The 17-inch MacBook Pro is no more. While some will pine for it, others will realise what the MacBook Pro with Retina Display brings — more screen real estate, with significantly less heft.
Interestingly, the standard 15-inch MacBook Pro hasn't gone away, nor has the sweet spot 13 — although, we expect the latter will have a Retina equivalent soon, too. If this is the case, it looks like Apple may be using the Retina Display as a way to delineate its Air and Pro lines more clearly, especially with the impending death of the optical drive.
- USB 3.0: 2
- Thunderbolt: 2
- Optical: None
- Video: HDMI, Thunderbolt x2
- Ethernet: None
- Wireless: Dual channel 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0
At 2.02kg, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display suddenly makes production on-the-go a much more appealing exercise. At its tallest, its 18mm, making it much easier to slip in your work bag or backpack than the standard full-powered laptop.
It also features a fascinating capitulation, much like the Mac Mini — an HDMI port. While the standard MacBook Pro and MacBook Air still stick with Thunderbolt and, hence, DisplayPort for its video out, the Retina Display MacBook can be easily plugged into your TV.
Yes, that is, indeed, an HDMI connection.
As is befitting an Ivy Bridge powered computer, there are two USB 3.0 ports, although in a very MacBook Air- and useful-fashion, there's one on each side, rather than the usual parade of ports down the left.
We'd love there to be more USB 3.0 ports, but Apple's got a Thunderbolt cart to push, and to that end, you'll get two such ports. With the optical drive gone, it's not like there isn't room for more USB 3.0 ports, but all you'll get here in addition is a headphone port and an SDXC slot.
The backlit keyboard and touchpad are still industry leading, and it'll be interesting to see how much the Windows world catches up come Windows 8, given all the new requirements being dictated by Microsoft and Intel. Audio is, as tends to be the case with Apple machines, quite good as well.
Starting at AU$2499, it's kitted out with an Intel Core i7 @ 2.3GHz, 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD and a GeForce GT 650M. Dual band 802.11n is included, as is Bluetooth 4.0. Our review sample, featuring a Core i7 3720QM @ 2.6GHz and a 512GB SSD, costs more at AU$3199. You can, if you desire, upgrade the base model to a 2.6GHz processor for an extra AU$100, a 2.7GHz processor for an extra AU$360, a 512GB SSD for AU$600, or a 768GB SSD for AU$1200. While 16GB of RAM on both models will set you back an extra AU$240, upgrading the processor to 3.7GHz on the higher-end model will cost AU$260, while the 768GB SSD costs an extra AU$600.
All of this goes without mentioning the most impressive element itself — the 2880x1800, IPS Retina Display. That's 220.53 pixels-per-inch (ppi), a density that's usually only found on high-end phones or tablets. Most 15.6-inch Windows laptops still ship at 1366x768, delivering only 100.45 ppi — less than half. The fact that it uses IPS instead of TN for the panel technology makes it all the more lust-worthy, with significantly improved viewing angles and colour reproduction.
Just like the iPad Retina Display, it grows on you — at first, you don't think it makes that much of a difference. And then, over time, you notice the sharper fonts, the more detailed imagery and the extra viewing angles that the IPS screen brings. It's still gloss and suffers from glare as a result, but it is without a doubt the best looking laptop screen on the market. Moving to a normal laptop display, let alone desktop display afterwards, just results in disappointment — you start seeing all the pixels, the non-uniform brightness, the jagged scaling, dull colours and poor text that you never noticed before.
The Retina and non-Retina MacBook Pro (left to right) displays compared.
Apple doesn't give the end user a choice of resolution — rather, it enables DPI scaling via five options, all of which claim to "look like" a lower resolution, offering either "larger text" or "more space", depending on which way you move the slider. Apple's "Best" setting "looks like" 1920x1200, but you can also choose "looks like" 1680x1050, 1440x900, 1280x800 and 1024x600. We'd recommend keeping it where it is.
If a program isn't DPI aware, it'll look scaled up and blurry, and if anything, this is the Achilles heel of the Retina Display — you'll have to wait for software, in general, to catch up. Adobe should be updating Photoshop CS6 shortly, and sites have sprung up that list compatible apps.
Web browsing can also be a mixed experience, with text looking great, but imagery often scaled up. For the best effect, sites will actually have to be coded to serve different images, depending on whether or not they're being seen in a high DPI environment. Safari and Chrome are Retina compliant now (at least on OS X), other browsers have yet to follow, and the discussions on implementing standard HTML 5 high DPI code are busy, to say the least.
Dare we say it: Windows 7 copes reasonably well with the Retina Display, although there are problems at its most comfortable setting, 200 per cent DPI. Windows Explorer's address bar gets squished into a tiny area, thanks to the search bar, while the cursor looks hideous and some icons are tiny, whereas others are large. Web browsing actually looks best on Internet Explorer, due to its text rendering engine.
Windows 8 desktop fared marginally better, but it's clear that Microsoft is putting its scaling efforts into the beast formerly known as Metro, instead. Of course, the usual running Windows on Mac caveats apply; the touchpad will likely drive you mad if you like drag lock, and Apple doesn't expose the Intel graphics card to the system, meaning worse battery life. Amusingly, Apple's own Boot Camp software isn't Retina-ready.
Handbrake encoding (in seconds)
Apple MBP Retina (Core i7 3720QM, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, GeForce GT 650M)
Apple MBP Retina [Win 7] (Core i7 3720QM, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, GeForce GT 650M)
Sony Vaio Z 25th Anniversary Edition (Core i7 3612QM, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Radeon HD 7670M)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
We ran our benchmark suite on both OS X and Windows, so you can get an appreciation of the performance differences that are involved across operating systems.
If there's any doubt that iTunes is optimised for OS X, just check out those benchmark scores. Handbrake exhibits a definite OS X advantage as well.
Still, the laptop is quite a beastly machine, chewing up the benchmarks and spitting them out. Only Alienware's M14x, a dedicated gaming machine, really keeps pace.
|Batman: Arkham Asylum|
|1920x1080, 4x AA, Detail level: Very high, PhysX off.|
|1680x1050, DirectX 10, 4x AA, Quality: Low, PhysX: Off.|
|The Witcher 2|
|1366x768, low spec.|
|1920x1080, medium detail.|
All our gaming tests were run under Boot Camp, as these are Windows-native games.
We require a minimum frame rate of 30fps to deem a certain level of detail playable, with the exception of Metro 2033. This is because the Metro benchmark will stutter to around 10 frames per second on even the gruntiest of systems, something we've not experienced in playing the game, itself.
2880x1800 would be an impossible ask for any modern mobile graphics card, so we topped out our testing at 1920x1080, for which both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Skyrim crossed the line. We're guessing the GT 650M sits at the top left, near the monitor, as the chassis got quite hot there during gaming.
Battery life (time)
- Heavy battery test
- Light battery test
- 6h 14m
- Apple MBP Retina (Core i7 3720QM, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, GeForce GT 650M)
- 4h 45m
- Sony Vaio Z 25th Anniversary Edition (Core i7 3612QM, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Radeon HD 7670M)
- 4h 26m
- HP Pavilion dv7 7008TX (Core i7 3610QM, 8GB RAM, 2x 1TB HDD, GeForce GT 650M)
- 3h 45m
- Apple MBP Retina [Win 7] (Core i7 3720QM, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, GeForce GT 650M)
- 3h 30m
- Alienware M14x (Core i7 3720QM, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD, GeForce GT 650M)
- 1h 50m
- Asus G75VW (Core i7 3610QM, 16GB RAM, 2x 1TB HDD, GeForce GTX 670M)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Apple doesn't expose the Intel GPU to Windows, and so it purely runs on discrete graphics in Boot Camp, dramatically affecting battery life. On OS X, despite all the power, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display hits impressive ultrabook levels. This is one big laptop that will survive away from a power point.
It's not cheap, and it'll take some time for the software world to catch up, but great battery life, good sound, impeccable build and a screen that'll blow you away means that the MacBook Pro with Retina Display has set a new standard for the rest to follow.