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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  • dannyboy153 - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    The Sony Z is more of a "consumer" laptop than a creative laptop. Here's why:

    1) The 1080p (9x16) LCD is great for watch movies but the loss in 1" vertical height is annoying.

    2) No discrete GPU built into the Laptop.

    3) No high res output. VGA and HDMI doesn't cut it. I have no idea why their dock doesn't have DVI or display port even though it's equipped with a discrete GPU. Their implementation of the dock is admirable, but it's filled with bugs. Read the reviews.

    I'll have to admit the MBP is heavier by almost 2x the weight of the Sony Z. But at ~4.5 lbs, it's not overly heavy. MBP advantage:

    1) None of the disadvantages of 1-3 above.

    2) 15.4" screen is HUGE for me (coming form an X200). Also, it's like the best of both worlds for glossy and matte LCDs; beautiful and vastly reduced glare.

    3) The Sony Z has a quad core but the MBP is more powerful. Notice I didn't mention the weaker Quad core of the Sony Z as one of its disadvantage because I believe it's hard enough for them to even offer such power in their laptop.
    Reply
  • ananduser - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    The 2010 VaioZ had discrete video, 1080p screen, quad raid SSD option. blu ray, slim profile, etc.
    The 2012 VaioZ does not have discrete built in, only via external dock.

    So...considering what the Z was for 2010, Anand never sang such high praises for it. Why ? Because he's a macuser and couldn't care less about another company's efforts.
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

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

    They did eventually do a review of the 2011/2012 Z, however they're not as tolerant of small faults as they are with apple products.

    I remember back in the day when Anand would wipe the floor about keyboards not having enough pitch. But on the macbook pro retina the reduced pitch is just "different" not terrible.
    Reply
  • gstrickler - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    The MBP keyboard doesn't have reduced pitch, it's a standard 19mm pitch. It has slightly reduced key travel. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Sorry I meant key travel. Incorrect use of terms on my part. Reply
  • dannyboy153 - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    For 2010, there were plenty of laptops with 1080p. Name one laptop now with the Apple's display. The Z is a great laptop if you're a consumer of media. But for creators, the Apple is superior. Reply
  • Spunjji - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Name another *13"* laptop in 2010 with 1080p. Go on. We can play this game all day! Reply
  • SanX - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    hdmi can not handle 1080 output? Reply
  • dannyboy153 - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    I don't consider 1080p hi res. At a minimum it has to be at least 1200p in 10x16 format for 24" monitors. For the price of the Sony Z, not being able to do 2560x1600 is a shame. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Reading on forums there doesn't seem to be any issues with 1920x1200 external output, but 2560x1600 does not work without a hack for reduced refresh rate. Reply

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