Last year when I wrote about the new MacBook Airs I offered two forward looking paragraphs:

What happens from here on out is what's really interesting. Intel has already committed to moving the TDP of its mainstream parts from 35W - 45W down to 10 - 20W. Since the Air is the new mainstream Mac notebook, Apple has already made that move. The performance in this 10 - 20W segment is going to get much better over the next two years, particularly once Haswell arrives.

The Thunderbolt Display is the first sign of what's to come. Moving IO controllers and expansion into the display, and potentially even moving discrete GPUs out of the notebook are all in store for us. Apple is really ahead of the curve here, but it's easy to imagine a future where laptops become a lot more like the new Air and shift to a couple high bandwidth ports instead of numerous lower bandwidth connections.

Perhaps I was being too aggressive in the prediction of a couple of high bandwidth ports. After all, the next-generation MacBook Pro with Retina Display features four such IO ports (2 x Thunderbolt and 2 x USB 3.0). But you get my point. Gigabit Ethernet and Firewire 800 are both gone. The discrete GPU is still present but I suspect even its days are numbered, at least inside the chassis. The personal computer as we knew it for so long, is changing.

The personal computer is getting thinner, lighter, more integrated and more appliance-like. The movement is no longer confined to just Apple either. The traditional PC OEMs are following suit. Even Microsoft has finally entered the PC hardware business, something it threatened to do for years but hadn't until now. Distribution models will change, the lines between different form factors will continue to blur. What was once a mature industry is going through a significant transformation. It’s exciting but at the same time it makes me uneasy. When I first got into this industry everyone had stories of companies with great ideas that just didn’t make it. As we go through this revolution in computing I’m beginning to see, first hand, the very same.

Apple makes the bulk of its revenue from devices that don’t look like traditional personal computers. For the past couple of years I’ve been worried that it would wake up and decide the traditional Mac is a burden, and it should instead be in the business of strictly selling consumer devices. With its announcements two weeks ago in San Francisco, I can happily say that my fears haven’t come true. At least not yet.

It’s been a while since Apple did a really exciting MacBook Pro launch. Much to my surprise, even the move to Sandy Bridge, the first quad-core in a MacBook Pro, was done without even whispers of a press conference. Apple threw up the new products on its online store, shipped inventory to its retail outlets, updated the website and called it a day. Every iPhone and iPad announcement however was accompanied with much fanfare. The MacBook Pro seemed almost forgotten.

With its WWDC unveil however Apple took something that it had resigned to unexciting, dare I say uncool status, and made a huge deal about it. Two weeks ago Apple did the expected and offered relatively modest upgrades to all of its portable Macs, all while introducing something bold.

Apple calls it the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. You’ll see me refer to it as the next-gen MacBook Pro, Retina MacBook Pro, rMBP or some other permutation of these words.

After using it for the past two weeks I can honestly say it’s the best Mac Apple has ever built. And there’s a lot more to it than hardware.

Portability

If you were hoping for a 15-inch MacBook Air, that’s not what the rMBP is. Instead it is a far more portable 15-inch MacBook Pro. I have to admit I was a bit let down the first time I laid eyes on the next-gen MacBook Pro, it looks good but it doesn’t look all that different. The disappointment quickly faded as I actually picked up the machine and started carrying it around. It’s not ultra light, but man does it make the previous chassis feel dated.

While I never really liked lugging around the old MBP (and it always made me feel like the old fogey at tradeshows where everyone else had something 13-inches or smaller), carrying the rMBP is a pleasure by comparison. Pictures really don’t do it justice. The impressively thin display assembly or overall chassis thickness look neat in a photo but it’s not until you actually live with the rMBP that you can appreciate what Apple has done here. I carry around a 15-inch MacBook Pro because it’s my desktop, and as such it’s incredibly useful to have with me when I travel. For my personal usage model, the Retina MacBook Pro is perfect.

If your workload demands that you need the performance of a MacBook Pro and your lifestyle requires you to carry it around a lot, the reduction in thickness and weight alone will be worth the upgrade to the rMBP. If you spend most of your time stationary however, you’ll have to be sold on the display and internal characteristics alone. The bad news is if the design doesn’t get you, everything else will.


From left to right: 11-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Air, 15-inch MacBook Pro, MacBook Pro with Retina Display


From left to right: 11-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Air, MacBook Pro with Retina Display


From left to right: 11-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Air, MacBook Pro with Retina Display

Design & Silicon
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  • wfolta - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    I insisted on a 17" laptop since the 17" MBP came out, and used them right up until I got the 15" rMBP last week. I'll never turn back. I've got it turned up to "1920x1200 equivalent" right now, and so I get as much screen real estate in a machine that's way, way, WAY smaller and lighter. And the display is so good, I'm impressed every single time I use it.

    At first, that seemed too small. I started with the 1440x900, and the next day tried the next denser step and it was okay, and the next day went 1920x1200 and it's something you get used to fairly easily. Obviously, you couldn't use 1920x1200 on a 6" screen if you had the pixel density to pull it off, but I really don't see the need for a 17" screen anymore.

    (And I use a 30" screen at work, which this laptop could easily drive if that's what I want. Heck, I've read about people driving the internal screen, an HDMI screen, and two Thunderbolt screens with a video running on each simultaneously. You don't need a huge built-in screen.)
    Reply
  • yvesluther - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    I am wondering how I should connect my two Thunderbolt displays to my new Retina MacBook Pro?

    a) Should I chain both displays and use one Thunderbolt port

    or

    b) Should I hook each display to its own port?

    Thanks for any advice.
    Reply
  • wfolta - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    I'm pretty sure you will have to put each display on its own port. You'll be able to daisy chain other devices (disk drives, etc), but I think it's one display each for this laptop at least. Reply
  • Constructor - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    The "classic" MBPs support both displays on the same TB port, so I would expect that to work here as well. It's mostly just a question of convenient cabling, since the displays have TB daisy-chaining outputs anyway. Reply
  • SJdead - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    One issue though is how can the "retina display" [(FYI, 226 PPI is not comparable to the human eye which at 20/20 vision is 426 PPI) that's why I don't like Apple because they treat people like their dumb.] is that there is so much focus on the PPI.

    Ya, it's innovative (in a sense) as Apple knows how to market to the masses. But what about LED - IPS? That's a downgrade from older IPS displays. What about color contrast? Blacks/whites? What about billions of colors instead of millions? What about color accuracy and Adobe sRBG/RGB? What about glossy screens that cause over-saturated colors? Response time in MS?

    All the above mentioned are glaring oversights to the, "Best display I've ever seen..." comment. If that is the case, you should check out a variety of other displays.

    My point is that display resolution isn't everything, there are a lot of other factors that go into a good display. There are far better displays from 5+ years ago that will outperform and look more gorgeous that Apple's current 2012 model. All you have to do is go to Apple's website to see that good specifications are highlighted while poor specifications are not even mentioned.
    Reply
  • wfolta - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    You do realize that you can't make any statements at all about "retina" qualities based solely on PPI, right? "Retina display" is based on an angular measurement, so you need PPI at a specified viewing distance. And the rMBP meets that at its typical viewing distance.

    (On an anecdotal note, I work with video as a profession, so am very sensitive to pixels, etc, and this screen is gorgeous, density-wise.)

    You mention all of those "far better" displays from 5+ years ago... Were they in laptops, or were they expensive desktop options? What manufacturer has continued to make them since then? In fact, most everyone except Apple has headed towards the consumerized, 16:9 1920x1080 (1080p) screen size, which is 15% shorter than Apple's displays. Contrary to popular opinion, Apple has been holding out for the more useful, professional aspect ratio and resolution, while its competitors have chased the checkbox of "Play Bluray DVDs at HD resolution".

    In terms of your actual comments, the rMBP's display is in the top two or three laptop screens for contrast and blacks, basically falling a bit short (top 6-8) in white because Apple just couldn't pump up the brightness without compromising battery life too much. Color accuracy has dropped a bit from older MBP's. Still, the combination of perceivable features is the best most of us have ever seen outside of a calibrated desktop setup.
    Reply
  • wfolta - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    One thing to think about is that Apple's auto-switching between dedicated GPU and Intel graphics is a bit of a mystery. Some programs trigger the dedicated GPU and it's not clear why.

    For example, Eaglefiler (a terrific program) seems to trigger it, even though it's not a graphics heavyweight and even when it's hidden. With a program that you leave running all the time like that, it will drag down your battery life. The author is looking into this, but it's not clear what Apple API is the cause.

    In light of that, I'd highly recommend the gfxCardStatus, which monitors what programs trigger discrete graphics and which don't. It'll at least give you a clue that a program you wouldn't otherwise suspect may be shortening your battery life.
    Reply
  • designerfx - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    okay, so we're looking at a screenshot. 15 FPS in the most uncluttered situations with D3. Can you even imagine the FPS in a normal situation during the game, even on normal difficulty?

    Hint: we're looking at FPS in the 1-3 range, maybe 4 if you're lucky.

    Apple can deliver great displays but if we don't have performance to match then the only main use is photoshop.
    Reply
  • Fx1 - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    If you have any brains you will bootcamp windows and game in there with usually 40% increase in FPS. No one games in OSX. Even OSX fanboys have better sense. Reply
  • wfolta - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    I've said repeatedly in this thread that I get 20+ FPS in Normal Act III, with two or three dozen mobs onscreen. I've read at least one other report of 20+ FPS (perhaps this article mentions that in the text). And this is with settings mostly at max. Cut the res down to 1440x900 and drop a few settings to Medium and I think you could double the frame rate.

    So your speculation is wrong.
    Reply

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