Is the Retina MacBook Pro best for new students?

Summary:A recent review of Apple's new MacBook Pro line admires the engineering and even the aging hardware styling. But the that Retina Display really catches the eye and imagination.

The Anandtech site recently reviewed the latest MacBook Pro and MacBook Air lines. Beyond the benchmark and test results I was struck by reviewer Vivek Gowrl's analysis of the MacBook Pro.  

Gowrl admires the MBP and its engineering, but says that its features are "starting to matter less and less ..." What are those features that are increasingly irrelevant? A DVD drive, Firewire port, even Ethernet. But on the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, those devices are traded for a pair of Thunderbolt ports and HDMI out.

Based on my usage model, I make that trade twelve times out of ten. Two ports I never use for one I use regularly and one I will use going forward, and becomes worth more as more Thunderbolt accessories become available. And when you think about it in those terms, you see where the normal 2012 MBP is flawed - it’s a design that’s rooted in the past, a four year old design with a one year stay of execution.
That normally wouldn’t be a problem, but with the future being sold alongside it, it becomes a much more difficult sell. Especially when you consider this: if you were to buy the base 15” MBP and upgrade to a 256GB Samsung 830 SSD (solid state drive) and 8GB memory (bringing it to spec-parity with the base rMBP), you’d be approximately $100 shy of the rMBP pricing. That’s $100 for a smaller, lighter notebook that’s just as fast and has a *significantly* better display. If you’re eligible for student discount, that difference is actually zero, because the rMBP has a greater student discount than the base MBP15. The rMBP is pretty pricey, but when you think about it, it’s a pretty good deal.

Note that last part about the educational pricing. Yes, the Retina Display is beautiful and the price proposition appears close. I also like the durability of the SSD-only notebooks, especially for students. And the Retina Display is great for collaboration.

However, there are important choices with the Retina MBP that must be made up front, at the time of purchase.

For example, owners can't upgrade anything in the Retina machine. In order to make it more usable for a longer time, buyers would want to order it with lots of RAM and the larger SSD (Apple calls this a flash drive). Unlike the other non-Retina MBP models, buyers have to chose the faster processor model if they want more storage — 256GB vs 512GB.

In addition, memory is very important in a modern machine, so buyers should order it with 16GB, which costs another $200.

Certainly, lucky students will take the new MBP Retina to school in the fall. I suggest they buy the older, more-upgradeable design and spend the "savings" on extra software and maybe a Thunderbolt backup drive. But who am I kidding? Backups in college?

Topics: Apple, iPad, Laptops

About

David Morgenstern has covered the Mac market and other technology segments for 20 years. In the recent past, he founded Ziff-Davis' Storage Supersite, served as news editor for Ziff Davis Internet and held several executive editorial positions at eWEEK. In the 1990s, David was editor of Ziff Davis' award-winning MacWEEK news publication a... Full Bio

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