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Tuesday, October 30, 2012, 04:08 pm PT (07:08 pm ET)

Review: Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display




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Performance



Anyone who has used a MacBook Air or the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display already knows the benefits of flash-only storage. Now the 13-inch MacBook Pro gains that same benefit and performs as expected: boot-up time is super fast, applications launch much more quickly, and features such as Power Nap work great.

While flash is a welcome addition, the lack of a dedicated graphics card is a mild disappointment. However, it should be noted that Apple's legacy 13-inch MacBook Pro also lacks a discrete graphics card.

The good news is, for day-to-day tasks, most users will not notice the absence of a dedicated graphics card. Even while pushing graphics to Apple's high-resolution Retina display, the integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics, part of the Ivy Bridge chipset, perform well. Users can play a high-definition movie, browse a website, and view high-resolution images at the same time without any noticeable slowdown.

Review


Of course, the same will not be the case for those who do high-end video editing or are looking to play the latest games. Here, the MacBook Pro will perform adequately, but can't compete with the quad-core chip and dedicated graphics found in the 15-inch model — a machine that, while more powerful, is a full pound heavier.

An OpenGL test with Cinebench 11.5 found that the 13-inch MacBook Pro with 2.9 gigahertz dual-core i7 processor and Intel HD 4000 graphics averaged 20.06 frames per second. Cinebench's CPU test gave the system a score of 3.31.

For a 13-inch notebook, the MacBook Pro with Retina display holds its own. Any fears that the integrated graphics and dual-core processor would not be able to adequately drive the pixel-pushing display are unfounded. But it's a machine also considerably slower than its bulkier 15-inch brethren, at least when it comes to graphics-intensive tasks. For those deciding between Apple's two Retina MacBooks, a choice must be made between power and portability.

Review


As for battery life, we found that the MacBook Pro could get nearly a full workday's use, meeting Apple's advertised 7-hour battery life, with mid-level brightness, Wi-Fi enabled, and multiple applications running. In a more extreme battery stress test with brightness maxed out, the MacBook Pro with Retina display lasted nearly 4 hours before a charge was necessary.

It should be noted that battery life should be even longer for most users with the default 2.5 gigahertz processor. Our test machine with an upgraded 2.9 gigahertz Core i7 chip draws more power than the standard processor.