With most of the attention from Apple's hardware refresh event centered around iOS 6 and the new Retina MacBook Pro, the updated 2012 edition of the regular MacBook Pro has flown a little bit under the radar. Basically, it’s just an Ivy Bridge-infused version of the venerable unibody MacBook Pro chassis that we’ve known and loved for the last few years. The details don’t bring any particularly earth-shattering revelations, with 13” retaining the dual-core processor and integrated graphics, while the 15” makes the switch from AMD to Nvidia’s new Kepler-based GT 650M dedicated graphics. Along with Ivy Bridge, the 2012 MBP line gets HD 4000 graphics and USB 3.0 across the board, plus a free update to Mountain Lion when it releases later this summer. Naturally, it doesn’t generate the same kind of excitement that the all-new, all-awesome Retina MacBook Pro does. But is a less headline-worthy computer necessarily a worse one?

It’s pretty difficult to find things to write about the 2012 MacBook Pro hardware. You can essentially sum it up in one paragraph, or even one sentence if you try hard enough. The 2012 MBP looks exactly like the 2011 MBP, which looked exactly like the 2010 MBP, which looked exactly like the post-April 2009 MBP. It’s likely to be the last iteration of the original unibody MBP, giving this body style a 4.5 year run as one of the most instantly recognizable notebook computers on the market. I’m not going to go too far in depth with analyzing the design, because we’ve gone over it a few times over the years (here, here, here, here, here, and here. Oh and here too, just for good measure.)

It’s a solid notebook, that much is certain. From an SKU standpoint, Apple has kept things relatively straightforward, with a high end and a low end for both the 13” and 15” models. Starting at $1199, the MBP13 comes with a 2.5GHz Core i5-3210M, 4GB DDR3, and a 500GB HDD, while the higher end SKU bumps that to a 2.9GHz i5-3520M, 8GB DDR3, a 750GB HDD, and a $1499 pricetag. Other than the updated processor/integrated graphics and the addition of USB 3.0, the 13” is identical to the previous model that we covered in depth last year.

The 15” is a bit more interesting. The base $1799 SKU comes with a quad-core i7-3615QM (2.3GHz) and a 512MB Nvidia GeForce GT 650M dGPU, but makes do with a paltry 4GB of memory and a 500GB hard drive. The standard memory and storage configuration in a nearly-$2000 notebook is pretty unacceptable. This being Apple, upgrade pricing is still a hair away from being highway robbery, but at least the matte WSXGA+ screen upgrade costs a reasonable $100. Thankfully, unlike the rMBP and MacBook Air, you can always opt to buy RAM and storage upgrades on your own.

2012 MacBook Pro Lineup Comparison
  15-inch Mid 2012 MacBook Pro MacBook Pro with Retina Display
Dimensions 0.95 H x 14.35 W x 9.82" D 0.71 H x 14.13 W x 9.73" D
Weight 5.6 lbs (2.54 kg) 4.46 lbs (2.02 kg)
CPU Core i7-3615QM Core i7-3720QM Core i7-3615QM
L3 Cache 6MB 6MB 6MB
Base CPU Clock 2.3GHz 2.6GHz 2.3GHz
Max CPU Turbo 3.3GHz 3.6GHz 3.3GHz
GPU Intel HD 4000 + NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M
GPU Memory 512MB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5
System Memory 4GB DDR3-1600 8GB DDR3-1600 8GB DDR3L-1600
Primary Storage 500GB 5400RPM HDD 750GB 5400RPM HDD 256GB SSD
Optical Drive Y Y N
Display Size 15.4-inches
Display Resolution 1440 x 900 2880 x 1800
Thunderbolt Ports 1 2
USB Ports 2 x USB 3.0
Other Ports 1 x Firewire 800, 1 x Audio Line in, 1 x Audio Line out, SDXC reader, Kensington Lock slot SDXC reader, HDMI out, headphone out
Battery Capacity 77.5 Wh 95 Wh
Price $1799 $2199 $2199

The unit we’re looking at here is the high-end 15” SKU, with a 2.6GHz i7-3720QM and a 1GB version of the GT 650M, plus 8GB memory and a 750GB HDD. It rings up at $2199, which interestingly is the same as the base rMBP (i7-3615QM/8GB/256GB SSD/1GB GT 650M). I’m mostly certain that it’s not the configuration to get - you’re better served by getting a base 2.3GHz 15”, adding the $100 high-res screen, and grabbing a 256GB SSD (~$250) and an 8GB RAM upgrade (~$50) separately from Newegg or Amazon. Boom. You spend roughly the same $400, depending on your SSD choice (I would go Samsung SSD 830), and end up with a system with a better screen that’s faster in most day to day situations. Unless you have a really specific need for the extra 512MB vRAM or 300MHz clock speed increase, I’d recommend against it.

Performance and Battery Life - Ivy Bridge and Kepler At Work.


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  • CalaverasGrande - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    Two things, it may sound silly but in the workplace we still need to use wired connections 9 out of ten times. It simply isnt feasible or desirable to have enterprise level wifi installed in all locations.
    This, and the optical drive is still used as a handoff medium more often than thumb drives. There is a perception that thumb drives can carry viruses more than opticals. Of course they are both just as likely, but this does not change the perception.
    As far as "the high price of Apple". If you compare Apple gear to business grade dell and HP the prices are almost identical.
    And the bloatware on HP is much worse than the extras Apple gives you.
    Me personally I went with a Mac Book Pro because I can always instantiate a VM of Win 7 or XP on my Mac. Much more difficult to go the hackintosh route.
  • gochichi - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    I disagree that the most sensible reason to not get a rMBP is out of some theological conflict against soldered on memory.

    And yes, I look at my laptop from 2010 and how affordable it has been to upgrade it to a 128GB SSD and 8GB of RAM and it makes me wonder just how well exactly is the rMBP going to age. Its aging is so important because it's an advanced prototype right now. It needs to age. But I don't think it'll age well from the resale value perspective. I also don't believe it is very usable on actual software.

    Let's put it this way, when on the rMBP I would rather use TextEdit and have the text look properly than use Pages or Word. That's a problem, that's not Pro as in professional, that's pro as in prototype. You're holding the future, but not the present. I found it unusable for anything but elite ipad duty (or is it a chrome book... basically if you're on safari it's amazing) .

    Now the way it runs say Starcraft 2. Wow, on high settings it looks beyond amazing but too low a frame rate.

    I think the retina is just not ready for duty. I was excited to have it and sad to return it. I think if you're actually wanting to get something accomplished I would go with a 13 air or a 1680 by 1050 15" pro or a 17"pro (from 2011).

    The rMBP is wonderful but its not the most utilitarian device this year. I'm waiting for 2013 myself. Waiting for software support? You gotta be kidding me.
  • gochichi - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    rMBP. The future, and really depending on how much money you have and/or how comfortable you are with the hassle of selling your used equipment at a good price it's not wrong at all to get it. I would even say that $/$ it's a pretty high value proposition in the lineup. For instance compared to a 13" Air with 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM...

    The problem arises when you ask me yet again to upgrade all my software whether I want to or not. I've been a Mac user from PowerPC days, and interestingly enough the 15" Pro model laptop was the first Intel based Mac (just like this is the first Retina Mac). No matter how you got your software, it has a value, you're already good at using it and all that jazz and it is a big deal that the screen on the rMBP is basically emulating a compatible resolution on a ton of software. And much like Rosetta before, the emulation "works" but leaves a lot to be desired.

    It's an amazing value, and if you're comfortable with being a guinea pig waiting who knows how long to wait for compatible software for who knows what price then its great.

    In having returned it, it leaves me scratching my head for what to get instead. I have a lot of equipment but non of it is Mac. I've been toying around with 2011 MacBook Air (11" mind you) and I like using that more the rMBP because it runs everything natively and I can hook it up to my 27" Dell U2711 just fine. As I escalate the upgrade options and reach ever closer to the rMBP I hesitate. I don't think I should hesitate but I do. For the year is 2012 and if I'm going to spend a ton of money to get something done, for some end goal I guess. I think buying four shares of apple with the money and then selling those shares in 2013 would be a great way to go.

    I completely understand how the rMBP is a fantastic product and a brilliant move for Apple. But things are changing, some critical things appear to be changing. For instance, the resale value of Mac equipment is fluctuating more than it has in the past. The closed, cellphone-like equipment is creating a cellphone-like frenzy and sudden disinterest. My interest in a 2010 AIr is slim indeed, while a 2010 MacBook Pro with an SSD is still desirable.

    No Mac for me in 2012? I think this may be the answer for me. I passed up a used 2011 13" Air for $850 because "it wasn't good enough" and now I'm punching my throat about it. I also passed up a used 2011 11" Air with 256GB SSD for the same price. Why? Because I had to have the rMBP. Just to realize that even though the thermal/noise characteristics are amazing, the battery life also, everything is emulated through it. And it's not so easy to find a fantastic case for it either (it will be in 2013...) which is what you need when you have a $2,000 iPad/portable iMac without a screen. It has unique features, and I'm hardly the wealthiest guy on these forums so your mileage may vary.

    Also worth noting is that wealth is a huge thing in determining whether ANY 15" Pro is for you. (Enthusiasm goes a long way too, like in my case). So back to the wealth thing... my point is that a lot of the people justifying a $2,000 laptop are simply well off in their careers and likely in their 40's or 50's at which point I'm not sure the retina offers much value compared to the sheer brightness of the standard 15" (The low-res one at that). This may also be a mute point because those same eyes may not experience the level of frustration that I experienced while watching poorly emulated resolutions on the rMBP.

    I wanted a work horse, and in so many ways it's just an unsatisfying time to purchase. If unlike me you already have a Mac and a work horse, hold on to it for ten more months.

    Final comment on software. So you have say Office 2011... worth $100-$300 depending on who you ask. You have CS 5.5... you have all this stuff already, YOU should determine when you want to upgrade and not your hardware. Your hardware is at the service of your software.

    Last but not least, Windows 8 handled the rMBP display like a Pro. It also ran hot on Windows, but if Mac OS would handle the display Windows 8 does, I'd be too busy to tell you about how happy I was. Windows 8 isn't even out officially, so buying a $2k laptop on the promise that Windows 8 runs it well, seems impatient of me. And it doesn't fit the primary bullet point that I had when I set sail on all of this: To have a Mac on my technology repertoire.

    Oh nice firefighter selling your 2011 13" Air for $850... where are you now?

    Peace out. Hope this rambling helped (it's all I was trying to do).
  • LuckyKnight - Wednesday, July 25, 2012 - link

    If ASUS can offer a nvidia GPU in their 13", come on Apple get with it :) I would love something portable as a 13" that can play games. Reply
  • Les Likely - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    The 15.4" matte display is really nice but I'm dismayed to discover that the hardware is not capable of booting into Mac OS X 10.6.8 from either an internal or external HDD partition.

    I suffered with Mac OS X Lion for a year - definitely an unstable dog of a cat. Result: I still don't trust Mountain Lion. And now we have a crippled generation of hardware, to add injury to insult - but there's no way to rig a safety-net.

  • thecuber - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    How much difference in performance would the extra 512 MB on the GPU cause?

    It's the only thing holding me back from buying the MBP15
  • thecuber - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    How much of a differenece would the extra 512MB memory on the GPU make? Reply
  • thecuber - Monday, August 6, 2012 - link

    How much of a difference does the 512 MB in vRAM make a difference. It's the only thing holding me back from buying a MBP15. Reply
  • Systembolaget - Sunday, September 2, 2012 - link

    I'm much in favour of the reviews that show that the Retina MBP is not there yet and especially so under Windows, and on the other hand, the non-Retina MBPs are getting old. But, if you're into 3D CAD, rendering and FEM/CFD, what choice do you have now?

    These all have the same processors and are roughly in the same price bracket. The Apple is ageing and has no IPS panel. The Dell is plasticky and has no IPS panel. The Lenovo lost its fantastic keyboard and now proffers a terrible screen. The HP has a decent IPS panel, but is the most expensive. At the moment, it looks like one can only buy the wrong machine...

    - Apple MacBook Pro
    i7-3720QM quad-core 2,6 GHz 6 MB L3 cache
    8 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
    750 GB SATA 6 GB/s 7200 RPM
    1680 x 1050 NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M 1 GB GDDR5
    2.379,00 €

    - Dell Precision M4700
    i7-3720QM quad-core 2,6 GHz 6 MB L3 cache
    16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
    750 GB SATA 6 GB/s 7200 RPM
    1920 x 1080 AMD FirePro M4000 Mobility Pro 1 GB GDDR5
    2.482,00 €

    - Lenovo ThinkPad W530
    i7-3720QM quad-core 2,6 GHz 6 MB L3 cache
    16 GB 1600 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
    500 GB SATA 6 GB/s 7200 RPM
    1920 x 1080 NVIDIA Quadro K2000M 2 GB GDDR3
    2.151,42 €

    - HP Elitebook 8560w
    i7-3720QM quad-core 2,5 GHz 8 MB L3 cache
    8 GB 1333 MHz DDR3 SDRAM
    750 GB SATA 3 GB/s 7200 RPM
    1920 x 1080 NVIDIA Quadro 2000M 2 GB GDDR3
    2.840,53 €
  • 1andrew - Friday, October 12, 2012 - link

    Great review by Vivek, but I have to disagree with him. I returned my MacBook Pro with Retina display for refurbished the 2012 MacBook Pro.

    The MacBook Pro with Retina display simply isn't ready yet. Vivek does say that it will take roughly 1 release cycle for software to catch up with the new display, but he doesn't emphasize this enough. As a student, I use Microsoft Work for hours a day. The blurry pixillated text strained my eyes and drove me insane (although Microsoft finally fixed that last week)

    I also enjoy playing games on my laptop. Install Windows via Bootcamp turned into a nightmare The bootcamp install kept failing to make a bootable USB drive, and without a DVD drive it was my only option. I eventually switched over to Windows computer to make the bootable USB drive. Furthermore, Windows 7 hasn't been upgraded for the retina display even with the 150% DPI scaling many of the user elements are too small. Finally, the MacBook Pro isn't fast enough to run most games at full resolution.

    The MacBook Pro with Retina display amazed. I loved the thinner form factor, but as my only computer I need a DVD drive. Life without ethernet was miserable. If only Apple included a Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter or an external DVD drive.

    Simply put, there those of us who need a fully fledged laptop.

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