The Community-Driven Buyers Guide to the (Retina) MacBook Pro!

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by LoMonkey, Nov 1, 2013.

  1. LoMonkey, Nov 1, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2013

    LoMonkey macrumors regular

    Jul 4, 2008
    Ok, so there have been a ton (seriously, if we printed them all out, it would probably weigh that much) of threads asking this simple, yet so difficult question. I am here today, hopefully with help from the community, to create an end-all guide to buying a MacBook Pro.

    My aim here is to list common programs and usages along side the recommended configurations; kind of a real-world scenario type thing. This will be a community driven guide, where people will post their programs and usage styles along with their configurations. I will frequently update this post with new recommendations. Together, we can create an informative guide to a difficult (and expensive) decision. I know I am not a heavy poster in this forum, but I have been lurking for quite a while, and I, myself have been struggling with this decision.

    For organization, the guide will be will be listed in order of lowest to highest budget and divided into categories: Casual, Heavy, and Power. I will mainly recommend Haswell MBPs, as they are the newest, but if anyone sees a situation where an older model is available and suitable, feel free to post it! Also, feel free to post questions here for others to answer, and I'll add them to the list!

    Please note: No one can tell you how much storage space you will need. You will have to decide that on your own. If you need more storage space and can afford the upgrade, then do it. If not, there are PLENTY of first and third party accessories that offer external storage.

    Also, if you need an Optical Disk Drive, you have two options: Buy an external ODD (:apple:SuperDrive, Amazon, etc.), or buy the Classic MacBook Pro (non-Retina) in either 13" (available New or Refurbished) or 15" (only Refurbished) from Apple.

    All prices are quoted with lowest SSD chosen.
    Assume Dual Core i5 for 13" (2.8GHz = i7), Quad Core i7 for 15"
    Since the list is in order of power as well as price, please assume the computers lower down the list can (most likely) do all that is listed above.

    The casual user is one who needs a computer only for surfing the web, email, word processing, watching "insert streaming video service here"/movie files, light/casual gaming, and/or maybe some light video/music/photo editing.

    • Super light and portable, super long battery, retina screen is not important, word processing.
      - MacBook Air (any configuration) from $999​
    • A nice screen, but speed isn't really an issue.
      - Retina MacBook Pro 13" base model $1299​
    • To do some gaming, but nothing too graphic intense. Also maybe some photo/video editing. Light VM use.
      - Retina MacBook Pro 13" 2.4GHz, 8GB RAM from $1399​
    • Portability, but still need power for Photoshop, Aperture, iMovie, AutoCAD, etc.; Heavy VM use. Future-proof
      - Retina MacBook Pro 13" 2.6GHz, 16GB RAM from $1699​

    The power user needs power for moderate use of (advanced) programs, deals with large files, and may even need more screen real estate. This can be small professionals, students in mathematical schooling that requires intensive programs, and/or graduate programs.

    • Portable workhorse. Need for school in Engineering, Architectural, Computer Science, etc.
      - Retina MacBook Pro 13" 2.8GHz, 16GB RAM from $1899​
    • Larger screen real-estate. Perhaps as a desktop replacement. Powerful CPU, but not top of the line. Good amount of photo/video/audio editing. Some newer, but not extremely graphic-intensive games.All Office programs.
      - Retina MacBook Pro 15" base model $1999​

    The power user needs to process large video files, run top of the line photo/video/audio editing software. Works in a job that uses AutoCAD or similar programs extensively, works with 3D programs, etc.

    • Powerful and portable workhorse. Loves the form factor of 13", but still needs a powerful machine for work/school/play, up to maxed out SSD speeds.
      - Retina MacBook Pro 13" 2.8GHz, 16GB RAM, 512GB to 1TB SSD from $2199 to $2699 (Thanks, Macshroomer)
    • Powerful workhorse. Need for job in Engineering, Architectural, Computer Science, etc. OR Mac enthusiast. Like to have power, but don't need extreme.
      - Retina MacBook Pro 15" 2.3GHz, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, GT 750m from $2599​
    • Top of the line, maxed out everything. Need the best of the best.
      - Retina MacBook Pro 15" 2.6GHz, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD (1TB for faster speeds), GT 750m from $2799​

    Ok, so that's my list to start. Please, post below with your own configurations and reasons, as well as ask questions for others to answer. Even if your configuration is the same, but needs are different, post them! I'll add them in the list as well!

    Feedback and criticism welcome.

    Thanks for reading!

    Last updated: Nov 1, 2013 @ 7:30pm CST
  2. tmiw macrumors 68000

    Jun 26, 2007
    San Diego, CA
    Good start. I think the higher spec 13" models are fine for programming, actually. Especially if you already have an external monitor. I'm currently running my 13" at 1680x1050 full time with no problems. The exception being if you're developing games or anything needing high GPU performance, in which case you definitely need the 15". :)
  3. Macshroomer, Nov 1, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2013

    Macshroomer macrumors 65816


    Dec 6, 2009
    Me, a power user that does not want the size of a 15" but wants as much packed into the machine as possible, enter the 13" 2.8/16/1TB.

    I just ran a test using my new Envoy Pro SSD 240 as a CS6 Photoshop scratch disk, speeds of 350W / 430R via USB3. It made it to where I could easily enlarge a 16" 300dpi file to fill a 72 dpi 100 foot wide billboard in under three minutes. Everything on this computer is wicked fast and the overall size liability is comically small, I have zero interest in a 15".

    If I need more, I have my MacPro at home...
  4. T-Bob macrumors 6502


    Oct 23, 2013
    You have the spec I ordered. What made you choose them.
  5. phsphoenix macrumors member

    Oct 14, 2013
    I actually went through all of these questions right after the launch. My needs fall squarely into the programming/school/work category, and the 13" 2.6/16GB/512GB would have been fine, if I didn't have to run so many virtual machines. That's why I went for the 15" 2.3/16GB/512GB. Apple doesn't make the choice easier either, since configuring the base model to 16GB/512GB makes it only marginally cheaper than the top stock model, and you lose the 750m.
  6. tmiw macrumors 68000

    Jun 26, 2007
    San Diego, CA
    I came from a 15" non-Retina and although it wasn't heavy by any means, it got annoying to carry around after a couple of hours. Also, I finally got sick enough of the graphics switching turning on the dGPU when it didn't need to to make sure I got a laptop that didn't have a dGPU (gfxCardStatus got gimped by a OSX update at some point, so it wasn't helpful.)
  7. phsphoenix macrumors member

    Oct 14, 2013
    If they had gone with regular quad cores in the 13" this round I would have bought it. We barely get any place for a pad to take notes in a lecture hall, so the small footprint would have been perfect...
  8. tmiw macrumors 68000

    Jun 26, 2007
    San Diego, CA
    Yeah, that part sucked. I don't think it'll be a big deal for me since I never felt CPU limited on my 2010.
  9. phsphoenix macrumors member

    Oct 14, 2013
    My problem is not so much the work per thread, but the lack of threads. I have to run virtual machines to test a lot of things, and one virtual machine usually occupies one full processor thread. 4 virtual machines for 4 threads = constant lockups with other apps. 4 virtual machines on the 8 thread quad core is manageable. The problem then becomes running out of ram.
  10. LoMonkey thread starter macrumors regular

    Jul 4, 2008
    Updated thread with your suggestion, thanks!

    Also, as I have very little (read: none) experience with VM and dual booting, what are the community suggested specs for Virtual Machines and Dual boots?
  11. simon48 macrumors 65816


    Sep 1, 2010
    For VMs, in my experience.

    4GB of RAM = very slow performance for host and guest OSs and switching back and forth is very slow. I don't recommend it at all.

    8GB of RAM = good performance for both as long as both OSs are't doing a lot of power hungry things (especially the guest OS).

    16GB of RAM = really good performance for both, even with a lot going on, very smooth. I can't give a lot of details for 16GB as I haven't had a lot of time with it yet.

    For Boot Camp it really depends on the OS you want to run.
  12. LoMonkey thread starter macrumors regular

    Jul 4, 2008
    Thanks, added.

    And if anyone sees something on the list they don't agree with, let me know! This is a tentative guide!
  13. simon48 macrumors 65816


    Sep 1, 2010
    Got some more good info for you. ;)

    For an ODD I highly recommend this Blu-Ray burner on Amazon, it's cheap, works great and OS X likes it (even DVD Player will play DVDs on it).
  14. ylmzonr, Nov 1, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2013

    ylmzonr macrumors member

    Sep 25, 2013
    Hey, I had the same questions, but now, thanks to your thread, I know what I'm gonna get. I actually describe myself as a casual user who wants 15" screen, I wasn't sure if the base model is enough for me though. Now I know it will be enough. Thanks again!
  15. Bri in Mtl macrumors member

    May 29, 2013
    Quite useful for me.
    Any consideration given for future-proofing in this guide?
    For example, someone keeping their unit for 5 years.
  16. LoMonkey thread starter macrumors regular

    Jul 4, 2008
    I already had a small recommendation for future-proofing, but here's a little more.

    For future-proofing, I would recommend any model with 16GB of RAM. I know a lot of people here say most people won't ever need 16GB RAM, but we don't know what the future holds for apps. 8GB RAM could become the minimum standard in the next 5 years. Plus, with the rMBP, the RAM is soldered on and not user-replaceable. If you can't afford the upgrade, I believe the 8GB RAM is sufficient, but for the best future proofing, go for the 16GB.

    Now, for other stuff, these processors are plenty fast (maybe go for the mid-range on the 15" or i7 on the 13"), but I would at least suggest upgrading to the dGPU model on the 15" While Iris Pro is plenty fast for most, the dGPU is a must, especially if you wish to keep the model for about 5 years. It may only be marginally faster than the overclocked 650m from last gen, it is still faster in certain aspects than the iGPU.
  17. supermansoccer1 macrumors newbie

    Nov 3, 2013
    i know nothing

    Is there a big difference between 2.0 and 2.3 GHz? I might get the entry model, but am not sure if I should upgrade to 2.3. All I really use is safari, mail, garage band and some office works.

    I am upgrading the GB to 532. I just figure if the 2.0 is not acceptable, I will go for the high end model since it already has everything else.

    thanks in advance!
  18. KUguardgrl13 macrumors 68020


    May 16, 2013
    Kansas, USA
    Based on this I would be considered a casual user. Web surfing, word processing, occasional streaming, and iMovie once in a blue moon. No gaming outside of solitaire and some other App Store games.

    I got the 13" 2.4/8/256 to replace my mid-2009 13" 2.26/8/500*. It's a good configuration if you prefer to store locally and plan to keep the machine around for a few years. The price is also very good with the edu discount.

    The MBA would serve my uses, but I really don't like the form factor and how thin it gets. My old MBP was battered enough after 4 years in a backpack.

    *Upgraded RAM from 2gb, and Apple replaced original 160gb HDD.
  19. burgman macrumors 68000


    Sep 24, 2013
    You were doing pretty good until this. Look at current operating systems and how well they utilize memory, this trend isn't finished. In five years the 650 and 750 will be considered old school. Unless your sure you will need it soon, or really need it now, don't waste the money. Future proofing is a term that means nothing in tech at the consumer level.
  20. LoMonkey thread starter macrumors regular

    Jul 4, 2008
    I'm recommending the 16GB RAM if it's affordable, mainly because it's not user replaceable, and needs may change in 5 years. Memory optimization is getting better. But in 4-5 years, memory optimization or not, 8GB of RAM is probably going to be standard, so having more (if there were a 12GB option, I'd recommend that) would be useful.

    And yes, while the 650m and 750m will be considered old school, by your logic, it's not worth buying what's available now because something better is in the pipeline or in a different machine. I have a pre-unibody 08 MBP, and I'm wishing it had some sort of dGPU, even a now obsolete one, just for some kind of graphics bump or at least the ability to watch a 720p flash video without stuttering. It's obvious that one cannot future-proof per say, but I'm pretty sure everyone has a good idea of how tech works and that something made today will be obsolete tomorrow. We use the term more for "what is going to serve me best in 4-5 years?"

    I bought the base model of my computer, and had I just maxed out the RAM on it, I would still be pretty happy with what I have today. I could just upgrade the RAM on it, but now I got a fever, and the only prescription is more rMBP!

    If you're already planning to upgrade to 512GB SSD, and can afford the jump from base to the 2.3GHz/16GB RAM/512GB SSD, I'd say go for it! That's what I plan on doing. I'm not a Power or really even a Heavy user myself, but I prefer the 15" form factor, and want a machine that will last me another 5 years like my current one has.
  21. thomino macrumors newbie

    Nov 13, 2013
    Which macbook is right for me for web design.

    Hi all!
    First of all really good guide gor macbook buyers!

    I am a Windows user and want to do a switch to apple. I do web design for living so i will be using a lot of Photoshop CC, Illustrator, Dreamweaver. Loads of tabs opened at the same time in chrome. Design softwares running at the same time. I will not be doing any video editing.

    I am torn between two rMBP 15''. Should i get the highest model with dedicated graphic card or will the base model with upgrade to 16GB ram be enough for me?

    Also not sure if 256GB SSD would be enough. I would like to use this laptop for next 3-5 years as a desktop replacement.

    I have external monior, and was also wondering if 13'' would be an option. But im leaning more towards 15''.

    Basically if anyone could give me an advice for a spec that would be best for me i would be really happy! Money-wise i can afford the highest 15'' rMBP, but i dont want to spend more, that is really necessary. I just want a machine that will be reliable for some years to come and will run perfectly smoothly. Is the dedicated graphic really important?

    A lot of questions :) im just really torn between all the options and its lot of money so want to invest it correctly :)

    Many thanks for your time!
  22. c1phr macrumors 6502

    Jan 8, 2011
    This use-case is actually pretty much exactly what the Iris Pro graphics were built for. To that extent, I would say that you're fine running on the 15" without the dGPU. In your position, I would probably upgrade to 16GB of ram, since Photoshop can get hungry and you mentioned you want to be able to run them all at once in addition to lots of tabs in Chrome.

    Storage-wise, that's really your decision based on what you need to store. If you're using it as a desktop replacement, it's probably cheapest to just get 256GB built in and use external storage over USB 3. If you feel that you need at least 512GB all the time, then go for it by all means.
  23. commac, Nov 19, 2013
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2013

    commac macrumors regular

    Nov 1, 2013
    If he upgrades the ram and ssd the dGPU is pretty much free. Is the dGPU so bad that people wouldnt even take it for free?

    Does it get hotter? Fan louder? Cause more problems?
  24. LoMonkey thread starter macrumors regular

    Jul 4, 2008
    Exactly. If you plan on upgrading both, get the dGPU model. If you don't want the dGPU running, use gfxcardstatus to disable it and enable it when you actually want to use it (some gaming or GPU intensive programs not optimized for OpenCL)
  25. thomino macrumors newbie

    Nov 13, 2013
    Thanks a lot for your replies guys! Very helpful. I am actually leaning towards the dGPU model as the price of base model after upgrade is almost the same. What you mentioned about overheating using dGPU, is that something to be concerned about?

    If i upgrade base model to 16GB RAM i would save 400 Euros, but would have slower processor and less SSD. Do you guys think these money would be worth it for dGPU, faster processor and 512GB SSD? What i really want is laptop with great performance to last me maybe 5 Years as a desktop replacement. Many thanks again for your help! really appreciate it :)

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