Is the Retina MacBook Pro best for new students?

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.

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TOPICS: Apple, iPad, Laptops
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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

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25 comments
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  • Or spend $300 on a jucky laptop that does email, Word and web

    After all, as a student, you are more than likely buying this machine on time. Why spend all that money to have some moron spill beer on it? No one should buy a tech device that they can't replace with cash if its destroyed. Its tech, its pretty fragile. If you are a single person with a good income, go ahead and toss away $2k on a laptop so you can get your Apple warm fuzzies, but seriously, you don't need it. Any machine will be powerful enough for your collage work, even if you're a musician or scientist. To give advice to buy an expensive laptop in any form for college is bad advice.
    A Gray
    • Some people would greatly benefit from this laptop

      Although, many or probably even most college students would not classify this as a necessity, there are some majors that this would be very beneficial such as graphic design or film making. While you can get a powerful laptop for less, the nicer design and speed does save a lot of time, but for a hefty price.
      QWERTY1357924680
      • Thus.. those arent new students

        A $2000 for a very narrow task, is not what a new student needs.
        Imagine a 1000 PC that does the job, doesnt lock them into 1 brand, and allows them to buy 1000 worth of accessories.. or 700 and a fridge.
        And when they leave college, or even by the end of the school year, most other computers will have competitive screens ( which is one of the only things Apple has going for it at the moment).
        JABBER_WOLF
    • For 'collage' work..

      For 'collage' work you don't even need a laptop with a working CPU, since the aim is to smash the thing and rearrange the (hopefully) colourful pieces in aesthetically interesting ways.

      For numerate college work, I'd want more oomph. Programs like Mathematica can easily bring a $20k workstation to a grinding halt.

      BTW, what are "Apple warm fuzzies"?

      Are these the things that Intel is paying OEMs $300/machine to make Ultrabooks competitive with Apple MacBook Airs?

      Or are these the changes that Steve Ballmer is making in a desperate effort to remake Microsoft in Apple's image?
      StandardPerson
    • Have to remember...

      ...ZDNet authors typically have no memory of what life was like in college or what it is like for the majority of people.

      For many people, $1,000 for a laptop, regardless of the brand, OS, etc. is just too much. My mom caps her computer expense to less than $400, at that's obviously for an extremely low-end unit that she keeps for far too long.

      For a student that isn't coming from a well-off family, a computer that lacks certain functionality is irresponsible. I would actually argue with the author that the lack of a DVD/BluRay player makes this much LESS attractive. My wife and I have a TV and a dedicated DVD player. There are still numerous times we use the DVD player on our computer (desktop or laptop) to watch a movie.

      Most people can get by just fine without the extended battery life of an ultra-portable laptop- Apple or PC. I would actually urge students NOT to bring their laptops to a college class because it will turn into a huge distraction. Another bonus is that many of the professors/teachers that allow notes on assessments, will not allow computing devices, but if you have notes handwritten, they are allowed.
      ikissfutebol
      • Yeah...

        I think it's been a while since you've been to college. Things have definitely changed since then.
        Jeff Kibuule
      • I would have to disagree in part

        I JUST finished a residential four year degree, having my computer in the classroom with me was a game changer! With most campuses having WiFi for there students, having your computer in class brings an entirely new demintion in learning. Looking up info I found permitted a far richer interaction with the professor and class on massive topics. As far as distractions are concern, that has not been my experience neither, of course the sound shut off and such. Regarding professors not permitting electronic devices on assessments, absolutely correct. Having said that, have you seen some of the out-of-control apps that permit you to organize your notes, create quizzes, study guides? I totally would encourage students to turn off the sound and jump into that. Classroom armed with the many prospectives other then that of a single professor and have a blast LEARNING not just physically there to meet an attendance requirement.

        Your statement regarding price....not going to get an arguement out of me.

        Again, I totally hear you, totally understand and acknowledge your opinion, and would agree practically in your comment entirely. What I disagree with would be to say for students (unless stated by your professor) not to bring their computers to the classroom. As stated before, it seemed to be far richer of an experience.
        Bud Brangard
        • Bud...I agree with you on some points.

          Bud,
          It's hard for me to take your opinion seriously. I'm not judging your intelligence but maybe just a poor English education or poor reasoning skills. Your post is riddled with errors. When I read the posts on sites that are technical in nature I usually look past the 2-3 mistakes people make when writing their posts since 1) It is just a post and 2) A couple errors doesn't distract me enough to miss what the person is trying to express. Now, as far as using this technology in the classroom setting I really think it depends on the class but for most of the Humanities I don't believe it brings an entirely new 'dimension' TO learning but in fact distracts a student from what is trying to be taught. The point of an education is not just to memorize facts or to gather opinions (except maybe in trade schools) but to learn how to think and how to reason so that any information that is encountered in life can be critically examined and then appropriately used. Certainly there are those classes where memorizing material is (and should be) the primary purpose. There are many points I disagree with you on especially those concerning the importance of the 'perspective' of the professor but I don't believe I'll get into that here since I don't think you would take the importance of what I would say seriously before before creating your own rebuttal.
          The Internet is replete with errors and 'opinions' from people that put less than a rigorous examination of what they submit to countless websites all the while making it sound as if their opinions are indeed facts or at the very least unbiased.
          While I do think certain classroom settings might benefit from the use of computers I would be amiss if I didn't strongly argue that computers are just tools (i.e. mostly the Internet) just like a pencil and paper. If you don't know how to use them they are less than useless. When I say "know how to use them" I don't mean to have the knowledge to operate but to be able to find the legitimate information and separate it from the other 99% of what is garbage that one will ultimately stumble upon.
          I could go on but I'm sure some people will be glad that I didn't since I have gone off topic for the most part and am sounding like I am preaching which I apologize for.
          DB310
  • Don't overpay

    Get a 13 inch MacBook Pro and stick in your own SSD bought from New Egg as well as increase the DRAM to 8 GB.

    You will get a laptop that is portable, doesn't weigh much, is fast and reliable.

    Lugging a 15 inch retina MBP around is not going to be fun.
    DaveLG526
    • Weight

      The 15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display (4.46lb) weighs less than the 13" MacBook Pro (4.5lb).
      Jeff Kibuule
      • Yep

        Well then there is always the Air which has a better screen.
        DaveLG526
  • Engineering marvel..?

    I remember how my friends used to ignore the 1080p displays I used to show them on the newer laptops. They even said such high resolution is not necessary on a laptop. Now when the macbook retina display came out, they starting drooling over the display. Now of all the laptops available in the market, here is an article that asks if a $2-3k laptop is best for students?
    coldlava
    • Re: Engineering marvel..?

      "1080p displays I used to show them on the newer laptops"
      I would have said the same thing, at the time they were releasing them and for the price.
      When the price dropped, then yes NOW, its a good thing and reasonable.
      JABBER_WOLF
  • I guess being a student has changed in the year since I graduated

    Seriously, the vast majority of students need something that they can write some papers on, and use the internet. That's it. A Lenovo with their fantastic keyboards would be much more appropriate, and come in much more affordable.
    blarelli
  • Most of the smart students with Apple's run Windows

    So, how to be an Apple elite, and still be competetive and be able to keep yourself marketable? Buy an apple and run windows like most of the 'smart' college kids do. Face it, MacOS is never going to be competetive in the business world because it just doesn't have the software support and it never will. For rich college kids, sure buy the Mac, put Windows on it so you can keep marketable and still look cool to the PC kids. Take a look at some of the big college computer labs that Apple has dumped their computers on, most of them are running Windows - kind of funny how Apple's have built in support to run Windows, yet they won't allow anyone else to run their software, that in itself is a reason they continue to hover in the single digits of market penetration for computers (and for those who are going to bring it up, iPads are NOT computers)
    OSbender
    • iPad

      Yes...No way a tablet only would get you through college
      DaveLG526
    • "Apple's with Windows"?

      Based on that punctuation, I hope you're not including yourself in the group of "smart students"!

      I'd be intrigued to know what crucial "software support" you think is missing from the Mac OS X system. OS X is fully certified UNIX - the OS which has been the mainstay of academic computing for thirty-odd years.

      It's nice that Apple hardware supports Windows, but it's a shame that Microsoft has modified the EFI standard to exclude other operating systems, such as GNU/Linux. Microsoft are up to their old monopolistic tricks again, and so soon after being fined $7 billion by the EU for anti-competitive practices.

      Finally, iPads are computers, given the standard definition of the word. (Look up Universal Turing Machine.) However, personally, I wouldn't want to do a degree with an iPad alone.
      StandardPerson
  • Not sure what student can afford that??

    OK if my daughter came to me wanting a computer for college the Macbook Pro with retina would be the last one I would recommend. I don't know how much money you think people have. But spending that kind of money on a laptop for college is for those 1%. I guess maybe your that 1%?
    For one think the Macbook Air does everything a Macbook Pro retina does for half the price? In fact if my daughter or son was not a huge Apple fan I would probably even consider a PC laptop in the range of $600 which if damaged or stolen I would not feel so bad about. Something not so fragile as a Macbook Air or a Macbook Pro Retina.
    jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376
    • re: affordability

      I see a lot of comments here about the stereotypical "broke college student" and how it's crazy to spend more than $600 or so on a computer for college. But at the same time? How much is tuition for these courses? How much does the typical semester of textbooks cost? All of a sudden, investing a little more on a good portable doesn't strike me as so unreasonable!

      College is EXPENSIVE .... and frankly, I think it's just money down the drain for some of the people who sign up for it. We've been collectively brainwashed for far too long that you "need a college education" to make a decent living. In reality, it's always surprised me how often I ran into people I thought were amazingly intelligent, resourceful individuals who it turns out didn't even go to college, or dropped out in the middle of it and never looked back. It's also surprised me how often I've dealt with managers and vice-presidents who can't compose proper sentences in their emails and can't spell basic words.

      But if you're going to attend, why deal with some bargain priced plastic-y Windows-based laptop that's liable to be crippled with spyware and virus problems in the first year of use? To me, going cheap on your primary computer is like buying the cheapest shoes you can get. You rely on them daily, probably for many hours ... and you're going to suffer if you cut corners.

      I'm not saying the retina display MBP is the *one* to buy. It may or may not be, and a lot depends on your personal preferences. I'm just saying it makes sense to spend a little more for something you actually enjoy using each day and you can count on as reliable. I think the Macbook Air really is a great choice for many people. Its weakest spot is graphics capabilities, which hardly matter if you're not going to play 3D games on it or try to use it as a video editing/production workstation (a bad idea anyway).
      kingtj
  • No, just no.

    What comes to mind when most people think of college? Generally, it's drunken parties and condiment sandwiches. The college student with rich parents that can buy them whatever they fancy is rare. If your parents can afford to buy you a 2-3k laptop without blinking an eye, then sure, go for it. I personally never spent over 1k for mine (and really, only that much because I wanted the power to do a lot of other non-school related things). Unless you're in a very specific field that needs a lot of processing power (which isn't a lot of them), then you're better off with something much cheaper. Hell, I'd even go as far as saying the Macbook Air would be better than a MBP for a student because you're going to be lugging it around campus (not that I'd really touch any Mac personally. I got my fill from my iPad of Apple stuff).
    Aerowind