Mac-less in Seattle (but hopefully not for long)
December 30, 2013 10:40 AM   Subscribe

I know everyone asks the "which mac?!" question constantly, but it's a bit of a moving target, isn't it? I am looking to replace my 2008 MacBook (aluminum). I know that the recommendation is to buy either the Retina MBP, or the MBAir. But would I be shooting myself in the foot if I bought a non-Retina MBP? Caveat: Can't really wait months and months for the next and newest--this is my work computer and I can't afford to have it crap out without a replacement.

The 2008 MB that I have has always been pretty much "all the computer I need," because I don't game, I don't edit video, and I don't edit sound. I love it but it's pretty old and slow these days, and it's been upgraded as far as it can go.

So I want to replace it, and my inclination is just to get more of same: the newest MBP 13 inch.
- I don't have *tons* to spend
- I would rather get more RAM and a SSD than spend similar money on a bare-minimum Retina MBP.
- as for the Air: I have no real need for ultra portability, but if that's the best deal for a reason I've not thought of, I'll do that.

However, the general opinion is that non-Retina MBPs are being phased out entirely, and several people have warned me against buying one now. But these people are more "gadget-driven" than I am.

I want to be able to use this computer well into the future, so basically: will the regular MBP be a waste of money--problematically obsolete (as in, I won't be able to easily perform updates, or find components) within a couple of years? Or will it just be less than "cutting edge"?

I am lame, I do not care about cutting edge. But I hate wasting money.

Advice I am not looking for: buy a PC.
posted by like_a_friend to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The non-retina MBP sold today is far more upgradable than the retina MBP. If you don't need a retina display, get the non-retina MBP as there are parts of the Retina MBP that are glued to the motherboard so they are not user replaceable and upgradable (like the memory).

Ignore people who are telling you not to upgrade and to wait. You need a new computer when you need a new computer. If the one in front of you meets your needs at the time of purchase, then don't worry about what *might* come down the pike later as there will always be a bigger and better future.

As it is a portable machine, I recommend AppleCare. It extends the warranty to 3 years and it might be worth it if you fear any trouble with the machine.

5 years is a pretty long time to keep a laptop. 3 is more usual, honestly.
posted by inturnaround at 10:52 AM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

2nding what inturnaround said.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:03 AM on December 30, 2013

It seems pretty clear that Apple is phasing out the non-retina MBP. That said, you can max out that model so that it has a lot of headroom, and should last you a good while. It's not the latest thing, but it's not already obsolete, either.

On the other hand, a similarly configured retina MBP isn't going to be that much more expensive, the one big variable being storage: you can put a 1 TB hard drive in the older MBP, but since the new MBP only supports SSDs, matching that amount of storage is very expensive. And, as inturnaround pointed out, the newer one is not remotely user-serviceable.

The Air…I'd look at that if portability is a very high priority.

My advice is to play around with them and get the one you like the most that is within your budget. None of them are bad. I've been pricing out scenarios and vacillate myself.
posted by adamrice at 11:17 AM on December 30, 2013

The non-retina is upgradeable, but didn't get a processor refresh, so it will have noticably inferior battery life. I'm not convinced either the Air or Retina is the best, but they're both very good. If you buy it packaged from Apple, adding an ssd to the non-retina pro already brings you to price parity with the Retina. Since the 13" air with 8gb RAM is the same price as a non-retina pro with 4gb and an spinning disk, has a slightly higher resolution screen, is lighter and has better battery life, that's a pretty good value pick.

Also - it looks like the going rate for a Mac that runs Mavericks is still $400-500 on Craigslist.
posted by wotsac at 11:18 AM on December 30, 2013

Personally, I love the retina display, lighter weight and SSD in the rMBP, but the 13" non-r MBP is a solid machine and a decent value, particularly since it has the option of 3rd-party upgrades. I'd also look at the refurb options from the Apple store.
posted by Good Brain at 11:29 AM on December 30, 2013

My fiance has the non-retina 15" MBP and I have the retina version, and there is a huuuge difference in the display. I did go ahead and max out the RAM since it's not upgradeable.

(I wasn't considering the Air because I wanted a larger screen).
posted by radioamy at 11:34 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I just bought a hybrid drive, so I can't tell you if they're good, but obviously I would consider buying one. Instead of a very expensive SSD, or a slow ordinary HD, a hybrid drive puts 16GB of memory on a regular hard drive. The idea is that the first 16GB of data is the 16GB you are going to need the most, by a long shot. So the drive can keep that cached and return it with the speed of a SSD. I suspect they get on the order of 60%-80% of the speed improvements of an SSD with only 40% of the price. That's why I bought mine (which I now have to install!)
posted by musofire at 11:55 AM on December 30, 2013

I have a non-retina MBA (13", 2011 model) and, personally, I don't think having retina display on a laptop is all that important. My screen on my MBA is better than it was on my PC. (However, my brother's iPad mini with a non-retina display has a terrible screen compared to even my Android mobile.) Like you, I had to quickly buy a new laptop after my old one stopped working, and I didn't have the money for a new Macbook with a retina display. I'm very happy with it.
posted by toerinishuman at 12:07 PM on December 30, 2013

If you're going non-retina MBP, you might as well buy one from the refurb store rather than new, because you're not really missing anything in terms of CPU and graphics specs: you can still get AppleCare, and will save around $200 (nearly the cost of AppleCare) on the stock configuration.

As others have said, it's not going to become obsolete in a hurry, but you're sort of buying into last year's hardware. That's not a massive problem, but you'll lose out in terms of battery life.

You're still paying $1000, and refurb Airs with the new CPU are comparably priced, but the MBP at least gives you the chance to bump it up bit by bit over time: max the RAM, swap in a SSD, etc.
posted by holgate at 12:42 PM on December 30, 2013

You don't say what line of work you're in, but unless you need the power of a MacBook Pro, consider getting a 13" Air and an external monitor, wireless keyboard and trackpad. The Air is cheap and portable, and it is powerful enough to run itself alongside an external display.

A non-Retina display model doesn't have as good battery life. Don't get this unless you need extra horsepower for prosumer or professional video or audio work. Bump up the memory a bit and the Air is well powerful enough for general computing.

The Retina models will come down in price once the non-Retina lines are cleared out (probably 6-9 months from now). So if and when you're ready to move up to those models in 2-3+ years, you won't have to pay as much.

Upgradability of laptops and battery expansion are very overrated concepts these days. Except for the battery, most people never replace pieces of their laptop, and it costs the same to replace the built-in battery as the removable one. Unless you are a tinkerer, don't let this issue cloud the decision you make.

If you are affiliated with higher education or know someone who is, buy your laptop and Applecare through the online Apple Store for Education. You'll likely save enough on the laptop to pay for the Applecare or a significant chunk of it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:52 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

2nding "holgate".

The Apple refurb store is a great wasy to buy a system. They are cheaper and come with a full factory warranty and you can add AppleCare. It is the first place I look. (And free shipping on all refurbs...)
posted by Leenie at 1:58 PM on December 30, 2013

One other point: the native resolution of the non-retina 13in MBP remains 1280 by 800. The rez on the 13in MBA is 1440 by 900. Not a massive difference, but you get more pixels per inch with the Air.
posted by holgate at 2:49 PM on December 30, 2013

I bought a 2012 15in retina MBP for the same money as the new 13, and i wouldn't buy a non-retina one at this point. It's where things are headed, they're MUCH lighter and easier to carry around, and the screen is pretty amazing. They're also quieter. All the recommendations for getting the old-style one befuddle me. That's a lot of money for an outdated machine with a previous-gen CPU that doesn't even have the new machine design or features going for it.

As for the air, i almost got one and i'm happy i didn't. If you don't need a super thin/small/light machine then just don't bother with it. The CPUs are almost the same speed as the 13in pro now, but you're still trading the awesome screen, performance, key travel in the keyboard, ports, the glass screen(as opposed to glossy plastic, and they antiglare coated the glass a bit this time around), and silence for the small form factor.(The air has to exhaust all it's heat with one tiny fan and a smaller, less efficient heatsink. it creates less heat as well, but if you're doing anything CPU-intensive it tends to spool up and be a bit annoying). The 13in pro is BARELY bigger, and is actually less wide.

I work in IT, and i'm all about upgrading my systems... but 8gb of ram is more than enough.

In a couple years when you want more ram on a system that could take it, you'll be in the same position you are now with a DDR2 machine. DDR4 is going to be standard with the next gen of intel CPUs coming out early-mid next year and will probably quickly take over the entire scene because of that. The prices of DDR4 will quickly be cheaper than DDR3 as the chip fabs quit making it and switch over to 4. You'll also be in the position you're in now with a SATA2 machine with SATA3, where any new drive you get wont be able to take advantage of it's full speed on the newer bus(and SSDs are already heading towards either PCIe or saturating-ish sata at 1000mbps).

Basically, just buy a machine now and buy what you think you'll need. Get 8gb of ram for sure, and get at least a 256gb SSD. Factor in the cost of selling your old machine(which you'll still get like $500+ for!) to the cost of buying this one if it makes you feel better.

Also check around on slickdeals. BH photo and bestbuy have been having pretty big sales of like $200 off on the upgraded 8gb/256gb 13in retina model. Seattle craigslist is also amazing even if you want new. I keep seeing "sealed new in box" ones on there, especially now that christmas just happened...
posted by emptythought at 3:05 PM on December 30, 2013

Thank you thank you! All of these answers really clarified my needs and thought process. I am leaning now towards a maxed-out 13" Air, actually, since it seems like the cheapest way to get nearly everything I want, slightly better screen quality, and good battery life to boot. (And I don't plan to sell the old laptop--for as long as it lasts, it will be spending its retirement years at my SO's house.)
posted by like_a_friend at 8:57 AM on December 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm all Retina now. I can't imagine not getting a Retina if I could afford it. Especially if you look at a screen all day long; the difference is outstanding. Eyestrain and headaches cost both productivity and suffering. (I went with the MBP 13" Retina, 8G, 500G SSD. Basically a Mac Heavier-than-Air. It's dead quiet and I adore it. Older machines trickle down to MyGuy, and I've done head-to-head comparisons.)

One thing Apple can't stop dinking around with is Yet Another Cable Standard. I've had trouble with the Lightning-to-FireWire adapters for my hard drive, as well as fussy fits on Lightning-to-Mac port. Survey what your cable needs are, price entire new cables instead of adapters, and make sure that the projector you have to use four times a year can still connect.

Best wishes.
posted by Jesse the K at 8:42 PM on December 31, 2013

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