MacBook Pro 15 vs. MacBook Pro 13: Which Should You Buy?

MacBook Pro 15 vs. MacBook Pro 13: Which Should You Buy?


When Apple brought out the MacBook Pro 16 in November 2019, it phased out the 15-inch MacBook Pro entirely. However, there are still reasons to get the 15-inch model — not least because retailers are likely to offer deep discounts now that it’s been discontinued.

However, if you’re comparing MacBook sizes, you may also be interested in the 13-inch version for a more compact solution. This brings us to Apple’s updated MacBook Pro 13, with the latest 2020 edition offering the new high-performance M1 chip, making a compelling case for going smaller this time.

Of course, other factors come into play, like the processor, graphics, and, of course, price. We’re here to help you dig through these options. Just follow this guide, and you’ll know exactly which MacBook Pro you should get. Afterward, be sure to check out the best MacBook deals available now.

Design

Dan Baker/Digital Trends

In terms of design, there’s not much of a choice to be made. In contrast to the MacBook Pro 16, both the 13-inch and 15-inch models look essentially the same, featuring the classic unibody aluminum design Apple has used for many years. Now that the Touch Bar is on all MacBook Pros, there’s even less separating the two models.

The Touch Bar gives you app-specific shortcuts on an OLED control strip located where the function keys used to live. It’s been fairly divisive since its debut, although it undoubtedly has lots of potential for the right kinds of users.

The most obvious design difference between the MacBook Pro 15 and the MacBook Pro 13 is the size of the display and chassis. The former comes with a 15.4-inch screen and a body that’s 13.75 inches wide and 9.48 inches deep, weighing 4.02 pounds. The latter, in contrast, has a 13.3-inch display, while its chassis measures 11.97 inches wide and 8.36 inches deep and weighs 3.0 pounds. That’s something to consider if you’re going to be hauling your laptop around on commutes.

Aside from raw dimensions, there are a few more differences to each model’s Retina display. The 13-inch model comes with a native resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 at 227 pixels per inch. The 15-inch model sits at 2,880 x 1,800 and 220 ppi.

In other words, although the resolution is higher on the 15-inch version, they will look very similar to the naked eye in terms of pixel density. According to Apple, both hit 500 nits of brightness and are equipped with a P3 wide color gamut and True Tone tech, which adjusts the white balance based on the surrounding ambient light. They both have superb color accuracy, too.

Another dividing factor is the keyboard. Apple introduced the Magic Keyboard in the 16-inch model at the end of 2019 and then in the 13-inch model in April 2020. Despite many revisions to the Butterfly Keyboard over the years, it remained a point of contention with MacBook users due to its low travel and relatively high failure rate. The 15-inch model retains the butterfly keyboard design.

Both models give you super-speedy Thunderbolt 3 ports, although the number you get depends on the model. Every iteration of the 15-inch MacBook Pro gets four Thunderbolt 3 ports. The two entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro options give you two ports, while the two high-end versions have four ports. Thunderbolt 3 uses the newer USB-C connector, which transfers at up to 40Gbps (Thunderbolt or USB4, while USB 3.1 Gen 2 is also supported for slower connections). However, USB4 is only available on the M1 MacBook Pro 13, which is a bit better for faster wired connections.

While the MacBook Pro 16 has some of the best laptop speakers we’ve ever heard, both the 13-inch and 15-inch models still give you an audio treat. When we reviewed the 13-inch MacBook Pro, we called its speakers “the best we can recall hearing in a 13-inch system.” Our review of 2019’s 15-inch MacBook Pro, meanwhile, says its speakers are so good they “[make] the speakers on other laptops sound pretty pathetic in comparison.” Both versions come with a 3.5mm headphone jack, too.

Performance

iMac connected to MacBook Pro.

Performance is where the real differences between the 13-inch and 15-inch models come to the fore. In early 2019, Apple kitted out its 15-inch models with eight-core Intel Core i9 processors, a significant step up from the 13-inch’s best offering at the time: A quad-core Core i7. What does that mean in practice? Well, the 15-inch’s Intel Core i9 hit some seriously impressive numbers in our review. It scored 5,423 for single-core and 29,708 for multicore performance in our Geekbench tests. For a laptop this thin, that’s pretty remarkable.

But then Apple introduced the M1 chip, and the Pro 13’s updated performance is now difficult for the older Pro 15 to beat. As we mention in our review, the M1’s eight-core benchmark tests have it scoring next to the fastest Intel and AMD chips, with only 45-watt laptops like the Dell XPS 17 pulling ahead by any significant measure.

This also separates the two models when it comes to GPU performance: The MacBook Pro 15 offered configuration options up to the Radeon Pro Vega 16, while the eight-core GPU that’s part of Apple’s new M1 revisions is the only option that the Pro 13 gets. However, it’s a highly capable option that enables smooth playback for demanding work and can even enable a variety of gaming options for the MacBook Pro 13 — it’s simply hard to get away from how much of a comparative upgrade the M1 chip is.

Configurations

MacBook Pro model on outdoor table.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro comes with four different basic configurations, each of which can be further customized, ranging in price from $1,299 to $1,999. The base model includes the M1 chip, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB solid-state drive, plus two Thunderbolt 3/USB4 ports. The second option at $1,499 offers only a moderate increase with a 512GB SSD.

The two higher-tier MacBook Pro 13s are more of a compromise. They lose the M1 chip, which is replaced by a quad-core 10th-generation Intel i5 processor, but in turn, increases RAM to 16GB and upgrades to four Thunderbolt 3 ports instead of two. The final tier at $1,999 also increases the hard drive to 1TB of SSD storage.

If your workload demands more power, you need to start looking at a 15-inch configuration. The larger model has two basic variants to choose from. The first comes with a 2.6GHz six-core 9th-gen Intel i7 processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz, 16GB of memory, a 256GB SSD, and a Radeon Pro 555X GPU. The starting price was originally $2,399.

Since you can’t pre-configure this laptop, you’ll also find it with a 2.4GHz eight-core 9th-generation Intel i9 processor with Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz, 32GB of memory, a Radeon Pro 560X graphics chip, and up to 4TB of SSD storage. That maxed-out configuration typically sets you back a whopping $4,799.

The second variant has a 2.3GHz eight-core 9th-gen Intel i9 processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz, 16GB of memory, a 512GB SSD, and Radeon Pro 560X graphics. The starting price was originally $2,799, but as the Pro 15 is now an older model, you may be able to find these configurations at reduced prices.

The new M1 MacBook Pro 13 is the model to beat

MacBook Pro 13 partially folded on table.

Apple designed its 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro laptops for a variety of different uses. If you’re looking for an excellent portable computer but don’t need extra display space, the 13-inch model is the one for you. If you have a heavy workload but aren’t swayed by the MacBook Pro 16, however, consider the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Now that Apple has updated the base 13-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 chip that can handle more than its predecessors, USB4 support, and excellent battery life, it’s a great option for the majority of consumers, but you should also consider the cheaper MacBook Air if you don’t need much in terms of extra power.

The 15 is the ideal choice for any person who needs their computer to handle more power and who is also looking to take advantage of the price drops for 15-inch MacBook Pros. While the computer will cost a bit more than the MacBook Pro 13, it’s well worth the cost between the discounted price and the performance level. The larger screen and speakers are more useful for certain types of work, and the Pro 15 still has enough power to manage tasks with ease — but while customization options are nice, they are more limited now that Apple is only selling the 16-inch model, which lessens the usefulness of the 15-inch version. 

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