The New MacBook Pro

My old 17" MBP gave up the ghost recently. I had reached 98% capacity in my 120 GB drive, and my VMs were dying with Snow Leopard with only 2 GB of RAM. This was the max at the time that the model supported.

I found out from iFixit that my model could upgrade to 6 GB of memory with a manual repair. So, I did that. Then I bought a 500 GB internal drive, and put it all together. Then the logic board died. It's about $900 to replace the logic board, and even then, it's likely only a refurb.

So, I went out to look at a new Mac. Here's what I found.

This is not a hard core hardware review of the new Mac. I don't have that info. But, here are my consumer thoughts - price, upgradability, features.

There are no more 17" models available. Less display area is compensated for by better resolution options in the Retina display. And, with less weight, it would be much nicer to carry around. But, here's my problem.

I can choose between 13" and 15" displays. I can't see myself going as small as 13" for production. If I add on the Thunderbolt Display, I can have 27" of display area for $999. But, the 13" models are all dual-core i5s.

So, for 15", I can get a quad-core i7. Both the Retina and non-Retina models offer either 2.3 GHz or 2.6 GHz (the Retina has the option to expand to 2.7 for an additional $250). However, the difference is in the RAM and the storage.

I can't go above 8 GB of memory in the non-Retina version. But, if I go Retina, I have to choose up front whether I want 8 GB of memory, or 16 GB of memory. It's fused to the board, so there's no going back, and no upgrading.

Further, in the 2.3 GHz model of the Retina macbook, the most storage I can get is an internal 256 GB "flash drive" (read: SSD). No options to get more. No options for subsequent upgrade according to Apple. But, they offer external Thunderbolt drives if I want to extend my storage.

So,  here are my comparisons - your movement may vary:

MBP 15" 2.3 GHz quad-core i7*
8 GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM (2x4GB) <- upgradable, but not according to Apple?
750 GB SATA @ 7200 RPM
Hi-Res display (1,680 x 1050 vs. 1440 x 900)

MBP 15" 2.3 GHz quad-core i7 w/ Retina display
8 GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM (2x4 GB) <- non upgradable
256 GB SSD
Retina Display (2880 x 1800 res vs. 1680 x 1050)
Add external Thunderbolt storage (cheapest available is 1 TB Seagate GoFlex portable for Mac)

So, for $50 more, I can get a Retina display and ~1/3 the internal storage, or I can pay ~$350 more to get equal the storage and a Retina display. Of course, the storage is flash storage. So it should be faster, right? Let's ignore lingering concerns about SSD instability or some manufacturers flaws with encryption.

* it's also worth noting that the 2.3 GHz model non-Retina display evidently has 512MB instead of 1 GB GPU cache.

Also, for those citing cheaper parts external to the Apple store, an external Thunderbolt drive (Seagate 1TB GoFlex portable for Mac) is ~ $280 on Apple's website. Amazon shows these for about $260.

So, at this level, the Retina display isn't clearly the better option, even though it's only $50 more at its base. Less storage will be a deal breaker for some, but it's an interesting commentary on how people will be using storage in the future. It's worth noting, the Retina models do not have CD/DVD drives, either. All installation is expected to be done either over the network or via USB/Thunderbolt.

Does the inconvenience of carrying around additional external storage so that I can access my VMs or my large graphic libraries outweigh the weight savings of this new Mac?

For the record, going to a 2.6 GHz Retina model will get you a 512 GB internal SSD, and the cost goes from $2199.00 (no external drive), to $2799.00. That's $600 for 256 GB more internal storage vs. $260 for 4 times the external storage (non-SSD).

The devil is in the details, of course. For me, I really need the RAM, and if I can't upgrade that in the non-Retina version, I'm going to have to cross my fingers and hope that Mountain Lion stays well below 256 GB. Otherwise, since I'll have to cart around an extra external drive, I won't realize any of the weight savings from this new model.

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