Silicon: Dual-Core Only

The biggest disappointment to me personally with the 13-inch rMBP announcement was the lack of any quad-core CPU options. Although they carry the same Core i5/i7 branding as the chips offered in the 15-inch rMBP, these parts are strictly dual-core. With a smaller chassis, the amount of heat Apple's cooling solution can effectively dissipate goes down. While the thermal budget in the 15-inch rMBP was 45W, the move to a 13-inch chassis drops it to 35W. Thankfully, Intel does offer 35W quad-core CPUs, a first for Intel starting with the Ivy Bridge introduction. Unfortunately Apple didn't seem keen on using them. For starters, having a quad-core upgrade option would likely add complexity to the lineup, and secondly the 35W quad-core parts are cost prohibitive. At almost 70% more expensive than the dual-core Core i5 Apple used in the standard configuration 13-inch rMBP, I can see why Apple wouldn't want to throw a 35W quad-core CPU in for free. At the same time, I would've at least liked to see a build-to-order quad-core option.

13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display CPU Comparison
  2.5GHz dual-core 2.9GHz dual-core
Standard On 13-inch rMBP Optional Upgrade
Intel Model Core i5-3210M Core i7-3520M
Base Clock Speed 2.5GHz 2.9GHz
Max SC Turbo 3.1GHz 3.6GHz
Max DC Turbo 2.9GHz 3.4GHz
L3 Cache 3MB 4MB
AES-NI Yes Yes
TXT No Yes
VT-x Yes Yes
VT-d Yes Yes
TDP 35W 35W
Processor Graphics Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000
GPU Clock (Base/Max) 650/1100MHz 650/1250MHz

By default both configurations of the 13-inch rMBP come with an Intel Core i5 3210M. That puts base clock at 2.5GHz with max single core turbo at 3.1GHz. Max turbo with both cores active is 2.9GHz. Hyper Threading is enabled on the chip, which presents OS X with the ability to schedule to four logical cores despite there only being two physical cores on the CPU.

Apple offers a single BTO CPU upgrade to a Core i7 3520M. Frequencies go up with the i7 upgrade (2.9GHz base, 3.6GHz max), which can definitely come in handy in keeping the system feeling as snappy as possible. The shared L3 cache is also a bit larger on the 3520M (4MB vs. 3MB).

Both CPU options integrate Intel's HD 4000 graphics core. Base and turbo GPU clocks are nearly identical to the HD 4000 in the 15-inch model (650/1100MHz).


The 13-inch rMBP, image courtesy iFixit

The move to the smaller chassis also meant ditching the discrete GPU. Although Apple could have technically included a discrete GPU, it would've come at the cost of a smaller battery (dGPU needs more PCB area which would take real estate away from the battery). The loss of the discrete GPU isn't actually as big of a deal as you'd normally think. Intel's HD 4000, the only processor graphics option on the 13-inch rMBP, is clearly capable of driving a 5MP display since it does just that in the 15-inch rMBP. That very same GPU, running at similar clocks (1.1GHz vs. 1.25GHz max GPU turbo), only has to drive 4MP with the 13-inch rMBP.

The bigger issue with ditching the discrete GPU is gaming performance. Although Intel's processor graphics have come a long way since the days when it was unusable, we're still roughly two years out from Intel's graphics being what I'd consider desirable. Although it's possible to game on the 13-inch rMBP, most modern titles won't be able to post good frame rates on any reasonable resolution. Although the GeForce GT 650M in the 15-inch rMBP could actually drive some titles at the display's native resolution, the same really can't be said for Intel's HD 4000 in the 13-inch system.

I firmly believe that Apple designed the rMBPs with Haswell in mind, and the 13-inch model is the embodiment of that. With Haswell, the lack of a discrete GPU shouldn't matter as much although if you're not a gamer I'm not sure the lack of a dGPU is really an issue today either.

Introduction & Form Factor Perfection? Achieving Retina - Redux
POST A COMMENT

79 Comments

View All Comments

  • nerd1 - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    I just cannot understand Apple's spec selection for this laptop.

    They are selling this as 'Pro' laptop, with fixed 8GB ram, 128GB starting storage space (and HUGE overcharge for slightly more useful 256GB) and no external graphics.

    I don't think this is any better than recent full-HD ultrabooks from other brands, usually around $1000 price tag recently. 1080p is more than enough on 13" screen, and they provide cheaper storage upgrade option (256GB mSATA drives are now cheap around $200), and some even has external GPU. And face it - 2.5Ghz i5 won't give a huge performance edge over 1.8Ghz i7 ULV with turbo boost for most applications.

    Yes, I know it will still sell like hotcakes.
    Reply
  • lukarak - Wednesday, November 14, 2012 - link

    That`s the only problem. Simply put, a dealbreaker, especially for mac users , that inherently have an above average need for virtual machines.

    Everything else is expected.
    Reply
  • bji - Thursday, November 15, 2012 - link

    Anand - the image retention flaw on the 15 inch rMBP is a real issue. I have written you several emails asking if you'd like to address this using your testing tools but never received a response. You haven't acknowledged this issue in this review either.

    Is the 13 inch rMBP subject to the same image retention flaw?
    Reply
  • bji - Thursday, November 15, 2012 - link

    WHOOPS - I am wrong. You did address this, I just didn't see that paragraph somehow.

    It would still be great if you used the tools at your disposal to analyze this. There are reports that the heat of the display (air conditioned versus warm room) have an impact, and of course it's well known that only LG displays suffer this issue. Having all of that confirmed by a reputable reviewer would be great.
    Reply
  • edgarperez - Saturday, November 24, 2012 - link

    I am trying to decide on a replacement for my 2gb mba 13" . The UI references including "Also if you're looking to minimize UI frame rate issues as much as possible you're going to want the upgraded CPU (although that still won't eliminate low UI frame rates)." truly scar me away from the rMBA. I am on my machine 12 hours a day regularly. the thought of the UI lagging scrolling on applications This is not something i noticed when i looked at the machine in the store but certainly something that would drive me batty once i have noticed it. I think I am going to have to think more about the MBA vs. the MBP non retina and pass on the retina for now. Reply
  • Zink - Wednesday, December 05, 2012 - link

    It's not really lag, just low frame rates. It works just as fast as it should but looks a pit more choppy while moving. Reply
  • marioyohanes - Friday, December 07, 2012 - link

    Well, I'm one of those people who always complaint about "Pro" in 13" MBP/rMBP, it should be named MacBook, without Pro because it is not a Pro machine. And maybe we could get lesser complaint on Mac App Store comment section for 3D games just because they thought 13" MBP can do 3D game.

    As for 13" rMBP, here my two cents after using this thing for a month (I got it for free anyway, so...):
    - 8GB RAM is not an issue, period! You just trolling saying it needs 16GB! You just don't run 2 VM, 100megs AI files while running FCPX on this machine, you just don't do that.
    - 128GB SSD for $1799 laptop? This is annoying! Seriously? 128GB? And yet you still calling it a Pro? I'll be damn!
    - Display is awesome, super awesome, even though, I prefer to have 1440x900 resolution over native retina. The only thing I hate from 13" MB/MBP is the resolution barely usable for professional work. However, if you're iOS app developer or UI designer, this thing rocks! No more scrolling madness for testing app on retina simulator or designing retina artworks in Adobe!
    - UI performance is not an issue, at all, some websites simply just another prove of bad programming. And retina aware apps are widely available, if they're not updating their app to be retina aware until first half 2013, it means the app is either no longer under development or its developer simply not serious selling Mac apps.
    - Gaming or anything 3D? Forget about it. Unless of course, by gaming you meant Angry Birds, but for me, gaming is stands for Steam, AC3, Diablo 3 and the list goes on.

    So who is this for? Professional who does a lot of work developing or designing retina UI but hates 15" rMBP portability. Or, it could be great for business professional, you'll be thank to its retina display for saving your eyes for working too long in front of your computer.

    This is not for me, obviously, I switched back to my 15" rMBP after a month. This is well overpriced on my opinion, but then again, no competition whatsoever. And yes, please stop telling me ultrabooks $1000 etc, the closest ultrabook price with this thing is cost more than $1400! But then again, if you're making money with your laptop, why bother with price, as long as its beneficial for you to have this rMBP (also works for boosting confidence), just buy it and don't look back. Haters will be haters, don't listen to them.
    Reply
  • .Chris. - Tuesday, December 11, 2012 - link

    Grate in-depth review wish I found this 2 weeks ago
    I bought a maxed out air then sent it back after seeing the retina display in store.
    Since then I’ve been trying to decide if the upgrade to the faster cpu is worth it for the rMBP. Sounds like it is and as I am paying education prices which brings it in at £1383 (which still hurts but not as much as £1609)
    Reply
  • AirieFenix - Monday, March 25, 2013 - link

    I would love to see a 13-inch "non-Retina" Macbook Pro with some of the goodies of the rMBP. For instance, I need the Ethernet port (yes, there is an adapter, but I'd rather prefer o have it out-of-the-box); I also like the battery life on the non-Retina model, and to have upgradable hardware is almost a must-have for people that don't buy a new notebook every year (for instance, me).

    In the other hand, I don't use the DVD drive on my computers since... I don't even remember. And the 1280x800 is a low resolution right now.

    But most important, I'd rather prefer to have a consistent fluidity through all the UI than more than a lot of pixels (yes, it's a nice display, but I'm not a photographer, it isn't a must-have to me) and the price. The price of the Retina model is just too absurd.

    Why don't make a 13-inch Macbook Pro with Air's display (a not Retina, but still good) and without DVD-tray (although I can live with it, would be nice to have more space for battery life)? That would be my dream machine.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now