I am looking into getting an Apple laptop. I took a look at the MacBook Pro (regular versus retina display). After reviewing the specs, it seems the MacBook Pro with Retina display has the following benefits:

  1. Lighter (by about 1 pound)
  2. SSD
  3. The display, of course

Is cost the only reason I should look at the regular MacBook Pro? It seems like the Retina display is about 300 – 400 dollars (USD) more for the same specs (hard drive space, etc)?

I wanted to see if there were other things in the regular MacBook Pro, besides cost, that would be considered an advantage over the new retina display.

  • Shopping recommendation for hardware is off topic.
    – Lri
    Aug 10, 2012 at 11:47
  • 1
    "So is cost the only reason you would look at the regular Mac Book Pro?" How about an optical drive. If you want that built in, that's an advantage of the "regular" model.
    – Richard
    Aug 10, 2012 at 11:48
  • I'm not going to cast a binding close vote and see how the community votes on this. Yes - shopping is an aspect of this question, but the technical comparison of the models and the real question of pixels and GPU performance seem to merit some time to see if this has use from that standpoint.
    – bmike
    Aug 10, 2012 at 17:33
  • But external USB optical drives are way cheap. Unless you use it all the time, it's not worth it. And you actually save money if you consider the price you would pay for an internalized optical drive vs. an external one.
    – asmeurer
    Sep 11, 2012 at 2:44

4 Answers 4


I can buy a regular MBP, with a cheap HDD, open it, upgrade the RAM and replace the HDD with a SDD, all for a fraction of the price Apple would charge me. In addition, I still have Ethernet and a CD/DVD drive, in case I need one.

As I said, you might need the retina, or you might just like it, both of which are perfectly reasonable points. I don't, and I prefer to keep my money with me, upgrading my hardware when I need it, and at the price I choose to pay (out of a range of options). Uh, and I also hate the lack of Ethernet port.

To each their own.

  • 1
    You make the three best points: the Ethernet port, the optical drive, and the upgradeability. These are why you'd buy a regular MacBook Pro over the retina model.
    – Cajunluke
    Aug 15, 2012 at 21:09
  • 1
    One drawback to installing your own SDD is that it will not take advantage of Power Nap.
    – pdd
    Aug 15, 2012 at 21:15
  • Don't waste your money on a RAM upgrade. With a SSD you won't need it.
    – asmeurer
    Sep 11, 2012 at 2:32

Graphics performance may be an issue for some. A retina display has to push many more pixels than a traditional display. The graphics card performance needs to be significantly better.

This could make a difference for those working with 3D software and to gamers.

I also suspect you are underestimating the influence of price in the buying decision.

  • I am not trivializing cost in the decision. Just trying to separate that out to understand the spec comparison
    – leora
    Aug 10, 2012 at 11:34
  • I appreciate you are not trivialising the cost. Aug 10, 2012 at 12:06
  • I was under the impression that the graphics card in the retina MacBook Pro made up for the deficiency. If you care about graphics, you should definitely get the retina version, as things look way better.
    – asmeurer
    Sep 11, 2012 at 2:33

Due to the huge increase in pixels being pushed, the retina model has to spend more energy on a GPU and in some circumstances might not benchmark as well as the non-retina model when a high frame rate is needed. Finding a conclusive measure will be hard since personal sensitivity to "lag or tearing" when scrolling or gaming means that something that is totally unacceptable to one wouldn't even be noticed by another. There will be no substitute for hands on test driving or buying from someone that will accept a return if you can determine a mistake in estimating your needs soon after purchase.

The hardware features are far less subjective - clearly any or all of the components that no longer ship could be seen as viable reasons to purchase the non-retina 15-inch MacBook Pro:

  • Security slot
  • Integrated optical drive
  • Line in and out (in addition to the headphone jack)
  • Integrated Ethernet
  • Integrated Firewire
  • User-replaceable/upgradeable and Physical Hard Drive (as opposed to solid state)
  • User-replaceable/upgradeable RAM
  • Glass protected LCD panel
  • Physical size of the MagSafe connector or the body itself

Missing these components is amplified if you already have accessories or manage several computers that are pooled and expected to be the same physical size. For most, these omissions when selecting a retina MacBook Pro are a welcome change as adapters are available for most of the connections that are lost. Subjectively, if you don't need the resolution or weight/performance that the retina model allows, any of these considerations could tip the scales to make the non-retina model preferable. In my experience, the added screen protection and the known strength1 of the non-retina model as well as the ability to upgrade RAM/storage are the primary reasons people have passed on a retina model thus far.

1 - It's too soon to know if the retinal model's design is more, less or equally as rugged as the 15 inch MacBook Pro, but the existing design is extremely strong and I have seen them survive falls from a moving car roof at 40 MPH with no protection and only cosmetic damage. I have also seen a short 10 inch fall do $1300 damage to case, logic board and LCD panel even though most drops from less than two feet do anything but cosmetic and light bending of a Pro. Even with that variability in damage, the Pro are clearly more stout than the Air line so if you are hard on your hardware, the added bulk of the non-retina model might be a good reason to prefer it.


The ability to upgrade the RAM and HDD myself, the ability to have two hard drives by replacing the optical drive, and the obvious cost.

I have the 1680x1050 display in my 15" mbp, and side by side against the retina display, it simply didn't look that much better to make it worthwhile. I'd assumed that with the higher res I could fit so much more on the screen if I wanted to work with more detail, but it doesn't allow you to shrink things that much. I could only fit a tiny bit more on, so there was no value in spending so much more for so little gain this time. I'll buy one in another year or so when I plan to upgrade anyway provided that the base model starts at 500gb on the SSD and 16gb RAM isn't a stupidly expensive option. Hopefully by then they will have used a graphics chipset which is more suited for such a high resolution display.

If you're buying a new laptop anyway though, and don't mind paying a lot more to increase the storage and memory up front, then I'd say go for it.

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