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Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 (Early 2015) First Impressions

J. Simon Leitner, Tanja Hinum (translated by Liala Stieglitz), 03/29/2015

Encore une fois. Apple's workhorse in the form of a compact 13-inch goes into the next round. An overview of the most important modifications: New Force Touch touchpad, update to Intel's Broadwell CPU including an Iris Graphics 6100, faster PCIe-based SSD, and a larger battery. We are putting the 2015 model through its paces, and present our first results to bridge the time until publishing our complete test report.

For the original German preview, see here.

Is there anything more difficult than creating the near-perfect laptop in the notebook industry? Well, I think so. That is keeping the highest standard of a successful product stable over many years, and even improving it slightly in the course of every revision. However, not only Apple, but other manufacturers also struggle with a similar balancing act with their flagship products. Nevertheless, other manufacturers have the advantage that the whole world does not observe the launch of a new or let us say "reworked" or even better "revamped" product like a hawk, and ultimately comment on it. This probably explains - let us call it - Apple's "conservative" laptop development policy. It is also probably due to financial reasons that after about two and a half years, we are once again facing a virtually identical looking Apple device.

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Configuration Options

CPURAM SSD
Basis (1449 Euros)Intel Core i5 5257U 2.7 GHz8 GB 1866 MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM 128 GB PCIe flash memory
UpgradesIntel Core i5 5287U 2.9 Ghz (+ 100 Euros)16 GB 1866 MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM (+ 200 Euros)256 GB PCIe flash memory (+ 200 Euros)
Intel Core i7 5557U 3.1 GHz (+ 350 Euros)512 GB PCIe flash memory (+ 550 Euros)
1 TB PCIe flash memory (+ 1050 Euros)

While we wait for the in-depth review of the entry-level configuration of the MacBook Retina 13-inch we can share this much. The buyer gets an Intel i5-5257U Broadwell CPU with an Intel Iris Graphics 6100, 8 GB of working memory, and a 128 GB solid-state drive in a PCIe interface for 1449 Euros (~$1574). An Intel i7-5557U with up to 3.4 GHz, up to 16 GB of working memory and up to 1 TB (terabyte) SSD are optionally available, which would push the total price to skyrocket as is typical for Apple. The top-of-the-line configuration of the MacBook Pro 13" 2015 featuring Retina costs  an exorbitant 2949 Euros (~$3203), from Apple's German online store at the time of writing this article.

Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch 2015-03 (MacBook Pro 13 Series)
Graphics adapter
Intel Iris Graphics 6100, Core: 300 - 1050 MHz, dual-channel memory, 10.18.14.4156
Memory
8192 MB 
, LPDDR3-1866, dual-channel, soldered
Display
13.3 inch 16:10, 2560 x 1600 pixel, APPA02A, IPS screen, LED backlight, glossy: yes
Mainboard
Intel Broadwell-U PCH-LP (Premium)
Storage
Apple SSD SM0128G, 128 GB 
, PCIe 3.0 4x, 101 GB free
Soundcard
Intel Broadwell PCH-LP - High Definition Audio Controller
Connections
2 USB 3.0 / 3.1 Gen1, 2 Thunderbolt, 1 HDMI, 2 DisplayPort, Audio Connections: 3.5 mm headset jack, Card Reader: SD, Brightness Sensor, Sensors: brightness sensor
Networking
Broadcom BCM94360CS (a/b/g/n = Wi-Fi 4/ac = Wi-Fi 5), Bluetooth 4.0
Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 18 x 314 x 219 ( = 0.71 x 12.36 x 8.62 in)
Battery
75 Wh Lithium-Polymer, non-removable (glued)
Operating System
Apple OS X 10.10 Yosemite
Camera
Webcam: 720p FaceTime HD
Additional features
Speakers: stereo, Keyboard: chiclet, Keyboard Light: yes, 60 watt power supply, leaflets
Weight
1.58 kg ( = 55.73 oz / 3.48 pounds) ( = 0 oz / 0 pounds)
Price
1449 Euro
Note: The manufacturer may use components from different suppliers including display panels, drives or memory sticks with similar specifications.

 

First Impressions

We find a well-known and established device on the table. The looks of the latest MacBook Pro 13 Retina revision corresponds to its precursor (in review here). As before, the build quality, feel and design of the aluminum unibody chassis sets the standards in the laptop sector. Once again, Apple relies more on quality than quantity in terms of interfaces. The user has to be satisfied with two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports that can also be used as a display port (now apparently also with 4K60 support), and an HDMI port. However, the diversity of interfaces seems almost luxurious compared with the Air series.

The installed Broadcom Wi-Fi module also delivered good results, but only after updating the firmware of our 802.1ac TP-Link router. We could transmit up to 65 Mbps via the wireless module in our test setup.

Size Comparison

359 mm / 14.1 inch 247 mm / 9.72 inch 18 mm / 0.709 inch 2 kg4.44 lbs325 mm / 12.8 inch 227 mm / 8.94 inch 17 mm / 0.669 inch 1.4 kg3.09 lbs314 mm / 12.4 inch 219 mm / 8.62 inch 18 mm / 0.709 inch 1.6 kg3.48 lbs300 mm / 11.8 inch 192 mm / 7.56 inch 17 mm / 0.669 inch 1.1 kg2.39 lbs281 mm / 11.1 inch 197 mm / 7.76 inch 13.1 mm / 0.516 inch 920 g2.03 lbs

Force Touch Trackpad

Force Touch Trackpad (Picture: Apple)
Force Touch Trackpad (Picture: Apple)

Changing a well-liked aspect of a laptop as important as the keyboard and touchpad demands consideration from brand-loyal users. Still, Apple would not be Apple if they did not try to raise the already high bar. The new Force Touch touchpad is no longer suspended mechanically, and the touchpad is incorporated almost firmly in the casing. At least, so it seems when trying to trigger a click when the device is shut down. Pressure on the touchpad produces a haptic feedback that, in our opinion, almost perfectly emulates a conventional, mechanical click. The advantage: The feedback is consistent over the touchpad's entire area, the responsiveness and feedback can be adapted to the user's preferences, and there are no mechanical parts that might be a source of errors during intense use.

This sounds familiar? Right, HP has been using a ForcePad in its Folio 1040 for some time now.

Display

At the time of its launch over two years ago, the "Retina" screen was virtually unmatched. Now there are quite a few devices in a comparable format that also use high-resolution screens. However, the screen installed here is still one of the best in its category. According to our assessments, the current screen is identical to the ones in the preceding models, considering minor measuring inaccuracies and production tolerances.

313
cd/m²
344
cd/m²
351
cd/m²
305
cd/m²
361
cd/m²
372
cd/m²
306
cd/m²
353
cd/m²
375
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
APPA02A
X-Rite i1Pro 2
Maximum: 375 cd/m² Average: 342.2 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 81 %
Center on Battery: 360 cd/m²
Contrast: 1000:1 (Black: 0.361 cd/m²)
ΔE Color 1.82 | 0.6-29.43 Ø6
ΔE Greyscale 1.8 | 0.64-98 Ø6.2
96.9% sRGB (Argyll 3D) 61.9% AdobeRGB 1998 (Argyll 3D)
Gamma: 2.49
Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch 2015-03
Iris Graphics 6100, 5257U, Apple SSD SM0128G
Apple MacBook Air 11 inch 2013-06 MD711D/A
HD Graphics 5000, 4250U, Apple SSD SM0128F
Apple MacBook Air 13 MD761D/B 2014-06
HD Graphics 5000, 4260U, Apple SSD SD0256F
Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch 2013-10
Iris Graphics 5100, 4258U, Apple SSD SM0256F
Apple MacBook Pro Retina 15 inch 2013-10
GeForce GT 750M, 4850HQ, Apple SSD SM0512F
Response Times
Response Time Grey 50% / Grey 80% *
33 (15, 18)
Response Time Black / White *
26.2 (5.2, 21)
PWM Frequency
Screen
-91%
-8%
-11%
-5%
Brightness middle
361
357
-1%
280
-22%
327
-9%
332
-8%
Brightness
342
329
-4%
263
-23%
300
-12%
302
-12%
Brightness Distribution
81
85
5%
84
4%
84
4%
83
2%
Black Level *
0.361
0.59
-63%
0.32
11%
0.42
-16%
0.3326
8%
Contrast
1000
605
-39%
875
-12%
779
-22%
998
0%
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 *
1.82
6.92
-280%
1.91
-5%
1.95
-7%
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 max. *
3.26
Greyscale DeltaE2000 *
1.8
7.26
-303%
2
-11%
2.11
-17%
Gamma
2.49 88%
2.4 92%
2.26 97%
2.34 94%
CCT
6417 101%
9456 69%
6724 97%
6489 100%
Color Space (Percent of AdobeRGB 1998)
61.9
35
-43%
60.6
-2%
Color Space (Percent of sRGB)
96.9
Total Average (Program / Settings)
-91% / -91%
-8% / -8%
-11% / -11%
-5% / -5%

* ... smaller is better

Performance

System information
System information

The main reason for this refresh is found inside the device. To be more precise, it is in the form of the installed Intel Broadwell processors. However, as is familiar from the preceding models, Apple does not use chips from the "standard" range, i.e. Broadwell Core U-series processors with a TDP of 15 watts as found in most Windows models. Instead, it relies on the tweaked 28-watt models. They differ from their peers, with higher clock rates in terms of base speed and Turbo and considerably stronger Intel Iris Graphics 6100 graphics unit. The latter is capable of providing up to twice the performance power compared to the HD 5500 in the 15-watt models.

We could observe a CPU performance gain of approximately 19% to 23% (single thread, multithread) over the Intel i5-4258U Haswell processor used in the precursor. Therefore, it is comparable with the performance of Intel's i5-4200U CPU (TDP: 47 watts). Intel's current i5-5300U (TDP: 15 watts) lags behind by 6 to 20% depending on the test.

In the OpenGL test, representing the system's graphics performance, the present solution has an edge of roughly 64% over the Iris Graphics 5100 in the precursor. Intel's HD Graphics 5500 in the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is outperformed by approximately 20%.

Cinebench R15
CPU Single 64Bit (sort by value)
Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch 2015-03
126 Points ∼58%
Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch 2013-10
106 Points ∼49% -16%
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2015
118 Points ∼54% -6%
Asus N551JK-CN166H
130 Points ∼60% +3%
Dell XPS 13-9343
88 Points ∼40% -30%
CPU Multi 64Bit (sort by value)
Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch 2015-03
321 Points ∼7%
Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch 2013-10
261 Points ∼6% -19%
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2015
250 Points ∼6% -22%
Asus N551JK-CN166H
323 Points ∼7% +1%
Dell XPS 13-9343
217 Points ∼5% -32%
OpenGL 64Bit (sort by value)
Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch 2015-03
34.01 fps ∼14%
Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch 2013-10
20.77 fps ∼8% -39%
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2015
28.33 fps ∼11% -17%
Dell XPS 13-9343
26.62 fps ∼11% -22%

Legend

 
Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch 2015-03 Intel Core i5-5257U, Intel Iris Graphics 6100, Apple SSD SM0128G
 
Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch 2013-10 Intel Core i5-4258U, Intel Iris Graphics 5100, Apple SSD SM0256F
 
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2015 Intel Core i5-5300U, Intel HD Graphics 5500, Samsung SSD PM851 256 GB MZNTE256HMHP
 
Asus N551JK-CN166H Intel Core i5-4200H, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 850M, HGST Travelstar 5K1000 HTS541010A9E680
 
Dell XPS 13-9343 Intel Core i5-5200U, Intel HD Graphics 5500, Lite-On IT L8T-256L9G

Not only the CPU, but also the installed storage that is now based on the PCIe interface has been modified in the user's interest. We observed an increase of 5 to 100% in the read and write rates compared with the SSD solution in the precursor in the CrystalDiskMark benchmark test.

Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch 2015-03
Iris Graphics 6100, 5257U, Apple SSD SM0128G
Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 inch 2013-10
Iris Graphics 5100, 4258U, Apple SSD SM0256F
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2015
HD Graphics 5500, 5300U, Samsung SSD PM851 256 GB MZNTE256HMHP
Dell XPS 13 9343 Core i7
HD Graphics 5500, 5500U, Samsung SSD PM851 M.2 2280 256GB
CrystalDiskMark 3.0
-22%
9%
3%
Write 4k
32.43
30.9
-5%
103.1
218%
103.7
220%
Read 4k
20.95
17.4
-17%
36.17
73%
28.29
35%
Write 512
647.5
571
-12%
246
-62%
241.6
-63%
Read 512
809.9
461
-43%
432.4
-47%
420.5
-48%
Write Seq
656.8
634
-3%
246
-63%
237.2
-64%
Read Seq
1403
705
-50%
523.9
-63%
527
-62%

Emissions

Temperature

As far as we can judge at this stage of our tests, the surface temperatures have not increased significantly despite the higher performance. We can also give the all clear signal for the MacBook Pro Retina 13-inch's system noise. The device remains virtually silent when used without significant load. Only during permanent load does the cooling system speed up to an audible level. As in the precursors, this happens slowly and without any abrupt fan speed changes, in an unproblematic frequency range.

Max. Load
 35.8 °C
96 F
45.1 °C
113 F
37.4 °C
99 F
 
 32.6 °C
91 F
39.7 °C
103 F
30.6 °C
87 F
 
 31 °C
88 F
29.1 °C
84 F
30.3 °C
87 F
 
Maximum: 45.1 °C = 113 F
Average: 34.6 °C = 94 F
36 °C
97 F
39.6 °C
103 F
35.5 °C
96 F
31.7 °C
89 F
33.6 °C
92 F
30.5 °C
87 F
30.6 °C
87 F
30.7 °C
87 F
29.9 °C
86 F
Maximum: 39.6 °C = 103 F
Average: 33.1 °C = 92 F
Power Supply (max.)  43.1 °C = 110 F | Room Temperature 20 °C = 68 F | Fluke 62 Max
(±) The average temperature for the upper side under maximal load is 34.6 °C / 94 F, compared to the average of 30.7 °C / 87 F for the devices in the class Subnotebook.
(-) The maximum temperature on the upper side is 45.1 °C / 113 F, compared to the average of 35.8 °C / 96 F, ranging from 22 to 57 °C for the class Subnotebook.
(+) The bottom heats up to a maximum of 39.6 °C / 103 F, compared to the average of 40 °C / 104 F
(+) In idle usage, the average temperature for the upper side is 27.7 °C / 82 F, compared to the device average of 30.7 °C / 87 F.
(+) The palmrests and touchpad are cooler than skin temperature with a maximum of 31 °C / 87.8 F and are therefore cool to the touch.
(-) The average temperature of the palmrest area of similar devices was 28.6 °C / 83.5 F (-2.4 °C / -4.3 F).

Battery Life

Apple has now managed to slightly increase the capacity of the installed battery to 74.9 Wh. In our video playback tests (Big Buck Bunny H.264 1080p), the observed runtime of 7 hours 47 minutes increased to 9 hours 41 minutes. This equates to an increase  of approximately two hours or 24% in a real-life scenario.

Battery Runtime
Idle (without WLAN, min brightness)
28h 10min
NBC WiFi Websurfing Battery Test 1.3 (Safari 8.0)
8h 59min
Big Buck Bunny H.264 1080p
9h 41min
Load (maximum brightness)
1h 34min

Preliminary Verdict

MacBook Pro Retina 13-inch (2015)
MacBook Pro Retina 13-inch (2015)

As far as we can judge at this stage of our tests, we would conclude with "mission accomplished" for now.

A good device could be improved even a little more.

A small technical sophistication has flowed into the otherwise nondescript technology update in the form of the new Force Touch touchpad. We remain curious as to how Apple's fan community will accept the touchpad. Attempts to establish a Force Touch touchpad in the Windows World has not exactly found much media interest until now (e.g. in HP Folio 1040).

We will deal with all innovations in detail in the framework of our soon to follow in-depth review of the MacBook Pro Retina 13-inch (2015).

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 (Early 2015) First Impressions
J. Simon Leitner, 2015-03-29 (Update: 2015-04- 1)