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The personal site of Jamie Knight, a slightly autistic web developer, speaker and mountain biker who is never seen far from his plush sidekick Lion. View the Archive

Topics: Autism Development

Late 2013 13" Retina MacBook Pro First Impressions

My last MacBook was an 2012 11” MacBook Air purchased in early 2013. It was purchased after I tried the first generation 13” retina MacBook Pro. I returned the MacBook Pro it as it was deeply flawed

I sold the MacBook Air a few months ago. A friend needed a Mac in a hurry and I was not using it to heavily. I hoped I could just use the Mac mini instead. That didn’t work out so well. So it was time to survey the landscape again.

After looking around online, I found a beauty of a machine. A late 2013 13” retina MacBook Pro, with 8GB of RAM and a huge 512GB SSD and Iris Pro graphics for a little less than 35% off something of a bargain.

The Hardware.

Apple MacBook Pro hardware has been pretty consistent for the last few years. The main body is milled from a lump of aluminium, with ports down either side. The trackpad and keyboard are integrated into the shell, and there is a microphone and web camera integrated into the screen bezel.

The main advantage of the Air when it comes to ports relates to screen connectivity. This 13” Pro includes 2 thunderbolt ports and a HDMI port. This greatly simplifies media playback. The dual thunderbolt ports also allows for running a screen and an ethernet adaptor at the same time.

Beyond the ports mentioned, there are a couple of USB3 ports, an audio port and an SD card reader. The integrated reader is a nice advantage over the Air. It very handy for writing images to SD cards intended for the Raspberry Pi.

The overall feel of the pro is very positive. It feel sturdy refined and well built. It makes most other laptops feel a bit crap.

Internally, this model is the mid spec version, with a 2.6ghz i5 Dual Core processor and 8GB of RAM. The big selling points for this specific model is the large SSD and the retina screen.

The SSD.

Back in early 2013 I commented

“Given the cost of the rMBP this is disappointing, I would happily spend a little more for a larger drive but a £550 premium for a 512gb drive is way to much.”

That premium has now come down to less than £220 over the base model once the upgrade CPU is taken into account. Much more reasonable. The large SSD is what attracted me to this particular model when I saw it come up for sale. At 512gb the SSD is large enough to house my entire media library. Granted, it has less room for growth than on the Mac Mini, but it fits and that is a great starting point.

With this macbook, I don’t need an external drive or a separate mac for media duties. The Mac can handle the lot.

The Screen.

Much has been written about the retina screen before. It really is simply gorgeous and a pleasure to work on. The IPS display does not strain my eyes and the extra screen space is much appreciated. On a couple of occasions I have used the retina scaling to run the screen at 1680 × 1400. This gives me a little extra space when its needed. (in this case, having a webpage and my Voiceover Audit notes side by side).

It’Is not all perfect.

This MacBook, while a big improvement over my last laptop still has flaws. In using it pretty much daily for the last two weeks a few issues have cropped up once or twice. The main functional complaint is heat; and the main philosophical debate is the sealed nature of the MacBook.

When pushed this MacBook gets very warm. Everyday computing is generally fine. Bit sitting it on my lap on a warm day is uncomfortable. The cooling fins to the side must be kept completely clear, so placing it on soft surfaces invites overheating. The MacBook has never cut out completely, but I can certainly hear the fans going. Once moved to a hard surface the issue is vastly reduced.

My main non functional complaint is that this macbook is a completely sealed unit. The only upgradable part is the SSD and they are not readily available. Everything else (including the RAM and battery) is soldered down to the logic board.

I can see how this acts to enable the form factor. However, it does make me worry about the lack of future upgrades and the effect that has on the lifespan of the product.

Final words.

Unlike my first attempt with a retina MacBook I am really satisfied and impressed with this one. The quality is good, the price more reasonable and the retina screen brilliant. I hope it will serve me for many years to come.

Published: 14 September 2014 | Categories: , Permalink

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