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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  • Mumrik - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link


    Anand, on page 4 you categorize the rMBP as a consumer device: "At 220 pixels per inch it’s easily the highest density consumer notebook panel shipping today.", but back on page 2 you made a deal of of calling it a pro "appliance" and pointed out that it wasn't a consumer device.

    Other than that - this DPI improvement really needs to get moving. It's been so many years and we've essentially been standing still since LCDs took over and the monitor business became a race towards the bottom. IPS, high DPI and native support for it in software PLEASE. 120hz would be nice too.
    Reply
  • dwade123 - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    I don't understand why Apple doesn't take advantage of their lead in Thunderbolt. This machine screams for E-GPU with GTX 670! Reply
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - link

    Probably because right now the user experience would be poor. See Anand's comments about sound and USB cutting out when high-bandwidth transfers are occurring. That would be catastrophic mid-game and would definitely lead me to return the hardware as unfit for purpose. Apple have had their slip-ups but they rarely release hardware that is unfit for purpose. Reply
  • inaphasia - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Does Apple have some sort of exclusive deal (ie monopoly with an expiration date) on these displays, or can anybody (HP, Asus, Lenovo etc) use them if they want to? Reply
  • wfolta - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    In recent years, Apple has been the King of the Supply Chain due to Tim Cook. He's now the CEO. I doubt that there will be many retina 15" screens available for Apple's competitors for a year or more.

    Even if Apple didn't lock up the supply chain, Apple's competitors have been running towards lower resolutions, or the entertainment-oriented 16:9 1920x1080 (aka 1080p), so it will take them a while to pivot towards higher-density displays even if they were growing on trees.
    Reply
  • Constructor - Thursday, June 28, 2012 - link

    Apple has been paying huge sums (in the Billions of Dollars!) to component manufacturers in advance to have them develop specific components such as this one, even paying for factories to be built for manufacturing exclusively for Apple for a certain time.

    It is also possible that Apple has licensed certain patents from various (other) manufacturers for their exclusive use which might preclude open-market sales of the same components even after the exclusive deal with Apple is up, because the display manufacturer may not be able to keep using these same patents.

    In short: The chances for PC manufacturers to get at them just by waiting for them to drop into the market eventually don't look too good.

    After all, none of the other Retina displays have appeared in other products yet. And the iPhone 4 is already two years old.

    So either the non-Apple-supplying component manufacturers or the PC builders will have to actually pay for their own development. And given their mostly dismal profit margins and relatively low volumes in the premium segment, I wouldn't hold my breath.
    Reply
  • Shanmugam - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Anand and Team,

    Excellent review again.

    When is the MacBook Air Mid 2012 review coming? I really want to see the battery life improvement, I can see that it almost tops out at 8Hours for light work load for 13" MBA.

    Cannot wait!!!
    Reply
  • smozes - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Anand states: "[E]nough to make me actually want to use the Mac as a portable when at home rather than tethered to an external panel. The added portability of the chassis likely contributes to that fact though."

    I work with an external display at home, and given that there are none yet at this caliber, I'm wondering about doing away with the external display and working only with the rMBP. In the past I've always needed external displays for viewing more info, and I'm curious if this is no longer necessary.

    Has anyone tried doing away with an external display and just using the rMBP on a stand with a mouse and keyboard? Since the display includes more info than a cinema display, and given healthy eyesight, would this setup be as ergonomic and efficient?
    Reply
  • boeush - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    For several years, I've been using 17'' notebooks with 1920x1200 displays. That resolution had been more than enough for the 17'' form factor; having even such a resolution on a 15'' screen is going overboard, and doing it on an 11'' tablet is just plane bonkers. I don't see the individual pixels on my laptop's screen, and I'd wager neither would most other people unless they use magnifying lenses.

    I really don't get the point of wasting money on over-spec'ed hardware, and burning energy pushing all those invisible pixels.

    I'd rather have reasonable display resolutions matched to the actual physiological capabilities of the human eye, and spend the rest of the cost and power budgets on either weight reductions, or better battery life, or higher computing performance, or more powerful 3G/4G/Wi-Fi radios, etc.

    The marketing-hype idiocy of "retina displays" now appears to be driving the industry from one intolerable extreme (of crappy pannels with sup-par resolutions) right into the diametrically opposite insanity -- that of ridiculously overbuilt hardware.

    Why can't we just have cost-effective, performance-balanced, SANE designs anymore?
    Reply
  • darkcrayon - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Reminds me of comments when the 3rd gen iPad screen was introduced. You have a review which both subjectively (from an extremely experienced user) and objectively from tests shows this is the best display ever for a laptop. Yet people ignore all of that and say it's a waste... I think it would be a waste if it didn't actually... You know... Provide a visibly dramatic level of improvement. And its better to make a large jump bordering on "overkill" than to make tiny incremental steps with something like display resolution- fragmentation/etc being what it is, Reply

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