Get ready for a flurry of changes to Apple's venerable lineup of laptops over the next several months.
Intel’s newest processor, the "Skylake" 6th Generation Intel Core Processor, will be a driving force behind the MacBook updates. To date, Apple has not offered any MacBooks with Intel’s latest chip, despite a big new-model push by Windows laptop suppliers such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Microsoft. A new Intel chip typically brings better performance and battery life.
Here are some predictions and when-to-buy recommendations:
15-inch MacBook Pro Retina: Updates for the MacBook Pro with Apple’s high-resolution Retina display have slowed down over the past two years due partly to Intel processor delays, as pointed out by MacRumors Buyer's Guide. The 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina was last updated in May of last year but still uses an older 4th Generation Intel chip, so a new model is likely in the coming months. Also, physical changes are possible since both the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina have had the same design since 2012.
My advice: don’t buy the 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina because a much-needed update is coming, probably sooner rather than later.
13-inch MacBook Pro Retina: Though the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina hasn't been refreshed since March of last year, it has held up well because of good battery life, a relatively fast 5th-gen Intel chip, and a Retina display that always gets good marks in reviews. But 12 months is a long time without an update, so expect a version with Intel’s newest chip by summer. And like the 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina, its design has remained static for almost four years so it could see some cosmetic tweaks.
My advice: don’t buy the current 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina because it’s too close to a likely update.
13-inch MacBook Air: ‘Set in stone’ might be the best phrase to describe the MBA's design. The popular laptop hasn’t seen a physical design change since way back in 2010. While that’s a testament to the durability and popularity of the MacBook Air, it could also mean that changes are on the way. In fact, one change has already happened: the 12-inch MacBook. Introduced last April, it represents a design philosophy similar to the MacBook Air (very thin and light). But Apple chose to call it simply a MacBook, not a MacBook Air. That could signal future Apple branding. Apple, of course, could continue to refresh the Air internally with new components without making major changes to the physical design.
My advice: wait to buy -- but it may be a long wait. So, if you’re fine with an old-but-durable design and a relatively cheap price for an Apple laptop (starting at $999), it’s a reasonable purchase, even today.
12-inch MacBook with Retina Display: This is, in effect, the new MacBook Air. It weighs only 2 pounds and is half an inch thick at its thickest point. It not only bests the 11-inch MacBook Air with its reduced weight and thickness but has a superior Retina display. That said, so far it’s not proving as popular as the Air because of its higher price: it starts at $1,299, which puts it out of reach for the vast majority of consumers. Best Buy (among other retailers) has seemed to recognize this and has been cutting the price of the 12-inch MacBook on a regular basis, usually by $300. In fact, it has been on sale since last week at Best Buy and now starts at $999.
My advice: Wait to buy -- unless you can get a good deal on the current model. Of course, if you prefer an updated 12-inch MacBook with Intel’s newest processor, wait. A refresh is probably coming in the next few months. But if you can get it now for $999, that’s a pretty good deal too.