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.
First released in 2006 and last redesigned in 2008, the standard 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 and 802.11ac wireless, delivering only 7 hours of battery life.
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 (July 2014) minor hardware update, the Retina MacBook Pros start with either a 2.6GHz Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM (13.3″) or a 2.2GHz Core i7 processor with 16GB of RAM (15.4″). They get 8-9 hours of battery life and feature 802.11ac wireless, but continue to lack DVD/CD drives and mechanical hard drives in favor of 128GB to 1TB of flash storage.
The MacBook Pro with Retina display is 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.