MacBook Air Versus MacBook Pro with Retina Display

MacBook Air Versus MacBook Pro with Retina Display

Deciding between two Apple notebooks is not always easy. This guide will compare the 13-inch versions of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

In 2011, Apple discontinued its white polycarbonate MacBook, leaving customers with only the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air product lines to choose from.

The current MacBook Pro line includes a last-generation non-Retina model (13″ screen size), and an updated Retina Display model (13″ and 15″ screen sizes).

A side-by-side comparison of these two models, including an explanation of what ‘Retina Display’ means for users, can be found here.

Let’s say you’ve narrowed it down to the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. Both models share the same basic, aluminum aesthetic; both models contain similar hard drive configurations, RAM options, and the latest-generation Haswell Intel processor; and both models feature a similar thin, lightweight and durable design.

So, what’s the difference? Which is a ‘better’ buy?

Display

The 13-inch MacBook Air has a native screen resolution of 1440 x 900. The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display has a resolution of 2560 x 1600.

What you need to know: The major difference between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display is, as the name would suggest, the Retina Display (or lack thereof). The Retina Display on the MacBook Pro has twice as many pixels as the MacBook Air, yet it has the same size screen. This means that all of the individual pixels that make up the images on the screen are practically unnoticeable on the MacBook Pro. The result is far superior image quality, resulting in better looking text, photos and videos.


Hard Drive and Memory

Both the entry-level MacBook Air and the entry-level MacBook Pro with Retina Display come with 128GB flash-based storage. The MacBook Air can be upgradeable to 256GB with 4GB of RAM, and the MacBook Pro to 512GB with 4GB or 8GB RAM options.

What you need to know: The MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display have comparable storage and memory capacities. Anyone looking to spend a great deal more money can upgrade both of these features when purchasing a MacBook Pro. Essentially, however, there is very little difference between the two computers in terms of their hard drive and memory. The lower-end versions of each can hold roughly the same number of files, movies, photos, apps, etcetera.


Processor and Battery Life

The MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display each contain the latest generation duel-core Intel Core i5 processors. The processor in the MacBook Air runs at 1.4GHz with 12 hours of battery life, while the processor in the MacBook Pro runs at 2.5GHz (upgradeable to 2.6GHz) with 9 hours of battery life.

What you need to know: The processor in the MacBook Air has a significantly lower ‘clock rate’ than the MacBook Pro with Retina Display (1.4GHz versus 2.4GHz or 2.6GHz). Typically, when two computers contain same-generation processing chips, a few decimal points makes very little difference with regards to overall performance. However, the difference between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro is quite drastic. If you are using your laptop for complex tasks (such as video editing or even gaming), the MacBook Pro might be a safer bet.

In terms of battery life, the MacBook Air will run for up to 3 hours longer than the MacBook Pro. This is due to the greater efficiency of its slightly slower processor. That said, the MacBook Pro will still run for up to 9 hours, which is exceptional for a notebook computer.


Physical Specifications

The MacBook Air is 0.68 inches thin at its thickets point and weighs approximately 2.96 pounds. The MacBook Pro with Retina Display is 0.71 inches thin and weighs approximately 3.46 pounds. Both computers feature an aluminum unibody design with black keyboard keys. Neither computer contains a disc-drive.

What you need to know: The MacBook Air is well-known for its ultra-thin, ultra-light design. When compared to the original MacBook Pro, these features were quite significant. However, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display is much thinner and much lighter than its predecessor. This is in a large part due to the removal of its disc-drive, which neither it nor the MacBook Air contain. As a result, the MacBook Air is actually only 0.03 inches thinner (at its thickest point) than the Retina MacBook Pro, and only 0.5 pounds lighter. Thus, physically, the two computers look and feel quite similar.


The Verdict

The Retina Display on the MacBook Pro is of a considerable advantage over the MacBook Air. A computer’s screen quality is something that cannot be substituted the way hard drive space can be. One could always hook a laptop up to an external monitor, but that would surely defeat the purpose of a portable computer.

Both computers have comparable storage and memory configuration options, so unless you need slightly more flash storage with you at all times, it would be more cost-effective to purchase an external hard drive than it would be to buy more storage built in.

Although the MacBook Air last a few hours longer than the Retina MacBook Pro, the MacBook Pro’s faster processor will prove to be beneficial as time goes by and new software requires higher clock speeds in order to run.

With regards to size and weight, the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display are so similar that is becomes a considerable sacrifice of overall performance to lose the half a pound with the MacBook Air.

In terms of cost, the higher-end MacBook Air (which is still technically inferior in its processor speed and image quality) is only $100 cheaper than the lower-end MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

If cost is the most pressing factor in your decision of which laptop to buy, the MacBook Air would be the best option. If battery life is more important than speed and image quality, then the MacBook Air can offer that. However, as a long-term investment, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display with in all likelihood prove to be more rewarding at this time and in the future.


Both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display can be purchased from the Apple online store, an official Apple retail store, or any authorized Apple retailer, including Best BuyAmazon.com and B&H Photo.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave them in the comments section below.


Amitabha Sarfati can be found on Google+

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Amitabha is a freelance writer and editor. He studies Linguistics and Cognitive Psychology at New York University. His primary focus as part of the News for Shoppers writing team is on Apple-related news, announcements, tips and rumors. He can be found and followed on Google+ at https://plus.google.com/+AmitabhaSarfati/.