Wander into any Apple Store and look really carefully. Beyond the shiny new iPad Pros and razor-thin gold MacBooks, you'll find something really surprising. There's a MacBook Pro model that Apple still sells that hasn't been changed in four years.
It's not the newest or the thinnest or the hottest of Apple's bunch, but there are some great reasons why this model didn't hit the chopping block long ago.
Even though it lacks the spiffy Retina displays and Force Touch trackpads of the latest and greatest, this MacBook is the last Apple laptop built around standard, upgradeable components. Dubbed the MacBook Pro 13-inch (mid-2012), this model's official designation is MD101LL/A, for the entry-level Core i5 version. Its retail price through Apple is $1,099.
Yes! It's a Mac you can actually upgrade. Unlike the new-school MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros that use proprietary flash solutions and feature RAM affixed to the logic board, the MD101LL/A model has two standard RAM slots and uses SATA drives for storage. This is great for DIY-capable users and even institutions that need to be able to keep their computers running well into the future.
What's more is that the MD101LL/A is the last laptop from Apple to feature a full-sized gigabit ethernet port, and the very last computer it sells with an optical drive. If you still need to jack into a network on a routine basis, or prefer to pop in a DVD rather than streaming, these are big wins. Buying both these accessories with any other new MacBook costs $110 extra.
There's a reason why Apple makes it really hard to actually buy this model on its website: It's unimpressive when compared to its stablemates. The tech spec sheet and the product's store page are both buried underneath newer models that Apple would probably rather you buy. Here are the MD101LL/A's specs:
• Intel Core i5-3210M dual-core processor
• 4 GB RAM
• 500 GB 5400 rpm hard drive
• 13.3-inch 1280 x 800 LCD
• Intel HD Graphics 4000
• 8x SuperDrive (CD/DVD burning and reading)
It's no barnburner when it comes to performance, but especially if you configure it (or upgrade it) with a standard SATA solid state drive, this model should feel about as snappy as one of the fancier, more expensive Retina MacBook Pros. With the removal of 10 screws, both the hard drive and RAM are easily accessible and upgradeable with commonly available, non-proprietary parts. This MacBook is built to be upgraded, which means it could last longer than the repair-unfriendly Airs and Retina Pros that Apple sells.
This one MacBook Pro model is still a top-selling model in the laptop marketplace on Amazon, ranking in the top 10 for a while now. Last we checked, this MacBook was #5, making it the best-selling Apple laptop available.
On Amazon, this 13-inch sells for as little as $900 (refurbished, it's only $829 from Apple). That's the same price as an entry-level 11-inch MacBook Air, but the Pro gives you more than 4x the storage with its 500 GB hard drive, as well as a bigger screen. If you have a big iTunes library that you've cultivated over years, this lets you get enough room to keep your hard work with you. Overlooking other differences, the only way to get this much room on the new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro is to fork over $1,800.