I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Why the 2012 non-Retina MacBook Pro still sells

The MD101LL/A, pixelated to simulate the quality of its screen.

The 13-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro, model MD101LL/A, was launched in 2012 for $1199. Almost four years later, it’s still for sale, completely unchanged except for a price drop to $1099 in 2013.

Despite the low-resolution screen, slow hard drives, very little RAM, and CPUs that were middling even in 2012, it’s an open secret among Apple employees that the “101” still sells surprisingly well — to a nearly tragic degree, given its age and mediocrity.

MD101LL/A port layout

Geeks like me often wonder why anyone would still buy such an outdated machine. I’ve heard from many people who buy it (or who’ve been unsuccessful in talking others out of it), and it’s surprisingly compelling, especially for volume-buying, price-conscious customers such as schools and big businesses:

I’m right there with everyone else who’d strongly advise against buying this machine for most people who’d ask me. But if someone has a tight budget, needs a lot of disk space, and doesn’t care about the screen, it’s hard to argue against the 101.2

As we’ve progressed toward thinner, lighter, more integrated Macs, we’ve paid dearly in upgradeability, versatility, and value. There are many Macs to choose from today, but in some ways, we have less choice than ever. The 101 represents the world we’re leaving behind, and our progress hasn’t all been positive.

The better question isn’t why anyone still buys the 101, but why the rest of the MacBook lineup is still less compelling for the 101’s buyers after almost four years, and whether Apple will sell and support the 101 for long enough for newer MacBook models to become compelling, economical replacements.

  1. Adventurous upgraders can even replace the optical drive with another hard drive, yielding up to 4 TB of internal capacity for a few hundred dollars. Every other Mac laptop maxes out at 1 TB or less (excluding SD cards, which the 101 also supports), and their 1 TB upgrades start at $500. ↩︎

  2. The MacBook Air is Apple’s other low-end line, but it’s on its way out: the 11-inch Air has been marginalized by the MacBook “One”, and the 13-inch Air will probably be marginalized shortly by a thinner, lighter Skylake redesign of the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. Some argue that the Air will replace the 101 as the low-end computer for bulk buyers, but it’s not a very good replacement — it’s too expensive and limited. I wouldn’t be surprised if the 101, or a half-assed revision of it, outlives the MacBook Air. ↩︎