13-inch MacBook Pro Retina vs Non-Retina MacBook Pro 2014

While Apple has been marching relentlessly toward Retina displays in new MacBook Pros, it is still selling a 13-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro. In fact, Apple just dropped the price by $100. The question is, should you buy the less expensive non-Retina MacBook Pro or splurge on a Retina-based model?

Tough question.

If you have the budget, just get the 512GB 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. You’ll love it. Plenty of storage, plenty of power. If you don’t have the budget, your decision gets a little tricky. Here’s what’s cool about the non-Retina MacBook Pro.

It’s upgradable and versatile.

Non-Retina MacBook Pro Versatility

The non-Retina MacBook Pro has a solid processor that is plenty powerful for most people. The MacBook Air, for example, has a 1.4 Ghz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor. The non-Retina MacBook Pro sports a 2.5 GHz dual-core Intel i5 processor. So, right away, that gives you a solid foundation for years of great computing. Next, the 4GB of memory is a bit slim — 4GB is also in a MacBook Air — but 4GB is a workable amount for most people. More importantly, if your computing needs change — if you start using larger apps and start doing more complicated work — you can upgrade the memory to 8GB or even 16GB (16GB is possible even though Apple documentation says 8GB).

Better yet, you can upgrade the older, traditional 5400-rpm hard drive to a much faster SSD flash-based drive. If you make both a memory and SSD upgrade down the road, your non-Retina MacBook Pro will feel faster and more capable than today’s MacBook Airs — and it will compete with today’s entry-level MacBook Pro with Retina display Macs, too.

Of course, if you want the ability to store a lot of data — a lot of photos, videos, movies, and TV shows, the 500GB hard drive gives you room to spare. And if you fill that up? You can install a traditional 1 terabyte hard drive for less than $70. Or even swap out the CD/DVD SuperDrive and install a second hard drive in its place for extra storage — or as an on-board bootable backup drive. A popular configuration is to run a super-fast SSD drive for your primary drive . . . and use your old 500GB drive in place of the SuperDrive as a backup or for extra storage by using an inexpensive hard drive caddy tray adapter.

So yeah, the non-Retina MacBook Pro is definitely versatile.

But Isn’t It Really All About the Retina Display?

No doubt, the extra pixels in a Retina display make it a sharper thing of beauty, but the “standard” displays in the non-Retina MacBook Pros are quite nice. Most people will barely notice the difference, but if you’re going to spend hours upon hours in front of your MacBook . . . I have to say, the Retina is a better option in the long run.

In addition, apps designed for Retina displays look better, and the upcoming Mac OS X Yosemite operating system upgrade (which will be free to Mac owners this fall) will seem a bit prettier on a Retina display MacBook Pro. Will a Retina display help you write a better report? Build a better presentation? Not really. Edit a better movie? Maybe.

Of course, I also attach a 24-inch monitor to my own MacBook Pro, so more than half of my computing is done on an external monitor anyway. If you want more screen real estate via an external monitor more than half the time, a Retina display simply becomes less important.

Size, Weight, and the CD/DVD SuperDrive

If you’re packing around your MacBook Pro all the time, a thinner, lighter MacBook Air or MacBook Pro with Retina display will certainly lighten your load. Is it really a big deal? Not really. But sometimes the extra pound in the non-Retina MacBook Pro (4.5 lbs vs the Retina’s 3.46 lbs) can start to weigh you down. Again, if you’ve got the budget, splurge on the Retina version. If not, buck up. You’ll be a stronger person.

Of course, there is that CD/DVD SuperDrive, which lets you play DVDs as well as burn CDs and burn DVDs. If you’re not ready to give up that handy feature, you can only get it in a non-Retina MacBook Pro (but you can buy an external SuperDrive). According to Apple, the non-Retina MacBook Pros are very popular among Windows PC switchers. Why? I’m guessing familiarity of features results in comfort. Most Windows switchers will be coming from PCs where it’s easy to upgrade memory, storage, and their laptops also contain CD/DVD drives. The non-Retina Macbook Pro seems most similar to more PC laptops.

Which MacBook for Students?

Last of all, the non-Retina MacBook Pro is just $1,099, and when you think about it, offers an outstanding Mac value when you consider the processor, storage capacity (500GB, easily upgradable), as well as easy and cheap third-party memory upgrades. A student can start using this Mac, and then in a year or two, upgrade it for even better performance. My personal preference would fall to the entry MacBook Pro with Retina display because it comes with 8GB of memory and is already using fast flash-based storage . . . but sometimes $200 is a critical difference. If your budget isn’t quite there, don’t overspend. In fact, you might consider the $999 13-inch MacBook Air for the $899 11-inch MacBook Air. The 11-inch is a bit small for all-day computing, but pulling it out of a backpack is a breeze. Besides, it will also power an external display in addition to its own in a dual-display setup. So you could buy a decent $170 1080p monitor and pair it with an 11-inch MacBook Air for the same cost as a 13-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro and end up with a lot of screen real estate to play with.

Check Out the Latest MacBook Pro Pricing at Amazon:


Want More Bites?

About the author

Chris Maxcer

Twitter Website

I've been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and I still remember the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. I'm a big fan of elegant gear and great tech, but there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. Online I like to call out cool stuff on Wicked Cool Bite and blog with my buddies at Man Makes Fire. To catch me, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at the url of this site.