- Review Date: 10/29/2013
- Bottom line: With an updated Intel processor and speedier Flash Storage, the MacBook Pro 15-inch (2013) leapfrogs over the competition with workstation-class performance and a nine-hour battery life. It's our new Editors' Choice for high-end desktop replacement laptops.
- Pros: Brilliant Retina Display. Almost nine hours of battery life. Comes with iLife and iWork software suites. Two Thunderbolt 2 ports. HDMI. Higher than 1080p HD screen. Intel Iris Pro graphics performs like discrete GPUs.
- Cons: Glossy screen. Ethernet requires adapter.
The Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (2013) ($1,999 list) is the Retina Display-equipped system that power users have been waiting for. Take last year's excellent Retina Display upgrade and thinner chassis, then add a powerful Intel Core i7 processor with integrated graphics that performs like discrete graphics, and what do you get? It's the pinnacle of laptops designed for über-picky power users who need to take their time-sensitive projects with them. It's our latest Edtiors' Choice winner for Desktop Replacement laptops, and one of the highest scoring systems ever.
Design and Features
The new MacBook Pro 15-inch looks identical to the previous Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Retina Display), and it's no wonder, since last year's model was a new design. The 2013 model has the same aluminum and glass construction, the same 15.4-inch, 2,880-by-1,800 resolution IPS display, and the same chiclet-style backlit keyboard. The MacBook Pro 15-inch has a pair of speaker grills flanking the keyboard. Aesthetically, it is a more balanced design, though number crunchers may miss not having a keypad for spreadsheet data entry. The sides of the chassis are vented to let air flow through the base of the laptop, cooling the processor and batteries. The large multi-touch trackpad is centrally located and responds instantly to commands. The keyboard is as comfortable to type on as previous models, is solid, and is evenly backlit.
The MacBook Pro 15-inch (2013) carries over the previous model's excellent Retina display. The screen isn't touch enabled, but then again OS X isn't optimized for touch, so you'll hardly miss it. Many more apps are updated to take advantage of the Retina display than last year, so you'll only run into blocky looking UI elements if you use a really old version of a program. The system's 2,880-by-1,800 screen was novel last year, but has been joined in larger than 1080p resolution by other systems like the Toshiba KIRABook with its 2,560 by 1,440 resolution screen, upgraded configurations of the Sony VAIO Flip 15
The 2,880 by 1,800 resolution screen on the MacBook Pro 15-inch (2013) is physically larger than the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (15.4 inches vs. 13.3 inches, respectively), which explains the MacBook's larger overall dimensions. The MacBook Pro 15-inch (2013) supports up to 4,096 by 2,160 resolution on an external display via HDMI. About the only nit we have with the Retina Display is that it doesn't have a matte finish option, which went away when Apple recently discontinued the previous generation of MacBook Pro 15-inch models.
The system's fourth-generation Intel Core i7-4750HQ processor with Intel Iris Pro 5200 graphics is an improvement over last year's model with a third-generation Core i7-3615QM processor, as you can see below in the performance section. The system's 256GB of Flash storage is now PCIe-based instead of SATA-based, which helps speed file transfer and app loading operations. On the exterior, the system has HDMI, USB 3.0, and the SD card reader on the right, with another USB 3.0 port, MagSafe 2 connector, headset, and two Thunderbolt 2 ports. Thunderbolt 2 supports a higher 20Gbps of bandwidth than the 10Gbps Thunderbolt ports that have appeared on Macs since early 2011. Thunderbolt devices are fully compatible with the Thunderbolt 2 port, but it remains to be seen how quickly users and device manufacturers adopt Thunderbolt 2 when the selection of regular Thunderbolt products is still somewhat limited. As in the past, the Thunderbolt 2 ports can be used for either Thunderbolt or mini-DisplayPort monitors. The system comes with 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking, but you'll have to use a USB to Ethernet adapter or some Thunderbolt-based docking station to get wired Ethernet connectivity.
One of the big news stories from October's Apple event was the inclusion of the updated Apple iLife and Apple iWork software suites along with Apple OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Apple's updated operating system for Macs. This means that you can use the MacBook Pro 15-inch (2013) right off the bat with fully functional business, content creation, and entertainment software suites. This flies in the face of systems that come with Microsoft's Windows 8 and 8.1 OS, which don't include Office, unless you count the time-limited trial you get with every new PC. The other additions to OS X 10.9 Mavericks work well, so does the built in 720p FaceTime HD camera. Like the latest crop of Apple MacBook Air
The Intel Core i7-4750HQ processor has Intel Iris Pro 5200 graphics built in. This quad-core processor is speedy and energy efficient, shown by the system's class-leading Photoshop CS6 test (3 minutes 14 seconds) and its class-leading battery life (8 hours 52 minutes). The slightly larger and heavier Vizio 15.6-Inch Thin + Light (CT15T-B1) comes close on the battery test at 8:40, but it has a more common 1080p resolution screen and is slower on Photoshop and 3D tests. Other systems in this price category like the Toshiba Kirabook are hours short on battery life and are left behind on the multimedia benchmark tests.
What's notable about the Iris Pro graphics is that the new MacBook Pro 15-inch (2013) is able to almost match last year's MacBook Pro 15-inch (Retina Display) on the Heaven 3D gaming test (42 fps vs 45 fps, medium quality), even though last year's model has discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics. This means that for light to moderate gaming, the Iris Pro 5200 is more than adequate. The new PCIe-based Flash storage was quick on booting up, installs, file operations, and launching apps.
The Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (2013) earns its title as one of the best high-end desktop replacement laptops you can buy. It has the power of a desktop Mac, and the battery life to carry you through a full workday and beyond. The screen resolution is higher than most all-in-one desktop PCs and desktop replacement laptops. The MacBook Pro 15-inch compares well to laptops ranging in price from $1,400 to high powered systems that run over $2,700. Systems like the Toshiba Kirabook and the Razer Blade (2013) come in at about the same $2,000 price point ad the MacBook Pro 15-inch. The Kirabook has a higher than 1080p resolution screen too, but has a physically smaller screen, lasts three hours less on our battery life test, and lags on the other performance benchmark tests. The Razer Blade is more of a gaming system with a lower 1,600 by 900 resolution screen than the MacBook Pro. The competitively priced Asus ZenBook UX51Vz-DH71 puts up a good fight, but it's limited to 1080p HD and has less than half the battery life. Upcoming professional-grade Windows mobile workstations have the potential to challenge the MacBook Pro in thinness, screen resolution, and performance, but right now the new MacBook Pro 15-inch (2013) is the one to beat. It's a worthy successor to last year's MacBook Pro 15-inch (Retina Display) and is our newest Editors' Choice for high-end desktop replacement laptops.