Why the old Macbook Pro is better for me, and probably for you too

Summary:The new Retina Macbook Pro is nice, but it isn't what most people need.

Next month, I'm moving into my new home in Florida and I'm going to be outfitting my office with new equipment. For the last six months, I've been waiting to give my wife my Mac Mini server and one of my HD monitors, and to replace it with a newer Mac and a Thunderbolt display.

The intention is to replace both Der Frankenputer (which will serve out the remainder of its life as a server) as well as the 2010 Mac Mini, clearing off a ton of desk space in the process.

Like many folks, I was salivating over the gorgeous and powerful 15" Macbook Pro with Retina Display that was announced this week. It has the power of a desktop, but the ultraportability of a notebook computer. And of course, that gorgeous Retina display.

I was originally going to pick up a Mac Pro desktop, since I really don't need another laptop. My employer provides me with a company-owned laptop, and I have another personal Lenovo laptop for when I travel on vacations and such and need something for actual writing and content creation, as opposed to my iPad, which actually ends up being used the most anyway.

Problem is, the Mac Pro ended up being a snoozer. No USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt upgrade, just a processor boost. And it's still way overpriced. I was hoping this time around they would do something exciting with the desktops, such as perhaps create a "Mac Mini Pro" or a "iMac Pro" but no such luck.

Apple's CEO, Tim Cook has stated that a refresh is due in 2013, so maybe we'll get lucky next year.

So now I'm looking at a Mac laptop as a possible desktop replacement. I need something with a fast processor, good graphics performance, fast I/O and can take 16GB of RAM.

I need this high-end config because I'm looking to replace two systems with one machine -- I run VMWare on the Frankenputer and also because I use Aperture, Photoshop and iMovie on the Mac Mini and am likely to start using Final Cut Pro.

On the surface, the new Retina Macbook Pro looks awesome. Problem is, my wife would probably divorce me if I priced it out and actually bought one.

I went through the Apple Store to see what the thing would cost. I bumped it to a 2.7Ghz processor, boosted it to 16GB of RAM, added a 27" external Thunderbolt display and Applecare.

What's the war damage? $4,597.00.

Holy Crap.

Okay, maybe I need to re-think this.

The Retina display is gorgeous, but if I'm going to keep this laptop more or less permanently docked on my desk and attached to the Thunderbolt display, I don't really need one. And frankly, I may hold off on the Thunderbolt screen and just use my existing HD monitors off a Moshi Mini Displayport to HDMI connector for a while.

If I configure a refreshed, old-style Macbook Pro with a 2.7Ghz CPU, a 750GB SATA drive, a regular 15-inch display and an Applecare plan, it comes out to $2798.00.

And if I want to upgrade the machine, I can go right over to Crucial.com and pick up a 16GB memory kit for $173.99 and a 512GB m4 2.5" 6GB/s SSD for $399.

What's that run? $3370.99.

Now, granted, if I do add that Thunderbolt display, that's going to bump the price up to $4369.00. Which isn't that far off from the Macbook Pro with Retina I configured.

So why not just go with the Macbook Pro with Retina? Or even a souped-up iMac? Well, there's this nagging little upgradability thing.

First, you can't put an optical drive in the new Retina Macbook Pro. It's too thin. And yes, I still burn DVDs, and I'd rather not use an external device if I can avoid it. I'm already going to hook it up to external storage as it is, and I want to minimize my desk clutter. Plus, if I do need to travel with it, I'd rather not carry an external DVD drive.

Second, the RAM is soldered onto the Retina Macbook's mainboard and the SSD uses a proprietary daughterboard which nobody has licensed yet. That's a total no-go for me and you're paying a premium to configure it with Apple's RAM and SSD.

Yes, you're going to get some speed advantages that way, but not enough to make a serious difference in my opinion.

If I want to upgrade to a 1TB SSD a year from now, I can do that easily with the regular Macbook Pro. If the RAM somehow needs to be replaced, Crucial will take it back, cross ship me new chips, and I won't have to send the machine back to the factory.

And the iMac? I don't really want to be without the machine if the display goes bad and I have to send it in for repairs.

So it looks like I'm probably going to pick up the refreshed "Old" Macbook Pro, and stuff it with 3rd-party upgrades.

Are you thinking about purchasing one of the new Macbooks? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

See also:

Topics: Apple

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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