Apple unveils minor bumps to MacBook Pro laptops

Almost-too-small-to-see refresh features more RAM in lowest-priced Retina models, $100 price cut to sole non-Retina configuration

Apple today refreshed the MacBook Pro line with minor upgrades of the processor, small price cuts to two models, and additional RAM for the least-expensive Retina configurations.

The updates -- the first since October 2013 -- were expected, as some of the pricing and component changes had leaked over the weekend from China.

Apple gave minor performance increases to the Retina MacBook Pro with slightly faster Intel Core i5 and i7 processors in the 13-in. and 15-in. models, respectively, and boosted the stock system memory of the entry level 13-in. notebook from 4GB to 8GB, matching the configurations of the other two laptops in that screen size.

For the 15-in., Apple increased the RAM of the least-expensive model from 8GB to 16GB, again to sync with the higher-priced notebook.

Prices of the 13-in. and 15-in. Retina MacBook Pros stayed the same: The three smaller laptops started at $1,299 and climbed to $1,799, as the solid-state drive (SSD) increased from 128GB to 512GB. Apple kept the $1,999 price of the lower-end 15-in. model, but dropped the price of the upper configuration by $100 to $2,499, a 4% savings. Those configurations sport 256GB and 512GB SSDs, respectively.

The other price change was to the entry-level MacBook Pro, which got an 8% cut of $100 to $1,099. That model, the only one without a Retina-quality screen, has not been refreshed for more than two years. It is also the sole model with a traditional platter-style hard disk drive, and the only that sports an optical drive.

In a press release, Apple claimed that the low-end MacBook Pro was "a very popular system with Windows switchers," perhaps because the sticker shock as they looked at the higher-priced models was even more stunning: The average Windows notebook costs hundreds less than Apple's cheapest.

Apple will probably refresh the line again in 2015 when quantities of Intel's next-generation "Broadwell" architecture are available. Those processors, made using the 14-nanometer fabrication process, are designed to be even more power efficient than the current "Haswell" Core CPUs, which power the current line of Apple notebooks. The Broadwell chips have been delayed again, and won't be widely available in laptops and desktops until early next year.

In the June quarter, Apple sold 4.4 million Macs, a record for the period and an 18% increase over the same three-month stretch the year before. Industry analysts cited the popularity of the lighter and thinner MacBook Air line as the biggest reason for the sales boost.

Apple last revamped the MacBook Air in April, when it dropped prices by $100 on all four stock models. Last month, the Cupertino, Calif. company launched a new, lower-priced-but-slower iMac all-in-one desktop computer.

The refreshed MacBook Pros are available now at Apple's online store, its chain of brick-and-mortar outlets, and at some of its authorized resellers.

MacBook Pro refresh July 2014
Apple's minor refresh of the MacBook Pro line included a $100 price cut to the non-Retina 13-in. model and a boost to 8GB of system memory for the entry-level Retina laptop.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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