rMBP to take everywhere - 15" too bulky?

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by AJP123, Nov 10, 2013.

  1. AJP123 macrumors newbie

    Dec 8, 2011
    Good afternoon,

    (For those that don't want to read the detail, my main question is: Is a 15" rMBP too bulky to comfortably take with me everywhere?)

    My current laptop (a 2.3kg, 14" Windows laptop) is dying, and I start Masters (in Statistics) in two-and-a-half weeks. Since everyone in the School of Mathematical Sciences uses Macs, I thought I'd buy one myself (so I can use the same software as my supervisors, etc). I'll be taking it with me nearly everywhere, including to and from uni, even though I won't be using it at uni that much because I'll have my own iMac to use at uni for Masters. I'll also be using it at home as a "desktop replacement," using one or two external monitors with it.

    I chatted to one of my supervisors about my upcoming purchase, and he said that his Macbook Air (mid 2013) is fast enough everything we'll be doing for the project. However, I realise that buying a Mac is an investment, and I want to make it future-proof. Consequently, I'm leaning towards a 13" rMBP with 512GB SSD, 16GB RAM and i7-4558U 2.8GHz CPU, for portability as well as having decent grunt, the ability to run virtual machines and dual-boot (in case I need to use something Windows-based). However, I keep seeing comments essentially saying, "don't bother getting a max spec 13" rMBP, get a low or mid-range 15" rMBP instead as better value for money." This makes sense, as the 15" rMBP is far better at multi-core processing, having quad-core processors compared to the dual-cores of the 13". Also, it's not like the 15" rMBP is a 5kg Alienware brick - it's only 2kg, 300g lighter than my Windows machine.

    What's my concern, then? Purely the footprint and bulk of the 15". On planes, in cars, at cafes, etc, I'd much rather a 13" laptop. But I'm worried I'll regret not having a quad-core processor in the future - I'm keen to digitize my DVD collection soon, and video encoding will be a lot quicker on a quad-core processor. Or is my future self just being impatient?

    Thanks guys,
  2. sonyisawesome macrumors regular

    Jul 24, 2012
    I'm a guy who is used to carrying around one of those infamous alienware 15" laptop, that weighs about same as old generation ps3. 15" mbp is like nothing.
  3. AJP123 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 8, 2011
    It's not really the weight I'm worried about - my current laptop is 2.3kg, and I'm okay with carrying that around everywhere (along with a charger and a bunch of cables). It's more the size and bulkiness of it compared to the 13", and how comfortable it will be to use when out and about (cafes, planes, cars, buses, etc.)
  4. dacreativeguy macrumors 68020

    Jan 27, 2007
    It is definitely not an investment (it will depreciate immediately) and you can't make it future proof (there will always be something better down the line). It is simply a tool to be used until it no longer meets your needs. Figure out what those needs are, and then buy the appropriate model.
  5. john123 macrumors 68020


    Jul 20, 2001
    Posts like this drive me kind of batty. Just because it will depreciate does not mean it will do so with a constant slope. Just because the future will change does not mean it's impossible to make educated decisions to slow the rate at which you get behind the curve. Thinking otherwise is, in a word, naïve.
  6. nateo200 macrumors 68030


    Feb 4, 2009
    Northern District NY
    I carry my 15" rMBP EVERYWHERE and its not bulky...then again my back is very well defined fro 5+ years of rowing...point being its not bulky by my standards and I see plenty of 15" users running around happy.
  7. Scott7975 macrumors 6502

    Oct 18, 2013
    I take mine everywhere. I don't do plane rides though. It's not bulky to me.
  8. AJP123, Nov 10, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2013

    AJP123 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 8, 2011
    Perhaps I used those words imprecisely. My first point was, more precisely, that I'd rather spend an extra $500 or $1000 and the laptop last me an extra year or two. Or to put it differently, I'd rather pay $3000 for a laptop that lasts me four years, than $2000 for a laptop that lasts me two years. My second point was that I want my laptop to be able to serve me well not just now, but for the next three years (at least).

    Fair enough, although I do admit, I'm not a rower. Could do a 4 minute km over 2km once, but I'd struggle now... Oh joy :rolleyes:. Thanks for the feedback :).

    Fair enough, thanks for the feedback :).
  9. Essenar macrumors 6502a

    Oct 24, 2008
    I think I'm the perfect person to address your concerns because:
    I moved from a 13" Classic to a 15" Retina.

    I LOVE IT.

    The 15" Retina is very thin, it's thinner than my 13" Classic. It's also as light which gives it more of a '15 inch iPad' feeling than it does like a laptop. I take it with me everywhere so far the last few days and I haven't even noticed it compared to my 13" Classic. It feels almost the same, but when I open it up I am blown away by the display, real estate and quality of the experience.

    It feels like a 'real' Pro.

    Also, battery life: This thing has battery life for days. Literally. I charged it yesterday and I'm sitting at 45% after a day of work at a cafe without outlets. I was connected to Wifi the whole time and typed up a document, watched videos on YouTube, played music, looked at PDF's, browsed forums. After 6 or 7 hours, I have 45% and I'm barely plugging it in now.

    One thing that makes me feel weird is knowing I have a $2000 laptop in my backpack. I feel more self conscious about leaving it at a table or turning my eyes away for even a second. A $500 or $700 machine wouldn't feel like much of a loss but if this got stolen, my heart would stop. Also keep in mind that it's deceiving because it's wider and taller but it's thinner than a 13". Despite the fact that it doesn't FEEL bulky, on a lecture hall desk it definitely IS more bulky.

    I would say that I miss having a tablet more because I have a 15" laptop now. But if you don't constantly have people behind you overlooking your shoulders then it's definitely not noticeably bulkier.

    I do have a backpack instead of a laptop bag/sleeve so that affects my thoughts as well. It fits snug into the Swiss backpack I have. I would say that if you have a regular laptop bag you will notice the size a lot more. But hanging from your back, it feels just like an ultrabook. I think of the Retina Macbook Pro 15" as a 15" Ultra Air or something. It's a beefy, powerful but yet nimble 15" laptop.
  10. Tears Apart macrumors 6502a

    Tears Apart

    Jun 10, 2009
    Outside Closer
    This is SO subjective.

    When I had a 15'', I thought it was light.

    Then I had a MBA 11'', and the 15'' felt like IMPOSSIBLE to carry around.

    I am about to receive my rMPB 13''. I reckon that is the sweet spot for me.

    If only it came with discrete...
  11. hexblot macrumors member

    Sep 9, 2011
    For stsarters: I own a 2008 MBA RevA (home machine, which still works admirably), and use daily a late 2013 MBA for work (client appointments, presentations, meetings and such - very mobile usage). I did use a 15" 2012 rMBP for a (short!) while.

    Portability is the strong suit of the 13" models, and ESPECIALLY the MBA line. I wouldn't go for a 15" screen if you need to carry it around - the additional power you get isn't worth it in the use case you describe, it's mostly graphics power. I haven't used the 11" much, (I was given one to try out) but I simply cannot go that low, I need the extra space.

    Spec-wise, the late 2013 MBAs won't let you down for the time frame you mention - they do chug a good amount of power, and are nearly unnoticeable in terms of weight / bulk among the other things you'll carry. It's very hard to explain how much power they have!

    The retina display is something you simply must have a look at. Go at a store, and look at the 13" rMBP screen. Then the MBA screen. If you feel the difference isn't that much (which would mean that you aren't spoiled yet :) ) opt for the MBA. The i7/8/256 combo will definitely serve well for 2-3 years, and it's the best machine I've used for close spaces (airplane, long bus, etc) and the battery life is phenomenal.

    If, on the other hand, you just love that retina screen, go for the i7/8/256 rMBP. 16 gigs or RAM don't make much sense, even for future-proofing (unless you're into VMs or something equally memory-consuming). And 256 is faster than the 128, and makes a difference if this is the machine you mostly use. In my case (I don't have media on-disk such as music, movies), 256Gb is more than enough storage - I currently use little over 40G total.

    I hope this helps a bit :)
  12. kittencounter macrumors member

    Mar 22, 2013
    It's so easy to decide. If you have to do some "serious" works on the machine you don't have other choice than buy the right Macbook that is up to the tasks. Not everyone do creative writing, social media related and presentations only type of works.
  13. AJP123 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 8, 2011
    Sweet, thanks heaps for the feedback :). I keep thinking to myself, 'I'd prefer the extra portability of the 13" rMBP compared to the extra power of the of the 15",' which makes me swing towards the 13". But then I think to myself, 'Is the 15" really that much less portable than the 13" rMBP?" which makes me swing back to a neutral position - the 15" is lighter than my current laptop, albeit with a slightly bigger footprint, and I take my current laptop with me everywhere. Almost literally :rolleyes:.

    Ah, the joys of subjective measurements... :rolleyes:. If only the 13" rMBP came with a quad-core processor... That would be my perfect cup of tea.

    Thanks heaps for your help. Having frequented the local Apple store numerous times in the last week, mostly to feel the difference between the 13" and 15" rMBPs, I absolutely love the retina display on the rMBP, and the weight difference between the 13" MBA and 13" rMBP is pretty small.

    Good point about the 13" rMBP vs. the 15" rMBP - the 13" is more powerful, and I won't use the extra power of the 15" rMBP very often. However, given I'm thinking about dual-booting and/or virtual machining Windows and/or Linux on this machine, I can't help but go 512GB SSD and 16GB RAM - money isn't an issue for me.

    Hope that makes sense :)

    I might do some "serious" work on the machine, such as a little bit of video encoding or gaming, but, to be honest, I probably wouldn't utilise the extra power of the 15" rMBP that much. However, is it worth the slight drop in portability and battery life compared to the 13" rMBP? That's the million-dollar question for me.

    Any other advice very welcome - I'd love to make a decision in the next day or two, but I'm 50-50 at the moment.
  14. stayley macrumors member

    Oct 1, 2013
    A little bit of video encoding or gaming is not serious work... I really doubt the extra performance of the 15" would affect you in any way. In fact, given what you said, the choice would be obvious for me.

    The relief I feel now that I have the MBA instead of a 14" Windows laptop (sounds familiar? :) ) is just amazing. I walk around with this thing all the time and I absolutely can't imagine getting a 15", it's just not a mobile laptop. It is a "mobile" workstation, but it just doesn't seem to me like you need one.

    You can always make a case for buying the most powerful thing out there, even just to make yourself feel better (oh my I'm so "pro"), but the trade-off here is so obvious that getting a maxed out rMBP is just silly in this case. You'll appreciate the weight and size of the 13" much more than the obsolete power you have idle. I'm pretty sure that it can easily last you 3-4 years, unless you get caught up in getting the latest and greatest for no apparent reason :)

    To be honest, I think that your supervisor was right and you would easily get a few years out of an MBA. I do understand that the retina screen is a major factor for some, so if you feel this way then do go ahead. The 15" would be an overkill imho and just wouldn't fit your usage well.
  15. thundersteele macrumors 68030

    Oct 19, 2011
    So, this is exactly the problem. With a 13'' you can use a smaller backpack/bag, use less space on a coffee table, in a train, and there is some hope of using it on an economy class flight. Add the longer battery life (so you don't have to carry the charger!!!), and the 13'' seems like the perfect and obvious choice.

    It is not so clear whether not having a quad core is a big deal. It is certainly nice to have on my 15'' MBP, but it is not so often that I actually benefit from having it.

    You mention digitizing your DVD collection. In principle this is a one time task, so you could borrow a machine that does it faster. Or you run it over night, so it doesn't matter whether it finishes at 3am or at 6am. Also do you plan to store the movies on the Mac?

    Almost forgot the main point: Screen space. I downsized from 17'' to 15'' some time ago. I miss the extra space. It will be the same going to an even smaller screen for me, and I'm not sure I like that. Otherwise I might have already bought one of the new 13'' rMBPs.
  16. AJP123 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 8, 2011
    I definitely, definitely see your point :). I'm actually thinking that I won't need to take it with me to uni, as I'll have the iMac provided for me. Thus my primary fear in purchasing the 13" is that I won't actually *need* the extra portability it provides over the 15". Then the extra screen and power would be handy, but by no means necessary or even needed. Perhaps an irrational fear?

    I also realised that I've backtracked on my original plan of having the laptop as a take-everywhere laptop - ah, the joys of trying to figure out what you'll use the laptop for when you'll soon get your own computer provided for you at uni.
  17. pscl, Nov 13, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2013

    pscl macrumors 6502

    Jun 3, 2013
    i had the same decision to make few days ago.

    i was going for 13" maxed out (around 2000€)

    but then i realized that i get DOUBLED performance and a dgpu for only 370€ more.

    till then i used an 13" mba on the go (work, university)

    well the formfactor of the 13" rmbp is nice, yes... but no dgpu, no quadcore, no pro?!
    the 15" is very well portable in comparison to any "old fashion" 15" Notebooks.

    now i bought the 15" with dgpu and i take him with me all day (university, work). i DO notice a difference in weight and size (coming from mba). but like i said: it is not that heavy and big then other 15" Laptops and it has so much more power then any other 13" laptop.
    well, im not the original power user, sometimes i play games, do office stuff and photoshop. but for me, its nice to know that i have much horsepower to do almost every task or play most games (at least in mid gfx settings).

    and every time i open the lid... well.. hello shiny, bright (NON YELLOW) retina display... it was the best decision :)

    go pro. go 15".

    p.s. excuse my (bad) english
  18. czerney macrumors regular

    Mar 14, 2009
    Great thread. I'm in a slight dilemma for many reasons of portability and power between the two much like the OP.

    What makes it more complex is the fact that I actually have a late 2013 15" rMBP with the i72.3/16Gb/512Gb/dGPU sitting on the desk still in shrink wrap. I'm debating whether to crack it open and keep it or onsell it. I bought it from a person for $AU2200 (RRP is $AU3199) because they had received it as a gift and didn't want it.

    Now I'm trying to figure out whether to keep it or onsell for profit and buy a 13" mbp instead.
  19. pscl macrumors 6502

    Jun 3, 2013
    im so with you! in any case! :D
    especially the "oh my god, did i locked the car, my 2k€ baby is in the trunk"-feeling
  20. empireofpassion, Nov 13, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2013

    empireofpassion macrumors newbie

    Nov 13, 2013
    Hello AJP123,

    I am exactly in a similar situation as you: need to replace my laptop which died and want to use the next one as long as possible. To be used for everyday activities + from time to time some more beefy jobs. Hence would like to have a little extra power, but not necessarily the horsepower of a quad-core. I have experience with several screen sizes and can't decide yet between the 13" and 15". However, based on previous experience and seeing the price of external displays, I am inclined to go for the 13" and save the price difference between the 13" and 15" for an extra display at home.

    My screen experience: I started my PhD with a 15" low-category laptop. After a while it was not powerful enough and I moved to a 17" HP, a very powerful (quad core i7) expensive business machine that met my computation requirements for the PhD (Matlab/Simulink) but which was also extremely bulky. It was essentially a "mobile" workstation, not great for travel. Then the HP died by accident (water spilling on the keyboard on the day before the PhD defence), and I did not need the processing power and screen size any more, only had to do administrative tasks and browsing, and bought a cheap Asus 10" netbook. Portability was of course extremely great, long battery life at that time, but it was a wrong purchase decision, it behaved soon very slow (Atom processor) and the small 10" screen was awful to work with. Now the Asus has died on its own.

    My current needs are: some photo/movie editing (but as an amateur, not a pro), administrative tasks (text, presentations, spreadsheet), browsing. Travelling from time to time but mostly with the car and occasionally by plane. Would love to be able to have the laptop with me on the way as often as possible on a daily basis.

    I have read many reviews and I went to an Apple store to feel the 13" vs. 15". If I take the 13", I would max it to the i7 for reasons I explain below.

    Now my thoughts/conclusions:

    - in terms of processing power, I have the impression that a 13" with i7 is a good trade-off between portability and upper range processing power needed for casual image/video editing or mathematical computations. A quad core makes sense for really heavy continuous computations that can be made in parallel (remember Amdahl's law, it is the sequential part of a process that limits overall performance in a parallel system). That could be the case for video editing but not necessarily for your mathematical computations which can possibly not be parallelized. Besides, most of the normal time, a CPU stays idle and only does something as a result of you typing on the keyboard or watching as video. Hence I tend to consider with specific attention the performance of a single core and not just the total performance of the chip. If you check the performance of a single core itself, one core of the i7 of the 13" is actually faster than the one core of the baseline 15". See


    perf of one core:
    MacBook Pro (15-inch Retina Late 2013)
    Intel Core i7-4960HQ 2600 MHz (4 cores)
    => 3707

    MacBook Pro (15-inch Retina Late 2013)
    Intel Core i7-4850HQ 2300 MHz (4 cores)
    => 3447

    MacBook Pro (13-inch Retina Late 2013)
    Intel Core i7-4558U 2800 MHz (2 cores)
    => 3299

    MacBook Pro (13-inch Retina Late 2013)
    Intel Core i5-4288U 2600 MHz (2 cores)
    => 3103

    MacBook Pro (15-inch Retina Late 2013)
    Intel Core i7-4750HQ 2000 MHz (4 cores)
    => 3099

    Now of course if the application can benefit from multitasking and split the workload, the the quad core performs better. But it is good to keep an eye at the numbers above.

    - screen: I found the 15" in the shop indeed bulky. For sure great screen real-estate, but you need a good backpack to carry it. Not a weight problem, but question of length/depth. On the positive side, the native retina resolution, which gives you best experience, is great (1440x900). I am bit afraid that on the 13" the optimal resolution (1280x800, where 2x2 physical pixels correspond to one resolution pixel) does not give you much room. I found in the shop that the adapted resolution of 1440x900 looked best on the 13" in terms of screen real-estate, but then I have read complains about increased blurriness. From the little time spent with the machine, I could not find this was that visible or critical, but OK my testing conditions were also not optimal. Then I also made some research on external displays, and found that the NEX EA244WMi offers great performance for a reasonable price of about 350 USD, see


    This makes me really lean towards a maxed 13" (i7/16GB/512 or even 1TB SSD) and save the extra money required for a 15" to buy an external display at home, to do at home any specific photo/video editing which I would certainly not do on the road.

    As to RAM and SSD, 8GB would most probably be more than enough but RAM cannot be upgraded later and that looks like a bottleneck/risk to me if I want to be future proof and use hopefully the laptop for more than 3-4 years. Hence 16GB. SSD can be upgraded but sorry I just prefer not to bother later about it. I am not much into fast buy/replace cycles, and besides the CPU performance does not increase now as much as in the past, the limits of Moore's Law (which is an empirical law, not like Amdahl's Law) appear to be reached.

    Bottom line:
    Each time I read a great review about the 15" (screen, power, loudspeakers etc.) I consider it as my choice, but then when I see it in the shop next to the 13", I come back to my scenario maxed 13" for portability + external display for the work at home, with quite decent CPU on the 13" to support the job. As I don't do games, I don't care about the dGPU of the upper 15" or the marginal (20%) gain or perf with the IrisPro on the baseline 15".

    Hope this may help you in your decision... Good luck!
  21. ElliottG macrumors member

    Sep 19, 2013
    Personally I think the 15" is huge and the 13" is perfect but that all depends on your personal tastes and what you plan to do with it.
  22. pscl macrumors 6502

    Jun 3, 2013
    only one point:

    if u max out the 13" you are at 2200$? well... add another 350€ and u get doubled performance and a dgpu.
  23. empireofpassion, Nov 13, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2013

    empireofpassion macrumors newbie

    Nov 13, 2013
    good point indeed

    13" i7 2.8GHz/16GB/1TB 2729 EUR
    15" i7 2.3GHz/16GB/1TB/dGPU 3129 EUR

    but as I said question is whether
    - I would spend the 400 EUR to have a bigger screen available when I am on the way, "double" performance (if an application can use all the cores in parallel, which I doubt), 1h less battery life, and rely on the good decisions of the system to decide when he wants to use the dGPU or the IrisPro,
    - save 400 EUR for a solution that is more portable but less powerful (at least on paper, I am really wondering whether experience with a dual core i7 is really that bad) and spend it on an external display at home.

    For the needs I described, the point of "if you get the dGPU almost for free, why not" does not convince me extremely. In the end, it boils down to: what do you want to do with the machine and where.

    BTW, similar discussion (and comment about quad-core vs. dual-core) in this thread: http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1670533
  24. pscl macrumors 6502

    Jun 3, 2013

    well i had exact the same descision to make few days ago.

    the 15" is just a way better value for your money. i mean, dude... we are spending 2000+ $/€ for a Laptop!!! some may call that insane!

    and if i spend this much money (for the next 3 years), i want best value for every single $.

    and again, he 15" IS VERY PORTABLE especially in relation to the power under the hood.
  25. phsphoenix macrumors member

    Oct 14, 2013
    Personally I don't see very much value in some of the power 13" rmbp options. I tried configuring the 13" to 2.6/16/512 and I was very close to the top stock configuration for the 15" rmbp. I paid the difference and I got two more cores and a gpu to show for it, as well as the ability to run at 1900x1200 without having to squint my eyes.

    Also, if you're going into engineering/computer science, you'll want those two extra cores. I can max this 15" rmbp quite easily. I just run 2-3 virtual machines, and when doing networking labs I need at least that many to actually verify that my setup works.


    Only 2000? You mean you didn't get the optional gold backplate? :p </joke>

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