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How much faster is the 15-Inch Retina Display "Mid-2012" MacBook Pro custom configured with a faster processor than the stock models? Is the extra performance worth the extra cost?
Please note that the "Mid-2012" Retina Display MacBook Pro line has been discontinued. However, this Q&A is up-to-date and can be quite useful for anyone buying or selling one of these models on the used market.
The standard high-end 15-Inch Retina Display "Mid-2012" MacBook Pro model -- the MacBook Pro "Core i7" 2.6 15" (Retina) -- could be custom configured with a 2.7 GHz Core i7 (I7-3820QM) processor. In addition to the faster clockspeed, this custom processor has 8 MB of shared level 3 cache rather than 6 MB of level 3 cache like the standard configuration.
For reader convenience, EveryMac.com also documents this custom configuration as its own model -- the MacBook Pro "Core i7" 2.7 15" (Retina).
For a solid general overview of the performance differences between the standard Retina Display "Mid-2012" MacBook Pro and its custom configured counterpart, EveryMac.com's own Ultimate Mac Comparison makes it quick to compare side-by-side 32-bit-and 64-bit Geekbench benchmark averages of both with each other and all other G3 and later Macs for thousands of possible performance comparisons.
The Geekbench benchmark shows that when custom configured with the 2.7 GHz Core i7 (I7-3820QM), the high-end standard Retina Display "Mid-2012" MacBook Pro is roughly 3% faster than the stock model.
Third-Party Test Results
In an effort to push reviews out the door quickly, most of the blogosphere did not evaluate the performance of the build-to-order Retina Display MacBook Pro.
Also, the excellent MacPerformanceGuide provides extremely in-depth evaluation of the Retina Display MacBook Pro based on hands-on evaluation of the custom configured model. For Photoshop CS6, specifically, the site determines:
The MacBook Pro (Retina and non-Retina) beat the Mac Pro and fastest iMac! But not by much, [particularly in] the diglloydMedium test, where the MBP Retina lags [the Mac Pro] badly due to its 16 GB memory limit.
The MacBook Pro 15" (non Retina) consistently beat the Retina model, but only by a 0.1 to 0.3 seconds. Perhaps this is due to the Retina display "pixel doubling" overhead.
The MacBook Pro is maxed-out at 16 GB memory, which is its Achilles' Heel, and the #1 reason it is unsuitable for serious general purpose photography work with files that get large (2 GB saved size on up).
Performance & Value Summary
As always, there is a small percentage of users who need maximum performance regardless of cost. No doubt there are some users who love the quality of the Retina Display itself, want to be on the go rather than tethered to a desktop, and want to wring out as much power as possible. For these "power users," the custom processor option may make sense.
However, as the custom processor provides approximately 3% more performance but costs 9% more, this upgrade is unlikely to be financially worthwhile for the majority of users.