Im an Industrial Engineering Major student.
August 27, 2012 8:22 PM   Subscribe

Is Macbook Pro with Retina display worth it for college?

Im in market of buying a new laptop. Particularly a mac due to its robust build quality. I recently sold my 2008 unibody on craigslist and received a fair market price.

Currently Im looking at Macbook Pro with Retina display. The main reason I like this is because of its high resolution display along with its portability (being a pound lighter then my previous MBP). I will be running few engineering apps on this computer later on in my year tho non of those apps are optimized for the retina display. I will be carrying this to all my classes every day. So I wanted to know your opinion on whether its worth it to spend $2000 + on this new device. This device is not upgradable and Im not sure if this will have proper resell value when I try to sell it in few years down the road. Also there have been few reports of LG displays used in the Retina display that causes Image Retention.

Let me know if its worth it to purchase this or go with something small like the Air or the 13' MBP.
posted by Parh6512 to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Apps that aren't optimized for the retinal display look no better on it. Get a MacBook Air, because it's lighter. I looooove mine. My MacBook Pro feels like a brick by comparison (even though it's the second lightest computer I've ever owned). Spend the difference on a big screen monitor for home; I love my Thunderbolt display. Then you've got a beautiful display for most of your work, and a light laptop for schlepping around.
posted by Capri at 8:24 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Totally agree with Capri. You will love the Air for how easy it is to take to class - the weight, or lack of it, is liberating. Unless you need the Pro specs (larger screen - love the Thunderbolt display idea - or power) to run the engineering apps, which is doubtful, the Air is the better buy. It's a fantastic laptop.
posted by Dasein at 8:30 PM on August 27, 2012

Get an air, max out the RAM and SSD, you don't need a MBP.
posted by iamabot at 8:31 PM on August 27, 2012

Apps that aren't optimized for the retinal display look no better on it.

They look worse on it.

Buy the MBP if you have lots of extra money lying around and read a lot of text. Otherwise wait for better support for the retina graphics and buy a newer one in a year when they're half the price.

I spent the day optimizing software to look right on a Retina MBP. It is a very pretty display. Most software that didn't come on the machine does not look very good on it.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:34 PM on August 27, 2012

Unless you need the higher specs, get the Air.
posted by heyjude at 8:35 PM on August 27, 2012

What sort of apps do you intend to run, exactly? The Air may be sufficient, but it is hard to say without more info.
posted by misterbrandt at 9:22 PM on August 27, 2012

If you need to run high-compute engineering applications (e.g. Matlab), it's not unlikely there'll be a cluster you can farm heavy jobs onto at your college. Any new Mac is unlikely to trip up on the frontend portions of that software. If you get the Air, though, definitely max out the RAM since it's not upgradeable.

Retina Macs are still in the early-adopter phase of things, where you pay much more for things that are a step ahead, but not fully polished. That's probably not what you want as a college student.
posted by akgerber at 10:16 PM on August 27, 2012

The early reviews that I read said that the screen on the Mac with Retina is going to be a lot more expensive to repair. Apparently, it's sealed instead of having several replaceable parts. Since you're planning to carry your new laptop to classes, there's a decent chance that it will be dropped at some point. I'd go with the cheaper ones; their resolution looks really nice.
posted by stxnpx at 10:16 PM on August 27, 2012

the high-resolution antiglare screen option on the regular MBP is only $100 extra...not as hi-rez as retina, but a more proven tech...first gen components? no thx. (the anti-glare is also much, MUCH better for your eyes) Also, you might not notice how much you use a cd/dvd drive until u don't have one...
posted by sexyrobot at 11:09 PM on August 27, 2012

I haven't yet seen (that is, I am not ruling it out) a convincing argument for getting an expensive proprietary Mac display over just getting a "PC" monitor. YMMV but my HP 2509b works excellently with my MBP.
posted by demagogue at 11:11 PM on August 27, 2012

Just get an Air. Your shoulder will thank you.
posted by holgate at 11:43 PM on August 27, 2012

I am going to disagree slightly, or at least want to point out that as an engineer you may want a bit more power than your typical college student that many people here are considering.

I think you might need to ask yourself how much you are ok with doing projects on your lab's computers which in my experience may be pretty good or mediocre depending on when the last lab upgrade cycle was; but will always be busy at the most inopportune time as everyone's project deadlines come together at the end of a term. I say this because most of my friends who were engineers in undergrad needed at *least* Autocad/ Solidworks/ Matlab to run with some pretty reasonable performance. Plus sometimes other course dependent programs. And, 2/3 of those are very graphics heavy, so I would be a bit...wary.... if you were to get an air and expect to do all of your technical computing on it (even with the i7 and 8gb ram upgrade, which I personally would probably get, cad/solidworks don't really function on intel graphics).

So, if you are ok with the air being a pleasure to carry around and great to take notes in class on and do some light-moderate matlab coding; but for certain courses and projects you'll be reliant on school facilities - great! Otherwise, you might consider the non-retina 15-inch with the discrete graphics card and quad core processor for all the reasons mentioned above. You could self-upgrade the ram on that pretty easily for some savings, and get a better processor than the air also, although this is of course at the cost of portability. You can also do the SSD in the optical bay for a nice HD setup also. Totally a personal decision on how you want to structure your computing needs.

Also... most of my IE&ME friends had some programs that were windows only, so if you want to do all your computing on your laptop and the main reason you like the mac is its 'robust build quality' you might consider a windows laptop with similar build quality (although different aesthetics) because you may have to dual boot anyways and it could save you some money. In particular this would generally mean a Lenovo Thinkpad or HP Elitebook which are enterprise-class laptops that are at least as equivalently durable and hold their resale value pretty well (especially thinkpads, which have their own bit of cult of personality). In this case you could consider a top of the line quad-core 15" T-series with a 1080p display which would run you ~1700 right now (assuming you upgrade your own ram because seriously, wtf is up with vendor ram prices? you can buy 16 gigs off newegg for ~75$ as opposed to their 1k quoted). They also have a very nice new (carbon fiber!) 14" ultrabook or 12.5" portable, but there is no real advantage over the air in those cases because they all have pretty similar specs and price points. Also, Thinkpad docks are absolutely fantastic.

Regardless, N-thing the suggestions above for a laptop dock and a nice 24-30 inch IPS monitor like a Dell Ultrasharp, Apple Cinema Display, or the new samsung iforgetitsname will be a huge huge comfort for doing serious work at your domecile. ( I have a Dell Ultrasharp and it works great on my partner and I's macbooks, my pc laptop and desktop. Also have an equivalent apple cinema display at work which is not any noticeably different and works great on both the mac and pc laptops).
posted by McSwaggers at 12:24 AM on August 28, 2012

I had a few doubts about ordering a retina macbook pro after I'd spent a little time with an older 13" Air. The Air was so light! But I wanted a 15" display, so I ordered the rMBP. No regrets, its awesome. It is actually lighter than a 13" MacBookPro, it is speedy, and the screen is fantastic.

Yes, non-retina apps are a letdown. I'm not convinced that they actually look worse than they would on a regular macbook pro (as long as you don't lean in, then the antialiasing becomes obvious), but having them side by side with retina optimized apps, they really suffer in comparison.

I think the concerns about repairability are overstated, and the idea that you are paying a big premium for a less-polished product doesn't really hold up. Other than the issue with non-retina apps, the machine is as spiffy and solid as any Mac I've used and the base model rMBP is actually $100 less than a similarly specced MBP with an Apple SSD and a 3rd party RAM.

You do have to choose between paying a $200 premium for an upgrade to 16GB of RAM or having 8GB for the life of the machine. Apple's pricing on SSD upgrades is also steep compared to what you'd pay if you did the upgrade yourself on a machine that could take a 2.5" drive. OWC has some upgrades that are a better deal than Apple's, but are still ~25% more than a drive with similar capacity and performance from NewEgg.

I'd suggest looking at it this way:
Air: Lighter, cheaper
Retina Macbook Pro: Larger high-res screen, faster CPU and GPU.
posted by Good Brain at 12:39 AM on August 28, 2012

What kinds of things are you planning to do on your laptop? Unless you're going to working with a lot of video, animation, and graphics—and by a lot, I mean almost exclusively—there's really no point in paying the extra money for the retina display.
posted by violetk at 12:54 AM on August 28, 2012

That's silly, the retina screen is a huge boon for anything involving text in an app that is retina enhanced. It may be great for video, animation and graphics too, but that is by no means the only area of benefit. And again, the premium you pay for the display isn't really all that much.
posted by Good Brain at 1:14 AM on August 28, 2012

I faced the same difficult decision as you. Basically, Good Brain has it. I went with the Retina MBP, and I love it. People are being way too negative about the MBP. It's awesome.

Retina Pro 1: The screen is just as amazing as all the hype. You don't need to do video editing to notice. Even in Safari or Mail, the text is sharp like on a printed page. I've never seen anything like it on a computer.

Retina Pro 2: It is fast. Noticeably fast. This will matter if you're running a lot of Matlab. What tipped the decision for me was looking at the Geekbench scores for MBA versus MBP---MBP scores much faster.

Now, I'm not saying you should get an MBP. You can't go wrong with the MBA. It's a great machine. Maybe you could consider the 11" for ultra-portability. I'd probably be just as happy if I'd gotten the MBA. It's a tough tradeoff. If you're on a tight budget at all, I'd probably go for the MBA and not look back.

Coming from an old MBA, I was very worried about the MBP Pro weight. You do notice it in your bag, like having an extra book, but it is not that bad.

If you get an MBA, you should get an external display, as others have mentioned. It's a sweet setup that I've used for years. But it's *not* the same as the MBP, because DPI matters. I never hook my MBP up to any of my external displays, because I like the MBP display better.

Apple products have always had good resale value, and I don't see any reason why a retina MBP would be any different, but maybe others do.

If you can wait a year, Apple is sure to come out with Retina MBA, making the decision a lot easier...
posted by sesquipedalian at 4:39 AM on August 28, 2012

Industrial engineering? Get the MacBook Pro Retina.

Documents, diagrams, CAD, all kinds of graphics and text look fabulous. And the machine is almost decadently fast. If you are doing any simulation work at all you'll want the speed. Unfortunately as it isn't upgradable you're not really looking at $2k, you're looking at more like $3k, because you want 16G RAM and you want a 512G drive. (I couldn't see paying another $200 for that last CPU speed bump, though.)

At least as a student you'll qualify for education pricing, which makes a big difference, especially in the cost of AppleCare which you must have for a new generation machine.

I know it's a lot of money. But in your line of work, a serious workhorse computer is a tool of the trade. Get used to making the investments you need make in order to do the job right.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:50 AM on August 28, 2012

1. Supposedly Apple is about to release a 13" Retina display model. (October?)

2. You can put 16GB in a new non-retina MBP, Apple just doesn't offer it. Marketing BS to sell more expensive models.

3. If you're really concerened about weight and price is no object, I'd wait for the 13" Retina model.

4. If you'd rather spend the extra money on a nice monitor/keyboard/mouse setup at home and carry a heavier computer, get the current 13" MBP. (you can upgrade it to 16GB of ram later down the line extending its usefulness)
posted by j03 at 6:10 AM on August 28, 2012

I'm studying computer sciences, running Windows on a 13" MBP, no retina.
In my opinion the best combo is a strong laptop with an external monitor.

11-15" - it's way too small for serious technical homework. I got a 23" Dell Ultrasharp external display two months after starting school, it was worth every cent. Once you have a big-ass monitor, external keyboard and mouse you'll find yourself spending a lot more time there than opposite your 13"-15".

Airs are light, but I don't think they have enough power to run serious software. Their lack of ports also suck in my opinion, for me having a built-in card reader means I actually do download the photos from my camera.

Personally, as much as I love the MBP build quality and build form, I would have been happier if I had gotten a high end Thinkpad [one of the models which cost as much as a Macbook]. It seems like each new OSX revision is moving users away from productivity and ease of work to introducing more software built for your grandmother. I've switched to windows, but Apple's drivers are buggy. You seem to be happy with OSX, so just a get a new Unibody.

TLDR: Don't buy Retina, you will be happier working on a WAY BIGGER screen rather than a slightly better one. Buy a MBP or a high-end PC laptop and a big-ass external monitor.
posted by ye#ara at 6:12 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you need a ton or horsepower in class or are you just using it in class to take notes? If it's just for notes, my first recommendation is pen and paper. Alternatively, get a portable laptop--a MacBook Air, or a Thinkpad as I am partial to those. Lighter laptops are better.

That will save you at least $1000, maybe more. Use that money to get a relatively inexpensive desktop for home (desktops are so cheap now, even for mega power) and TWO large monitors. I have two large monitors (1920 x 1280, I think) and it has changed how I work. Emacs on left, browser with docs on right. Checkbook register on left, bank statement on right. Definitely worth the few hundred bucks for the second big monitor. MBP Retina is not going to compete with that.

If you really need all the horsepower to be portable though, maybe the MBP retina is worth considering.
posted by massysett at 9:01 AM on August 28, 2012

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