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OWC’s Definitive Guide to Making Most of Retina MacBook Pro

Globe-n-rMBPPining for a new MacBook Pro with Retina display? You’re not the only one. The new MacBook Pros are powerful and most anybody I know who’s worked on the previous generation loves the screen quality and the thin size. There are a few things to take into consideration when getting a Retina MacBook Pro: screen size, memory, storage, and let’s not forget… the all important work/backup external drive.

The 13” model comes in 3 base options:

  • $1,299.99 – 2.4 GHz i5 processor, 4GB memory, 128GB Solid State Drive
  • $1,499.99 – 2.4 GHz i5 processor, 8GB memory, 256GB Solid State Drive
  • $1,799.99 – 2.6 GHz i5 processor, 8GB memory, 512GB Solid State Drive

The 15” model comes in 2 base options:

  • $1,999.99 – 2.0 GHz quad-core i7 processor, 8GB memory, 256GB Solid State Drive
  • $2,599.99 – 2.3 GHz quad-core i7 processor, 16GB memory, 512GB Solid State Drive

Essentially the price increases among the models get your more memory and a larger SSD. Memory is soldered to the motherboard, which means you can’t upgrade later, period. SSDs on the other hand can be upgraded in the future if you find yourself in need of more storage later. We’re working hard on providing an SSD upgrade that’ll allow you to expand your Retina later on, as we currently offer SSD upgrades for the 2012 Retina models, and plan to offer upgrades for the new ones as soon as we can.

13” $1,299 model
The base MacBook Pro for $1,299 offers only 4GB of memory, and that’s rarely enough for most Pro user needs. Our mantra of “more memory = a faster Mac” applies to these new Retina MacBook Pro models just as it does for every Mac out there. And we recommend upgrading to the maximum amount of memory so your new Retina MacBook Pro will last a lot longer and not limit you in the future. If you choose this model, the 8GB memory option for $100 is a no-brainer, and the $300 16GB option is recommended. Apple offers no SSD upgrade option in this model.

The 128GB can be limiting if you’re also looking to store a lot of media. Grab an OWC Mercury On-The-Go Pro, Elite Pro mini, or Envoy Pro EX, to greatly expand your storage capacity.

13” $1,499 model (the sweet spot)
This model provides a 256GB SSD and provides a good amount of memory at 8GB, but I’d recommend shelling out the $200 and get the memory upgraded to 16GB. That’ll make for a $1,699 MacBook Pro that should have enough power in the future. Apple offers no SSD upgrade option in this model.

13” $1,799 model (the ignore this model option)
This model mainly provides a 512GB SSD over the $1,499 model, and if you need the space it’s the ONLY reason to get this model. This is also the only model that Apple lets you upgrade the SSD size. You can step up to 1TB for $500 more. I’d recommend spending the $200 more over this 13” model to step up to the $1,999 15” Retina model. That $200 will offer a tremendous amount of upgrades with a bigger screen, much faster processor, and a more robust graphics system. That’s $200 spent wisely.

15” $1,999 model (the sweet spot of the 15”)
Like stated above, this 15” packs in much more power than the 13” and is the MacBook Pro to consider. Simply stated, if your willing to spend $1,799 on a 13”, you should just get this model instead. If you’re stepping up from the 13” and this model is just on the edge of your budget, the 8GB of memory should be fine. If you can spend $200 more for the 16GB memory option… do it. You can also step up to 512GB SSD for $300 or a 1TB SSD for $800 more. More on storage options later, but you may be able to save on storage.

15” $2,599 model (updated)
This model gets you a slightly faster processor, 16GB memory, 512GB SSD, and a discrete graphics card (which you may or may not need). But if your buying this as it’s base configuration… don’t. Just get the $1,999 model and add the 16GB memory and the 512GB SSD option, and you’ll save $100 because that works out to be $2,499 instead of this model’s $2,599 price tag.

I’d just max out the $1,999 model with whatever options needed and ignore this model altogether unless you’ve determined that your needs would be best suited by the discrete video card. Let’s face it, the integrated graphics are getting really good, even during Apple’s keynote they sounded like it wasn’t needed by Phil S. Will you see an improvement? Most likely yes. Will it be dramatic? We’ll see. Is it worth the extra $100 to step up this model from a maxed out $1,999 15”? That’s a call you’ll need to make as only you know what your needs are and if your workflow would benefit from it. It’s just something to take into consideration.

Hey, I Didn’t Talk About the Processor Upgrade Options!
And to that I say… so what. Skip ’em. The speed gains will be negligible and really won’t offer the most bang for your buck. It’s only when jumping from something dramatic like from the 13” models’ dual-core processors to the 15” models’ quad-core processors that you’ll notice the major difference in demanding apps. Otherwise, save the money on something that matters like external drives.

External Drives – The Must Have Mac Accessory
Let’s face it, if you’re using your MacBook Pro for pro work, chances are you have a lot of files, and if those files happen to be media, they take up a lot of room. Add in life’s photos, music and movies, and the onboard storage can fill up. It’s OK. We have great options and suggestions for you.

One. You should be using an external drive for a Time Machine backup no matter what Mac you have. It’s simply the best and easiest way to come back from a catastrophic computer failure, or worse, your beloved laptop gets lost, destroyed, or stolen. But don’t just rely on any old external for backup. You can get a portable or desktop drive that can provide more than enough room for backup, but also can be a solid workhorse to do some heavy data lifting for any of your work/life’s needs. Heck, you can even mix and match… grab a portable drive for when your out and about, and use a desktop drive if you need capacities in the 4TB – 16TB range. You can even partition a larger external so it can serve as both your Time Machine drive and workhorse drive.

OWC’s external drives are among the most trusted in the A/V industry and are perfect for pro and everyday use and come backed by our great U.S.-based customer support.

Save on Apple Accessories with OWC
Don’t pay street prices for great Apple accessories. Grab a great Apple Magic Mouse, Apple Keyboard, and an extra MagSafe Adapter to charge your new Retina in multiple locations without having to take the adapter with you wherever you go. Save money with OWC.

I hope you absolutely love your MacBook Pro with Retina display. If you need even more from it, or to see what’s possible, just call on OWC.

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  • I have a mid 2014 15″ Macbook Pro Retina 2.5GHz i7. Would I be able to upgrade the 512GB pci-e flash drive with a 1TB pci-e flash drive?

  • I am looking to replace a SSD in a late 2013 model 15″ retina macbook. I was told that I could not replace with a larger drive. Is that true, or have you found a solution yet? I have the opportunity to have new retina, but don’t want it if it can’t be upgradeable. Please Advise! Thanks!

    • Hi Kelly, we are hard at work on upgrades for the MacBook Pro Retina model that you’re referring to with an expected release in Quarter 2 of this year. Be sure to check back with the OWC Blog for updates and official announcements. Thanks!

  • Are the SSD’s for the late 2013 models available yet? I found it hard to figure out on the products page.


  • Can you tell us whether the form factor/connector for the SSD on all the 2013 MacBooks are the same?
    i.e. is it likely that the same replacement SSD would work in a 2013 Air, & the new 2013 13 & 15″ MacBook Pros?
    I’m just asking in general terms here, not looking for details on your plans that you can’t share yet. ;)

    I am very anxiously waiting to hear your plans for replacement SSD’s when you can talk about them though.

  • If you use any of the (now) paid apps from apple, adobe, avid, or similar production software, you’d be silly to even consider the intergrated only options. the discreet card is usually a de facto system requirement from adobe & avid. totally not worth buying the base 15″ & doing upgrades to it. a discreet video card with 2GB of dedicated ram for what, $150?

    you buy a 13″ for space & weight considerations vs a 15″ & buy a base 15″ if you absolutely need/want the bigger screen but can’t afford the jump to the premium model, or you’re not using the heavy duty production apps on a regular basis.

    • Well it’s not really that black and white anymore like it used to be.

      Integrated cards now can perform like discrete cards did before. That’s not to discourage discrete cards at all, there will be a benefit. But saying the top end apps won’t be able to work is simply not true. Just need to weigh the pros and cons. We use Mac minis with integrated graphics for some of our web team without issue whatsoever.

      • which apps you folks running? sure they might run & you can do some things on them but when it comes to getting things done, especially on a tight turnaround, the intergrated graphics are usually much to be desired. complexity of the project also plays into this. anyway, I haven’t seen a cmparison in performance the Iris vs. the 750m yet… but with the prospect that Apple is having the cards join forces so to speak, running in tandem, it’s still disingenuous to say IMO, to buy the base model & add $500 in upgrades & say the the next step up for $100 for a better processor & dsicreet graphics isn’t worth the money.

  • 1tb for $500 from apple does not sound too bad… Unless OWC can offer a similar or cheaper deal for 1tb. That would be a win and I would upgrade with OWC

    • Glenn, that’s not a fair comparison. The initial 500 GB of the drive is built-in to the price of the hardware; you’re paying $500 for an additional 500 GB.

      That’s still not the worst price in all of history, but it’s not a 50-cents-per-GB steal. FYI.

    • Yah, like any upgrade you just need to weigh the pros and cons. If you know for certain you need that much room, then getting a computer with less may hamstring your workflow. Which you certainly don’t want from a pro machine. Thank for reading, and if you could, write back to let us know what route you went for your purchase. All the best.

  • If I got the 15″ $1,999 MBP, could I upgrade it in the future with the NVidia graphics?

  • The $1999 15inch Base Macbook Pro is identical in price if you match the CPU, RAM and SSD. So you get the 750M for free. Also don’t forget that 10.9 will use both GPUs simultaneously for OpenCL apps, and since the Iris Pro is close to the 650M from last years model. You’re essentially getting a 650M and 750M in on laptop with an 8 hour battery life, this is ideal for their new Final Cut Pro and will be the only other mac with dual GPU besides the Mac Pro. You have to think again why is there such a push for OpenCL in the card, the OS and for apps.

  • The nVidia GPU in the high end MacBook Pro would be faster than the Intel Graphics for Open CL apps.

  • I think you missed the biggest reason to buy the $2,599 configuration of the 15-inch MacBook Pro w/Retina Display. It comes with NVidia discrete graphics, where the $1,999 configuration does not. That is a HUGE difference, and makes the extra $599 well-worthwhile when you consider the RAM and SSD upgrades that are included as well.

    Ernest Stalnaker

    • That’s a very good point and thanks for writing in to bring it up. It should provide a big difference, but I’d be interested in seeing tests, and what real world people experience with it as the integrated graphics are getting really good. I’ve updated the post to reflect your’s and others’ points on this. It’s just a judgement call for those buying the model will need to make. Thanks again for writing in, and for reading of course!

  • I’m surprised you’re discounting the faster GPU Iin the high-end option; is Iris Pro really enough?

  • Thanks for the summary. One important point you did not mention. The base $1999 15″ Macbook does not come with nvidia discrete graphics chip. Appears that you have to get at least 2.3 ghz or more to get discrete graphics. Intel chip may be better than last year but I’m not sure it is up to handling heavy graphics work.

  • Great guide. Thank you so much as this answers all my questions.

    I can’t wait for your SSD upgrade option – is there an ETA on when they’ll be available?

    Now to decide between the 13″ mid option or 15″ base… there is only .45kg (1 pound) between them however that is an extra 29% (and an extra 31% in price! [in Australia])

    Time for a trip to the Apple store!

    • Thanks for your interest, Vince! But we can’t speak about the exact timeframes for future products here on the OWC Blog.