MacBook Pro (Mid 2014) review: Update offers slightly better CPU performance

MacBook Pro
At a Glance
  • Apple 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro/2.5GHz (Mid 2014)

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  • Apple 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro/2.2GHz (Mid 2014)

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  • Apple 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro/2.8GHz (Mid 2014)

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  • Apple 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro/2.6GHz (Mid 2014)

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Last week, Apple updated its Retina MacBook Pro line, and while the new models are identical on the outside to their 13- and 15-inch predecessors, released late last year, the “Mid 2014” models feature processors that are just a little bit faster. As modest as these internal improvements are, they do provide more performance bang for the buck.

The new lineup includes five standard configurations. The $1299 system has a 13-inch Retina display, a 2.6GHz dual-core Core i5 processor (up from 2.4GHz is the previous $1299 model), 128GB of PCIe-based flash storage, and 8GB of RAM (up from 4GB). For $1499, you get the same system, but with 256GB of flash storage. The high-end 13-inch model, at $1799, includes a 2.8GHz dual-core Core i5 processor (up from 2.6GHz in the previous high-end 13-inch model), 8GB of RAM, and 512GB of fast flash storage.

MacBook Pro

The new 15-inch models come in two flavors. There’s a $1999 system with a 2.2GHz quad-core Core i7 processor (up from 2.0GHz in the previous $1999 model), 16GB of RAM, and 256GB of flash storage. At $2499, the high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro is $100 less than the previous high-end model and has a 2.5GHz quad-core Core i7 processor (compared to 2.3GHz previously), 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of flash storage. Unlike the rest of the mid-2014 models, which use integrated graphics (Intel Iris in the 13-inch models and Intel Iris Pro in the 15-inchers), the high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro adds discrete graphics in the form of an nVidia GeForce GT 750M GPU with 2GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory.

Design features

Aside from the minor boosts in processor speed, and the low-end 13-inch model’s additional RAM, the latest MacBook Pros with Retina display stick with the design introduced in late 2013. The Late 2013 13-inch MacBook Pros were a couple of ounces lighter and and slightly thinner than previous models, and all Late 2013 models introduced Intel’s Haswell processors, Thunderbolt 2, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi to the Mac Book Pro line.

As with the Late 2013 models, the 13- and 15-inch mid-2014 models include two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, an SDXC card slot, an HDMI port, and a headphone jack that supports the microphone and remote on headphones with an Apple-style inline remote/mic module.

The Retina MacBook Pro isn’t built with upgradability in mind. If fact, you’ll need a special Pentalobe screwdriver just to get the back cover off. RAM is soldered to the motherboard, so if you think you might ever need more than the stock amount, it’s important to configure your MacBook Pro with that extra RAM at the time of purchase. The 13-inch models all come standard with a healthy 8GB of RAM, while the 15-inch models come with a very generous 16GB; configuring the 13-inch model with 16GB costs an additional $200. Processor upgrades and flash-storage upgrades (up to 1TB) are also available at the time of purchase.

The 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro has a glossy 13.3-inch (diagonal) IPS screen with LED backlighting and a native resolution of 2560 by 1600 pixels. The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display sports a 15.4-inch IPS LED screen with a 2880-by-1800 resolution. By default, both displays are set to pixel-doubled mode: 1280 by 800 for the 13-inch models, and 1440 by 900 on the 15-inch laptops.

As mentioned in previous reviews, the Retina displays look great. Icons and user-interface elements are so sharp and clear that I sometimes find myself just admiring the contents of the Dock and menu bar. If you want to change the resolution to fit more windows, images and documents on-screen, OS X’s Displays System Preferences allow you to choose between one of five available resolutions. The Best for Display setting is the default pixel-doubled resolution. Interestingly, the highest resolution setting on the 13-inch is 1680 by 1050; on the 15-inch, the highest available resolution setting is 1920 by 1280. To use these displays at their native resolutions you’ll need to turn to a third-party utility such as EasyRes. However, icons and text are terribly small when using these screens at native resolution—I assume Apple doesn’t think anyone in their right mind would want that kind of user experience.

Performance

Given such modest internal changes, we didn’t expect, or find, significant speed differences between the mid-2014 MacBook Pros and their late-2013 predecessors.

Speedmark 9 scores

Mac modelScore
13" Retina MacBook Pro/2.6GHz (Mid 2014) 158
13" Retina MacBook Pro/2.8GHz (Mid 2014) 174
15" Retina MacBook Pro/2.2GHz (Mid 2014) 246
15" Retina MacBook Pro/2.5GHz (Mid 2014) 280
13" Retina MacBook Pro/2.4GHz (Late 2013) 155
13" Retina MacBook Pro/2.6GHz (Late 2013) 177
15" Retina MacBook Pro/2.0GHz (Late 2013) 241
15" Retina MacBook Pro/2.3GHz (Late 2013) 282
13" MacBook Air/1.4GHz, 256GB flash storage (Mid 2014) 138

All results are scores. Higher scores are better. Stock configurations tested. Best result in bold. Reference models in italics.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith and Albert Filice

Each of the newer models was faster than its corresponding predecessor in our application tests, including Photoshop, Aperture, iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, and Handbrake. Unfortunately, all of the newer models were also slower than their predecessors in our copy, zip, and unzip tests. In fact, only on the entry-level 13-inch and 15-inch mid-2014 models were the processor gains enough to keep the new systems’ overall Speedmark 9 score above the scores of the late-2013 systems.

Comparing the 13- and 15-inch models' performance, you can see that the quad-core processors used in the larger laptops helped the low- and high-end 15 inch MacBook Pros post around 60 percent higher Speedmark 9 scores than their 13-inch counterparts.

At a Glance
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