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MacBook Pro with Retina Display vs. 2013 MacBook Air (13-inch)


June 10, 2013

Gizmag compares the specs (and other features) of the 13-inch 2013 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina Display

Gizmag compares the specs (and other features) of the 13-inch 2013 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina Display

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Sometimes the Apple rumor mill gets a little ahead of itself. Earlier this year, we heard that Apple's 2013 MacBook Air might sport a Retina Display. Well, so much for that. The new MBA, announced today, is a relatively minor update over its 2012 predecessor. But that doesn't mean it doesn't also have a few very nice upgrades. Let's break them down, as we compare the specs (and other features) of the new 13-inch MacBook Air to the same-sized MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

Before we get started, note that we're only dealing with the 13-inch models of each laptop. The Air also comes in an 11-inch model, and the Retina MacBook Pro also comes in a 15-inch model. And though Apple will let you pay extra to upgrade many components, we are, for simplicity's sake, dealing with the standard models of each notebook.


No changes here. The 2013 MacBook Air (right) has the same physical design as the 2012 MacBook Air ... and, for that matter, every MBA since late 2010.

It's a bit longer and wider than the Retina MBP, but also quite a bit thinner. In fact, the difference in depth is much greater than the above numbers suggest, as they only account for the thickest point of the tapered Air.

Both laptops sport the slick aluminum unibody look that all of Apple's laptops have had since 2011, when the company phased out the standard white MacBook. That also includes the company's excellent multitouch glass trackpad, and backlit keyboard.


No changes here either. The new MacBook Air is still about 17 percent lighter than the beefier rMBP.


As you can see, there's no Retina Display in the new MacBook Air. And considering the challenges Apple would face in balancing battery life, weight, and thickness with that cutting-edge display, it isn't too big of a surprise.

But it's also too bad for us. Because for all of the new Air's nice features (we'll get to those in a minute), its display is growing a bit long in the tooth. It only has 32 percent as many pixels as the Retina MacBook Pro. Sitting next to the rMPB's ultra high-res screen, the Air's display looks relatively pixelated.


Here's the MacBook Air's big upgrade ... though you wouldn't necessarily know it from looking at the above visual. The new Air gets the new fourth-generation Intel Core processor with Haswell microarchitecture. In addition to some advertised performance improvements, it opens the door to some out-of-this-world battery life. We'll get to that in a minute.


The MacBook Air also gets Intel's new integrated graphics. Apple advertises up to 40 percent faster graphics over the previous generation, which you'll find in the Retina MacBook.


No changes here, as the new Airs still sport 4 GB of RAM. The rMBP doubles that.


Storage also stays the same, with 128 GB and 256 GB standard options. But Apple upgraded to faster SSDs in the new models, so there should be a performance bump there. Apple says that it's up to 45 percent faster than the flash storage in the last-gen MacBook Air (which, I believe, is the same flash memory used in the Retina MacBook).


The Air's next big upgrade is to 802.11ac Wi-Fi. It delivers three times the theoretical speeds of 802.11n Wi-Fi. Of course, to take full advantage, you'll need both an 802.11ac router and internet service that's fast enough to keep up. So you could see this as more of a future-proofing feature than something many of us will be able to do much with now.

Every now and then, you hear speculation that Apple will someday add mobile data radios to its MacBooks. But, for now, you'll have to find a Wi-Fi network or create your own hotspot in order to get data on the go.


All standard here, with Apple's 720p front-facing "FaceTime" cameras on both laptops.


Not only did the battery hardware get a little boost from last year's MacBook Air, but the results have dramatically increased. That Haswell chip has the new Air lasting "up to 12 hours" for standard web browsing. Of course very few of us will use our laptops only for looking at web pages, with brightness set at 75 percent. So, for more typical use, you can probably shave at least a couple hours off of both estimates.

Starting price

Here's your consolation prize for missing out on that Retina Display. The new MacBook Air dropped US$100 from last year's Air. So now we're looking at a $400 premium to get that Retina Display (and other upgrades) in the Pro.

Of course these are just the starting prices, based on 128 GB of storage with no upgrades. The pricing ladder climbs quickly once you start adding extra goodies.


Neither laptop is perfect, but their respective strengths are clearer than ever:

Do you want a ridiculously sharp display? Willing to pay for it? Can you allow a bit more weight and thickness, and lose some battery life? Then go with the MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

Or maybe your bigger priorities are battery life and ultra-light weight? If you don't mind a less than cutting-edge display as a tradeoff, then the new MacBook Air could be the notebook for you.

If you're really patient, though, it's inevitable that Apple will eventually give the MacBook Air a Retina Display. Since most of us typically own laptops for a few years before upgrading, it's at least worth considering. Just don't hold your breath every time the rumor mill tells you that it's right around the corner.

For more, you can check out our full review of the MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

Buy this on Amazon About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Before finding a home at Gizmag, he had stints at a number of other sites, including Android Central, Geek and the Huffington Post. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica. All articles by Will Shanklin

Hmm this is interesting article, as I always felt that the 2 machines had very different use cases give that the Pro was much bigger and powerful and the air was a lot less powerful and much more mobile. Forgive me, I work in IT so I can only relate to use cases in the IT world. Just to explain this further you have your solution architect, 7 hours of the day drawing up design documents, strategies, drawing lots of pretty pictures, and 2-3 hours in meetings and needs that level of mobility. With the Pro this very much supports this way of working in providing what is required, with a touch of power to provide the necessary documents or drawings that will be created. However with the pro you had a much bigger PSU and also seemed harder to lug around, now is not the case.

Then you have the Air, the Project Mangers choice, or at least this one’s. Light but durable casing, fairly cheap compared to other makes, chuck in a bag and be in a meeting like it was nothing. The PM spends at least half of his days in meetings, and then the other half of the day doing mail, updating project plans and the odd spread sheet. You don't need the level of power as the pro as all you will be using in the Web, mail and MS project in using parallels. The PM has everything you need plus the PM being a PM will always use another screen when working at his desk.

Now you bring the fact that the pro is now smaller, (yes I know there have been 13” before but look at the specs in this article), nimbler, has an amazing screen, and to be frankly only from 100 bucks more, it now makes the decision much harder. It actually makes the case for the air to discontinued.

Ok, I have an Air 11" and I love it and I could never see the market for 13" Air anyway. However with the latest specs of the Pro it very much begs the question why have the air at all? Yes the air comes in 11” and I understand why, however why don’ they scrap the air all together and come up with an 11” pro?

Now with different use cases, there may still be a need for an Air, but I can’t think or any? What do you think? When looking at a plus $1000 laptop is an extra $100-200 a deal breaker?

Phil Shewring

If you take a look at the Geekbench scores for the fully loaded 2012 13" MacBook Air compared to the 2013 13" Retina MacBook Pro's, you will see that there really is not as much difference as you would think. Only about 1000 points. While thats nothing to sneeze at, and Geekbench is not the final word in judging performance, only about a 1000 point difference is not nearly as much as I would expect to see when comparing a Pro to an Air. Definitely not enough for me to consider the Retina Pro as being a much more powerful machine.

Kevin Rogers

Gosh. You know you are a heavyweight in the industry when they review your products head to head with ...your products!

I used to buy Apple products when everyone else didn't. Stupid me, I should have bought the shares, not the toys.

Dirk Scott

The one thing I personally don't like in MBA is a lack of LAN port. WLAN is not everywhere available and is usually slower than physical port.

Also as a IT guy sometimes I need to use COM port to configure devices (like NetApp disk array) and I have to use LAN to COM converter which is not possible in MBA.

So I also think that Mac Book Air is great in terms of size and I prefer 11" MBA or 13/15" Mac Book Pro, but buying 13" MBA is not a choice for me.

Piotr Fuz

The review was good but what a pointless one... Comparing these two systems is like comparing a Toyota Prius with a Mercedes Benz SL65 AMG... I own the two systems (2.6Ghz 15" Retina & 1.6Ghz 13" 2013 Air). I've only bought the Air because its easier for me to take around into lectures on campus, café etc... and I keep the Retina more as a desktop replacement for running more memory demanding programs e.g. VMWare, Steam games etc.. Plus I made the most of my student discount with Apple :-P

Amir Lalami

If you need a LAN port, you can always get a Thunderbolt Ethernet adapter.

Philip Goh

Another comparison that doesn't help that much, I see most reviewers don't pay much attention that actual working resolution on the Retina MBP is 1280x800 scaled while on the MacBook Air is the same resolution as on the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

My ancient early-2008 has been soaked twice, fell off several times from the bed, car and chairs and, to top it off, a 1L beer bottle fell on the keyboard. Just this last month it overheated while in Boot Camp then shut itself down. I turned it back on then after a while it shut itself down again to never turn back on, it was very hot.

I work mostly on a desktop Mac but sometimes I like to take my work to bed so I need a laptop, I don't care if it's ultraportable since most my mobile computing needs are met with iPads but I want a smaller computer with the same 1440x900px on my old MacBook Pro.

On the Apple Online Store the high end MacBook Air, with upgraded CPU, upgraded RAM and upgraded 512GB storage is 1849USD while the high end 13-inch Retina MBP with only upgraded storage to 512GB is 1999USD. That's how I came across this article, I'm very undecided on which one to get.

I know you can set the MBP to look as it's 1440x900 but I also know in order to get to that OS X first doubles that resolution (since it's lower than the panel's) then scales it back down to fit the panel. So essentially it would be driving the 15-inch Retina MBP's resolution on the embedded graphics chip--that's older than the Air's. Also the Air's upgraded CPU makes the jump from i5 to i7 that supports Hyper-threading.

I'm really hoping the author updates the article or having turn this into a letter some reader gives me some advice. :)

I've also been tempted to buy 15-inch Retina but I've been using 15-inch MacBooks for so long that I want to try something new.

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