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2014 MacBook Pro with Retina Display vs. MacBook Air

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August 5, 2014

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the latest versions of the MacBook Pro with Reti...

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the latest versions of the MacBook Pro with Retina Display and MacBook Air

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After Apple refreshed its MacBook Pro with Retina Display lineup last week, perhaps you're wondering how the new models compare to Apple's other flagship notebook, the MacBook Air? Let's put the two side-by-side to compare their features and specs.

Before we jump in, note that we're comparing the 13-in models of both MacBooks. The Retina MacBook Pro is also sold in a larger 15-in version, while the Air also comes in a smaller 11-in model. We're focusing on the common ground where the two do direct battle.

Size

The MacBook Air's thinness advantage is greater than this metric suggests

Nothing has changed here, as the new Retina MacBooks have identical exteriors to the last (late 2013) model. That still has the Air measuring 4 percent taller and 3 percent wider.

As for depth, well, you'll want to take this measurement with a few grains of salt. It only accounts for the thickest point of the MacBook Air, which is tapered. The MacBook Pro has a uniform thickness and, in practice, isn't nearly as close to the Air's razor-thin build as this 1 mm discrepancy would suggest.

Weight

The MacBook Air is 14 percent lighter

Despite having a larger face, the MacBook Air is still 14 percent lighter than the rMBP. This is one of the biggest reasons to choose the Air over the Pro.

Build

Though they have different designs, both laptops have the same unibody aluminum build

No surprises here, as both MacBooks have slick unibody builds, forged out of Apple's favorite, aluminum.

Backlit keyboard

Both MacBooks have backlit keyboards

Apple's MacBooks keyboards are still hard to beat, and, like all modern MacBooks, these have adjustable backlit keys so you can hammer away at your masterpiece in the dark.

Display (size)

Both notebooks have 13.3-in displays

You'll find a 13.3-in screen on each of this notebooks.

Display (resolution)

Display resolution is still a huge advantage for the Retina MacBook Pro

This is still the most obvious reason to pay extra for the Retina MacBook Pro. It gives you 216 percent more pixels than the MacBook Air's mid-ranged resolution does, providing a much clearer and crisper window into your content.

Touch screen

No touch screens to be found here

Windows 8 and 8.1 have moved notebooks into the realm of touch, but Apple hasn't shown any interest in traveling that road. And with the large and responsive glass trackpads that you'll find on Apple's MacBooks, it's hard to argue that they're missing out.

Processor

The new Retina MacBooks saw a minor speed bump over the late 2013 models

The Retina MacBook is still the more powerful machine, and it widened that gap a little more with the speed boost in these mid-2014 models. Also keep in mind that we're only looking at the entry-level CPUs in each machine: you can pay more to configure both machines with (up to) Intel Core i7s.

Graphics

Graphics is a slight advantage for the Retina MacBook

The MacBook Pro with Retina Display still has a (slight) advantage with its integrated Intel Iris GPU.

RAM

The Retina MacBook now ships with a minimum 8 GB of RAM

This is another big boost over the late 2013 Retina MacBooks, as all new models ship with a minimum 8 GB of RAM. This should be especially handy if you like to run Windows in virtualization software like Parallels or VMware Fusion.

Storage

Storage tiers (the highest for each is a built-to-order configuration)

No changes here, and the only difference between the two notebooks is that the rMBP has an extra 1 TB tier (as a paid upgrade) that the Air doesn't offer. The Air's 512 GB model is, likewise, a made-to-order configuration.

USB 3.0 ports

We're scoping two USB 3.0 ports in each notebook

Both machines provide two USB 3.0 ports each.

Thunderbolt ports

Thunderbolt ports

The Retina MacBook has two Thunderbolt ports, while the 13-in Air only offers one.

SDXC reader

Each machine has a full-sized SD card slot

Each laptop has one full-sized SD card slot.

Video out

Video out options for each machine (though you could argue that USB should be included her...

If you want to see your MacBook's display on a TV or desktop monitor, the Retina MacBook gives you the option of plugging in a standard HDMI cable. For the Air, you'll need to connect that HDMI to a Mini DisplayPort adapter (which its Thunderbolt port is backwards-compatible with) or perhaps route something through the USB port.

Camera

Both MacBooks have standard 720p front-facing cameras

Each machine has a 720p front-facing webcam on board.

Battery

Battery life is one of the few advantages for the MacBook Air

No battery boost for the new Retina model, as the Air is still going to give you a few extra hours with typical use. That's one of the few advantages of going with the Air's lower-resolution screen.

Wi-Fi

Both support the latest (and fastest) Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac

In addition to older standards, both of the latest MacBooks are ready to roll with the latest (and fastest) 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. Of course you'll also need an 802.11ac compatible router to enjoy those faster speeds and, unless your internet service is unusually zippy, you might only notice a difference across your local network (as opposed to when downloading files or streaming media from the internet).

Software

Both run the latest version of OS X (currently Mavericks, soon to be Yosemite)

Both Macs ship with OS X Mavericks. When it releases later this (Northern) Fall, the redesigned OS X Yosemite will be a free download for both machines.

Release

Both models have now seen 2014 refreshes (albeit minor ones)

Apple just launched this slight refresh to the Retina MacBook Pro last week, while a (similarly minor) update to the Air hit store shelves back in April.

Starting price

The Air can save you US$300 (these are the starting prices, and both sprout up from here)

Some of the higher-end Retina MacBooks saw a price drop with this latest update, but the bar of entry is still the same US$1,300. If you can put up with its lower-resolution display and less impressive horsepower, then the Air can save you $300.

This is also a good time to keep an eye out for discounts on the late 2013 Retina MacBook Pros. If you can find those for a couple hundred bucks less than the newer models are going for, I think that's a deal worth considering. They have slightly slower processors and less RAM, but the same exterior, display and battery life – along with performance that's still top-of-the-line for all but the most demanding power users.

For more on the Retina MacBook, you can hit up our review of the late 2013 model.

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About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. 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
6 Comments

Im not impressed, they are still overpriced Apples.

S Michael
5th August, 2014 @ 06:45 pm PDT

What is "pro" about this? The graphics card sure is not, the CPU is not particularly fast either.

Skipjack
6th August, 2014 @ 06:52 am PDT

I recently bought my third apple, a 15" retina pro. While the diplay, keyboard and build quality are great, several things anger me about this laptop.

1 No optical drive. Newsflash- optical is not dead, nor will it be in the near future.

2 No ethernet port. Forcing us to use wifi- Not cool.

3 Magsafe not compatible with my old magsafe charger.

4 Osx software has very limited configurability less all the time it seems... Seriously Apple, Most of us are not computer illiterate anymore, and we would like to be able to tune the os for our own preferences. We do not appreciate your autocratic opinion of how it should be. In many ways if I could go back to os9, I would.

5 Miscelaneous glitches in this day and age? WHY?

Apple, there is a huge difference between being an industry leader and being autocratic. Get back in touch.

foghorn
6th August, 2014 @ 07:36 am PDT

this is the best comparison i've ever seen. nice job. thank you Will!

andya
6th August, 2014 @ 08:23 am PDT

Just wanted to congratulate you on providing the first simple side-by-side comparison I've managed to find. So many other comparisons revolve around opinions and include too many build variations. This has told me everything I need to know in order to make a decision, thanks.

Steve Brosnan
10th August, 2014 @ 08:45 am PDT

Thank you bro !!!

What can i say ?

This is a great help for my case of notebook buying for college !!

I can make my decision now !!

Well done !!!

Mg Htin
18th September, 2014 @ 04:46 pm PDT
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