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Lab Tested: 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro benefits from flash storage

Tuesday was a very busy day for Apple and we in the Macworld Lab were ecstatic to see the Mac so well represented. Luckily, we didn't have to wait long to get our hands on a new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display.

We tested the $1699 standard configuration model, which has a 2.5GHz dual-core Core i5 processor, Intel's integrated HD Graphics 4000, 128GB of flash storage, and 8GB of RAM. Apple offers a second $1999 model that is identical except it has 256GB of flash storage. The 13-inch Retina display has a 2560 by 1600 native pixel resolution.

Apple still sells non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pros that have a 1280 by 800 screen resolution. The $1199 model has the same 2.5GHz dual-core Core i5 processor as the Retina laptop and the same integrated graphics, but it has just 4GB of RAM and a 5400-rpm 500GB hard drive. The $1499 non-Retina model has a 2.9GHz dual-core Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000, and a 5400-rpm 750GB hard drive.

13-inch Retina MacBook Pro: Speedmark 8 Scores

Retina vs. non-Retina

We used our new Speedmark 8 benchmark to gauge the performance of the new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. It posted a Speedmark 8 score of 184, while the 13-inch 2.5GHz non-Retina MacBook Pro's score was 121. If you examine the individual application scores for Speedmark 8 (see the end of this article), you'll see that the performance differences were mostly due to the fast flash storage in the new Retina laptop. It took roughly 5 times longer for the 5400-rpm hard drive in the non-Retina laptop to complete our file copying and uncompressing tests. As you might expect, results in CPU-intensive tests were very similar. For example, the Retina laptop scored a 1.07 in MathematicaMark; the non-Retina system scored a 1.06.

The 13-inch non-Retina 2.9GHz MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM closed the performance gap considerably, scoring a 153 in Speedmark 8. It was faster than the 2.5GHz Retina MacBook Pro in CineBench's CPU and GPU tests, the file compression test, Portal 2, and MathematicaMark. The non-Retina's 5400-rpm hard drive took 4.5 times as long to complete the file copy test and uncompress file tests.

13-inch Retina vs. 15-inch Retina

The new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro joins the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, which was released in June. The 15-inch models start at $2199 with a 2.3GHz quad-core Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of flash storage, and a 15.4-inch display with a 2560 by 1600 resolution. The 15-inch models also include discreet nVidia GeForce GT 650M graphics with 1GB of dedicated video memory, as well as integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000. The $2799 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro has the same amount of RAM and the same graphics, but with a 2.6GHz quad-core Core i7 processor and 512GB of flash storage.

When comparing performance between these three Retina MacBook Pros, the benefit of quad-core processors is readily apparent. With a Speedmark 8 score of 257, the $2199 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro was 40 percent faster overall than the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. MathematicaMark was 78 percent faster, and the Cinebench CPU test took half as long to run on the 15-inch 2.3GHz quad-core Core i7 laptop than on the 13-inch 2.5GHz dual-core Core i5 model. The 15-inch model's discreet graphics help those laptops perform more than twice as fast in our Portal 2 and Cinebench OpenGL tests. Storage related test results were very similar.

The results from the $2799 15-inch Retina 2.6GHz quad-core Core i7 MacBook Pro were even more impressive. With an overall Speedmark 8 score of 275, the 15-inch Retina laptop was nearly 50 percent faster than the 13-inch Retina laptop, adding a few frames per second to the graphics tests as well as improving each test incrementally.

Retina MacBook Pro vs. MacBook Air

With its size, weight and price, it's worth comparing the new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro to a 13-inch MacBook Air. A 13-inch Air with a 1.8GHz dual-core Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, 128GB of flash storage, and integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 costs $1199 and weighs 0.61 pounds less than the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro.

The 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro was 11 percent faster overall. Copy File tests, iPhoto import, Cinebench OpenGL and Portal 2 frame rates were very close, while MathematicaMark was 7 percent faster on the Retina laptop and compression a file was 9 percent faster.

Check back soon for the full review of the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros, including battery tests. We'll also post performance results for the new Mac minis as soon as we receive and test them.


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