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2014 MacBook Pro with Retina Display vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 3

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August 7, 2014

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the 2014 Retina MacBook Pro with the Surface Pro...

Gizmag compares the features and specs of the 2014 Retina MacBook Pro with the Surface Pro 3

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Last week Apple updated its Retina MacBook Pro lineup to put a little more horsepower under the hood. How does the latest version of Apple's best notebook compare to what might be the best Windows 2-in-1? Read on, as Gizmag compares the 2014 MacBook Pro with Retina Display to the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

Before we get started, keep in mind that we're only looking at the 13-in version of the Retina MacBook Pro. Apple also makes a 15-in model, but it's less of a direct rival to the 12-in Surface.

Size

The MacBook is the bigger device, in every dimension

The new Retina MacBook Pro has an identical body to its late 2013 predecessor. The Surface Pro 3, meanwhile, is 8 percent shorter and 7 percent narrower than the MacBook. The Surface sits in a pretty nice size range for a laptop, but it also makes for a huge tablet.

The Surface Pro 3 is very thin for a full-fledged PC. Even with its keyboard attached, it's still 23 percent thinner than the Retina MacBook.

Weight

The Surface is 30 percent lighter, even with its keyboard attached

The Surface Pro 3 is also very light for its size. Even when you include its keyboard, it still hits the scales at 30 percent lighter than the Retina MacBook.

Build

Both machines have high-end metallic builds

No changes for either Apple or Microsoft, as both new models stick with the aluminum or magnesium builds that we saw in their (respective) predecessors.

Keyboard type

Just to be crystal clear, we're dealing with a dedicated notebook (with integrated keyboar...

Of course we're comparing a dedicated laptop (MacBook) to a convertible tablet/laptop hybrid (Surface). The Surface's plastic keyboard cover is detachable and sold separately.

Backlit keys

Both the Retina MacBook and Surface Pro 3 have backlit keyboards

Starting with the Type Cover 2 (released alongside the Surface Pro 2 in late 2013), Microsoft added backlit keys to its Surface lineup. The Pro 3's cover continues this tradition, as does the MacBook.

Trackpad

The MacBook's trackpad is twice as big and made of glass – no contest

No contest here, as the MacBook's huge glass trackpad is tough to beat. The Surface Pro 3's touchpad is not only made of plastic, but it's only half the size of the MacBook's.

Tipping the scales even farther in the MacBook's direction is OS X's wealth of multitouch trackpad gestures. Trackpad navigation is much less of an emphasis in Windows, as it doesn't usually go beyond simple mouse functions like pointing, clicking and scrolling.

Touch screen

The Surface has a touch screen, while Apple is happy to leave touch for iPads and iPhones

That trackpad isn't necessarily a huge loss on the Surface, though, since you have a touch screen to help you to make your way through Windows.

Stylus

The Surface's stylus is a big part of its experience

Microsoft's Surface Pen is another big cornerstone of the Surface experience. The latest version has OneNote integration baked in, letting you launch Microsoft's note-taking app from anywhere, just by clicking the top of the pen.

Display (size)

The Surface gives you 84 percent as much screen real estate as the MacBook

The MacBook has a 20 percent bigger screen. Had Microsoft made the Surface's screen any bigger, though, it would have been ridiculously oversized as a tablet. It's already toeing that line.

Display (resolution)

Both PCs have terrific displays, but we'd give the edge to the MacBook

The MacBook has the sharper display, and I'd say it's also the better overall screen. Though their pixel densities are fairly close, remember that you'll often be holding the Surface as a tablet, when it will sit closer to your eyes. The Surface's display looks terrific in laptop mode, but isn't quite as crisp as a tablet.

Processor

Entry-level processor options for both machines

The MacBook is the faster machine, but this visual only shows the entry-level processors for each device. Higher price points give you faster CPUs in both devices, jumping all the way up to Intel Core i7 options for both PCs.

Graphics

GPUs

Both systems have integrated Intel graphics, but the MacBook has the edge.

RAM

The new Retina MacBooks ship with a minimum 8 GB of RAM

This was one of the big updates in this latest batch of Retina MacBooks, as it now starts with a minimum of 8 GB of RAM.

Storage

Storage options

The MacBook offers larger storage tiers, though when you look at prices relative to storage, the Surface has the edge. For example, the 128 GB Surface Pro 3 (including keyboard cover) costs US$1,130, compared to $1,300 for the base 128 GB MacBook. The MacBook has other advantages, though, so we wouldn't get too carried away in declaring the Surface the better overall value.

USB 3.0

The MacBook gives you an extra USB 3.0 port

The MacBook has two USB 3.0 ports, while the Surface only has one.

Thunderbolt

The MacBook gives you two Thunderbolt ports

You also get two Thunderbolt ports in Apple's notebook. Similar to FireWire before it, most Windows PC OEMs never saw Thunderbolt as an essential standard.

SD card

The MacBook has a full-sized SD reader, while the Surface accepts microSD cards

The MacBook sports a full-sized built-in SD reader, while the Surface has a smaller microSD slot. The microSD is more discreet and can serve as extra semi-permanent storage for your Surface. If you want to use the MacBook's SD slot in that way, you'll need to pick up something like the Transcend JetDrive Lite.

Video out

Video out options (though you could easily add USB to this list as well)

If you want to connect your MacBook to a TV or external monitor, all you have to do is pop an HDMI cable in its corresponding port. On the Surface, you'll need to buy a special cable (or adapter) to take advantage of its smaller Mini DisplayPort. There are also USB-based video out options for both devices.

Battery

Both Apple and Microsoft estimate 9 hours of web use

Manufacturers' estimates for web use are identical. Both PCs' Haswell processors help them to last much longer than any pre-2013 laptop ever could.

Cameras

Cameras

Since it doubles as a tablet, the Surface has front and rear cameras. As a dedicated laptop, the MacBook only has a standard front-facing webcam.

Wi-Fi

Both devices support the newest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac (in addition to older standards, ...

Both PCs support the latest (and fastest) Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac. Just remember that you'll also need a compatible router to enjoy those faster speeds. And of course both machines still play nicely with older Wi-Fi standards as well.

Software

It's OS X (currently Mavericks) vs. Windows 8.1 Pro

The MacBook runs OS X Mavericks (soon to be updated to OS X 10.10 Yosemite), while the Surface runs Windows 8.1 Pro.

Each platform has its loyal fans, but the MacBook has at least one huge advantage: you can run both OS X and Windows on it. Just install Windows in a virtual machine in OS X (something like Parallels or VMware Fusion will do the trick) or directly onto its own partition (via Apple's Boot Camp). Though it would be technically possible to run an OS X VM on the Surface, there's no legit or officially-supported way to do so, since Apple only licenses its software for Macs.

Release

Release dates for both devices

Apple just refreshed the Retina MacBook lineup last week, while the Surface Pro 3 first launched in June. Out of the gates, you could only buy a mid-range SP3 ($1,000+), but now Microsoft is shipping all variants of the Pro 3.

Starting price

The specs in the base-level Surface don't really compare with the MacBook's, but it can sa...

If you're content with the entry-level Surface (64 GB storage, 4 GB RAM, Intel Core i3 processor) then you can save $370 over the entry-level Retina MacBook's starting price. The Surface that's most comparable to the entry-level Retina MacBook costs $1,130, including keyboard. That's a healthy savings, but you'll also want to remember that this mid-level Surface also has a slower processor and less RAM than its MacBook equivalent.

For more on these two, you can hit up our full reviews of the late 2013 13-in MacBook Pro with Retina and the Surface Pro 3. And if you're intrigued by the Surface's hybrid tablet/laptop form factor, you can always cast your net wider and check out our Windows 2-in-1 Comparison Guide.

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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
12 Comments

More powerful processors and memory don't necessarily equate to better performance when the operating systems aren't the same. One maybe able to perform better with less depending on optimization of the code. You can only tell if you run the same bench test on each. This is the case in smartphones Android typically runs on better hardware than Windows Phone but android is can be sluggish while Windows Phone is smooth at all levels of hardware. An example I always use is I have a large number of contacts (700+). While searching for names both Android and iPhone would pause from time to time while searching Windows Phone never does. There are other examples but we are talking about another form factor. A good test would probably be to render some video footage at various lengths and file types and resolutions on each machines using software both support like premiere pro.

Gregory Lowe
8th August, 2014 @ 04:23 am PDT

Mac OS is LAME! I recently bought one for my daughter with an open mind of taking on a learning experience. There are many things about the OS that is just behind the times. The Microsoft Windows OS does so much more out the box than a MAC does. Even when comparing to XP. If Apple thinks continuity is going to make things better, they are lost. There is so much more that needs to be fixed before adding a feature that only 10% of its owners will use. Even more so is the design of the Mac Book pro. All the ventilation is projected towards the laptop screen! So not only is the sound directed right at you but the heat is all in your face. Premium, yeah right. You aren't fooling me Apple! Your OS is STALE!!!!!!!!!!

JustSayin
8th August, 2014 @ 07:19 am PDT

Where are the typical costs for applications, OS's, and utilities? Where are the benchmarks for typical laptop usage? Are these the only differences in connectivity? Are there any laptop advantages built into the OS? I'd seriously consider getting either one as I'm familiar with both OS's, but this does not help me.

Techie543
8th August, 2014 @ 08:00 am PDT

"The Surface that's most comparable to the entry-level Retina MacBook costs $1,130, including keyboard."

So why are you comparing this lesser Surface model? Yes, they are each the low end of their ranges, but that's like comparing the low end Lexus with a low end Toyota.

TJG
8th August, 2014 @ 10:04 am PDT

I'm not an Apple-head, but I also have a general distaste for MS products. Having said that, you're comparing a laptop to a tablet...why not go for iPad vs Surface? That seems a more direct comparison. As another user pointed out, tech specs mean little if the actual user experience differs from what would be implied.

psiclone
8th August, 2014 @ 10:22 am PDT

Not gonna lie, didn't even read the article because your comparing a tablet with an ultrabook.

Form Factor matters because in an ultrabook/laptop, computing is separate from the screen. In a tablet, the cpu and board are right under the screen.

Either break out the iPad or find a similarly priced Ultrabook from Sony, Toshiba, Dell, etc and compare that to your macbook.

Even the MacBook Air isn't a real comparison with the Surface Pro.

Face it, Microsoft carved out a new product area before Apple did for once and I hope they stick with it. A full computer in Tablet format HAS a future. I hope Microsoft doesn't let apple fanboys tell them different.

deltafool117
8th August, 2014 @ 11:23 am PDT

@psiclone: Because they are both real "computers". iPad runs a mobile OS. SP3 can function as either a laptop (like the MBP), tablet, or desktop (with the optional dock).

jefhart
8th August, 2014 @ 01:49 pm PDT

As usual you provide a mish mosh of measurements for total size & weight, while applying the now standardized size for screen & image pixals all in inches. Must feel good. Seeing 300mm... 500mm... 20mm... such tiny measures, are simply not logical to use to quickly grasp size, and then the little biddy grams. Sheesh. I know you will not print this, as you have not before.

A kind of Metric Vanity Narcissism of the Top down Central Socialist Planners view as the correct ordered way for us Sheeple to see the world, or else. It grinds on. Smiles! Tootles!

lwesson
8th August, 2014 @ 02:13 pm PDT

I agree with all replies above excluding jefhart. This is another shocking write up from Gizmag, purely surface detail when as Greg Lowe stated the most obvious comparison tests needed in any technology review. This isn't the first, nor will it be last review that has a habit to want to include apple device against other devices; we want better comparisons, more detail and less fluff.

With regards to these devices which are weighted for portability, the fact that Bluetooth is a major feature that accessories utilise makes any port semi obsolete, just like Apple made CD drives and external memory slots made obsolete.

Nick Heidl
8th August, 2014 @ 06:35 pm PDT

As others have noted, both of these devices are top notch technologies and build materials. Just because the Surface has a cheaper option, why would you compare a more expensive MBP to a cheaper Surface, pick the same priced devices.

Also I have read that because of the ratio for the Surface that its 12" screen actually has more surface area than other 12" screens. How does this compare to the surface area of the MBP 13" screen?

The biggest advantage the MBP has to the Surface is the keyboard and the touchpad. If those things are not as important to you and you are OS agnostic than the list of features of the Surface start to add up. Touch screen alone is huge as once you start using a full OS with touch, you miss it when you do not have it.

Rann Xeroxx
10th August, 2014 @ 08:08 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 and 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 The trackpad is big enough, but does random things, and the edge of the computer is so sharp that it gets painfull on the hands after a while.

6 The computer does miscellaneous random things. 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
13th August, 2014 @ 12:10 pm PDT

Just so everybody who reads this knows what to expect from a MacBook.... DO NOT BUY INTO running parallels on a MacBook. I have a 516GB MacBook Pro, I own parallels, bought windows 7 for it. I did so because I needed to run programs built strictly for Windows. Upon downloading parallels, windows 7, and the programs the programs I ran looked like shit, ultra laggy, crazy reboot issues. Even my regular iOS main screen began to run poorly as parallels, windows 7, and my programs would all reboot and run in the background.

LASTLY, on of my programs was developed into a Mac friendly version. The problem with it was that the Mac version takes a little more power to run correctly and would end up crashing more frequently than my parallels windows 7 version ON THE SAME LAPTOP MACBOOK PRO.

Long story short, if you want a laptop never buy a MacBook unless you are some type of photo major/author/musician. Otherwise you could buy an Alienware laptop for the same price and have 2x the processing power, the graphics, and the sounds capabilities. ALSO unless you are a dedicated Mac player, 75% of all programs that get developed are made for windows OS. So to have any practical purpose for owning a laptop you should stick to Windows-capable machine. Because not only will you be able to run more programs but you will even have a better chance at upgrading your device when it comes to graphic driver downloads, exterior storage and if you're good at tablet repair even replacing interior parts will be easier

Alexander Marc
24th September, 2014 @ 01:21 pm PDT
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