The best, and worst, MacBook Pros…
This information is mostly based on Louis Rossmann’s experience as a repair technician as well as my own.
A quick note
Only 13″ and 15″ MBPs are considered in this article.
Why not consider the 17″ MacBook Pros? Because, take your pick from either:
- The GPU issues make them too unreliable, or;
- It is obvious that any 2011 17″ i7 MBP is better than any of these smaller screen MacBook Pros, in terms of combined performance and ports, as well as the real estate that the screen offers – so long as you can put up with the potential GPU failures.
Basically, the rule of thumb is avoid anything after 2015 (except maybe the 2019 16″ MBP (see below)) due to:
- Unreliable butterfly keys
- The crappy Touchbar that no one uses (not to mention the associated issues with those models, see Touchbar Mac issues below), and;
- Crippling Thunderbolt ports.
Also, be wary of 2015 (and 2016) models due to the Lazy fan and touchpad cable issues, see below for more details.
Butterfly keyboard failures
2015 saw introduction of the butterfly key switches (which will break), with the 2015 12″ retina MBP being the first.
Graphics chip failures
Also avoid AMD 6000 graphics cards, introduced in 2011 with the 2011 15″ unibody MBP, which tend to suffer from severe crippling graphics card failure. No way to fix.
Mid 2012, early 2013 15″ MBPs can suffer from the same issue, with the Nvidia (check?) graphics cards.
All retina macs, of any year, can suffer from screen de-lamination.
Retinas can not be memory upgraded, and the hard drives are all M.2 SATA SSD.
Poor solder on voltage regulator
After the unibody, the new slimmer, “all flash architecture” MBPs, from Late 2012/Early 21013 suffer for poor soldering of the Vcore, i.e. 15″ Retina 2012 A1398., see Why do 2012 15″ Retina MacBook Pros with a dGPU die?
2015/2016 Retinas have a lazy fan, which causes CPU failure. The 2013/2014 models have a fan that spins immediately, thereby extending the life of the CPU.
2015/2016 trackpad cable is liable to break and need replacing – it goes over the battery, the 2013/2014 trackpad cable is much more stable – it goes under the battery.
Touchbar Mac issues
These are terrible macs:
- Bad keyboards – key dies, or sticky key
- 52V shock potential to the LCD MUX or to the CPU -the backlight power pin (52 V) adjacent (no pin between) to display data pin (1.7-3 V) on the micro LCD connector – short caused by humidity or liquid.
- Flexgate issues with display – flex cable stresses, stretches, tears and breaks
- Soldered on SSD – not upgradable
- T2 chips – difficult to replace parts, see Apple says T2 chip can limit third-party repairs for recent Macs
- Lifeboat (data recovery) connector removed on newer (2018) models, so no access to the SSD in the event of board failure, see Data Recovery Connector Removed from 2018 MacBook Pros
Samsung disk controller
The MBA 2015/2016 have faster SSD (2 GB/s), but a moody Samsung controller. The 2013/2014 MBA have slower SSDs (1 GB/s) but a much more stable controller.
Also affects 15″, 13″ retina and 13″ Air of 2015/2016.
2012 Retina MBP can suffer from the buck convertor becoming detached.
The 2012 retina also were not popular, and produced for a very short time, hence it is now difficult to get a battery now.
20111/2012 MBP have a poor quality Toshiba SSD. This isn’t a major concern as it can, and should, be easily replaced
- Mid 2015 15″ “Dual graphics” – last MBP without the Touchbar, has retina, scissor switch, all the ports, upgradable SSD, RAM not upgradable (but 16 GB anyway). Avoid the base model which doesn’t have dedicated graphics, and uses IRIS graphics instead.
- 2019 16″ (no butterfly, large screen) still has thunderbolt though and not upgradable
- 2012 15″ Unibody (fully upgradable), i7 2.3/2.6/2.7 GHz, no AMD video (GeForce GT650M), 16 GB RAM <— This one!!!!!
- 2012 13″ Unibody (not retina) (fully upgradable) – Ivybridge dual core i5 2.5 GHz or i7 2.9 GHz, no AMD video (Intel 4000), 16 GB RAM
- Early 2015 13″ Retina MBP i5 2.7/2.9 GHz or i7 3.1 GHz – A mac of lasts: last scissor switch keyboard, last MBP to still have all the ports (not yet lost to Thunderbolt). See also Five years ago, Apple launched the last great 13-inch MacBook
Similar to #4: Late 2011 13″ Sandy bridge i5 2.4 GHz or i7 2.8 GHz no AMD video (Intel 3000) 16 GB RAM
- Most 13″,
- Mid-2012 (13″ and 15″) Unibody (not retina)
- Late 2013-Mid 2015 Retina 15″ especially:
- Late 2013 Dual Graphics MacBookPros (not the IRIS graphics) are also good w.r.t. performance, reliability, and value.
However, 13″ MBPs with limited dual core and integrated graphics due suffer in performance, when compared to the 15″ MBPs. Also, be aware of the de-lamination issues that the retina MBPs can suffer from.
These are the reviews to trust, from an experienced repair artist:
- 2013/2014 A1466 13″ MacBook Air (avoid 2015/2016) – 2012 MBA is also ok, but no SSD, and lose performance and energy efficiency.
- Late 2013/2014 A1502 13″ MacBook Pro Retina <– Louis preference
- 2013/2014 A1398 15″ MBP Retina (not IRIS only, but get the Dual Graphics (i.e. with the GPU) which suffers less from the Vcore issue)
[13:42] 2011/2012 MBA have poor reliability in the Toshiba SSDs. performances, energy efficiency, SSD reliability is worse than the 2013 [14:29] Note 2012 MacBook Air not as good as 2013 Haswell models, which have much greater energy efficiency and therefore battery life Reason: Platform Controller Hub (PCH) integrated into CPU.
[14:50] 2012 A1278 13″ MBP, not as good as 2013 A1502 13″ Retina, and they suffer from dead SATA cable, see Your Hard Drive Cable Is A Ticking Time Bomb (note that this can be easily fixed with the use of some tape on the casing. The A1278 come with HHD and not SSD. And a 1280×800 screen.
2012 A1286 15″ MBP (unibody) is very stable
Other older failures
- 2011 A1278 13″ hard drive SATA cable issues, and poor resolution 1280×800
- 2011 17′ and 15″ Graphics failures.
- 2010 A1278 13″ hard drive SATA cable, Your Hard Drive Cable Is A Ticking Time Bomb
- 2010 A1286 15″ – kernel panic issue, dead link: Macbook Pro (15-inch, Mid-2010): Intermittent black screen or loss of video. C9560 dies and then the FrameBuffer voltage goes below a certain point
- 2009 A1286 15″ Display assembly glued together (two pieces of aluminium)
- 2009 A1297 17″ one piece of aluminium display assembly but prone to C771 Tantalum capacitor failure
- 2008 A1278 15″ GPU failure, screen frame breaking, A1278 good drive cable, but batteries hard to find.
Why ignore 2015 and later?
Too unreliable… buy a Dell Latitude, or Dell Precision M6x00, see Dell M6700 – by piecemeal or a Thinkpad P52.
See Touchbar Mac issues above, but in summary the issues are:
- Typing – butterfly keyboard
- Open close breaks them – weak flex cable
- SSD soldered on – how would you retrieve data from a dead motherboard?
- Humid room causes 52 V goes straight the CPU (see the video/display connector issue)
- T2 chips – could lock you out from replacing screen or other parts
Do you really need RAM slots?
Interesting point about upgradable RAM slots – if the maximum memory configuration of a 2012 MBP is 16 GB, then you could get a 2013 Retina which already has 16 GB, so the point becomes a mute one.
Late 2011 17″ 2.5 GHz i7 – a superlative machine, fully upgradable, even if it can suffer from the AMD 6000 issue (6770M), if not treated carefully or case-modified. The availability of ExpressCard ports on these 17″ Macs is also a boon as you can add a Dual USB 3.0 card, see ExpressCards on Santa Rosa MacBook Pro.
I have also experienced no issues with the 2010 17″ i5 2.66 GHz, apart from the lower dual core performance.
The Santa Rosa MBPs are also ok, IMHO, I have a 15″ and 17″, both 2.4 GHz. A Penryn 17″ suffered firewire failure and possibility a boot issue (maybe hard disk or SATA cable related).
Interestingly, the only GPU issue I have suffered was with a 17″ Santa Rosa 2.4 GHz MBP, which occurred whilst removing the battery when the fan was going at full tilt – totally my fault.
- Late 2013/2014 A1502 13″ MacBook Pro Retina – Louis pick
- 2013/2014 A1466 13″ MacBook Air – Not a MBP
- Early 2015 13″ Retina MBP i5 2.7/2.9 GHz or i7 3.1 GHz – Mac of lasts
- 2012 IvyBridge – No AMD
- Late 2011 SandyBridge – No AMD
The 2012 15″ A1289 is a very good reliable alternative to the 2011 17″ MBP models if you need the additional CPU power, not to mention the greatly improved GPU reliability.
- Every generation of MacBook Pro compared!
- Which MacBook Pro is the best ever made?
- Best and worst MacBooks of the decade!
- Five years ago, Apple launched the last great 13-inch MacBook
- Why do 2012 15″ Retina MacBook Pros with a dGPU die?
- Louis Rossmann: Macbook buyer’s guide: Louis’ recommendation list.
- Alternate summary of Louis’ video: LOUIS ROSSMANN’S MACBOOK BUYERS GUIDE. IN PLAIN ENGLISH AND WITH MY TAKE ON IT.
- Resurrecting a dead MacBook Pro (mid-2012 13-inch, model A1278)