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Retina-equipped MacBook Pro hard to justify

With the introduction of the new MacBook Pro features, you may be wondering if it's time for an upgrade.

Well, that depends on what you have -- I'm going to base this on my current equipment: a 15-inch, 2011 MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM, 1GB video and a 750GB hard drive. If memory serves, it came to roughly $2,400 after all was said and done (including taxes, student discount, upgrade from 4GB RAM). Quite a hefty price tag.

But, as is the case every year, Apple has released a new version -- this time, available with the famously crisp Retina display. While I haven't seen a Retina-equipped MacBook Pro yet, I have used an iPad in which it is standard.

What Apple says about the display is true -- the clarity is impeccable, and the screen images are magnificent. Coupled with their touch-screen interface (which may be the best system on the market) the Retina display is a wonder to behold. However, the regular displays are gorgeous as well. To be truthful, I'm not sure most people could spot the difference between a regular Mac Pro screen and a Retina screen at a quick glance. If you believe that it's worth the extra cash -- $400 and $600 over equivalent regular for a 15-inch  model -- go for it.

It's not that it's not a fantastic machine, but don't let the bells and whistles dazzle you. If  you're sure you want or need an Apple computer, know what level of machine is suitable for your needs.

I have the model I do because I handle quite a bit of photo and video editing -- Aperture and Final Cut Pro are extensive visual programs, and the 15-inch screen plus added RAM are  assets for my work.

If you're planning on heavy-duty Photoshop or graphic design work, the Retina-equipped MacBook Pro might be the right choice for you -- if you're going to limit yourself to one machine. Often, a better solution is to tether to a larger display, like one of Apple's Thunderbolt monitors.

It's tough to justify the extra expense, really, no matter how beautiful Retina is. The only real performance advantage the Retina machines will have (as of now) is the option for 16GB of RAM. But if you're in the market for a new MacBook Pro in general, and your requirements are like mine, here's what I recommend:

Skip the Retina. Get a 15-inch Pro with the 2.3GHz processor, and buy the 8GB RAM upgrade ($130 for my upgrade last year). The 500GB hard drive will be sufficient, since you shouldn't store your larger files directly on it anyway -- that's why we have external HDDs. You'll have a very capable Apple laptop for less than $2,000, and it'll serve you well for 95 percent of the things you can throw at it. I have never wanted for more speed, even for the legendary heavy-load Final Cut Pro.

On the downside, gaming is still a bit much for the video card that Apple uses, but if gaming is a priority, why are you even looking at a Mac? My laptop will run some less-intensive games like Warcraft III, but that's the most that's worth throwing at it. It could probably run L42D on mild settings if I tried.

Verdict: Pass on the Retina unless you absolutely must have all top-shelf Apple products.

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