As has been the case since Apple ditched the 17-inch MacBook Pro back in 2012, there are two sizes of MacBook Pro. The 13-inch and the 15-inch model.
In many ways the 15-inch MacBook Pro is more deserving of the name 'Pro' than it's smaller sibling, which is certainly not the same machine in more miniature form.
However, this doesn’t mean that the cheaper 13-inch MacBook Pro wouldn’t be ideal for your needs.
In this article we will weigh up the differences between the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models, assessing which set of requirements each will serve best.
What are the differences between the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models?
Before we look at the differences, there are a few features that are the same regardless of the MacBook Pro model you purchase.
All MacBook Pro models (apart from the 2015 15-inch that’s still on sale) are available in a silver or a space grey finish.
The pixels on the display of the 13-inch model are ever so slightly more closely packed together, but the number of pixels per inch is practically the same (220 on the 15-inch and 227 on the 13-inch). Brightness is 500nits on both models, and both screens offer P3 which means they display a wider range of “more lifelike” colours.
Both the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro models offer a ambient light sensor, so the display brightness will adjust according to your lighting conditions.
The Force Touch trackpad is available on all the MacBook Pro laptops. It features pressure-sensing capabilities so that you can “Force Click” and use Multi-Touch gestures.
Despite the slightly different battery specs, all each MacBook Pro offers 10 hours battery life, according to Apple.
13-inch MacBook Pro
Available in four configurations, the key differentiator being whether you get a Touch Bar or not, the 13-inch MacBook Pro offers dual-core i5 processors, up to 512GB SSD, 8GB RAM (with the option to increase it to 16GB), and Intel Iris Plus Graphics. Prices start at £1,249.
- Screen size: 13.3-inches diagonally.
- Dimensions: 30.41cm x 21.24cm
- Thickness: 1.49cm
- Weight: 1.37kg
- Display resolution: 2560x1600 at 227 pixels per inch
- Four 13-inch MacBook Pro models, two with Touch Bar and two without Touch Bar
- Processors: dual-core i5 at 2.3GHz, 128GB; 2.3GHz, 256GB; 3.1GHz, 256GB; 3.1GHz, 512GB, with build-to-order max configuration of 3.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.0GHz)
- Storage: SSD 128GB (non-Touch Bar), 256GB (non-Touch Bar), 256GB (Touch Bar), 512GB (Touch Bar). Build-to-order max configuration of 1TB SSD
- RAM: 8GB standard, configurable to 16GB RAM
- Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 or 650
- Ports: non-Touch Bar models: two Thunderbolt 3 (USB?C) ports; Touch Bar models: four Thunderbolt 3 (USB?C) ports
- Audio: two microphones (non-Touch Bar), three microphones (Touch Bar)
- Battery: 10 hours, 54.5-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery (non-Touch Bar), 49.2-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery (Touch Bar)
- Price: From £1,249 (non-Touch Bar); £1,749 (Touch Bar)
15-inch MacBook Pro
Available in three configurations, with the two 2017 Touch Bar models joined by a 2015-generation non-Touch Bar model, the 15-inch MacBook Pro offers quad-core i7 processors, 16GB RAM, and Radeon Pro discreet graphics (on the Touch Bar models). Prices start at £2,349 for the 2017 models.
- Screen size: 15.4-inches diagonally.
- Dimensions: 34.93cm x 24.07cm
- Thickness: 1.55cm
- Weight: 1.83kg
- Display resolution: 2880x1800 at 220 pixels per inch
- Three 15-inch MacBook Pro models, two with Touch Bar and one without Touch Bar
- Processors: quad-core i7 2.2GHz (Haswell), quad-core i7 at 2.8GHz, quad-core i7 2.9GHz, with build-to-order max configuration of 3.1GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz)
- Storage: SSD 256GB (non-Touch Bar), 256GB (Touch Bar), 512GB (Touch Bar). Build-to-order max configuration of 2TB SSD
- RAM: 16GB standard
- Graphics: Intel Iris Pro Graphics (non Touch-Bar), Radeon Pro 555 with 2GB memory, Radeon Pro 560 with 4GB memory
- Ports: non-Touch Bar model: two Thunderbolt 2 and USB Type A ports; Touch Bar models: four Thunderbolt 3 (USB?C) ports
- Audio: two microphones (non-Touch Bar??), three microphones (Touch Bar)
- Battery: 10 hours, 76.0-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery (Touch Bar)
- Price: From £1,899 (non-Touch Bar); £2,349 (Touch Bar)
Regarding those differences, we will examine each in a little more detail below.
You may be thinking that the 3.1GHz processor in the 13-inch MacBook Pro would beat the 15-inch models 2.9GHz processor but there are a couple of key differences.
First, you’ll notice that the 13-inch processor is a dual-core model while the 15-inch MacBook Pro offers a quad-core processor. Secondly, the processor in the 13-inch model is an i5, while the 15-inch MacBook Pro range offers the i7.
This is a key differentiator between the models and one of a number of reasons why the 15-inch is better suited to creative pros.
The more cores your computer has, the more problems it can solve at a time. The processor can either deal with lots of different tasks, with each processor devoted to each task, or it can split a task across multiple processors, either way that task can be done quicker. This matters if you are doing something like 3D rendering.
In addition, a Core i7 processor will be better able to cope with multimedia applications, gaming, and multitasking. You’ll find more on processor cache on i7 models too, which should make scientific calculations faster. The extra cache comes into play with multitasking too.
The difference is clearly outlined when you look at the Turbo Boost figure, with the 3.1GHz in the 13-inch translating to 3.5GHz, compared to 3.9GHz in the 15-inch model.
For a range of laptops with pro status, it is disappointing that while the 15-inch models have quad-core i7 processors, the 13-inch models still have only dual-core processors i5. This is the reason why we advise that the 13-inch MacBook Pro isn’t really a pro machine.
The two computers are simply not in the same league.
The differences continue when you look at the graphics offerings from both sizes of MacBook Pro.
The 13-inch models offer graphics cards that are integrated on the processor, while the 15-inch MacBook Pro features discreet graphics.
One of the key differences between integrated and discreet (or dedicated) graphics is that integrated graphics don’t have their own RAM and that will matter if you are doing something graphically intense, like rendering something in 3D, or playing a graphically intensive game.
That doesn’t mean that integrated graphics don’t have their advantages. They require less power, so battery life might be better, for example, and they are cheaper than a discreet card, so, in theory, should allow Apple to sell those models for less, and indeed it does: there is a difference of £400 between the top of the line 13-inch model and the entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro (excluding the 2015 model that’s still sold). We’ll look in a bit more detail at the price later on.
However, the lack of discreet graphics means that the 13-inch MacBook Pro really doesn’t deserve to be called a Pro machine - assuming of course that the pros you are thinking of are creative pros. If you are just a professional, looking for a machine to create spreadsheets, presentations and emails on.
As for the graphics in the 15-inch MacBook models, here you’ll find the Radeon Pro 555 or 560 (replacing the Radeon Pro 455), which basically brings those Mac laptops into line with the competition.
However, there is still one factor letting the MacBook Pro down in terms of graphics. In the past Apple has made a lot of noise about the Retina display, with its 2,560 x 1,600 and 2,880 x 1,800 pixel counts depending on whether you have the 13-inch or 15-inch model.
Embarrassingly, there are PC laptops that have 4K displays now, so Apple has a bit of catching up to do.
We’d like to see Apple launch a 4K 15-inch MacBook Pro next, with 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, like some of its rivals.
For now, though, the Retina display quality isn’t really a reason to choose one MacBook Pro model over the other. The difference in display size may well be though.
Obviously the 15-inch MacBook Pro has a much larger display than the 13-inch model. In real terms, that’s an extra 320 pixels across, and 200 more pixels down. It’s likely to make a difference to you if you often have a lot of applications open, or if your work with images (although you actually get 7 more pixels per inch on the 13-inch model: it’s 220 ppi on the 15-inch and 227 ppi on the 13-inch model).
There are benefits associated with the smaller screen on the 13-inch model - it means the laptop is smaller and lighter. If that’s more important to you than a few extra pixels it’s a good reason to choose the 13-inch over the 15-inch.
And if you really need a bigger screen, plug your MacBook into a second display whenever you are at your desk.
If you are looking for the maximum amount of RAM there is no real difference between the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models.
Sure, the 13-inch MacBook Pro ships as standard with 8GB RAM, but it’s upgradable to 16GB. RAM. The 15-inch model ships with 16GB RAM but that’s as far as it goes.
This is another area where the 15-inch MacBook Pro can seem underpowered in comparison to some of its rivals. There are calls for Apple to offer up to 32GB RAM in the MacBook Pro, with fingers pointing to Dell’s Precision 5520 laptop, which has a 32GB RAM build-to-order configuration.
Back in November 2016 Apple's SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller spoke out after criticism that the MacBook Pro topped out at 16GB RAM, saying that if Apple was to offer more RAM it would be detrimental to battery life. This is because the higher amounts of RAM would require a power-hungry memory controller.
Schiller said: "To support 32GB of memory would require using DDR memory that is not low power and also require a different design of the logic board which might reduce space for batteries. Both factors would reduce battery life.”
Chances are you don't need 32GB RAM in your laptop, and if that's the case, then there is no reason not to get yourself a MacBook Pro. Unless you think you might need more RAM in the future - because you won't be able to upgrade it later should you want to.
Touch Bar, ports and trackpad
The Touch Bar is available on two of the 13-inch models, and two of the 15-inch models. Obviously the 15-inch machine offers more space for the Touch Bar, but beyond that there’s not really much or a difference.
Similarly the Touch-Bar equipped MacBook Pros all offer four Thunderbolt 3 ports (while the non-Touch Bar 13-inch model has only two). The only MacBook Pro that has the older USB-A port is the old 2015 MacBook Pro model that Apple is still selling, primarily, we expect, for that reason.
The trackpad offers identical features on each size of MacBook Pro, but the one on the 15-inch is obviously larger and that may benefit you, although we’re not exactly sure how.
Perhaps the £400 saving between the entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro and the top-of-the-range 13-inch model makes up for the differences in graphic capabilities, processor, screen size, and everything else.
With a starting price of £1,249/$1,299 the 13-inch MacBook Pro is comparable to the entry-level MacBook, which offers a slower processor and smaller screen.
The entry level MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar costs £1,749 and offers a 3.1GHz dual-core processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and Iris Plus Graphics, which compares to the 3.4GHz quad-core, 27-inch iMac that comes with 8GB RAM, 1TB Fusion Drive, and Radeon Pro discreet graphics for the same price. We feel that the iMac is a better deal, if you aren't too fussed about having a portable Mac.
As for the 15-inch MacBook Pro, the price starts at £2,349 for a 15-inch model with Touch Bar, 2.8GHz quad-core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and 256GB SSD, which is more than the top-of-the-range iMac with a 3.8GHz quad-core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, 2TB Fusion Drive and Radeon Pro discreet graphics (£100 less at £2,249).
The point of these comparisons is to emphasise that if you buy a laptop you will pay a premium. If you need a powerful machine it may not be the most cost effective way to get it.
If you need a portable and price is no object then the 15-inch MacBook Pro is an excellent machine. We were suitably impressed when we reviewed it, and surprised when it performed better than the iMac in some tests.
If you want a laptop for gaming and graphics then the 15-inch MacBook Pro is the one to consider. (Remember that the older 15-inch model that’s still on sale lacks discreet graphics, it won’t meet your requirements).
As for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, while we feel that it isn’t a machine for creative pros, it is a good machine for those looking for a laptop they can use on a professional level. What you get for your money right now is better than what you would get from a similarly priced MacBook. And while the MacBook Air might be cheaper, that’s an old machine that hasn’t really been updated since 2015, bar a couple of processor tweaks.
Whether you require a 15-inch or a 13-inch MacBook Pro depends primarily on what you will be using it for and how much you have to spend.
In many ways it’s not a question of whether you should buy the 13-inch or the 15-inch MacBook Pro, because they are such different machines.
Rather, we feel, it’s a question of whether to buy the 13-inch MacBook Pro or the 12-inch MacBook, or the 15-inch MacBook Pro or the 27-inch Mac.
The one thing that the MacBook Pro models do have in common is that they are all for the demanding user who needs a decent amount of power, it’s just the types of user that are different.
If all you do with your Mac is surf the web and open emails then probably a MacBook or MacBook Air might meet your needs. You might even be able to pick up a good deal on Apple’s Refurbished Store, if you don’t need the most recent model.
If you do need a powerful Mac laptop, but you aren’t going to be designing 3D worlds or editing professional photography, then the 13-inch MacBook Pro will likely meet your demands. You probably don’t need the Touch Bar, so with the entry-level model, having the same price as the MacBook, it goes without saying that that is the model to get.
If you need the extra power offered by the 15-inch model, and you need a portable computer, then the 15-inch MacBook Pro is a good choice.
But if you are picking a 15-inch MacBook Pro because you want a bigger screen then consider a separate display to use when you are at your desk, as we don’t think screen size alone is a good reason to pay £400 more for the more powerful MacBook.