WiFi Performance

The next-gen MacBook Pro is equipped with a decidedly this-gen wireless stack. In other words it uses the same 3x3:3 WiFi solution that was present in the 2011 MacBook Pro and is present in the non-Retina 2012 MacBook Pro as well: Broadcom’s BCM4331. The wireless behavior characteristics are a bit different since this is a physically different chassis, but we’re still dealing with a 3-stream 802.11n solution - not 802.11ac. All three antennas are located in the Retina Display’s housing.

We have seen Apple be conservative with component choices in the past. Deciding to stick with Samsung’s 45nm LP process for the A5X instead of embracing 32nm LP sooner with the 3rd gen iPad is one example that comes to mind. Like a good silicon company Apple appears to mitigate risk in design by sticking with known-good components wherever possible. Major changes to the industrial design are typically paired with comparatively minor silicon changes, and other components are kept as static as possible so long as they don’t overly compromise experience. While 802.11ac dongles and routers are just arriving today, Apple likely froze the Retina MBP’s wireless configuration quite a while ago. Rather than be caught shipping potentially unratified hardware, Apple went the safe route and stuck with 802.11n.

That’s not to say Apple’s wireless implementation is bad. The 15-inch MacBook Pro has been one of the best behaved notebooks on wireless that I’ve had the pleasure of using. The MacBook Pro with Retina Display is no different. Just like before, the best case negotiated physical rate is 450Mbps when paired with a 5GHz 3x3 access point. Unobstructed, within a couple of feet of the AP, I measured as much as 230Mbps to the Retina MacBook Pro. I tested at three different distances from the AP, through walls and on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Overall performance seemed comparable to the standard 15-inch MacBook Pro, although it’s definitely faster in some areas and slower in others.

  Location 1 Location 2 Location 3
2011 MacBook Pro (2.4GHz) 124.0 Mbps 12.6 Mbps 61.6 Mbps
Retina MacBook Pro (2.4GHz) 117.9 Mbps 87.6 Mbps 44.0 Mbps
2011 MacBook Pro (5GHz) 186.8 Mbps 154.6 Mbps 24.7 Mbps
Retina MacBook Pro (5GHz) 227.7 Mbps 156.8 Mbps 33.7 Mbps

The second test location consistently performed poorly on the 2011 MBP, only on 2.4GHz however. For the most part there were no real surprises otherwise.

The SD Card Reader

It was our own Brian Klug who clued me into the horrible behavior of the 2011 MacBook Pro’s SD card reader. Depending on the SD card used, the integrated SD card reader either performed admirably or was the most frustrating part of the Mac experience. Out of the three SD cards I frequently use: a Patriot LX series card, a Transcend and a new UHS-I Patriot EP Pro, only the Transcend card actually works remotely well with the 2011 chassis. Even then, it’s not perfect. I usually have to insert and remove the card at least once before the reader will recognize it. The LX and EP Pro on the other hand are measurably worse. To get the EP Pro to work in the 2011 MBP’s reader I usually have to push the card in then apply upward or downward force to the exposed edge of the card to get it to read properly. Even then it’ll usually disappear from OS X or be present but read at bytes per second. I doubt this is the fault of the card itself but rather the latest example of incompatibility with the horrible SD card reader in last year’s MacBook Pro.

At least with the cards I’ve tested, the Retina MacBook Pro exhibits none of these issues. Over dozens of insertions I had no issues reading from or writing to all three of these cards, including the problematic ones. I ran a Quick Bench test on the EP Pro as it’s the fastest of the lot and came away with reasonable performance as well. Roughly 80MB/s reads and 40MB/s writes. The numbers are shy of Patriot’s 90/50 spec but quite good.

One of the times I was able to get the EP Pro working in the 2011 MacBook Pro I managed to squeeze in a single Quick Bench run. Read performance was almost identical at 80MB/s, but write performance was far lower at only 10MB/s:

Shortly after the test completed I could no longer write to the drive in the 2011 MBP so I suspect the card reader was acting up again. Needless to say, if you like using SD cards with your MacBook Pro the Retina Display model appears to be much better. That’s not to say there couldn’t be other incompatibilities, but in everything I tested it looks like this problem is finally fixed.

Better Speakers and Dual Mics

Apple is proud of its new speaker design in the Retina MacBook Pro. There’s not a whole lot you can do for tiny laptop speakers but despite shrinking the overall volume of the chassis, Apple has managed to deliver much better sound out of the new speakers in the rMBP. Like most of the upgrades to the next-gen MacBook Pro, you really need to do an A/B comparison to appreciate the difference. And keep your expectations in line with reality, a good set of external speakers are always going to sound better. With that said, the new speakers definitely deliver a fuller, more rich sound than their predecessor. You can still tell you’re listening to some form of integrated speakers, but now they sound distinctly less like they’re coming from a inside a notebook.

In preparation for Mountain Lion's arrival with dictation support, Apple outfitted the next-gen MacBook Pro with dual microphones in order to better focus on your spoken voice and not on background noise. In practice the new mics work reasonably well, rejecting moderate volume background noise. Loud music nearby will still cause interference and as always, accurate dictation requires more than just good quality source audio to get right.

Vastly Improved Thermals General Performance
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  • DJTryHard - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    No one said it was quad, this is in 2010. Arrandale had higher thermals, and today's version does have quad. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    Not quad core. Quad raid. As in, 4 separate custom SSD boards connected to 4 separate SATA ports in raid 0. This was before there was 500mb/s raid from SF. Now it's kinda a marketing gimmick because they're not 4 500 mb/s raid that gives you nearly 2 gb/s in raid 0. Reply
  • Totally - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - link

    learn to read

    quoting op

    "...fastest of the dual core i7's while..."

    no one mentions anything about a quad core cpu
    Reply
  • hkatz - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - link

    I looked up the current model. Vaio Z: 13 inch display 1920 by 1080, maximum 8 gigs ram, 512 ssd, quad core i7 2.1/3.1 , USB 3. However, no thunderbolt, only integrated graphics and the price for the 13 inch computer as above is $2999.

    Does not compare to the retina macbook pro which has a higher resolution 15 inch display, thunderbolt, significantly faster processor, and discrete graphics with a gig of vram. The price for the better retina macbook pro with the 512 gig flash drive is $2799.

    There is no comparison.
    Reply
  • wfolta - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    The Sony you linked to doesn't have discrete graphics. You have to buy (and use) the docking station to get that.

    If you load it up with 8 GB of RAM (which is the max, while the rMBP goes to 16 GB), a 256 GB SSD, a 10% slower CPU (2.1 versus 2.3 GHz), no discrete graphics, and a "HD" non-IPS display, it costs you $1,950 versus the rMPB's $2,200.

    For the price Sony charges for the upgrade to 512 GB of SSD ($600), you can upgrade the rMBP, to a 512 GB SSD and get a 20% faster (2.6 GHz) CPU thrown in as well.

    The non-IPS display means that even if the rMBP didn't have incredibly more pixels, it would still outclass the Sony display in terms of contrast, viewing angle, etc.

    The Sony weights about half of what the rMBP does, but it also has less battery life and it's about the same size. I guess the VGA and ethernet ports are a big deal for you, though of course you don't get two Thunderbolt ports. Oh yeah, you also get a Sony MemoryStick slot, too!
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/5430/sony-vaio-z-wit...

    It is an IPS display, but non-glossy.

    Don't bother comparing the 2 as apples to apples, because they're not comparable. The sony is 2.5 lbs versus 4.5 lbs for the macbook pro retina. You have a whole different power and heat envelope.

    I don't disagree that Sony is overcharging for the high end Z, and now with the retina macbook pro maybe they will lower prices (this is really the first contender, but it is 15" so targets a different market segment).

    However, you can get the last season's models on the Sony outlet store for 40% off - ie $1400 nets you 256 GB SSD, 8 GB of ram, the external dock with graphics and blu-ray, etc.
    Reply
  • maratus - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    Z has never had IPS, it's SE series. Still nice laptop though. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    I stand corrected, but it is still way better than a TN and not much worse than an IPS (you lose out on viewing angles). Reply
  • Spunjji - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    You're missing the point of why this product was brought up. But hey, good effort for not reading the preceding posts. Reply
  • cptcolo - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - link

    Wow that Sony VAIO Z Series is impressive!
    Personally the laptop I am holding out for is something along the lines of:

    17" 2560 x 1440 (or 2560 x 1600) Matte IPS Screen
    Broadwell Hex-Core, <25W TDP
    Super Integrated Graphics (no graphics card or optical drive)
    32GB RAM on 2 DIMMS
    x2 512GB uSSDs in RAID0 over 16Gb/s interface
    100+ WHr Battery
    Overall size less than a typical 15" via a thin bezel.
    Weight: <4.8lbs
    Thickness: <0.8"
    Excellent Keyboard/Trackpad and great build quality.

    All for ~$2500
    Reply

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