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What are the major differences between the 13-Inch Retina Display MacBook Pro, the “regular” 13-Inch MacBook Pro, and the 13-Inch MacBook Air? Which is best for me?

Apple is constantly upgrading the MacBook Pro line and there have been many, different models released in previous years, and recent months even, for the 13-inch laptop ranging from the Retina Display MacBook Pro, to the regular MacBook Pro, to the latest MacBook Air.

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Many easily gravitate towards the smaller generations, but often comes packed with upgrades on processors and graphics display and features such as the 11-inch MacBook Air. While those who prefer optimal performance for multitasking laptop needs do not shy away from the price that comes with bigger and reliable 15-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro. However, if you’re all about quality and basic computing anyway, it does not come as a surprise that the 13-inch models still show good numbers as far as the market demand is concerned where its size, battery life, cost, and just the right upgrades are there without being compromised. has each gadget’s model and generations’ specifications and comparisons. For this purpose, we can help you decide, if you haven’t yet, by comparing the 13-inch laptops by Apple.


External Differences

Some noticeable physical differences between these models are visible to the naked eye. Whichever release date they came from, the 13-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro model has a uniform design – around ¾ of an inch thick and weighs approximately 3.5 pounds – so thin and lightweight that it’s almost difficult to upgrade and tinker inside it. As we all know, Apple does a very good job of keeping the hardware intact and sealed neatly, maintaining a minimalist design both for aesthetics and function.


The MacBook Pro Core i5 2.5 13-inch “Mid-2012” model that is still available in the market has a “unibody” design. This is easy to upgrade even though it is less than an inch thick and relatively heavier at 4.5 pounds.


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You will easily notice that all MacBook Air models have a tapered design – thicker at the back than its thinner front side (which trains our eyes to believe that these models are the thinnest of most other models and earlier generations). The measurements are not that far in comparison as they are just 0.68 of an inch at the rear and 0.11 of an inch by the front side, and weigh approximately under 3 pounds (short of 0.5 pounds from the 13-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro model).


With four times the resolution and graphics details of a “traditional” display, the 13-Inch Retina Display MacBook Pro models come in a 13.3-inch widescreen 2560 x 1600 (227 ppi) display that runs “pixel doubled” at 1280 x 800.


The regular MacBook Pro has a 13.3-inch 1280 x 800 glossy display while the MacBook Air has a relatively high-resolution at 13.3-inch 1440 x 900 display (still, this is not at par in comparison with the high resolution of the Retina Display model!)


All models have a full-size backlit keyboard also described as “chiclet-style”, the improved glass trackpads with “inertial scrolling” support or better (“no button” design), an integrated 720p FaceTime HD webcam, with stereo speakers, and at least one microphone.


While the regular MacBook Pro model has a built-in optical drive, neither the Retina Display MacBook Pro nor the MacBook Air models have it.


Connectivity Differences

With each release date, connectivity on the MacBook line of laptops changes and have progressed over the years. The notebooks will still have the standard and expected connectivity features such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB ports, and a headphone jack. A recent addition to the latest generations will have the SDXC-capable SD card slot.

The earlier MacBook Pro models have Gigabit Ethernet and Firewire 800 support – the legacy connectivity, basically, with only one (1) Thunderbolt port (this is for both new and latest models).  Generally, the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina Display models have more advanced connectivity, with the HDMI port and two (2) Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2 ports.

Photo Credit(s): (MacBook Pro) / (MacBook Air)

Identification Differences has the list of MacBook Pro models compiled with each their respective unique identifiers. This includes the Apple Order Number, Model Number, and Model ID. Noticeably, however, the 13-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro models only are identified as “MacBook Pro” at the bottom of the laptop, unlike with 13-inch MacBook Air and the regular 13-inch MacBook Pro with the names “MacBook Air” and “MacBook Pro”, respectively, in the display bezel. There’s an internal optical drive on the right side of the regular MacBook Pro models as well. Serial numbers come in handy when looking for the right laptop for you and which model to get if you’re a real techie guy but knowing these visible identifications are helpful for the non-techie ones.


Internal Differences


Battery and performance

Apple consistently improves the notebook line of MacBook Pro’s almost on a yearly basis, even coming up with new releases every couple of months at best. While the MacBook Air has an improved battery life, the 13-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro model is considered more powerful overall. You see, the older 13-inch regular MacBook Pro models have shorter runtime with less powerful architecture utilized when compared to the latest generation of MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops.


MacBook Air batteries are easily replaceable, much like the regular 13-inch MacBook Pro model. As expected though, with the update for the newer MacBook Air and Retina Display MacBook Pro, the batteries have higher capacity, unlike their predecessors. For the 13-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro models, the internal battery design is glued in place so it’s almost impossible to replace it and do a DIY even if you have the technical know-how to do so.



If you do want to upgrade RAM after purchase without costing you too much, you can do this with the 13-inch regular MacBook Pro models. Because the RAM is soldered in place for MacBook Air and the Retina Display MacBook Pro, on the other hand, upgrading after purchase is not possible for these laptops. The regular 13-inch MacBook Pro can be upgraded up to 16GB for the latest models. At time of purchase, however, the latest 13-inch MacBook Air can have up to 8GD RAM upgrade only, which is the same limitation you can expect for the 13-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro (upgradeable up to 16GB at time of purchase only).


Standard Storage Type

The 13-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro and MacBook Air have SSD’s that are fast and removable, while the regular MacBook Pro has large capacity but still with slower hard drive in comparison. This can be compensated though by being easily upgradeable with fast and large capacity SSDs after the initial purchase. This is the reason most laptop users still prefer the regular MacBook Pro (some people call “legacy” MacBook) as it can be upgraded by installing a second hard drive or SSD to replace the optical drive for much improved overall laptop performance.


Comparison Chart Summary


 Regular 13-inch

MacBook Pro

13-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro13-inch MacBook Air
Major Advantages*Easy and Fast Upgrades

*Internal Optical Drive

*Display Resolution

*Overall Speed

*Size and Weight

*Battery Life

Major Disadvantages*Size and Weight

*Slower Architectures

*Limited Upgrades in

*Battery Glued In

*Limited Upgrades

*Relatively Slow

Approx. Weight4.5 pounds3.5 pounds< 3 pounds
DesignUpgradeable UnibodyUnibodyTapered
Standard Resolution1280 x 8002560 x 16001440 x 900
Standard Storage TypeHard DriveSSDSSD
Storage UpgradesYesYesYes
Optical8x DLNoneNone
Max RAM16 GB16 GB8 GB
RAM UpgradesYesNoNo
RAM Slots2NoneNone
USB (2.0 / 3.0)222
FW 8001NoneNone
Battery DesignIntegratedGluedIntegrated


 Photo Credit: (Battle of 13-inch MacBook’s)

In a Nutshell: Performance Summary

If you’re more about having a big display with high resolution and you don’t need the bigger 15-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro, while the sealed design and glued battery sits well with you, the 13-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro is likely your best bet.


Remember that these considerations – weight, size, battery life and connectivity – all come hand in hand each with their perks and misses, so make sure you do your research and find the one that best meets your use of the notebook. MacBook Air users want something lightweight, with good and reliable battery life. And “legacy” users of the regular MacBook Pro prefers that model because of upgradeability at less cost, plus still meeting the basic connectivity features with the optical drive option.

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