With most of the attention from Apple's hardware refresh event centered around iOS 6 and the new Retina MacBook Pro, the updated 2012 edition of the regular MacBook Pro has flown a little bit under the radar. Basically, it’s just an Ivy Bridge-infused version of the venerable unibody MacBook Pro chassis that we’ve known and loved for the last few years. The details don’t bring any particularly earth-shattering revelations, with 13” retaining the dual-core processor and integrated graphics, while the 15” makes the switch from AMD to Nvidia’s new Kepler-based GT 650M dedicated graphics. Along with Ivy Bridge, the 2012 MBP line gets HD 4000 graphics and USB 3.0 across the board, plus a free update to Mountain Lion when it releases later this summer. Naturally, it doesn’t generate the same kind of excitement that the all-new, all-awesome Retina MacBook Pro does. But is a less headline-worthy computer necessarily a worse one?

It’s pretty difficult to find things to write about the 2012 MacBook Pro hardware. You can essentially sum it up in one paragraph, or even one sentence if you try hard enough. The 2012 MBP looks exactly like the 2011 MBP, which looked exactly like the 2010 MBP, which looked exactly like the post-April 2009 MBP. It’s likely to be the last iteration of the original unibody MBP, giving this body style a 4.5 year run as one of the most instantly recognizable notebook computers on the market. I’m not going to go too far in depth with analyzing the design, because we’ve gone over it a few times over the years (here, here, here, here, here, and here. Oh and here too, just for good measure.)

It’s a solid notebook, that much is certain. From an SKU standpoint, Apple has kept things relatively straightforward, with a high end and a low end for both the 13” and 15” models. Starting at $1199, the MBP13 comes with a 2.5GHz Core i5-3210M, 4GB DDR3, and a 500GB HDD, while the higher end SKU bumps that to a 2.9GHz i5-3520M, 8GB DDR3, a 750GB HDD, and a $1499 pricetag. Other than the updated processor/integrated graphics and the addition of USB 3.0, the 13” is identical to the previous model that we covered in depth last year.

The 15” is a bit more interesting. The base $1799 SKU comes with a quad-core i7-3615QM (2.3GHz) and a 512MB Nvidia GeForce GT 650M dGPU, but makes do with a paltry 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive. The standard memory and storage configuration in a nearly-$2000 notebook is pretty unacceptable. This being Apple, upgrade pricing is still a hair away from being highway robbery, but at least the matte WSXGA+ screen upgrade costs a reasonable $100. Thankfully, unlike the rMBP and MacBook Air, you can always opt to buy RAM and storage upgrades on your own.

2012 MacBook Pro Lineup Comparison
  15-inch Mid 2012 MacBook Pro MacBook Pro with Retina Display
Dimensions 0.95 H x 14.35 W x 9.82" D 0.71 H x 14.13 W x 9.73" D
Weight 5.6 lbs (2.54 kg) 4.46 lbs (2.02 kg)
CPU Core i7-3615QM Core i7-3720QM Core i7-3615QM
L3 Cache 6MB 6MB 6MB
Base CPU Clock 2.3GHz 2.6GHz 2.3GHz
Max CPU Turbo 3.3GHz 3.6GHz 3.3GHz
GPU Intel HD 4000 + NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M
GPU Memory 512MB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5
System Memory 4GB DDR3-1600 8GB DDR3-1600 8GB DDR3L-1600
Primary Storage 500GB 5400RPM HDD 750GB 5400RPM HDD 256GB SSD
Optical Drive Y Y N
Display Size 15.4-inches
Display Resolution 1440 x 900 2880 x 1800
Thunderbolt Ports 1 2
USB Ports 2 x USB 3.0
Other Ports 1 x Firewire 800, 1 x Audio Line in, 1 x Audio Line out, SDXC reader, Kensington Lock slot SDXC reader, HDMI out, headphone out
Battery Capacity 77.5 Wh 95 Wh
Price $1799 $2199 $2199

The unit we’re looking at here is the high-end 15” SKU, with a 2.6GHz i7-3720QM and a 1GB version of the GT 650M, plus 8GB memory and a 750GB HDD. It rings up at $2199, which interestingly is the same as the base rMBP (i7-3615QM/8GB/256GB SSD/1GB GT 650M). I’m mostly certain that it’s not the configuration to get - you’re better served by getting a base 2.3GHz 15”, adding the $100 high-res screen, and grabbing a 256GB SSD (~$250) and an 8GB RAM upgrade (~$50) separately from Newegg or Amazon. Boom. You spend roughly the same $400, depending on your SSD choice (I would go Samsung SSD 830), and end up with a system with a better screen that’s faster in most day to day situations. Unless you have a really specific need for the extra 512MB vRAM or 300MHz clock speed increase, I’d recommend against it.

Performance and Battery Life - Ivy Bridge and Kepler At Work.
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  • snajk138 - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    The GPU only matters for games though, and neither machine is really ment for that.

    Less storage depends on how you order it, the thinkpad can have an SSD in the m-SATA port, an SSD or HDD in the HDD-bay and an optical unit, SSD or HDD in the optical bay. So, more options.

    The trackpad is better on a mac but it doesn't offer a trackpoint (nub, nipple, clit or whatever you want to call it) that many prefer to any trackpad and Thinkpads have arguably the best keyboards of any laptops. Magsafe is mostly a gimmick, a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. OSX isn't more optimized for laptops than Windows.
    Reply
  • cyabud - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    It is a shame that Apple hardware is so expensive and it's the primary reason that thousands of geeks out there are experimenting with hackintoshes.

    I run Windows and OS X on my machines (Windows for games, OS X for everything else) partly because I prefer OS X and partly because I use software (namely Logic and Final Cut) that only exist for OS X.

    I've been through my fair share of MBPs over the years but in 2009 I decided to build a desktop and go the hackintosh route. It is virtually identical to an Early 2009 Mac Pro (single CPU model) and I saved about €1000 in the process.

    When it comes to notebooks though, I will still cough up the extra cash for a Macbook because I know it'll run both OS X and Windows without a hitch. Getting OS X running on a PC is considerably harder when you don't get to pick and choose each individual component in the system.

    Although there are things I admire about Apple (tight integration between product lines, pushing high res displays into the consumer market and a lot of the very high quality software that comes bundled with Macs) it is a real shame that ultimately choice of hardware is so limited and you're pretty much obliged to pay a premium for it if you want OS X (and you're not a geek who's willing to get his hands dirty).

    If OS X isn't your cup of tea or vital to your workflow, there are very few reasons to justify buying a Mac.
    Reply
  • ABR - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    When will we stop getting these tired old posts comparing specs? Yes, you can buy a Chevy Impala with the same horsepower, gas mileage, etc. as a BMW 3 Series. It'll probably last decently and be easier/cheaper for you to fix if something goes wrong. Does that mean you're willing to pay the same price as for the BMW? Folks, the whole is not the sum of the parts.

    Even if you somehow conclude that Windows with all of its need to manage anti-virus and anti-spyware spyware, hunt down media management/creation programs OS X gives you out of the box, deal with DOS legacy clunk, etc. is on parity with OS X, you are still missing the little things and the intangibles that bring the whole experience up to a different level. I could list these and you could laugh at them, just as you can laugh at BMW owners for wasting their money when half their cash would have gotten them equally well from point A to point B. But that's not going to stop people from buying them. A "lifestyle choice"? Heck yes!
    Reply
  • cyabud - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    Although I understand and agree with much of what you're saying about the intangibles of OS X; you're still assuming that OS X is "better" than Windows. Arguing over which system is better is pointless as it's completely subjective.

    In my opinion Windows is better for games and broad software compatibility. There are also some great features in Win 7 like window snapping which require the purchase of a cheap app if you want the same functionality in OS X.

    On the other hand, I find I work more efficiently in OS X and everything feels more fluid and fast. I run both systems off solid state storage, while all my media resides on hard drives, and I still find that OS X boots/sleeps/shuts down faster and generally feels more responsive overall.

    Have you ever tried sitting someone in front of a Mac who's never used on before? I think you'll find that most will tell you it's not as intuitive as fanboys like to make out and that Windows is "much easier to use". Ultimately it's all down to what you're used to and your personal preferences/needs when it comes to the software you use.

    If you run both systems you truly get the best of both worlds.
    Reply
  • ABR - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    I didn't mean just OS X, I meant the hardware also. Things like the feel of the machine, the way it clicks when you close it, the soft, analog pulsing of the sleep light, the battery indicator, the lack of cheesy Intel stickers, etc. etc.. The details of the experience are paid attention to by the engineers and designers, and it makes a difference to the QUALITY of the experience perceived by (some, not all) users.

    I agree with you about one OS or the other seeming "easier to use" based on experience, and in fact would even say 7 has brought Windows pretty close to the Mac in terms of a lot of this "quality" stuff from just the OS perspective. But it's the whole experience that matters, not just software or hardware alone.
    Reply
  • uiane - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    Man, the retina is a beauty!!
    the main issue is, FIREWIRE.
    We audio people are left with no option other than de 15" cheaper version + SSD + 16GB.
    and maybe swap the drive for a second HDD. (lossing the warranty)...
    Everytime I think in trading my Late 2011 15" I think on the retina with 512GB SSD and 16GB ram on, but then, NO FIREWIRE.
    Apple talked about a thunderbolt to firewire adapter in july... well, july is passing.
    Reply
  • inplainview - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    On August 1st you have a valid gripe... Until then, not so much... Reply
  • Prism - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    In regards to the pricing comparison in this article:

    When I bring the base 15" MBP up to rMBP standards with an additional 4gigs of RAM and swap out the HDD for the 256gig SSD, it ends up being $200 MORE than the rMBP, not $100 less. Just wanted to point that out...
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    Let's see:
    We have the base MBP for
    $1799
    then he adds a Samsung 830 256GB and 4GB RAM which he says cost
    ~$250 + ~~$50 => ~$300
    making the total
    $1799 + $300 = $2099
    Which is $100 less than the rMBP starting point of $2199.
    Then he say that if you are eligible for student discounts, the rMBP is priced not $100 higher but actually the same, since it is discounted more heavily.

    Maybe you are going by Apple upgrade prices?
    Reply
  • Roland00Address - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    Why did they went with the i7 dual core (3520m) with the 13 inch instead of the i7 quad core (3612qm). The tray price of the i7 dual core is $346, the i7 quad is $378 so that is a $32 dollar difference. Both chips are 35 watt tdp (this is a first for intel, some ivybridge i7 quad cores has a 35w tdp while sandybridge did not have such a chip in a laptop.) Only other possible reason besides $32 dollar cost is the dual core supports intel vt-d

    i7 3612qm
    2.1 ghz base speed
    2.8 ghz quad core max turbo
    2.8 ghz tri core max turbo
    3.0 ghz dual core max turbo
    3.1 ghz single core max turbo

    i7 3520m
    2.9 ghz base speed
    3.4 ghz dual core max turbo
    3.6 ghz single core max turbo
    Reply

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