The MacBook Pro family currently includes two separate product lines: the MacBook Pro ($1,099 and up from the Apple Store) and the MacBook Pro with Retina display ($1,299 and up). Apple is clearly focusing all its attention on the Retina models, as the standard MacBook Pro hasn’t been updated in years.
Premiered in 2012 as a successor to the MacBook Pro, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display is sold in 13.3″ (2560×1600-pixel) and 15.4″ (2880×1800-pixel) versions, the latter at a $700 premium. Both models are lighter than the regular 13″ MacBook Pro, with the 13.3″ Retina Pro weighing only half a pound more than the 13.3″ MacBook Air. These models require few performance compromises: they have faster Core i5 and i7 processors than any other Apple laptop, much higher-resolution (and more color-accurate) screens, twin Thunderbolt 2 and twin USB 3 ports, plus an HDMI port and dual noise-canceling microphones.
As of the last (March 2015) hardware update, the 13″ Retina MacBook Pro starts with a dual-core 2.7GHz Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM, and features 10-hour battery life. By comparison, the 15.4″ Retina MacBook Pro was updated in May 2015, sporting a quad-core 2.2GHz Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM, now with up to 9 hours of battery life. Both Retina models feature Force Touch pressure-sensitive/haptic feedback trackpads, plus 802.11ac wireless, but continue to lack DVD/CD drives and mechanical hard drives in favor of 128GB to 1TB of flash storage.
First released in 2006 and last redesigned in 2008, the non-Retina MacBook Pro was at one time known as the “MacBook,” and is currently available only in a 13″ version. Thicker and 1/3 heavier than the 13.3″ MacBook Air, the MacBook Pro includes a substantially faster Intel Core i5 processor, offset by a much slower 500GB hard drive and a lower-resolution 1280×800 screen. It is now the only Apple laptop with a DVD/CD drive, integrated FireWire 800 port, and Gigabit Ethernet port, all features dropped from the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina Display. However, while it has two USB 3 ports and a Thunderbolt 1 port, it lacks HDMI output, 802.11ac wireless, and Force Touch, delivering only 7 hours of battery life.
The MacBook Pro with Retina display remains Apple’s best overall performer for the dollar, laptop or otherwise. Though more expensive and a little larger than the MacBook Air, it delivers much more horsepower and a hugely better screen; there are even reasons to prefer the Retina MacBook Pro over an iMac for daily use unless you really need a much larger (and non-portable) display.Read our full coverage for details.