Which MacBook Pro 13 should you buy?

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
The MacBook Pro 13 is the Apple machine of choice for professionals who want an extra-portable laptop that can still handle more demanding tasks. However, choosing the right Pro 13 isn’t always easy – Apple has three different models, each with its own customization options. So allow us to recommend the best model for you, and show you why we picked it.

Best overall: 2.7Ghz Processor, 256GB Storage ($1,500)

Apple-MacBook-Pro-with-Retina-display-13”The basic MacBook has 128GB SSD, which may be too small for long-term storage. You want a laptop that won’t fill up after a couple years and force new expenses. On the high-end, you have a 512GB model with a slightly faster processor and more upgrade options – but the $1,800 price tag is pretty steep.

In the middle, not too hot and not too cold, is the 2.7GHz, 256GB model. This MacBook is a good fit for most MacBook users and their budgets. It also comes with optional upgrades to both the processor and the RAM, allowing you to use a more powerful machine for more demanding tasks if necessary. All in all, it keeps to the minimalistic ideals of the MacBook while offering the right amount of power and storage.

All about storage

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

If you look at the three primary 13-inch MacBook Pro models, you’ll notice that the biggest difference is storage capacity – at least to start. Aside from some slight differences in processor speed, your choices are between 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB storage.

All three storage options are PCIe-based SSDs. That means reading and writing many types of data will be significantly faster when compared to older SATA storage. Most smaller ultrabook-style laptops are moving to SSD storage because of these benefits, so it isn’t a huge surprise.

If you’ve been viewing similar laptops on the market, those storage sizes may feel a little dated – after all, you can order a powerful Surface Book (a laptop of comparable size) with a 1TB SSD right now. However, we should quickly point out that if you choose the 512GB version of the MacBook Pro 13, you can upgrade it to 1TB as well. There are more storage options here than first meet the eye. However, do these storage-related decisions matter to you? To help, let’s break the question down into two different situations:

  1. You don’t need much storage. Here, it’s smart to go with the 256GB or 512GB models. This way you get as much storage as you need, but avoid the risk of the 128GB model, which may fill up before you are ready to move on to another laptop. This range is ideal for work-focused MacBooks that don’t need to store large video or music files.
  1. You need a lot of storage. In this case, you are probably better off choosing either the 128GB or the 256GB version, and then purchasing a compatible external hard drive as well, to use as a hub for all the data that you don’t need directly on your laptop. This set-up is more suited for those without a PC who exclusively use their laptops for data-intense projects or daily entertainment, both of which require a good deal of space. Making the jump to a 1TB MacBook Pro is going to cost you $500, and you can find a suitable external drive for substantially less than that.

Additional hardware

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Once you get past the storage decision, customization options open up for processors and RAM. You can pick between a 2.7GHz i5, 2.9GHz i5, and 3.1GHz i7 processor, and each can be boosted to higher speeds with Turbo Boost.

If you have to run a lot of demanding software on your Mac for work or school, then it may be worthwhile to choose a more powerful chip. However, keep in mind that these upgrades will add between $100 and $300 to your final cost, and the stock processor is already quicker than most other 13-inch laptops. If you don’t care about processor speed or software, then don’t upgrade just because you can. Save the money.

The same rule applies to RAM. The base 8GB of RAM is probably all the memory the average laptop user needs. Upgrading to 16GB of RAM can help when running a lot of complex programs, but if you’re doing that, you probably wouldn’t be buying the 13-inch MacBook Pro over its 15-inch sibling. Don’t choose more RAM just because the number is bigger. It’s only good if you have a specific reason for getting it.

A quick word on Retina

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

A glance at these models will also show you they are all “Retina” MacBooks with 2,560 x 1,600-pixel resolution. We haven’t talked about this yet, and it’s worth a quick mention on your journey to the perfect purchase. Apple Retina is a brand name for the newest generation of computer screens. Retina represents Apple’s big jump to ultra HD and thousands upon thousands of pixels (exact resolutions vary per model).

Apple released Retina models way back in 2012. At first the company offered both Retina and non-Retina displays so people could choose their resolution and maybe save some money. Non-Retina screens have been slowly phased out since then, which is why “with Retina display” is part of the description for all three of our MacBook Pro 13 models.

“Wait, wait, what if I still don’t want that extra resolution?” you may be asking. There is one lonely option for a non-Retina, 13-inch MacBook Pro. Here you have choices up to a 2.9GHz dual-core i7 processor, up to 8GB of RAM, and 1TB of SATA storage or up to 512GB of SSD storage. This model starts at $1,100, but its base hardware is way behind the other, newer MacBook Pro models. We don’t recommend it.

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