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MacBook Pro Retina vs MacBook Pro 17" (or 13" or 15")

Some professional photographers or videographers need more storage on the road (this is not a post for casual users or gamers or dilettantes, who “need” the Retina display and the coolness factor).

The MacBook Pro Retina has a fancy display, but it can take only one internal drive, which is not field replaceable or easily upgradeable (if at all). If the drive fails on a job, you are screwed.

Now consider the existing 17" Macbook Pro, which is still available at B&H Photo, (thank you for using that link to buy).

  • 17" display is native (not pixel-doubled); no new application support is needed, and it’s anti-glare if you so choose.
  • By removing the optical drive, two internal 2.5" drives can be installed. With current SSDs, this means 2 X 480GB (hint: this maximum might change soon!!!). What this means is you can have a working drive AND a backup both internal to the MBP, each bootable if you choose, or you can make a RAID-1 mirror (with the right drive choices) for fault tolerance. Or you can simply have more storage, and that limit can grow (hint, hint).
  • In the field, a MBP 17" drive can be replaced, meaning you can take another spare along (even one in an external drive case), and install it into the MBP in the field if need be.
  • With The MBP Retina, you get one (Apple) drive, with no option for a 2nd one, and it’s not clear that it’s easily upgraded either.

The decision is not clear-cut: the MBP 17" might well be a better machine for some professionals simply because of its storage options.

This discussion also applies to the 13" or 15" MacBook Pro models, though of course the screens are smaller on those models.

Reader comments

Edward S writes:

I completely agree with your assessment about the inflexibility of storage. I have a 2010 MBPro 15" with a 240 GB Mercury 3G SSD and a Hitachi 7k500 in the optical drive slot. I use the SSD for system, apps, and current projects, while the HD holds my data, pictures, media like music and also acts as a time machine backup for the current work on the SSD when I am out of the office away from backup. When I get back, my 2 TB backup backs up both disks. It's belt and suspenders, but it's fast and it protects my data. My computer is not a toy--I care much less if it were destroyed than I do about the loss of the data. As long as I can retrieve data from the internal HD backup I'm good to go. If I had to start new on a $30,000 work order (or several of them) because the disk failed, it might cost me months of work, for free.

I am getting the impression that Apple is not taking into account the people like me who need flexibility and reliability in one package--they seem to be catering to people who want a wow factor but don't actually need for the machine to respond to professional needs. I think the new retina MBP is a crippled version, a toy for equipment geeks. Very disappointing.

Soldered memory!

DIGLLOYD: I also advise regular backups to other media that are stored safely away from the computer— dual drives don’t help when theft is involved.

With one internal drive, the solution is to lug around a 2nd external drive— not so bad in this way: keep it separate from the laptop, that way if the laptop is stolen, you still have the backup. Data loss perils include more than drive failure.

Hugh R went with the MBP Retina, but has some concerns:

I too went back and forth between the MBP-Retina vs the MBP (15 or 17, I have owned both in the past). The more I thought about it, the less concerned I was about the inability to install two internal drives in the MBP-R and so I ordered one. Instead of a 2nd internal drive I am satisfied with (though not ecstatic about) a thunderbolt bootable clone of the SSD in the MBP-R. My current on-the road-emergency-backup solution is a 1TB (Transcend StoreJet USB-3) bootable carbon-copy clone of my current MBP and I will continue with that initially. If I replace the Apple/Samsumg SDD that I ordered on my MBP-R with a a faster and more reliable OWC SSD (see final paragraph), then I will use the old Apple/Samsung drive as an external backup.

Two things about the new MBP-R concern me more than the inability to install a 2nd internal drive.

(1) The battery on the MBP-R is glued to the body and cannot be replaced. I find that I wear out a battery on a MBP in about 12-24 months. So what do I do after 12 months when the battery is only giving me 50% of it's original cycle-life? Will Apple replace the battery under AppleCare? What about when it's down to 10% after 2 years?

(2) SSD. You are wise to be concerned that the MBP-R may not be replaceable but I think it will be replaceable. It looks like it pops out just like the SSD on the MB-Air. What concerns me most is that the Apple/Samsung drive probably does not have the data management and protection features found in the Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G SSDs. (Not to mention read/write speed.) I am concerned that the Apple/Samsung SSD read/write speeds will, with heavy use, degrade over time. If that happens I will be forced to spend about a grand for a new Mercury Aura SSD.

DIGLLOYD: Needs vary, and the external drive is a very reasonable solution, and also can be stored separately, for theft “insurance”.

Very interesting question on the battery.

On the SSD front, I am confident that this will be a replaceable part. Yes, longevity is a serious consideration, and might be one reason to upgrade to a larger-capacity Sandforce-based SSD like those from OWC, which have “over provisioning” (when and if OWC offers a replacement drive for the MBP Retina).

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