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13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display vs.
15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display


Posted June 2, 2015 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

13 inch and 15 inch MacBook Pro Retina smackdown

So your heart is set on a powerful Mac laptop, but you don't know which one to buy. Apple sells both 13 and 15 inch MacBook Pro models, and for some of you the answer will be obvious based solely on screen size. Others care more about price or portability. Both models are relatively very portable, with the 13" weighing 3.5 lbs. and the 15" weighing 4.5 lbs. (plus the few ounce difference in charger weight). They have the same 0.71 thicknesses, and the 15" MacBook Pro obviously has a larger footprint to accommodate the larger display.

The 13" Retina MacBook Pro starts at $1,299 and the base model has 8 gigs of RAM, a 128 gig SSD and a dual core i5 processor. It's available only with Intel Iris 6100 integrated graphics. In our comparison we use the $1,500 mid level model that increases SSD capacity to 256 gigs.

The 15" MacBook Pro with Retina display starts at $1,999 and it has 16 gigs of RAM, a 256 gig SSD, a quad core i7 processor and Intel Iris Pro integrated graphics. If you want dedicated graphics, the price starts at $2,499. In our comparison, we use the top of the line $3,200 model with a 2.8 GHz CPU, AMD R9 M370X 2GB DDR5 dedicated graphics and a 1 TB SSD.

13 and 15 inch Retina MacBook Pro models


You'll get the same excellent "Retina" (Apple's marketing term for a high resolution IPS display) quality display with 99% of sRGB coverage and very good color calibration. Both are bright, with the 15" measuring 304 nits brightness and the 13" measuring 310 nits. The 13.3" MacBook Pro with Retina display has 2560 x 1600 resolution, while the 15.4" has 2880 x 1800 resolution (the resolution differs due to screen size). Quality is the same between the two models, so you're making your decision on the screen size you prefer. The 15" model is much better suited to detailed photo editing and 1080p video editing since you have more space to work with an a larger view of your subject matter. I use the 13" model for these tasks, but only with a Thunderbolt display attached because I personally find 13.3" too small for professional photo and video editing. To be frank, even 15" is small for those tasks, but it feels a lot more doable.


The 13" MacBook Pro with Retina display is actually nicely priced for what you get, and it competes well with 1080p and 2K Windows Ultrabooks that run on slower and lower watt ULV CPUs. The 15" Retina MacBook Pro still feels like a holdover from the "Mac tax" days, where you paid more simply to get a Mac. It's a lovely machine, but the specs pale in comparison with several top 15" slim and light Windows gaming laptops that have better graphics and are more upgradeable. Some of them even have classy designs and top-notch materials like the HP Omen 15. Yes, there are premium machines like the Dell XPS 15 that cost just as much and are similarly equipped (though Dell upgrades you to a 4K touchscreen), so the 15" Mac isn't quite alone in its price to features and performance ratio.

13 and 15 inch Retina MacBook Pro models

Computational Prowess

The 15" model is twice as fast as the 13". Twice--both in terms of CPU speed and graphics speed too when considering the dedicated graphics 15" model. Now that 13" Retina Mac is quite powerful--it's much faster than the MacBook Air and 12" MacBook, and it's faster than Windows 13" Ultrabooks. I use one as my work machine and I do some fairly involved tasks including editing large RAW dSLR files (30 per day), occasional 1080p video editing, website development work and streaming full HD video. It's fast and capable for those jobs. If I were tasked with editing most of our YouTube 1080p footage, I'd get the 15" MacBook Pro though--it's twice as fast to export videos, and ours tend to be long.

If I wanted to use my Mac to play 3D games (under Mac OS X or Windows), I'd get the 15" Retina MacBook Pro with dedicated AMD Radeon R9 M370X graphics. The integrated graphics on the 13" Mac is adequate to play Diablo III at lower settings and Civ V at higher settings, but it's not really up to Far Cry 4, Battlefield 4 or Dragon Age Inquisition.

I suspect that for non-gamers, the 13" MacBook Pro with Retina display has more than enough computing power for most folks. The 15" is for those who do truly demanding work like 3D rendering, math and scientific analysis, professional video production and compiling huge programs with hundreds of thousands of lines of code (bigger than the average iOS app).

There are quite a few more points to cover, so do watch our 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display vs. 15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display (2015) comparison smackdown video.


Deals and Shopping:


13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display vs. 15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display (2015) comparison smackdown


Benchmark Comparisons:

13" Mac with 2.7 GHz Intel dual core 28 watt CPU. 15" Mac with 2.8 GHz quad core i7, AMD M370X graphics

Geekbench 3:

13" Retina MacBook Pro: 3325/ 7042
15" Retina MacBook Pro: 3953/15,143

Black Magic SSD test:
13" Mac: 1189 MBps write, 1238 MBps read
15" Mac: 1501 MBps write, 1803 MBps read

Geeks3D GPU Test
(Tessmark 8x Open GL 4.0, Windowed 1440 x 900, no AA, Mac set to "best for Retina" default resolution):

13" Mac: 183 fps
15" Mac: 406 fps


Related Reviews:

13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display (2015) Review

15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display (2015) Review




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13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display Specs:

Display: 13.3", 2560 x 1600 IPS display. Intel Iris 6100 integrated graphics. 2 Thunderbolt 2/Mini DisplayPorts and HDMI.

Battery: 74.9 watt-hour Lithium Ion rechargeable for latest generation, not user replaceable. Comes with 60W MagSafe 2 power adapter.

Performance: Fifth generation Intel Broadwell dual core 28 watt CPUs with Intel Iris 6100 integrated graphics, 2.7GHz Core i5 and dual core 2.9GHz Core i5 and 3.1 GHz Core i7 options. 8 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: 3.48 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 Yosemite. 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, Two Thunderbolt 2/mini DisplayPorts and HDMI.


15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display Specs:

Display: 15.4", 2880 x 1800 IPS "Retina" display. Intel Iris Pro 5200 integrated graphics. AMD Radeon R9 M370M 2GB DDR5 in dedicated graphics model. HDMI and two Thunderbolt 2/mini DisplayPorts.

Battery: 99.5 Whr Lithium Ion Polymer rechargeable.

Performance: Intel Haswell 4th generation 47 watt quad core i7 CPUs available in 2.2, 2.5 and 2.8GHz speeds. 16 gigs RAM (soldered on, not upgradable) and 256 gig, 512 gig and 1 TB PCIe SSD options.

Size: 14.13 x 9.73 x .71 inches. Weight: 4.49 pounds.

Camera: 720MP FaceTime HD webcam.

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

Networking: Integrated Broadcom dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0.

Software: Mac OS X Yosemite plus Apple apps including Garage Band, iMovie, Photos, and iWork office suite.

Expansion and Ports: 2 Thunderbolt 2/ mini DisplayPorts, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 3.5mm combo audio and SD card slot.



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