MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2.6GHz, Retina, mid 2014) full review

Apple has upgraded its MacBook Pro with Retina display line-up. The 13-inch and 15-inch models have all a small speed bump along with price drops for all the UK models, following the same pattern of updates as we've already seen in the MacBook Air and iMac ranges this year.

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.

Read on for our review of the new 13in MacBook Pro with Retina display 2014. We have added the Speedmark test results from the labs at Macworld US and the results of Macworld UK Technical Editor Andrew Harrison's full benchmark report on the new MacBook Pro.

It seems likely that Apple has made these slight tweaks to the MacBook Pro range predominantly to allow it to bring down pricing, but also because the Broadwell processors that are the natural successor to the Haswell chips in these Macs, and the generation before them, are delayed, likely a cause of frustration to Apple. 

The MacBook Pro without Retina display has also seen a price drop, we evaluate it here: non-Retina MacBook Pro review.

Nevertheless, we do have a new range of MacBook Pro with Retina display, maybe not the update we were hoping for, but the price drop is certainly welcome.

In this review we will focus on the 2.5GHz, 13in Retina MacBook Pro model.

New 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro: Price

The best news is that prices have dropped across the range. You can now get a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display for £999, down £100 from £1,099 for the 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina display.

Next in the line up is the £1,199 model, down £50 from £1,249.

The top of the range 13in MacBook Pro is now £1,399, down £100 from £1,499.

As we note in our review of the 13in MacBook Pro without Retina display, Apple has reduced the price of that model by £100 to £899. As the sole remaining Mac with an optical drive this is good news for those who want to use CDs and DVDs as it was feared that the model would be discontinued.

The really good news for UK customers is that the US hasn't seen the same price drops. The only price drop there is for the non-Retina MacBook and the flagship 15in model. 

In the US pricing has only dropped on some models.

New 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro: Processors

When Apple revised the 13-inch MacBook Pro last autumn with a Haswell-generation Intel CPU, it offered a choice of 2.4 GHz or 2.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processors. In the mid-2014 updates we find essentially the same choice of chips, but bumped up to 2.5GHz and 2.8GHz respectively for the ‘good’ and ‘best’ models. There’s also a configure to order (CTO) version with Intel Core i7 processor, still with dual rather than quad cores but running at a baseline clock frequency of 3.0 GHz.

Our review unit is the entry-level model, now with a 2.6GHz Core i5 processor, 128GB solid-state flash drive, and the newly raised minimum of 8GB of memory.

In the Cinebench 11.5 benchmark test the 13-inch MacBook Pro scored 1.31 points with a single processor core, and 3.15 points in multi-core mode. We don’t have figures for last year’s 2.3GHz model, but these number compare well with the ‘best’ model of that generation, also with a 2.6 GHz Intel Core i5, the earlier i5-4288U parts.

That version recorded 1.30 and 3.13 points respectively, so this year’s 2.6GHz model has effectively the same performance in this test, slightly faster in fact by a little under 1 percent, although that could be accounted for by experimental variables or even the change in the OS software between the original Mavericks and current 10.9.4.

In the Cinebench 15 benchmark test we saw the same story: last year’s ‘best’ 2.6GHz model performance is now found in this year’s ‘good’ 2.6GHz MacBook Pro, with both scoring 113 points in single-core mode, and 280 and 281 respectively with all four virtual cores in this Hyper Threading Technology chip in operation.

The key difference between the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models is the fact that the 13in models have a dual core processor, while the 15in models have a quad-core processor. Those quad-core processors mean than the speedmark score of the 15in models is around 60 percent higher Speedmark 9 scores than their 13-inch counterparts.

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.

New 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro: Storage

As the entry-level model of 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, this unit has the smallest storage capacity of 128GB from its PCIe-attached internal flash drive. In our review sample this part was sourced from SanDisk (SD0128F), although its lower recorded performance is likely due to its smaller size – solid-state drives usually benefit from increased parallelism in the larger storage capacities.

In our tests it still had SATA-busting read speeds, peaking at 755MB/s in the QuickBench test, and averaged 732 MB/s for data sized between 20–100MB.

Write speeds were only half as fast though, reaching a maximum sequential figure of 322MB/s, and averaging 319 MB/s for the same data set.

Small-file transfers remained speedy though, averaging 176MB/s and 141MB/s for random reads and writes (4–1024 kB data). So even without the two-times speed up of write performance available with larger capacity drives, this notebook still benefits greatly from very rapid small file delivery to keep it feeling slick in operation.

New 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro: RAM

Note that it is not possible to upgrade the RAM at a later date as the RAM is soldered onto the motherboard, of if you think you might need more RAM than the 8GB standard in the 13-inch models, then you will have to specify the extra RAM in your order and factor in the extra expense. If you order your 13in MacBook Pro with 16GB RAM you'll be charged an extra £160.

However, the entry-level 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro now has 8GB RAM, where it previously had 4GB, bringing it into line with the other 13in models. This is good news.

The 15in models get a whopping 16GB RAM as standard though.

New 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro: Graphics

The graphics in the 13in Retina MacBook Pro models are exactly the same as last year, after all the processor hasn't changed (other than the speed boost) so we wouldn't' expect to see a new graphics chip. As such the Intel Iris Graphics remains in the 13in models.

The OpenGL section of Maxon’s Cinebench test showed that graphics performance between last year’s 2.6 GHz model has been matched by this year’s entry model. There was just a 1 frame per second advantage to the newer model (25.68 rising to 26.53 fps) in the v11 test, while the v15 test saw the same result (22.03 vs 22.08 fps).

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

We tried the graphically testing new Tomb Raider (2013) game, which proved the match of the Intel Iris Graphics 5100 in this laptop. Set to a relatively low 1280 x 800 pixel resolution, and with Normal detail settings, it averaged only 15 fps. Turning down detail level to Low bumped up the framerate slightly to 18 fps, which is still too low to enjoy playing the game smoothly.

The 15in MacBook Pro offers Intel Iris Pro Graphics and, at the high end, a dual graphics card set up with an NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M.

New 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro: Display

Following the chunkier pre-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro, this laptop is set to a ‘1280 x 800’-pixel resolution, rendered from its double-sized 2560 x 1800-pixel native resolution. If you require more 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 95 percent coverage of the sRGB gamut and 70 percent of Adobe RGB. These are good results, just a trace behind the 96 and 72 percent we recorded with this year’s 15-inch model. Contrast ratio was superb, just nudging out its big brother with 800:1 contrast ratio at it’s nominal 75 percent brightness setting (corresponding to 150 cd/m^2) and 870:1 when set to full brightness of 322 cd/m^2.

Colour uniformity was within around 1 Delta E at most brightness settings, rising to 2.1 Delta E in the lower right corner at full brightness. 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 around 10 percent, rising to 14 percent in one corner at the 50 percent level setting.

Overall colour accuracy fell a little behind that measured on the 15-inch display, averaging 4.69 Delta E from 48 colour swatches, with a peak error of 9.41 Delta E with the 1F tone.

New 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro: Battery life

Apple says that the battery life on the 13in MacBook Pro with Retina display is 9 hours. This is more than the 8 hours offered by the 15in version, and the 7 hours of the non-Retina model.

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 our standard looped-video wireless test. This year we broke the ten-hour barrier with a 10 hour 7 minute result, using the calibrated 120 cd/m^2 display setting.

According to Macworld Labs the 2.6GHz 13in model managed 10 hours, 2 minutes, while the 13in 2.8GHz model achieved 9 hours, 24 minutes. For the entry-level model this is a better score than last year, when the 2.4GHz 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina display managed 9 hours, 48 minutes. Battery life was tested by looping a playlist of shows downloaded from the iTunes Store. Wi-Fi was turned off and brightness set to 200 cd/m2.

How fast are the new 13in Retina MacBook Pro models?

We found similar performance in last year’s 2.6GHz model and this year’s 2.6 GHz MacBook Pro, with both scoring 113 points in single-core mode, and 280 and 281.

However, according to the results of the Speedtests performed by Macworld Lab in the US, the 13-inch 2.6GHz Retina MacBook Pro scored 158, while the 13-inch 2.8GHz Retina MacBook Pro scored 174.

There isn't a big difference between the speedmark scores of last year's models. In 2013 the 2.4GHz Retina MacBook Pro score was slightly lower last year: 155. However, the 2.6GHz Retina MacBook Pro scored 177, meaning last year's model performed better.

In the tests performed by Macworld Labs, the new models all performed better in application tests run in Photoshop, Aperture, iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and Handbrake. It seems the new models were slower, in some cases, in Finder elenments, such as copy, zip and unzip.

This could be due to different SSD drives being used, as we found with the MacBook Air, we will test this further.

New 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro: Build to order options

When purchasing a 13in version of the Retina MacBook Pro you have the choice of updating from the base line model with its 2.6GHz i5 processor to a 2.8GHz i5 dual-core processor for £80, or a 3GHz i7 dual-core processor for £240.

As mentioned above, you can also upgrade the 13in models to 16GB RAM for £160.

Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air vs iMac

The new price of £999 for the entry-level MacBook Pro with Retina means it is now £150 more than the 13in MacBook Air, which costs £849. Prior to the update, in the months since the MacBook Air was refreshed, the difference was £250. The extra £150 buys you a better screen, twice as much RAM, and a faster processor.

Or you could opt for the £999 MacBook Air which has twice the storage, but a slower processor and less RAM.

You could also save £100 and purchase the new budget iMac for £899. However the specs are far superior on the entry-level Retina MacBook Pro so we wouldn't recommend that particular iMac over it.

We'll publish our benchmarks here as soon as we have been able to thoroughly test the units.


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