thunderbolt ports, instead of just one on the MacBook Air - which could be important to you, depending on what you're doing with the Mac.

    So all up, considering the 13" MacBook Air is cheaper than the Retina MacBook Pro, slightly faster and significantly more portable, I'd skip the 13" Retina MacBook Pro and grab a MacBook Air instead. Unless you really like the Retina display (and the drawbacks that come with it, that might outweigh the positives). Oh, and another variable to throw into the mix - the 15" Retina MBP can be had for only $300 more and has a much faster CPU and *way* faster graphics card.

    Who said buying a Mac was easy, eh?
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