In 2012 the Macbook Pro Retina wasn’t so much the next stage of laptops as it was a fun oddity by Apple. It was a workstation, designed to handle grueling video and photo editing tasks with aplomb, but it was missing some workstation musts, like a DVD drive or Ethernet port. Instead it was thinner and lighter than a traditional Macbook Pro, had a gorgeous 1800p display, and was outfitted with a solid state drive.
While not perfect for all, the Macbook Pro Retina was perfect for me, and four year later, it’s still better than any other Apple computer I could buy—for the most part.
Not that it isn’t without problems. There’s currently a serious issue with the OS that’s going to require a wipe and a reinstall, and when the warranty ended back in 2013, flaws began to appear in the display. Dead pixels. Bright splotches. When I’d watch a movie and the scene would fade to black, it looked like the Milky Way. I chalked it up to first generation jitters. Apple working out the kinks.
I can assume that Apple has addessed those concerns. Complaints about the display don’t seem to be too regular an occurrence, but I will admit to wanting to buy a new one almost as soon as those issues arose. I waited for a refresh significant enough to justify selling it—it’s resale value now ruined by the display problems—and dropping $2,400 on an update.
The next refresh, in 2013, wasn’t good enough. Which is to be expected after just one year. Usually you’ll see a nice improvement in speeds, but nothing to warrant whipping out the credit card.
In the Macbook Pro Retina’s case it was a jump from an Ivy Bridge Intel processor to a Haswell Intel processor and a Nvidia 650m video card to an Nvidia 750 video card. Back then my primary metric for sweet speed improvements was Geekbench 3. The score hopped from 13079 to 14262. One thousand whole points! One thousand whole negligible points for most consumers. Unless you need to shave a second off a video render it would definitely not be worth the cash I’d have to spend.
The 2014 refresh came like clockwork, and I rushed back to Geekbench to see the new score. Sure, the Macbook Pro Retina still had a Haswell chip—now over a year old and an Nvidia 750 card. Yet maybe Apple, with their engineering ingenuity, had figured out a way to improve the speeds. It had. to 14539. 277 whole points.
But instead of splurging on a new machine, I upgraded the size of the hard drive in my own Macbook Pro Retina. That didn’t fix the issues with the display, or my burning desire for better speeds, or help my envy for friends with Lenovos and Dells running on computing architecture now two years ahead of what I had, but whatever.
Last year, in 2015, Apple quietly refreshed the Macbook Pro Retina again. We got one in a week ahead of the launch. I was tasked with benchmarking it at work and I was excited. Yes, it was still a Haswell chip—now three years old. But Apple had switched from the Nvidia 750m to the AMD Radeon R9M370X video card. That had to improve speeds! That wasn’t a two year old video card. It was from 2015! It was in laptops made by actual current competitors! That Geekbench score had to improve.
It actually went down. 14,423.
Geekbench 3 is hardly the only metric by which to benchmark a computer though. It’s a synthetic benchmark, which means numbers are all theoretical and have no real world application. So I benchmarked my old Macbook Pro alongside the new one. And the results were so negligible I closed both machines in disgust. If you’re spending $2,400 on a laptop it should be more than 10 percent faster than your old laptop.
At least in my opinion.
Which is why, four years after it’s introduction, the original Macbook Pro Retina is still the best workstation Apple has. Its not that much slower than the newest one. Unless you game… on a Mac. In which case you’ll see some nice improvements from the AMD Radeon card. Otherwise start hunting down old Macbook Pro Retinas on Amazon. They’re cheaper than the cheapest ones available in the Apple store, or from its refurbished section (there’s a 2013 model going for $2,169!), and they’re basically just as fast.