Review: Apple's late-2013 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
The late-2013 version of Apple's high-end professional notebook, the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, is a computer in a class of its own, offering a near-perfect blend of style and performance in a more affordable package than before.

15-inch Retina MacBook Pro


The 15 inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display can be ordered with one of three different CPU options. The base model, available for $1,999, ships with a 2.0 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4750HQ Crystal Well processor with 6 MB on-chip L3 and 128 MB L4 cache. This was our test machine, with 256 gigabytes of storage and 8 gigabytes of RAM.

It can be upgraded to either a 2.3 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4850HQ version, or a 2.6 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-4960HQ with 6 MB on-chip L3 cache.

All three options provide integrated Intel Iris Pro 5200 Graphics with DDR3L SDRAM shared with main memory and an optional discrete Nvidia GPU: the GeForce GT 750M with 2 GB dedicated GDDR5 video memory. The OS X operating system automatically switches between integrated and discrete graphics hardware when running OS X.

Apple's new Macs all ship with with Mavericks, the company's latest operating system, as well as free copies of the iLife and iWork suites.

Design

The 15-inch MacBook Pro looks identical on the exterior to its predecessor. On its left are a MagSafe 2 charging port, two Thunderbolt 2 inputs, a USB 3.0 port, 3.5-millimeter headphone jack, and two microphone holes. The right of the notebook has another USB 3.0 port, HDMI out, and a full-size SD card slot.

15-inch Retina MacBook Pro


15-inch Retina MacBook Pro


Also returning is the fantastic 15-inch Retina display that debuted in Apple's 2012 model. It's a 2,880-by-1,800-pixel panel packing in 220 pixels per inch.

Like last year's model, this has the same great viewing angles, thanks to the IPS technology found in the panel, as well as relatively low glare.

15-inch Retina MacBook Pro


Unlike the 13-inch model, which houses the speakers under the keyboard, the 15-inch MacBook Pro has room for speaker grilles on each side of the notebook's keyboard. Accordingly, the sound on this model is louder and slightly clearer and work fine, though headphones or external speakers are still recommended for any true fidelity.

Apple's high-end MacBook also comes with 256 gigabytes of solid-state storage, configurable up to 1 terabyte. The entry-level storage is twice that of the 13-inch model.

15-inch Retina MacBook Pro
Left: 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro. Right: 13-inch model.

Internals

As with Apple's new 13-inch model, the highlight of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is Intel's latest silicon. While the 13-inch chips are known as Haswell, the 15-inch model sports more premium chips dubbed Crystalwell.

Crystalwell is Intel's brand for fourth-generation Core processors based on the same technology as Haswell but paired with a more powerful Iris Pro graphics. In the same family, Intel also offers Haswell processors paired with simpler, significantly inferior HD Graphics, as well as "ultra low" and "ultra low extreme."

15-inch Retina MacBook Pro


For the 15 inch MacBook Pro, Apple is only offering Crystalwell chips, which further upgrade Intel's much improved Iris-branded integrated graphics on Haswell processors with "Iris Pro," the primary feature of which is its additional 128MB of eDRAM (embedded DRAM) bundled on the processor package itself.

This specialized memory can both be used for graphics or as an overflow L4 cache assisting the 6MB on on-chip L3 cache. It's a design similar to dedicated video game hardware such as Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 2 and the A-series chips Apple designs for its iPhone and iPad.

Intel's Haswell microarchitecture was first used by Apple this summer for the MacBook Air. Haswell aims to deliver high power efficiency, benefitting from Intel's advanced FinFET transistors built at a 22nm process node.

The chips improve upon the previous Core i5 Ivy Bridge design by incorporating a second branch predictor (used to optimize the flow in the instruction pipeline), a third address generation unit (used in memory access) and a fourth arithmetic and logic unit, along with higher bandwidth cache.

Haswell chips also include new instructions enhancing SIMD vector processing with Advanced Vector Extensions 2 and integrates the Platform Controller Hub and voltage regulator into the chip package itself, rather than being separate components on the logic board.

15-inch Retina MacBook Pro


Along with a series of other advances and optimizations, Haswell is intended to be much more energy efficient while also being slightly faster even at a lower clock speed. Accordingly, latest chips are focused on efficiency, improving battery life to a significant degree.

In our tests, the battery performance on the new 15-inch MacBook Pro was excellent, and comparable with the 13-inch model. Both strong enough to easily get through an average workday with Wi-Fi enabled and backlight at a reasonable setting. For its part, Apple advertises that the 15-inch Pro gets 8 hours of use, but our tests suggested it could exceed that amount.

For comparison's sake, we also ran a more extreme battery stress test, with maximum brightness, keyboard backlight on, streaming a high-definition video from YouTube. In this taxing scenario, the MacBook Pro lasted over four hours before warning it needed to be plugged in.

13-inch MacBook Pro


In terms of raw performance, the 15-inch MacBook Pro easily outclasses the 13-inch variety. In a 32-bit multicore Geekbench test, the 15-inch model showed almost twice the horsepower. An OpenGL test in Cinebench also resulted in 20 more frames per second than the 13-inch model.

Also welcome is the fact that the 15-inch model comes standard with 8 gigabytes of RAM. This is an improvement from Apple's entry-level 13-inch model, which just ships with 4 gigabytes --?a number borderline unacceptable in 2013.

Conclusion

Spending nearly $2,000 on a notebook is no small investment, but we're happy to report that the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is worthy of its price tag. Including a beautiful Retina display, a premium Core i7 processor, 256 gigabytes of speedy flash memory, and Intel Iris Pro graphics in the default low-end configuration makes this machine worthy of its "Pro" designation.

The 15-inch model also comes with 8 gigabytes of RAM by default, and still manages to offer a full day's worth of battery life on one charge. Apple's premium notebook offers much better value at its entry-level price than the company's 13-inch variety, which is held back by 4 gigabytes of RAM and 128 gigabytes of storage at $700 less.

Base pricing on the 15-inch model has also fallen from $2,199 to $1,999, offering even more value for buyers.

If there's any significant knock against the 15-inch model, it's the fact that Apple doesn't include a discrete graphics card in the base model. Users looking for dedicated graphics beyond Iris Pro will need to splurge and get the $2,599 model, which includes an Nvidia GeForce GT 750M, as well as 512 gigabytes of PCI-e-based flash storage and 16 gigabytes of RAM.

For notebook shoppers who aren't drawn to the portability of the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, Apple's 15-inch model is an easy recommendation. This is a true professional-grade machine that doesn't disappoint.

AppleInsider editor Daniel Eran Dilger contributed to this review.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

image

Pros:

  • Great design and great performance
  • More affordable than last year
  • Offers more value and upgrade options than 13-inch MacBook Pro

Con:

  • Default configuration doesn't include discrete GPU
AppleInsider extends its thanks to Apple Authorized Reseller B&H Photo for sponsoring this year's MacBook Pro Retina review series. The New York-based superstore recently took home top honors in Consumer Reports' 2013 electronic stores rankings for overall customer service and satisfaction.

How to save when buying

Readers looking to purchase up a new MacBook Pro Retina at the absolute lowest prices can turn to our Mac Price Guides, which track the prices of Macs at Apple's largest Authorized Resellers throughout the year. Currently, the AI readers have two exclusive ways to save over Apple's MSRP:

Macs without AppleCare

If you just want to purchase a new MacBook Pro Retina without a 3-year AppleCare protection plan, MacMall exclusively offers AppleInsider readers the lowest prices anywhere on these models, as can be seen in the relevant price guide snippet below. To take advantage of the offer, simply use the MacMall links in the price guide to activate the "Promo Code" field on reseller's website and then apply promo code APPLEINSIDER02

MacMall also only charges tax to residents of CA, NY, IL, WI, MN, CO, TN, NC and GA. This means that -- on most models -- customers outside those states will save at least another $100 from the tax savings, in addition to the 3% exclusive discount.


Macs bundled with AppleCare

Alternatively, if you'd like to bundle a 3-year AppleCare Extended Protection Plan with your new MacBook Pro Retina, AppleInsider also maintains a Mac+AppleCare Price Guide listing the combined prices for each new Mac model along with 3 years of AppleCare. As can be seen in the relevant portion below, the lowest prices on these bundles sometimes come from MacMall, but are more often available at B&H.

For its part, B&H exclusively offers readers instant savings of between $70 (13-inch models) and $105 (15-inch models) on AppleCare protection plans for the MacBook Pro. In addition, B&H only charges sales tax to residents of its home state of New York.



An easy 5-step help guide is also available to show precisely how to pair an AppleCare protection plan to your new Mac at B&H's reduced pricing.

Other options include Amazon, which only charges sales tax to residents of AZ, CA, KS, KY, NJ, NY, ND, PA, TX, and WA; and BestBuy, which sometimes offers in-store pickup of online orders.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 56
    akqiesakqies Posts: 768member
    Con:
    • Default configuration doesn't include discrete GPU

    I don't think this a valid Con. I'd say it's a Pro that they offer it without a dGPU so they can lower the entry-level price for their expensive 15" notebook.

    To make that a Con I would have said "Entry level 15" MBP with discreet GPU option is now $400 more expensive."
  • Reply 2 of 56
    The weight difference is negligible, I held it in the store yesterday and it's still a total brick.
  • Reply 3 of 56
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by akqies View Post





    I don't think this a valid Con. I'd say it's a Pro that they offer it without a dGPU so they can lower the entry-level price for their expensive 15" notebook.



    To make that a Con I would have said "Entry level 15" MBP with discreet GPU option is now $400 more expensive."

     

    It most certainly is a valid Con.

     

    Guess what, 2014 brings a bullet to Intel with the Excavator APU from AMD. The new Kaveri coming out stomps Haswell into the ground with GPGPU processing [OpenCL?] and the gap between Integer/FP has been closed. Excavator comes out Fall of 2014, at the latest and it stomps all over its own brethren, Kaveri at 20nm/16nm FinFET.

     

    Sorry, but Intel has no answer to the APU world.

  • Reply 4 of 56
    jmncljmncl Posts: 42member
    Typo: it's discrete graphics, not discreet.
  • Reply 5 of 56
    Damn, I only have the first gen rMBP 15! But somehow this little beast runs circles around my 3 y/o FULLY LOADED workstation Macs. Totally 5 stars!
  • Reply 6 of 56
    mstonemstone Posts: 11,510member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by indiekiduk View Post



    The weight difference is negligible, I held it in the store yesterday and it's still a total brick.

    The only comparable notebook I could find was the Razor Blade which comes in around 1/2 a pound lighter at 4.1 lb vs. MBP 15 at 4.46 but the Razor is almost twice the price. It bears mentioning that the Razor only has a 14" screen though with only 1600 x 900 resolution.

     

    http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2421240,00.asp?tab=Specs

     

    The MBP 13" weighs in at 3.46, exactly one pound less than the 15".

     

    ...and I looked it up... A standard red clay brick weighs 6 lbs, which is 1.5 lbs more than a MBP 15". If someone can't handle 4.46 lbs, they need to hit the gym.

  • Reply 7 of 56
    akqiesakqies Posts: 768member
    It most certainly is a valid Con.

    Guess what, 2014 brings a bullet to Intel with the Excavator APU from AMD. The new Kaveri coming out stomps Haswell into the ground with GPGPU processing [OpenCL?] and the gap between Integer/FP has been closed. Excavator comes out Fall of 2014, at the latest and it stomps all over its own brethren, Kaveri at 20nm/16nm FinFET.

    Sorry, but Intel has no answer to the APU world.

    How is a GPU not due for at least another year a reason for Apple not to release a less expensive 15" MBP now?
  • Reply 8 of 56
    The Dell XPS 15 is similar in price, performance, and screen resolution. Like Apple, Dell's XPS 15 also carries a hefty price tag for a discrete GPU. Of course, the biggest advantage, of the rMBP 15 is Mavericks vs. the absolutely horrid Windows 8...
  • Reply 9 of 56
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by akqies View Post





    I don't think this a valid Con. I'd say it's a Pro that they offer it without a dGPU so they can lower the entry-level price for their expensive 15" notebook.



    To make that a Con I would have said "Entry level 15" MBP with discreet GPU option is now $400 more expensive."

     

    I agree. I bought one of these (i7-4960HQ) without a dGPU. I could have easily upgraded to the discrete one if I wanted, but I don't game on my laptop and the experience of my old 2010 MPB cooking my lap every time I started Photoshop, etc made it an easy decision. Paid off too. It runs really cool and quiet almost all the time and I'm not noticing any graphical performance problems in what I do. As a bonus Iris Pro appears to have much better OpenCL performance than the GT 750M. I'm very glad we got the choice.

     

    It'd be a completely different story if I was gaming on it, and that's where having to spend extra does become a con as you say.

  • Reply 10 of 56
    It most certainly is a valid Con.

    Guess what, 2014 brings a bullet to Intel with the Excavator APU from AMD. The new Kaveri coming out stomps Haswell into the ground with GPGPU processing [OpenCL?] and the gap between Integer/FP has been closed. Excavator comes out Fall of 2014, at the latest and it stomps all over its own brethren, Kaveri at 20nm/16nm FinFET.

    Sorry, but Intel has no answer to the APU world.

    What's the chances that apple will have one of these in a new rMBP next year if this comes out in fall?
  • Reply 11 of 56
    negafoxnegafox Posts: 480member
    Unfortunately, this article feels more like an ad and less like a review.

    For a review, it would have been nice to benchmark against the previous gen with various configurations and price points under 10.9. This review does not answer if existing rMBP owners should consider upgrading, or for new purchasers, whether to get the 2012 instead to save a few bucks.
  • Reply 12 of 56
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by karmadave View Post



    The Dell XPS 15 is similar in price, performance, and screen resolution. Like Apple, Dell's XPS 15 also carries a hefty price tag for a discrete GPU. Of course, the biggest advantage, of the rMBP 15 is Mavericks vs. the absolutely horrid Windows 8...

    And build quality. And trackpad. And battery life. And as a whole.

  • Reply 13 of 56
    hmmhmm Posts: 3,405member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by indiekiduk View Post



    The weight difference is negligible, I held it in the store yesterday and it's still a total brick.

     

    It's perfectly portable. It just doesn't fit in your pocket like a phone. I pick it up with one hand. You didn't have anything logical to say, so you simply relied on an abstract comparison to construction materials.

  • Reply 14 of 56
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,779member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post



    Con:

     

    • Default configuration doesn't include discrete GPU


     

    There are two standard configurations, and one of them does include a discrete GPU, so this is false.  The cheapest configuration doesn't include a discrete GPU, but whether that's a con or a choice depends on your point of view.

  • Reply 15 of 56
    asciiascii Posts: 5,941member

    Having a discrete GPU or not shouldn't really be a consideration imho. It's what the graphics performance is that matters, and whether it's build in to the CPU or a separate unit, who cares.

  • Reply 16 of 56
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by [email protected] View Post



    Damn, I only have the first gen rMBP 15! But somehow this little beast runs circles around my 3 y/o FULLY LOADED workstation Macs. Totally 5 stars!

    Agreed! What a beautiful machine. Apple has really mastered the art of making laptops. The MBA line for max mobility and the MBP line for power.

     

    Alas, too much machine and power for me. I would be content with an 11" MBA. Maybe in the spring! :)

  • Reply 17 of 56
    nhtnht Posts: 4,429member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mdriftmeyer View Post

     

    It most certainly is a valid Con.

     

    Guess what, 2014 brings a bullet to Intel with the Excavator APU from AMD. The new Kaveri coming out stomps Haswell into the ground with GPGPU processing [OpenCL?] and the gap between Integer/FP has been closed. Excavator comes out Fall of 2014, at the latest and it stomps all over its own brethren, Kaveri at 20nm/16nm FinFET.

     

    Sorry, but Intel has no answer to the APU world.


     

    Given that Kaveri isn't shipping in real products until next year there's nothing to answer at the moment.  And GP/GPU performance is not everything.  The expectation is that Kaveri will otherwise be on par with an i5.  Given that Kaveri has effectively slipped from 2013 to 2014 there's no certainly when Excavator will show up even as a paper launch.

     

    HSA's success is not guaranteed even with ARM on board.  They have qualcomm but not, surprisingly, Apple who's big into OpenCL.  I doubt they didn't ask Apple so either Apple declined to not piss off Intel or they simply prefer to wait and see.

     

    "We’re expecting a healthy increase in graphics performance with Kaveri, but we don’t know just how fast it will be right now. However, AMD stated that Kaveri will be shipping in 2013 (though perhaps only in small quantities), which means we’ll be able to see just how well Kaveri stacks up against Intel’s latest in the next month or two.

    Update: AMD sent along an official statement (which they've issued previously) on Kaveri availability: "AMD's ‘Kaveri’ high-performance APU remains on track and will start shipping to customers in Q4 2013, with first public availability in the desktop component channel very early in Q1 2014. ‘Kaveri’ features up to four ‘Steamroller’ x86 cores, major heterogeneous computing enhancements, and a discrete-level Graphics Core Next (GCN) implementation – AMD’s first high-performance APU to offer GCN. ‘Kaveri’ will be initially offered in the FM2+ package for desktop PCs. Mobile ‘Kaveri’ products will be available later in the first half of 2014."If we read "customers" as the large OEMs that make desktops, then we may or may not have actual Kaveri hardware in hand for testing this year, but we'll wait and see."

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/7466/amd-news-a106790k-1311-beta6-drivers-fm2-motherboards-kaveri

  • Reply 18 of 56

    Alert:  Battery life on this machine is substantially less than what Apple claims.

     

    I purchased one of these a week ago and although the laptop is incredibly fast, is designed beautifully, and is an absolute pleasure to use, the battery life is about half of what they claim when I'm using Safari and Mail with the monitor at about 70% brightness.  I actually returned the first laptop I got due to this issue and after 2 extended calls with tech support where they looked in detail with me at activity monitor and ran a whole bunch of trouble shooting.  I've tried disconnected things like Box and Bluetooth.  Obviously, I need to have wi-fi on.  The new replacement computer has a bit of a better battery life, but is still around 4.5 hours tops.

     

    The model I got has 2.3 Ghz Intel Core i7 with 16 GB of RAM.  Does anyone have any suggestions?

     

    Hardware Overview:

      Model Name:    MacBook Pro

      Model Identifier:    MacBookPro11,3

      Processor Name:    Intel Core i7

      Processor Speed:    2.3 GHz

      Number of Processors:    1

      Total Number of Cores:    4

      L2 Cache (per Core):    256 KB

      L3 Cache:    6 MB

      Memory:    16 GB

      SMC Version (system):    2.19f3

  • Reply 19 of 56
    akqiesakqies Posts: 768member
    ruzzell wrote: »
    Alert:  Battery life on this machine is substantially less than what Apple claims.

    I purchased one of these a week ago and although the laptop is incredibly fast, is designed beautifully, and is an absolute pleasure to use, the battery life is about half of what they claim when I'm using Safari and Mail with the monitor at about 70% brightness.  I actually returned the first laptop I got due to this issue and after 2 extended calls with tech support where they looked in detail with me at activity monitor and ran a whole bunch of trouble shooting.  I've tried disconnected things like Box and Bluetooth.  Obviously, I need to have wi-fi on.  The new replacement computer has a bit of a better battery life, but is still around 4.5 hours tops.

    The model I got has 2.3 Ghz Intel Core i7 with 16 GB of RAM.  Does anyone have any suggestions?

    You do know it's based on usage, right? Saying you only have Mail and Safari running is probably not true. You probably installed a bunch of 3rd-party services, including Adobe Flash.
  • Reply 20 of 56

    Thanks for your reply.  I'm not running third party services as I disconnected Box.  I am not using much flash.  I mainly read articles and have on-going corresp. for my business via email.  There are minimal resources being used according to the activity monitor.   Right now while typing this, it shows there is 54% battery left and 2:16 minutes (and I turned my monitor to about 65% brightness).  On another note, the original computer was run through Apple diagnostics and it showed the battery was perfectly healthy.  I assume the same to be true for this replacement machine.  Therefore, my conclusion is that the battery life is not nearly close to what Apple claims.

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