Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (2013) review

With its crazy-sharp 2880 x 1800-pixel resolution, the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display set a new standard for laptop screens when it debuted last year. Since then, Windows notebook makers have rolled out Retina-like competitors, but now Apple is out to leapfrog the field again. the new 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro adds Intel’s fourth-generation Core processor for better performance and battery life along with much faster flash memory. Our config came fully loaded with 16GB of RAM, 256GB of flash storage and Nvidia GT 750M graphics. Plus, Apple now includes its new iWork and iLife suites for free. The result is a 4.5-pound dream machine for power users.

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Design

Apple didn’t change anything about the 15-inch MacBook Pro’s design, but we’re not complaining. The silver aluminum chassis has the same solid and premium look and feel as before, with a black bezel around the display providing a pop of contrast. On the lid you’ll find Apple’s trademark backlit logo, and the deck houses a backlit keyboard flanked by two speakers.

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Weighing 4.5 pounds and measuring 14.1 x 9.7 x 0.71 inches, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is small enough to fit on airline tray (we tried it), but it won’t leave room for much else. This machine isn’t ideal for frequent travelers (it’s about a pound heavier than the new 13-inch Pro) but if you really need a lot of horsepower on the road you’ll probably be fine with the larger footprint.

Ports

The left side of the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro houses two new Thunderbolt 2 ports that promise twice the bandwidth of the original Thunderbolt. We’re talking up to 20 Gbps, or four times faster than USB 3.0. As the world waits for blazing-fast peripherals to match, you can use one of two USB 3.0 ports (one on the left and on the right). The MagSafe 2 power connector, headphone jack and dual microphones also line the left side.

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In addition to a second USB 3.0 port, the right side of the MacBook Pro has an SD Card slot and HDMI port. We still find it annoying that memory cards protrude from the notebook when inserted.

Heat and Noise

While running various benchmarks, the MacBook Pro’s fan occasionally got loud enough for us to hear it from across the room, but it wasn’t too disturbing.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro can run quite warm under stress. After playing “World of Warcraft” for 15 minutes, the bottom of the notebook and the center of the keyboard reached 108 degrees, We consider anything above 95 degrees to be uncomfortable. At least the touchpad stayed a cool 80 degrees.

Display

Even after a year we’re still smitten with the Retina Display on the 15-inch MacBook Pro. This panel is bright and offers a fantastic amount of detail along with rich and bold colors. With a resolution of 2880 x 1800 pixels, everything from app icons in Launchpad and text on websites to high-resolution photos looked razor sharp.The 15-inch MacBook Pro’s screen is plenty bright, too.

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Our only complaint about this panel is that it can be difficult to read outdoors due to glare. Viewing angles were narrow as we tried to take some photos of the screen.

 

Audio

With two speakers on either side of the keyboard, the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro offers clear audio even at maximum volume. However, we do wish this MacBook had a richer bottom end.

Webcam

Apple continues to outclass most Windows notebook makers with its FaceTime HD cameras. The 1280 x 720p camera atop the 15-inch MacBook Pro captured a warm and accurate image of our face as we waited for a flight. There was a bit of fuzziness in the shot, but we could easily make out details in our shirt and jacket.

 

Keyboard and Touchpad

The 15-inch MacBook Pro line keeps the same great layout as it predecessor, with black keys that provide plenty of travel and snappy response. Each key is individually backlit, making it easy to type in dim lighting. We also noticed zero flex as we typed this review. The top row houses several handy direct actions keys, including brightness controls, shortcuts for Mission Control and Launchpad and media controls.

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The 4.1 x 3-inch glass touchpad on this laptop is as smooth and reliable as ever. We especially like the ability to show the desktop (spread with three fingers) and launch Mission Control (four fingers up). Swiping in with two fingers from the right shows your alerts in the Notification Center. Unlike many Windows machines, pinch-to-zoom and two-finger scrolling is like butter.

Performance

We reviewed the high-end configuration of the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, which was built to delight multitaskers. Our model features a fourth-generation 2.3-GHz Intel Core i7 quad-core processor, a whopping 16GB of RAM, and 256GB of PCIe flash memory. There’s also Nvidia GeForce GT 750M discrete graphics on board with 2GB of video memory.

Whether you’re processing RAW images or transcoding video, you’ll have a hard time getting this system to flinch under a heavy load. Plus, the Pro flew through various benchmarks.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro started off strong with a 14-second boot time, which is a second faster than the last-gen model and more than twice as fast as the average Windows notebook.

The PCIe SSD inside the new MacBook Pro absolutely screams. The flash storage duplicated 4.97 GB of files in just 16.5 seconds, good for a transfer rate of 309 MBps.

To further test the 15-inch MacBook Pro, we ran our OpenOffice Test, which matches 20,000 names and addresses using a Macro. The new 15-inch MacBook Pro finished in 4 minutes and 14 seconds, more than a minute faster than the 5:35 category average.

Lastly, we transcoded a 720p video trailer on both the new and older 15-inch MacBook Pro in iMovie after applying the Dream effect and using the Enhance tool. The latest model took 1 minute and 6 seconds to finish our task, versus 1:20 seconds for the earlier MacBook. Apply that speed advantage across a bigger project and this system could save you some serious time.

 

Graphics

Our configuration of the MacBook Pro is a graphics powerhouse, as it features both Intel Iris Pro graphics and a discrete GeForce GT 750M card with automatic graphics switching. Even if you don’t opt for the discrete GPU, Apple says the new Pro supports dual display output at up to 2560 x 1600 pixels, a boon for creative pros.

What about gaming? You can actually play certain titles at a smooth frame rate, even at the MacBook Pro’s native resolution. On “World of Warcraft,” the system delivered 49 fps on Good and 2800 x 1800 pixels (with an incredible level of detail) but that dropped to an unplayable 24.7 fps on Ultra. When we dipped the resolution down to 1920 x 1200 pixels and left the settings on Good, the MacBook Pro’s frame rate jumped to 80.7 fps.

Battery Life

Apple promised an extra hour of battery life, and it delivered. Thanks to a combination of Intel’s Haswell architecture and some efficiencies gained in OS X Mavericks, the 15-inch MacBook Pro lasted 8 hours and 57 minutes in the LAPTOP Battery Test. This test continuously surfs the Web at 40 percent brightness.

OS X Mavericks and Software

The 15-inch MacBook Pro comes with the new OS X Mavericks software, which has plenty of useful enhancements and new features. For example, the Finder now supports Tabs, making it easier to multitask, as well as Tags for keeping related items in one place. We also appreciate the ability to respond to emails and iMessages directly from notifications, though we’d like to see it extend to third-party apps such as Hipchat.

Other welcome new goodies include improved support for external displays (you can now go full screen with apps on the second monitor) and iCloud keychain for keeping your passwords and payment info synced across your notebook, iPad and iPhone. Apple also throws in its Maps –complete with 3D flyovers and the ability to send directions to your iPhone — and iBooks apps.

It gets better. Apple is also including not only its revamped iLife suite (iPhoto, iMovie, Garageband) for free but also iWork. Although it’s still not quite intuitive enough for newbies, we had a blast playing with the new iMovie. You can enhance footage in real time (just as you would photos) and apply all sorts of fun effects.

Configuration Options

The starting $1,999 version of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display packs a 2-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of PCIe storage. You’ll also get Iris Pro graphics. Stepping up to pricier $2,599 model gets you a faster 2.3-GHz CPU, 16GB of memory and 512GB of flash storage. This config also comes with Nvidia GeForce GT 750M graphics.

Verdict

At $2,599 for our configuration ($1,999 to start), the 15-inch MacBook Pro represents a serious investment, but it also delivers a serious dose of power and endurance in a portable design.

The new Retina MacBook Pro offers very fast quad-core performance paired with some of the fastest flash storage around and (optional) discrete graphics, making quick work of pretty much any task. At the same time, this is the only 15-incher we’ve tested with this much muscle that can last nearly 9 hours on a charge. The only drawbacks we encountered were a slightly toasty undercarriage toward the back and moderate fan noise (both under heavy use).

Those with less demanding needs who travel often are better off with the considerably cheaper and lighter new $1,299 13-inch MacBook Pro. But if you want the fastest notebook for creative pros that can go the distance, the buck stops here.