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Home > Laptop Reviews > Late 2013 13" MacBook Pro (ME864LL)

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13" MacBook Pro (2013, Retina, Haswell)

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What's Hot: Retina display, faster than an Ultrabook yet still thin and light. Superb build quality.

What's Not: No dedicated graphics option.

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Reviewed November 27, 2013 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Apple's latest MacBook Pro laptops surprised us: the non-Retina display has gone away and only a base 13" model (last year's model) lives on. The company specializes in high end products, but we didn't expect the more common resolutions to disappear from their lineup so quickly. That means the subject of our review, the late 2013 MacBook Pro 13", is a Retina machine and it has Intel's fourth generation Intel Haswell CPUs inside. As with prior MacBook Pro models, these are full mobile 28W CPUs rather than the slower 15W CPUs used in Ultrabooks including the MacBook Air. You'll pay a half pound weight penalty for the performance increase compared to the average 3 lb. Ultrabook, but for those who need serious computing power, that's a small price to pay.

13" MacBook Pro

Apple has managed to make the second generation 13" Retina MacBook Pro cheaper and lighter while increasing battery life. We can thank Haswell and battery life improvements in Mac OS X Mavericks for the claimed (and actual) 9 hour battery life. That's not as good as the class-leading MacBook Air, but it's leagues better than other laptops running mobile CPUs of this class. The second gen 13" Retina Mac starts at $1,299 for the 2.4GHz dual core with 4 gigs of RAM and a 128 PCIe SSD drive. You can order it with up to 16 gigs of RAM and a 1 terabyte SSD drive. All configurations have dual band WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 and ship with OS X Mavericks with iLife (iPhoto, iMovie and Garage Band). You can download Apple's MS Office compatible iWork suite for free from the App Store.

13" MacBook Pro

Design and Ergonomics

We'll keep this section short since the new model shares the same casing and design with the last gen model. The Mac has an aluminum casing, an excellent backlit keyboard with no flex and excellent tactile feel, and a large glass trackpad that's the poster child for how a trackpad should work and feel. Apple has upgraded to dual Thunderbolt 2 ports, and these can drive Apple Thunderbolt displays, Apple's Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter and the less common and still expensive Thunderbolt external hard drives and RAID arrays. The Mac has two USB 3.0 ports, a full size HDMI port, an SDXC card slot and a 3.5mm audio jack. There's no Ethernet port so you'll have to buy Apple's Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter or a USB Ethernet adapter if you require a wired Ethernet connection.

13" MacBook Pro

The second generation 13" Retina MacBook Pro weighs 3.46 lbs. and is 0.71 inches thick. As with all recent Mac laptops, the battery is sealed inside. RAM is soldered on board and isn't upgradable but you could upgrade the PCIe SSD drive if you could find one aftermarket (these are still very new). It's not a joy opening the Mac either, but only the battery is truly a bear to remove since its glued in place.

 

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Intel Iris Graphics and Retina Display

As ever, the 2560 x 1600 IPS Retina display is stunningly sharp with impressive color gamut that covers 100% of sRGB and 75% of Adobe RGB, high contrast and good brightness levels (320 nits according to our Spyder 4 Pro). In our tests we couldn't reproduce the temporary image burn I live with on my personal first gen 15" Retina MacBook Pro, and HDMI output to our full HD monitors is sharp and clear. Though there are Windows Ultrabooks with even higher resolution 13.3" panels such as the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro and Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (3200 x 1800), I can't say the 227 PPI Mac looks any less sharp. Mac OS X Mavericks handles display scaling very well and the result is sharp and clear text and icons and menus that are always large enough to see and work with. Unlike many Windows 8 laptops, this isn't a touch screen; Apple's still not a believer, even if the iPad started the craze. One point of criticism is that Apple's default scaling for the 13.3" Retina is equivalent to 1280 x 800, which is lower than the MacBook Air's 1440 x 900. I can't imagine why Apple decided to do this, but happily you can override the scaling and still get extremely sharp results. I opt for 1680 x 1050 because this is a good mix between seeing more on screen while not making things too tiny. If your eyes are quite sharp, you might prefer the 1920 x 1200 setting.

For a graphics boost, Apple uses Intel Iris 5100 graphics, but as with the last gen model, there's no switchable dedicated graphics option. Iris 5100 is comparable to a low-middle range dedicated GPU like the NVIDIA GT630 or 640M LE, and it makes Diablo III, the SIMS 3 and other moderately demanding games playable at low to medium settings and lower resolutions. Though we did manage a very playable Diablo III session running at just above 1920 x 1080 with low-medium settings, we wish Apple would have found a way to cram a dedicated GPU option, which would truly set this model apart from the competition in this size and weight range. Few 3.5 lb., 13" laptops have decent dedicated graphics because of design constraints related to cooling (dedicated graphics processors require additional heat sinks and a fan, and those take up room). But for those who don't want to game heavily, edit full HD video for hours each week or do 3D CAD work, the Intel Iris is up to the job. Certainly, the HD 5100 integrated GPU will give more oomph to HD video exports and image manipulation in Photoshop compared to the HD 4400 used on Ultrabooks. If you want switchable dedicated graphics, sadly only the $2,699 high end configuration 15" MacBook Pro (also Retina and Haswell) gets the NVIDIA GT750M dedicated GPU.

Benchmarks

2.4GHz Intel Core i5-4258U base model with 4 gigs RAM and 128 gig SSD:

Geekbench 3 (32 bit) single 2697 / 5639 multi-core. 6313 for 64 bit multi-core test.

XBench: 421

PCMark 7: 5401

Is the 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display What You Need?

Obviously, the latest 13" MacBook Pro doesn't exist in a vacuum, and thanks to its light weight and high quality build, it competes not just with lightweight high end laptops running Haswell 4th generation CPUs (of which there are admittedly few right now) but Ultrabooks. The MacBook Pro is particularly well suited to those who have high processor demands and need a bit more graphics power than you'll get from an Ultrabook. The full mobile CPU is well suited to longer program compiles, computing spreadsheets with thousands of rows and it can handle 3D games better than Ultrabooks. If you simply use MS Office, web, video playback and image editing, then there are many machines, including Ultrabooks (MacBook Air too) that are more than adequate. The MacBook Pro 13" also brings a higher resolution display that's much better than the MacBook Air in terms of quality and resolution. If you're tempted by the MacBook Air but don't need the added horsepower, I can't blame you for being tempted by the MacBook Pro simply for the display. In the end, we're glad that Apple brought both to the ultraportable market, though we'd still love to see a MacBook Air with a comparable display.

Conclusion

Apple's latest 13" MacBook Pro is a force: it offers a fantastic display, excellent processing power, decent graphics and very good battery life in a $1,299 package that competes strongly with Windows laptops in the same price range. For those who need more processing power than an Ultrabook offers, the latest Pro 13" packs that punch yet it's as light and compact as an Ultrabook. Even if you don't crave more processing power, the Retina display may sway you from the 13" MacBook Air.

Price: starting at $1,299

Website: www.apple.com

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Specs:

Display: 13.3", 2560 x 1600 IPS display. Intel HD Iris 5100 integrated graphics. Thunderbolt 2/Mini DisplayPort and HDMI.

Battery: 54 watt-hour Lithium Ion rechargeable, not user replaceable. Comes with 60W MagSafe 2 power adapter.

Performance: Fourth generation Intel Haswell dual core CPUs with Intel Iris 5100 integrated graphics, 2.4 and 2.6GHz Core i5 and dual core 2.8GHz Core i7 options. 4 to 16 gigs DDR3L RAM (soldered on, not user upgradable).

Drives: 128 gig, 256 gig, 512 or 1TB PCIe SSD drive.

Size: 12.35 x 8.62 x 0.71 inches. Weight: 3.46 pounds.

Camera: 720p FaceTime video chat camera.

Audio: Built in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Integrated dual band WiFi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0.

Software: Mac OS X Mavericks 10.9. Mac Mail, Safari web browser, iLife suite including iMovie, iDVD, Garage Band and iPhoto, FaceTime video chat app and more. iWork suite is a free download.

Expansion and Ports: 1 SDXC card slot. Two USB 3.0 ports, 3.5mm headphone jack and combined Two Thunderbolt 2/mini DisplayPorts and HDMI.

 

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