That really depends on what you expect from your main machine now doesn’t it? While I haven’t used the new Retina MacBooks, I can tell you about the 2013 MacBook Air, which has similar specs and has served me incredibly well as my main and only machine over the last 2 years doing full-time design. Also note, I designed 95% of the time with my MacBook Air hooked up to my 27” Apple Cinema Display.

My 2013 MacBook Air had the following specs:

  • MacBook Air (13-inch, Mid 2013)
  • Processor 1.7GHz Intel Core i7
  • Memory 8GB 1600 MHz DDR3
  • Graphics Intel HD Graphics 5000 1536MB
  • Storage 512GB flash storage

The new (maxed-out) Retina MacBook has similar specs with a few differences:

  • MacBook (12-inch, Retina, Mid 2015)
  • Processor 1.3 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core M, Turbo Boost up to 2.9 GHz
  • Memory 8 GB 1600 MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM
  • Graphics Intel HD Graphics 5300
  • Storage 512GB flash storage

The biggest differences are the processor and the graphics. The i7 (Air) seems faster than the Core M (MacBook) according to this comparison. But again, my Air didn’t have a dual core and didn’t have turbo boost. I'm definitely no processor expert.

According to this review of the 2015 MacBook's performance, the MacBook might not be as powerful as the Air over the course of a full day, but can be for short bursts of time, hence the turbo boost. Thanks to Marcelo Somers for pointing that article out.

In the chart below, the new 2015 MacBook appears a good bit slower than the 2013 MacBook Air i7 when using Photoshop. 28s (MB) compared to 22.6 (MBA) seconds. And also see that the rMBP crushes both of them at 12s– that's with a 2.2GHz i7 from 2014, let alone the 3.1GHz you can now get with the rMBP.

photoshop usage stats courtesy of Anandtech

This graph alone make me pretty wary of using a MacBook for my main machine, but I still bet you could get by with it if you were determined enough.

My Air also didn’t have a retina display and the colors weren’t nearly as vivid as my 27” external monitor. This was my biggest gripe with my Air, albeit not a huge gripe. It wasn’t bad, but compared to my cinema display it was very noticeably not as good. The new Retina MacBooks seem to have a better display, but I haven’t used one in person so I can’t confirm how good it is compared to its older brother, the MacBook Pro, which I can tell you with certainty that it's the best monitor I've ever stared into. The Macbook Pro has an Intel Iris Graphics 6100 compared to the MacBook’s Intel HD Graphics 5300.

Can it Handle Large Design Files?

I frequently use Sketch for UI design as well as the full Adobe CC Suite– Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Flash, After Effects, etc. I use all of this for interface design for large responsive web applications (mobile, desktop, tablet) and iOS and Android app design. I’ve worked with really large wireframe files in Illustrator and really large UI design documents in Sketch. In fact, some of my Sketch UI design files have had up to 20 pages with 8-10 artboards on each page. I've also cranked through large and heavily layered PSDs with my Air.

I’ve never had a situation where I felt like my 2013 MacBook Air was incapable of handling these design files. I did notice the occasional lagginess when files would get really really large and in those cases I would typically break those files into multiple PSDs or multiple Sketch files. I did all of this from my 2013 MacBook Air hooked up to a 27” Cinema Display.

The new MacBook won't perform as well as the Air with large design files all day. You could probably manage it carefully and get by, but I wouldn't want to do that. Remember the Photshop speed test:

  • 2015 MB 28s
  • 2013 MBA 22.6s
  • 2014 rMBP 12s

Should I Get a New MacBook or a New MacBook Pro?

Well, that’s up to you. If you’ve been on a Pro for a while and you’re looking to change things up with the cool new MacBooks, I’d be a little concerned about processing power when handling huge files for a full day. I had a blast with my super thin and lightweight Air though.

Since I’ve been on the Air for the last 2 years I was looking to switch things up, so I recently decided to go with a fully maxed out MacBook Pro. Here are the specs on that for comparison:

  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Retina, Early 2015)
  • Processor 3.1GHz Dual-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.4GHz
  • Memory 16GB 1866MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM
  • Graphics Intel Iris Graphics 6100
  • Storage 1TB PCIe-based Flash Storage

This thing is a beast. Quite a big difference between the new MacBook and the Pro, but like I said, I’ve been really happy with my Air over the last two years– so if you go for the new MacBook, theres a good chance it could work for you, but if you're on the fence power-wise and anticipate designing all day long like me, I'd 100% stick with a Pro.

All new computer specs pulled from