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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  • Manni01 - Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - link

    Great review as usual, but I would really like to know how Anand was able to check if Speedstep and Turboboost worked. In the last Macbook review (2011), he used MSR Tools, but I could not get these to work on Lion on my June 2012 MBP 13. He remains very vague about how, although he does confirm this works as expected on the MBP 15r .
    This isn't my experience. I tried using Intel's MacCPUID in Lion, and a few other tools, and it looks like the CPU is locked at nominal speed (2.9GHz in my case), so neither speedstep nor Turboboost seem to work in Lion. They work as intended in Win7/Bootcamp, going down to 1GHz to save battery or up to 3.6GHz when only one core needs more power.
    So here are my questions:
    1) Anand please could you tell us which tools you have used?
    2) Has anyone tested this on the new macs (June 2012), using which tools, and what is the result?
    Speedstep definitely worked in Snow Leopard on my MBP 13 2011, so it must be a limitation in Lion.
    Reply
  • kenancagri - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    It is very good article. I loved it. Thanks for Lal Shimpi. Reply
  • williamsj - Friday, July 27, 2012 - link

    Even the iPhone 4 is physically easier to maintain/upgrade than this thing.

    Check http://www.ifixit.com

    The worst maintainable piece of hardware they have ever looked at!!

    John
    Reply
  • Throckmorton - Tuesday, August 07, 2012 - link

    You didn't address whether pixel doubling is supported for games. IE rendering each pixel as 4 screen pixels. That's very different from upscaling, because with pixel doubling there's no blurring. Reply
  • Dubious1968 - Thursday, August 09, 2012 - link

    I've given up waiting for Apple to refresh the iMac, and am thinking of buying the Macbook Pro Retina instead. My only concern is that Apple should have equipped this laptop with a more powerful graphics card, given it is driving such a high res screen.

    I will be using it for Photoshop and HD video editing along with some gaming.

    Any help appreciated.

    Dubious
    Reply
  • sleddoggin - Saturday, August 11, 2012 - link

    So, I've done my best to read (skim) through all 46 pages of comments for this post, and have been reading other threads on more-or-less the same topic, so forgive me if I've missed something.

    I own a base model rMBP w/ 16mb ram (for safety), and am really quite unimpressed by openGL performance in games that were fluid (30-60fps ANYway) on my old Mac Pro 2006 w/ an ATI Radeon 5770 HD graphics card (I guess it helps, too, that the Mac Pro GPU is sitting in an x16 PCIe lane, not an x8, as with the rMBP). The Mountain Lion upgrade has been some improvement.

    When I first read Anandtech's article, I sort of thought, why not shut the lid on my MacBook Pro Retina, and plug in my old Apple Cinema display when I want to play games (I plan on using my desktop display when I'm at home for most stuff anyway). Then, the discreet NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M wouldn't be overworked by having to render all those extra pixels, right? Wrong. Gauging from the tests I've done, anyway, I'm getting the same choked performance on my relatively low-res external display (with the rMBP lid shut) as I do when I play those games on the rMBP screen (either at native OR scaled resolutions).

    So my question becomes, isn't this a software issue? Shouldn't the Apple/NVIDIA engineers be able to re-route ALL of that sexy mobile GPU processing power to a single, lower-res external display, and save us gamers the hassle of trading in our rMBPs for regular 2012 MBPs?

    This computer upgrade is really a no-brainer for me, otherwise. With the Thunderbolt ports, and the built in HDMI, I've been easily able to retire my old Mac Pro, and still keep my various displays (HDTV, etc.), and extensive array of USB/Firewire accessories fully operational. It just blows my mind that I get better gaming performance from my creaky old 2006 Mac Pro.

    Thanks for reading my contribution to this thread. Does my thought hold ANY water? I sure as heck don't want to give up this beautiful-looking piece of hardware if I don't have to...

    Cheers,
    -SledDoggin' (another reluctant Apple fanboy)
    Reply
  • vml_ - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    Here's what I don't get and haven't seen answered anywhere. If there are performance issues at 1800p, can they be alleviated by downscaling (eg to 1080p)? Reply
  • S J - Friday, August 31, 2012 - link

    That sounds like great. good effort. Also have seen nice article on http://techinlead.com/apple-introducing-macbook-pr... Reply
  • LookupOEM - Saturday, September 22, 2012 - link

    maybe i'm wrong, but i always thought that OEM means "Original Equipment Manufacturer", a company that makes equipement that is sold by others under their own name.

    Toshiba making hard drives for Apple makes it an OEM, just as Intel, Samsung and others

    but, Apple IS NOT AN OEM, and there is no such thing as a PC OEM !!
    a PC OEM would be a company that supplies parts to build a PC, not the PC maker itself.

    did i miss something here ?
    Reply
  • Penzi - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    Now that Mountain Lion has been out for a bit and several programs have been "retinized" are you planning on updating your review or crafting a mini-review that addresses changes, improvements and new caveats? I, for one, would love to hear about scrolling performance and resolution impact to common software (the OS and iWorks, FinalCut, etc), such as setting the display to "more space" (1920) and clocking the Safari FB news feed, and so on... Reply

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