Final Words

Apple has done an incredible job with the next-gen MacBook Pro. It brings a level of portability to the 15-inch chassis that we’ve never seen before from Apple, all while getting a good handle on some of the thermal and noise issues from last year’s model. If you’re like me and have to lug your 15-inch MBP around, the improvements in portability alone are worth the upgrade. But a lighter chassis is hardly all Apple is relying on to sell this system.

The internals are easily the best collection of parts Apple has ever assembled. Ivy Bridge and Kepler are natural fits, but shipping the machine with 8GB of memory by default is a much appreciated gesture especially considering its un-upgradeable nature. For the first time in Apple’s history of shipping NAND flash based storage in Macs, I actually have no complaints about the controller choice in the rMBP. Samsung’s PM830 (or the consumer, SSD 830, version) is what I’ve been recommending to Mac users for much of the past year. It’s still possible that you’ll end up with a non-Samsung controller, and I don’t yet know whether or not that’s a bad thing, but this is at least progress.

The connectivity story on the rMBP is near perfect. The pair of Thunderbolt ports allows extra flexibility as well as the ability to drive more bandwidth to external IO than any prior portable Mac. The Thunderbolt teething issues still remain unfortunately, but it looks like that’s going to require at least a partial act of Intel to rectify. USB 3.0 is a welcome addition to the Mac family. It took both Apple and Intel far too long to get to this point, but I’m glad it’s here.

All of this is really just wrapping however, as the real gift is the MacBook Pro’s first Retina Display. It’s easily the most beautiful display I’ve had the opportunity of using. Even more impressive to me than the iPad’s Retina Display, and enough 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.

The credit Apple deserves for the display extends beyond simply pushing LG to get a panel out on time and in large enough quantities. There’s a tremendous amount of software work that Apple put into making the Retina experience work under OS X. The OS and several key applications have been updated to properly support the MacBook Pro’s Retina Display, and things can only get better from here. Mountain Lion will improve performance and I would expect at least a few key app updates over the next year to bring increased Retina awareness.

There’s also the behind the scenes work Apple put in to make all of this happen. The pressure on the GPU vendors, as well as taking matters into its own hands with writing scaling and filtering routines to deliver a good experience are all noteworthy. 

It’s because all of this that I’m doing something I’ve never done before in an Apple review. We rarely give out Editor’s Choice awards at AnandTech, and I’m quite possibly the stingiest purveyor of them. I feel that being overly generous with awards diminishes their value. In this case, all of the effort Apple has put into bringing a Retina Display to the MacBook Pro is deserving of one.

I’m giving the MacBook Pro with Retina Display our bronze Editor’s Choice award. Making it the first Mac to ever receive one. It would have been a silver had the software story been even stronger (iWork, Mountain Lion, Office and Photoshop being ready at launch would have been a feat worth rewarding). And it would have been a gold had Apple been able to deliver all of that but without sacrificing end-user upgradability. Which brings me to my final point.

I accept the fact that current mobile memory and storage form factors preclude the creation of the thinnest and lightest form factors. But I would like to see Apple push for the creation of industry standard storage and memory form factors that wouldn’t hinder the design of notebooks like the Retina Display equipped Macbook Pro. As Apple has already demonstrated that it has significant pull with component vendors, this should be possible. The motivation behind doing so is no different from the motivation driving the use of Retina Displays: for the betterment of the end user experience.

Sidebar: Impacting the Rest of the Industry


ASUS Zenbook Prime (left) vs. Zenbook (right)

Apple’s impact on the industry has already been felt. The threat of Apple bringing Retina Displays to its entire lineup forced ASUS’ hand and gave us 1080p IPS panels in the new Zenbook Primes. This will undoubtedly continue. In the early days Apple simply raised the bar for a focus on industrial design. Apple’s influence quickly expanded to touch everything from packaging to trackpads. We’re now seeing PC OEMs focus far more on experience than they ever have before. Apple isn’t the only one to thank for this, but the company is a significant factor.

The fact of the matter is the days of blaming a lack of innovation on cost or the inflexibility of one’s suppliers are over. In fact, those days are long gone. Today the MacBook Pro with Retina Display exists at a very high starting price, but make no mistake, it won’t remain there indefinitely. Apple introduced this model as the next-generation MacBook Pro because it truly is a preview of what’s to come. Maybe next year’s model won’t be any cheaper, but the one after that definitely will be. Apple has a healthy obsession with high quality displays and it will put its might behind panel suppliers until it can put forth a lineup of top to bottom Retina Displays. There’s no doubt in my mind that within the next 12 - 24 months Apple will introduce an external 4K Retina Display. Whether you love, hate or are indifferent about Apple and its products, its impact on the industry is tangible. PC OEMs now care about display quality and keyboard feel. They care about trackpads and design. There’s only one motivator in this industry stronger than Moore’s Law: experience, and the PC OEMs finally care about that too.

Apple’s success hasn’t been because it is a vertically integrated company. On the contrary, everything Apple has done Acer, Dell, HP, Intel, NVIDIA and Microsoft could have done together. Apple is successful because its competitors have all been selfishly focused on themselves rather than all coming together to build better computers. Based on my conversations with Intel and some of the OEMs at Computex earlier this month, the wake up call has been heard. Intel seems quite motivated to help its OEM partners do better. It is a bit troubling for the ecosystem that Microsoft is throwing its hat into the ring as a competitor - especially as it was Microsoft's inaction on the software side that really hurt the PC OEMs over the past several years.

For years we’ve been pushing OEMs to focus on better displays, and for years we were given cost and customers-don’t-care as excuses for why we don’t get them. That’s all starting to change.

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  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    He missed another important point. All of that was in 3 lbs. Now, the current generation starting from last summer has an external discrete graphics and optical drive connected via a thunderbolt based connector (because Apple had exclusivity) with the laptop being only 2.5 lbs.

    This isn't going to compare to the retina macbook pro though - at 15 inches 4.5 lbs is pretty impressive though I think if Sony wanted to do it they could do 4 lbs or less.
    Reply
  • deathdemon89 - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    I agree completely, I'm a proud owner of the old Z, and even today it doesn't feel the least bit dated. And the 1080p screen is holding up admirably well, with no signs of pixellation at normal viewing distances. This device was truly innovative for its time. I still don't understand why it received such mixed reviews by the press. Reply
  • Spunjji - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Mainly the price. Only Apple are allowed to charge that much for a laptop. Also, only Apple can have hot systems. Repeat ad infinitum. Reply
  • mlambert890 - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - link

    Really ridiculous comment. I can see you are bitter, as is the other mega z fan, but come on already. I worked for Sony for 5 years and love the company. I have owned probably a dozen Vaios including the top of the line last gen Z (with the SSD RAID)

    Instead of ranting and raving you need to ask yourself *why it is* that "only Apple can charge so much" and why "Anand only gives a free pass to Apple"

    You feel what exactly? That there is some grand conspiracy in play? Do you realize how ridiculous that sounds?

    WHY has Sony *lost the ability to charge a premium*? In other words WHY have they *burned all customer loyalty and good will*? I left the company back in 1999 because I saw the writing on the wall.

    You (and the other Z guy) are no different than any other apologist. Companies dont bleed marketshare and fail to sell cancer curing products (you guys are presenting the Z as "truly revolutionary" right?) for no reason. Sorry to tell you there is no "big conspiracy".

    Sony sells super high priced products into a super commoditized market and then they layer on a CRAP TON of bloatware dragging the machine to a stop, make idiot decisions like the HDMI one, and push proprietary crap *worse* than Apple ever has. All of that into the Wintel space which, sorry to tell you, was *always* driven by the cheapest possible parts at the best possible price.

    The PC industry grew *because it was cheap*. Apple *always* occupied a premium niche. I vividly remember the initial release of the Apple I, the Lisa, the Mac 128. These were all always premium products and the competition at the time (be it Commodore, Atari, Ti, or the wintel ecosystem) *always* captured share by being cheap.

    That may annoy you for some reason, but Apple has pretty much *always* held a core premium audience. The only exception was the period of insanity when Jobs had been pushed out and Scully destroyed the company. Even then, the core fans stayed.

    You two make it sound like poor Sony is a victim because the world doesnt all run out and by the Vaio Z.

    Even *without Apple* Sony would be going under, hate to tell you. Sony's problems are Sony's and the whole is *not* the sum of its parts with a laptop.
    Reply
  • solipsism - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    None of that makes sense and is, in fact, rubbish.

    Sony added 1080p because it was it was popular not because it made sense. You have a 168 PPI display on 13" machine which makes text too small to be a good experience for most users.

    They also didn't use a good quality display or add anything to the SW to make the experience good (unlike what Anand talked about in this review), they just added the single metric that was trending because of HDTVs.

    Blu-ray in a notebook has always been a silly option for most users. There is a reason the BRD adoption failed on PCs and it's not because everyone is stupid... except you. ODDs are long overdue for being removed since they take up 25% of the chassis, require them to placed at an edge reducing over 5" of port real estate and restricting design, require a lot of power, are noisy, more prone to break due to the many moving parts, are slow, are just too expensive to be feasible, and add nothing visually that most users trying to watch a movie can discern.

    Quad-SSDs? Really? That's a sensible solution for a consumer notebook?
    Reply
  • EnzoFX - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    and that really is what people don't get. It isn't just about raw specs. The package needs to be complete, polished, what have you. In this case of high dpi screens, is good scaling support, and Apple did it. Support on the software side is something they never get credit for by the Apple haters. All they can see is numbers and think "I've seen numbers like that before". Reply
  • mabellon - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    No Apple didn't do it. Just like on the iPad, they increased resolution by doubling width and height. Their software simply doesn't scale well to arbitrary higher resolution. If it was done right then Chrome would work out of the box - instead the OS 2x scales everything without increasing resolution/quality.

    To the consumer, the choice means a good experience without breaking apps. But claiming that Apple was successful simply bc of software? HA!
    Reply
  • Ohhmaagawd - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    Did you actually read the retina part of the review?

    Chrome doesn't work right because they do their own text rendering. Read the review. If an app uses the native text rendering, the app will look good (at least the text portion). They will have to update the graphical assets of course.

    BTW, Chrome Dev builds have this issue fixed.

    Windows DPI setting isn't default, so few use or even know about the setting and devs haven't made sure they work properly in the high DPI settings.

    Apple has made a move that will be short-term painful in having apps that aren't updated look a bit fuzzy. But since they made it default, this will force devs to update.
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    What do you mean Windows DPI setting isn't default? You can change it in a few clicks, but the same thing applies - if your app does not read the DPI values, then Windows can't help you. This is because windows UI is not vector based (I don't know about now, but older apps definitely not) and many applications back then were coded with hard coded pixel counts.

    When the DPI is changed, windows scales the text but the UI dimensions is controlled by the application implementation.
    Reply
  • KitsuneKnight - Saturday, July 07, 2012 - link

    On Windows, changing the DPI will generally mean a huge amount of applications will become simply unusable.

    On this Retina MBP, the worst case appears to be slightly blurry text (which was quickly updated).

    Apple's solution is a good one, because it does things in a way that should keep existing apps working fine, while allowing future developers to leverage new APIs to take advantage of the increased resolution.
    Reply

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