That time is back. It's the time of that dreadful, yet delicious, moment when you need to decide what new Mac to buy.
The old MacBook Aluminum that my wife owns is slowly dying. It is unbearably slow for the tasks that she has to do, and downgrading is not an option. As is customary in our family, I am going to give her my current Mac — a specced out MacBook Air 13” — and buy a new model for myself.
The last time I bought a Mac, I vowed to buy it with an SSD drive. This time requirement #1 is to have a Retina display. I've already discussed how I believe Apple is planning for a Retina world, so this requirement should not come as a surprise to my readers.
The other reason for wanting a Retina MacBook Pro is because at my age, my eyesight is not as good as it used to be. As much as I love (and I dearly do) my MacBook Air 13", sometimes I squint to read fonts at 12 points or less. For example, in Mail I use fonts at 13 points.
There are two models of Retina MacBook Pro, the 13” and 15”. Which one is right for me?
I love my MacBook Air 13". It's by far the best laptop I've ever had. It's fast, light and the battery life is incredible. It also runs extremely cool and it has all the power I need.
Any additional power would be a waste, because I don't do video or audio processing, and what I really do these days is normal home tasks. Seven years ago I got a MacBook Pro because I was working as an independent IT consultant. That was a job that forced me to use virtual machines all the time. Those (technical) days are mostly gone, so I am not so sure if I need any more power than I currently have.
Retina MacBook Pro 13"
I love the 13 inch form factor. For my current usage pattern, this is the right size. It's the right balance between portability and screen real estate. The only gripe I have with the Retina MacBook Pro 13" is that the Retina display is able to display the same content as in a 1280×800 screen.
The minimum resolution I've worked in the past ten years is 1440×900, which is the native resolution of both the MacBook Air 13" and the MacBook Pro 15" (Retina and non).
The MacBook Aluminum 13" that my wife uses has the same 1280×800 resolution. Whenever I happen to work with it, I always find that the screen space is not enough for me.
The second doubt that I have is about the graphics card. The Retina MacBook Pro 13" has an integrated Intel Iris. Every review I've managed to find swears that it's more than capable of driving a Retina screen. Is that future proof though? I am sure that one day integrated graphics cards will be on par with discrete ones, but now? Will this integrated card be powerful enough for OS X 12.12 (it’s not that far away, only two years…)?
Moreover, this afternoon I found this review that shows that a MacBook Air 13" is for the most part equivalent, if not faster, than a Retina MacBook Pro 13". This fact alone makes my subconscious think that buying a Retina MacBook Pro 13” is not going to be an upgrade at all.
Retina MacBook Pro 15"
The Retina MacBook Pro 15” is The Machine. No other Apple laptop comes close to it.
I loved my old MacBook Pro 15” 2008, and was sad to sell it. And yet, after buying my MacBook Air 13” I no longer missed it. Soon after switching on the MacBook Air I realized that the old computer had been overkill for me, especially after quitting my job as an IT consultant.
The doubts I have about getting a Retina MacBook Pro 15” are of the same kind. Is this going to be too much? Do I really need a discrete graphic card? I am well aware that Apple sells an entry-level Retina MacBook Pro 15” with only an integrated graphics card, but I don’t think that it makes sense to go for a 15” Retina display and not getting a discrete graphics card. Driving more than 5M pixels is not a joke after all and with all those shadows in OS X Yosemite I think that an integrated card could run into problems.
These are valid concerns, but then I tell myself that maybe I won’t be able to change computers every two years. Maybe it makes sense to buy something that’s overkill now, but that in three-four years will be just barely able to run the latest operating system (again, this is my subconscious at work again. As I tried to prove here, there’s not much difference in longevity between Mac models). Also, buying a Retina MacBook Pro 15” feels like an upgrade compared to my current MacBook Air, something that I don’t feel with the Retina MacBook Pro 13”.
More realistically I start thinking that maybe the 15” is actually the right screen size for me. I used to love that size after all, and in any case the additional power is almost an insurance on what could happen next. Tough questions (#modernproblems).
This post has been a sort of self-analysis. Writing things down quite often helps you come up with a conclusion by clearing your mind.
My decision is that I am going to buy a Retina MacBook Pro. Which model I still don’t know. Thoughts?