Retina MacBook Pro review (13in, 2.8GHz, mid 2014)

Besides the 15-inch models, Apple updated its 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display in July this year, substituting a slightly faster Intel Core i5 processor, and dropping its price by £50.

Update: Apple unveiled new MacBook Pro models at its 9 March 2015 press event. For more details, take a look at our New 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro (early 2015) preview.

When Apple last revised the 13-inch MacBook Pro in the autumn of 2013 with a Haswell-generation Intel CPU, it offered a choice of 2.4 GHz or 2.6 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processors.

Now from the mid-2014 updates we find essentially the same choice of chips, but bumped up by 0.2 GHz – to 2.6 and 2.8 GHz respectively for the ‘good’ and ‘best’ models.

There’s also a configure-to-order (CTO) version with Intel Core i7 processor, albeit still with two rather than four cores, running at a baseline clock frequency of 3.0 GHz.

Here we test the top off-the-shelf model now with a 2.8 GHz Core i5 processor, the same 512 GB solid-state flash drive as before, and the newly standardised 8 GB of memory. This processor can also briefly overclock itself automatically when required with Intel’s Turbo Boost, up to 3.3 GHz.

Read our full range of MacBook Pro reviews

Apple MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Mid 2014): Processor

Geekbench 3 is a cross-platform application that can measure the raw performance of a CPU. Most processors today have two or more processing cores, and the benchmark tests both a single core working and multiple cores working on the same task at once.

Note that we used Geekbench v3.1.6 for better comparison with earlier models; Geekbench v3.2.0 has just launched but found to return slightly different results with the same hardware.

We compared the results of the mid-2014 13-inch model with its predecessor from late 2013. In single-core mode, scores rose from 3313 to 3307 points, indicating a speed increase of 6.2 percent. In multi mode, the result increased from 6719 to 7086 points, giving a 5.5 percent change.

In the Cinebench 11.5 benchmark test the new 13-inch MacBook Pro scored 1.38 points with a single processor core, and 3.15 points in multi-core mode. These number compare well with the ‘best’ version of the previous generation, with its 2.6 GHz Intel Core i5 (i5-4288U), which scored 1.30 and 3.13 points respectively, indicating new speed increases of 6.2 and 7.0 percent.

In the Cinebench 15 benchmark test we saw a similar change. Last year’s model with 113 and 281 points for single and multi modes moved up to 120 and 299 points, positive increases of 6.2 and 6.4 percent.

Now Broadwell is shipping a MacBook Pro Retina update may be just around the corner: Read about the 2015 Retina MacBook Pro release date also read our MacBook Air with Retina display release date article.

Apple MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Mid 2014): Graphics

Nothing has changed in the graphics specification since the late-2013 13-inch MacBook Pro. Both use Intel Iris graphics, also known as Intel Iris Graphics 5100. Consequently there’s no reason to expect any change in graphics performance.

You may also have heard of Iris Pro graphics as found in the entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. The difference here is the non-Pro Iris graphics processor does not have the added video memory cache within the same die to accelerate performance.

This Iris Pro graphics processor is still integrated into the same die as the main CPU, and can adjust its speed depending on dynamic requirements – between 200 MHz and 1.2 GHz.

The OpenGL section of Maxon’s Cinebench test showed that graphics performance between last year’s 2.6 GHz model and this year’s 2.8 GHz model are effectively the same.

In Cinebench 11 we saw a result of 26 fps for both models; and both scored 22 fps in the later Cinebench 15 test.

Turning to some action games, when we tried Batman: Arkham City we found the almost identical just-playable framerate when set to 1280 x 800 pixels and Medium detail, 31 fps for last year’s 2.6 GHz MacBook Pro and 32 fps for this 2014 model.

We tried the more graphically challenging new Tomb Raider (2013) game. This proved the undoing of the Intel Iris Graphics 5100 in this laptop. Set to 1280 x 800 pixel resolution, and with Normal detail settings, it averaged only 14 fps. Turning down detail level to Low bumped up the framerate slightly to 17 fps, but this is still too slow to enjoy playing the game.

There is a way play the Mac version of Tomb Raider on this laptop though – select Legacy OpenGL from the game’s Advanced settings. Exact differences in version of OpenGL are not specified, but we did find framerates of 33 fps were possible with the same resolution and Normal detail.

Apple MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Mid 2014): Display

Following the chunkier pre-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro, this laptop is set to a virtual resolution that matches the 1280 x 800-pixel resolution appearace. It’s rendered by a double-sized 2560 x 1800-pixel native IPS panel, set to a HiDPI mode in OS X.

If you require more working space on your screen, or you’re upgrading from a recent 13-inch MacBook Air, you may be more comfortable selecting a higher virtual resolution from the Displays option in System Preferences. Here you’ll find ‘1440 x 900’ to match the Air, as well as ‘1680 x 1050’ modes.

The panel on our review sample was measured with the Spyder4Elite colorimeter, which indicated 94 percent coverage of the sRGB gamut and 69 percent of Adobe RGB.

These are good results by the standards of displays fitted to the MacBook Air, for instance, if behind the marginally higher 96 and 72 percent results we recorded with this year’s 15-inch model.

Contrast ratio was very good, measuring 660:1 at a nominal 75 percent brightness setting (corresponding to 154 cd/m^2) and 740:1 when set to a full brightness of 329 cd/m^2.

Luminance uniformity was more consistent than the 15-inch model, perhaps assisted by the smaller area of panel that required lighting. The greatest deviation was only 9 percent at the 50 percent brightness setting.

Overall colour accuracy was superb, averaging 1.35 Delta E from 48 colour swatches, with a peak error of 5.98 Delta E with the 1F tone.

These quantitative results don’t effectively sum up the qualitative experience of Apple’s Retina display. The pin-sharp text and graphics, consistent viewing from every angle – and most important, consistent typography and interface elements. The combination of these Retina displays and OS X grahical interface results in the best desktop experience of any current computing platform.

Read our MacBook Air reviews:

Apple MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Mid 2014): Storage

As the best pre-configured version of 13-inch MacBook Pro, this model has the largest storage capacity of 512 GB from its PCIe-attached internal flash drive. If you need more space, there is one further CTO option available for a 1 TB internal flash drive, which adds £400 to the price of £1399.

In our particular review sample this part was sourced from Samsung (SM0512F). The measured results were very impressive, in line with the same storage component we tested in the top MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2014) and top MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2013).

In our tests it had phenomenal SATA-busting read speeds, peaking at 795 MB/s in the QuickBench test, and averaging 791 MB/s for data sized between 20–100 MB.

Write speeds were very close, peaking at 746 MB/s, and averaging 742 MB/s with the same test.

Compare this with the 128 GB flash drive in the entry model, whose write speeds were only half as fast as its reads, reaching a maximum sequential figure of 322 MB/s, and averaging 319 MB/s. Larger SSDs typically benefit with increased performance as more data channels are available.

Small-file transfers remained speedy, averaging 201 MB/s and 366 MB/s for random reads and writes (4–1024 kB data). These results translate into an extremely responsive notebook for everyday tasks like launching applications, and opening and saving files.

Apple MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Mid 2014): Battery

Our battery longevity test is based on playing a looped MPEG-4 video hosted on a NAS drive on the local network, connected via 802.11ac Wi-Fi to an Apple Time Capsule as router. Screen brightness is set to a calibrated level of 120 cd/m^2, which corresponded here to a 11.25 setting in OS X.

When we tested last year’s ‘best’ 13-inch model with 2.6 GHz processor, we saw a battery life of 9 hours 55 minutes in this looped-video wireless test. This year we broke the ten-hour barrier with a 10 hour 7 minute result for the ‘good’ 2014 model. This model however with 2.8 GHz Intel Core i5 ran even longer, lasting for 10 hours 42 minutes before the system went into sleep mode.

Read:

OUR VERDICT

Quad-core processor and discrete graphics may be absent from the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, yet for the great majority of users we’d wager those extras are overkill. In Apple’s latest 13-inch Pro notebook, there’s incredible speed to spare thanks to a processor speed bump and the fastest storage in the business, wrapped up in slim laptop weighing just 1.5 kg. Thanks to developments in Intel’s integrated graphics, even serious gaming is possible if you don’t mind lowering detail settings. The user experience is unbeatable, ably assisted by the best in class battery life for a professional notebook. If you’ve been looking for the finest 13in laptop available today you can stop looking right now.

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