Apple MacBook Pro A1398 15.4" Laptop - ME664LL/A (February, 2013) Reviews
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Apple MacBook Pro A1398 15.4" Laptop - ME664LL/A (February, 2013)

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A great high-end portable, but a few gotchas ....

May 18, 2013
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Ease of Use:
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Pros:Gorgeous retina screen, great battery life

Cons:RAM soldered in and non-upgradable

The Bottom Line: Best for people who want to run multiple external monitors with it (first Mac portable that really can do that properly).


I'm a long time Mac user who has been fortunate enough to own and use well over a dozen different models of the company's computers over the years. I was happily using a 2011 version of the non-retina 15" Macbook Pro at my workplace, until I had the opportunity to upgrade to this new retina display 2012 model (reassigned my 2011 machine to a new employee).

Having already owned one of the new generation of Apple iPads with a retina display, I was prepared for the improved quality display (and can't say I was disappoiinted a bit in that regard). But what I found I liked about this new Macbook Pro that I didn't even expect is the sleeker, thinner design. Realistically, I know it doesn't really make a difference in regular use. My 2011 model fit just as easily in a carrying bag and took up about the same amount of space on a desk. But especially with all the Macbook Airs out there these days, the standard Macbook Pro non-retina models just look dated and bulky by comparison, especially when the lid is closed. When you spend this much money on a new machine, you want it to be asthetically pleasing as well as having good performance.

As for the performance I speak of? Yes, it delivers. The fact it has two thunderbolt ports (backwards compatible with mini-displayport) AND a dedicated HDMI video output means you can finally run dual external monitors (or a total of 3 displays if you leave the lid open and use the built-in retina display as one of them) -- without resorting to using a USB video adapter. (The USB video adapter option is really second-rate on a Mac, since it's slow and "Quartz" video acceleration isn't supported with one. On top of that, you can't even do custom color calibration to a USB video connected display.) In fact, you could even attach a THIRD external monitor if you wanted by using that second thunderbolt port -- but that would cost you the ability to attach a wired network cable. (The new retina Macbook Pros don't have built-in ethenet jacks. You have to use a $30 thunderbolt to gigabit ethernet "dongle".)

The built in SSD drive means quick boot times and great all around disk performance loading applications and saving files, and the processor has all the performance 99% of people ever need or expect from a notebook computer. (Let's put it this way. If the new retina Macbook Pro is too slow for you, CPU-wise, you're doing things you're going to need a multi-thousand dollar workstation or server class machine to handle.)

Now, as I said in the title of my review, there are a few "gotchas" potential buyers should be aware of. First of all, the retina Macbook Pro does NOT include an optical drive anymore. Macbook Air users will be used to this, but this marks the first time a "Pro" series Mac laptop left it out. Truthfully, I'm glad Apple left it out because as little as I use one these days, I can just attach an external USB DVD (or even blu-ray) burner when I need it -- and not get stuck carrying it around as part of the machine the rest of the time. But this could be a deal-breaker for someone (maybe a wedding photographer, for example?) who makes a lot of custom CDs or DVDs on the go, as part of their regular workflow for their machine.

The other potential issue is a limitation of the video chipset used in the machine. It's not really Apple's fault, in the sense there wasn't really anything faster on the market Apple could have used when the retina Macbook Pro was designed. But the fact remains that the ultra high-resolution 15" retina screen has so many pixels to be pushed around, it almost overwhelms the abilities of the 3D video chip. Gaming suffers at times, if one doesn't drop the video resolution to decrease the video chip's workload. Many enthusiasts and "power users" have suggested some people will be smart to wait for Apple's next revision of the retina Macbook Pro before buying one -- if only to get a more capable video chip in it.

Lastly, I'd have to remind people that like the Macbook Air, the retina MB Pro has also gone to a very "non user servicable/upgradable" design. The RAM chips are soldered onto the main board inside, and there are no empty expansion sockets to be found. If you have ANY suspicion you may need more than the standard 8GB of RAM included with one, you need to purchase the higher-end version with 16GB in it, or forever be stuck with what you purchased initially. The battery has excellent capacity (7 hours or so of use between charges!) -- but again, is not swappable. When it eventually wears out and quits holding a charge, you'll need to take it in for repair, unless you're pretty much a computer tech yourself. Even the screws that hold the back cover on these machines are of a special type, so you won't get it open with your regular set of eyeglass screwdrivers.

Overall, this is a fantastic and powerful notebook, and arguably one of the best Apple has produced to date. However, I think buyers are put in a position where they're almost foolish not to purchase AppleCare or another type of extended warranty with it. So that should be factored into the already high cost of ownership. In the end, it's not for everyone, but not everyone needs one of Apple's "Pro" designated systems in the first place.


Recommend this product? Yes


Amount Paid (US$): 2199
Operating System: Macintosh
Processor: Intel Pentium
Processor speed: over 1000
Screen Size: 15 inches
RAM: More than 256
Hard Drive (GB): Over 50


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