Apple just released two new MacBook Pro models with 13-inch and 15-inch Retina displays that improve upon their predecessors in several notable ways including solid-state memory type, processors, and battery life among other key upgrades. The 15-inch model houses a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, eclipsing the dual-core Intel Core i5 processor found in the 13-inch model. The notebooks are available in five standard configurations ranging in price from $1299 to $2599 that can be modified according to your needs. For example, if you want to max-out the 15-inch MacBook you can bump up the quad-core processor to 2.6GHz ($200) and upgrade to 1TB storage ($500), bringing the cost up to $3,299. Just don’t forget to add Apple Care for $349, and state taxes, bringing your total close to the $4k mark.

When comparing to non-Retina display MacBook Pros, the new 13-inch model is 20-percent lighter at 3.46 lbs. And, in thickness the new 13-inch models measures just 0.71 inches high. That’s 25-percent thinner than the non-Retina display MacBook Pro. When compared to the early 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina display, the newer 13-inch models have only slight reductions in weight and thickness; The new 13-inch model weighs 3.46 lbs vs. 3.57 lbs, and measures 0.75 inches high vs. 0.71 inches high. The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display has stayed the same in both weight and thickness.

The MacBook Pro display resolution, however, has not changed in either the new 13-inch or 15-inch versions from the MacBook Pro models released in February, 2013. The gorgeous Retina displays contain over 4 million pixels in the 13-inch model and 5 million pixels in the 15-inch model. The 13-inch display (actually 13.3-inches diagonal) is a LED-backlit with IPS technology at 2560×1600 resolution and 227 pixels-per-inch (PPI). The larger 15-inch model (actually 15.4-inches diagonal) is also built on LED-backlit IPS technology but with more lines of resolution at 2880×1800 and 220 PPI.

Let’s take a look at Apple’s key improvements in the October, 2013 versions of the MacBook Pro with Retina display. For those of you who opted to hold off updating your MacBook back in February, your patience may have served you well.

1. PCIe-based Flash Memory

The five available MacBook Pro models with Retina display come with either 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB PCIe-based flash memory on Solid State Drives (SSDs). The PCIe flash memory, Apple claims, allows a 60-percent improvement over the SATA-based flash memory in previous MacBook Pro models. In a side-by-side comparison, Macworld rated the 15-inch MacBook Pro with 256GB storage 33-percent faster than the previous Ivy Bridge flash storage. Of course, the PCIe-based flash memory on solid state drives is certainly a vast improvement over Apple’s earlier MacBook Pros with rotating disc hard drives.

2. Upgraded processors

apple-macbook-pro-display-under-processorDual-core Haswell processor (13-inch Display)

The new MacBook Pro with 13-inch display gets Intel’s Haswell processor (the successor to the Ivy Bridge), giving processing a boost from the early 2013 model.

Quad-core Crystalwell processor (15-inch Display)

The higher-end MacBook Pro 15-inch display models feature fourth-generation quad-core Intel Haswell Crystalwell processors with 128 MB of embedded DRAM (eDRAM), allowing discrete chip-level performance for graphics (and what might be referred to as a fourth level of cache), shared between the GPU and CPU.

3. Iris Graphics


Intel Iris Graphics (13-inch Display)

The new MacBook Pros with 13-inch Retina display feature upgraded Intel Iris Graphics that boost frame rates. Macworld’s comparison of the new 13” MacBook Pro with Intel Iris Graphics to the early 2013 model with HD 4000 graphics showed up to 50% frame-rate improvement.

Intel Iris Pro Graphics (15-inch Display)

The 15-inch models really get a substantial display upgrade, including doubling the GDDR5 (Graphics Double Data Rate Version 5) memory. The 15-inch MacBook Pros boast a Nvidia GeForce GT 750M graphics processing unit with 2GB of GDDR5 memory, an upgrade from the Feb. 2013 ‘Pro’ model with NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M and 1GB of GDDR5 memory.

4. Battery Length

The new MacBook Pros with 13-inch Retina display are rated to last up to 9 hours per battery charge. That’s two hours longer than the older MacBook Pro models measured up to 7-hour battery life. The larger 15-inch MacBook Pro models only get a one hour improvement, at an estimated 8 hours compared to 7 hours in the previous 15-inch models. (Of course, watching HD movies and playing video games will use up your battery much quicker than word processing.)

5. Free Operating System

While not specific to the new 2013 MacBook Pros with Retina display, Apple’s new operating system ‘Mavericks’ is downloadable for free and boasts new features such as letting you know what applications are draining your battery the most, a Do Not Disturb mode, Finder Tabs and Tags, and integrated Apple Maps application. (Read about the coolest Mavericks features you’ll want to start using right away.) The fact that OS X Mavericks (known as Version 10.9 in “inner circles”) is free to download is certainly an industry first. When was the last time a major software developer (besides Linux) offered a PC operating system for free? Microsoft might take a cue from Apple for their next Windows 8 ($119) update. The new Mavericks app is a 5.29GB download available at iTunes, and supports Mac products even back to Mid/Late 2007 MacBook Pro models.

The Criticism

Apple’s new MacBook Pro notebooks with Retina display have been criticized mainly for their price. Apple’s entry level model is still twice the cost of a decent PC laptop. And, some consider the $2,599 sticker price of the 15-inch model with 512GB flash storage (standard configuration) way too high. But Apple products have always been pricey, and Apple users don’t seem to care.

The MacBook Pros with Retina displays also get criticized for not having a disc drive (something we all may as well get used to), and for not being environmentally friendly given the battery cannot be removed for easy recycling. (Like the MacBook Air, iPhone, and iPad you need to bring it to Apple for replacement.) Others have criticized Apple for the design of the Retina display (going back to the first models in 2012), which fuses the glass to aluminum — making repairs and recycling much more difficult than it could be.