The Design

The problem with being on the forefront of design is every iteration is expected to significantly outdo the one before it. The unibody MacBook Pro design took build quality to a new level for Apple. By constructing all parts of the machine that you generally interact with out of the same piece of aluminum, Apple significantly reduced the amount of flex and creaks you’d encounter during normal use.

The next-gen MacBook Pro chassis doesn’t revolutionize the design, but it does make some significant evolutionary improvements. The most tangible impact as I’ve already mentioned is the reduction in size and weight of the machine. At its thickest part, the 13-inch MacBook Air is actually a little thicker than the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro. Unlike the MacBook Air however, the rMBP does not feature a tapered design. Instead you get a constant thickness which is definitely reminiscent of the previous design.

The backlit keyboard and glass covered trackpad remain, although the key travel has been reduced somewhat - likely to help thin down the chassis. It's not worse, just different in my opinion.

The reduction in thickness also comes at the expense of a missing optical drive and no mechanical storage. Once again Apple has opted to use its own custom form factor and custom SATA connector for the NAND based storage in the rMBP. You’ll hear no complaints from me on the move away from mechanical storage as I’ve been recommending SSDs as upgrades for the past few years. The battery continues to be integrated but it’s no longer easily user removable as the custom cells are now glued to the chassis. A few years down the road your rMBP will have to take a trip to the Apple store (or a clever third party service center) to get its battery replaced.


The MacBook Pro with Retina Display, Image Courtesy iFixit

This is the first Pro appliance that Apple has ever produced. The CPU, GPU, DRAM, battery, display and, for now, the SSD are either non-removable or at least not user-upgradeable. On a $499 iPad that’s one thing, but on a $2199 professional notebook that’s a completely different matter. I can even make an exception for the MacBook Air as it is more of a consumer device, where computing needs have largely slowed down over the past several years. But for a professional machine, to have such a fixed configuration seems very worrisome.

MacBook Pro with Retina Display Comparison
  15-inch Mid 2012 MacBook Pro MacBook Pro with Retina Display
Dimensions 0.95 H x 14.35 W x 9.82" D 0.71 H x 14.13 W x 9.73" D
Weight 5.6 lbs (2.54 kg) 4.46 lbs (2.02 kg)
CPU Core i7-3615QM Core i7-3720QM Core i7-3615QM
L3 Cache 6MB 6MB 6MB
Base CPU Clock 2.3GHz 2.6GHz 2.3GHz
Max CPU Turbo 3.3GHz 3.6GHz 3.3GHz
GPU Intel HD 4000 + NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M
GPU Memory 512MB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5
System Memory 4GB DDR3-1600 8GB DDR3-1600 8GB DDR3L-1600
Primary Storage 500GB 5400RPM HDD 750GB 5400RPM HDD 256GB SSD
Optical Drive Y Y N
Display Size 15.4-inches
Display Resolution 1440 x 900 2880 x 1800
Thunderbolt Ports 1 2
USB Ports 2 x USB 3.0
Other Ports 1 x Firewire 800, 1 x Audio Line in, 1 x Audio Line out, SDXC reader, Kensington Lock slot SDXC reader, HDMI out, headphone out
Battery Capacity 77.5 Wh 95 Wh
Price $1799 $2199 $2199

Apple has definitely made accommodations to make this unupgradeable reality more palatable. Sure the primary silicon is fixed, but all Retina MacBook Pro configurations ship with a minimum of 8GB of DDR3L-1600 memory. The only available upgrade is a move to 16GB, which will surely suit most needs for at least a few years to come (if not more).

The SSD is physically removable although there isn’t presently a source of 3rd party upgrades. I suspect we will see some in the future although there are always concerns about any legal claims to Apple’s unique form factor and physical interface. Apple’s concession here is it offers as much NAND as is physically possible today: up to 768GB if you’re willing to pay the handsome upgrade fee.

We’ve long given up on upgrading mobile CPUs or GPUs, and more recently abandoning the removable battery in favor of increasing capacity and reducing form factors is a trade off we’ve accepted as well. Apple has tried to help on the memory and SSD sides but the whole package is still very...fixed.

Despite all of this my only real complaint about Apple’s fixed configuration is the $2199 spec comes with too little storage by default. If I want to carelessly use my machine and not worry about regularly deleting unused files I find that I need 512GB of storage. At 256GB it’s too easy to run out of space, particularly if I’m on the road and dealing with lots of photos and videos. If you’re like me then you’re shoehorned into getting the $2799 configuration as there’s no way to just upgrade the size of the SSD in the $2199 model. And if you’re spending $2799 you might as well get the 16GB memory upgrade, if you can convince yourself that you’re not going to buy the Haswell version next year.

Retina MacBook Pro Silicon: One Big Happy Family

Powering the Retina Display MacBook Pro is Intel’s latest and greatest quad-core Core i7. A part of the new 22nm Ivy Bridge family the Intel silicon in the system is well done as always. The default configuration ships with a 2.3GHz quad-core offering, while the upgraded option is clocked at 2.6GHz. Apple offers one more upgrade at 2.7GHz while upping the L3 cache to 8MB. Since these are i7s all of them have Hyper Threading enabled, making the major difference between parts frequency and cache size in the case of the most upgraded part.

Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display CPU Comparison
  2.3GHz quad-core 2.6GHz quad-core 2.7GHz quad-core
Intel Model Core i7-3615QM Intel Core i7-3720QM Intel Core i7-3820QM
Base Clock Speed 2.3GHz 2.6GHz 2.7GHz
Max SC Turbo 3.3GHz 3.6GHz 3.7GHz
Max DC Turbo 3.2GHz 3.5GHz 3.6GHz
Max QC Turbo 3.1GHz 3.4GHz 3.5GHz
L3 Cache 6MB 6MB 8MB
AES-NI Yes Yes Yes
VT-x Yes Yes Yes
VT-d Yes Yes Yes
TDP 45W 45W 45W
Processor Graphics Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000
GPU Clock (Base/Max) 650/1250MHz 650/1250MHz 650/1250MHz

Turbo Boost is supported and active on all options. As always I verified its support in OS X as well as its functional operation:

889A refers to the max number of speed bins supported by Turbo Boost for 4, 3, 2 and 1 active core, respectively, in hex. For example, the 2.6GHz base clock of the Core i7 in my test system can turbo up a maximum of 8 bins with three/four cores active (2.6GHz + 800MHz = 3.4GHz), or 9 bins with 2 cores active (3.5GHz) or 10 bins (A in hex) with 1 core active (3.6GHz). Just as with previous mobile Macs, CPU clocks remain unchanged regardless of whether the system is running on AC or battery power.


Intel's quad-core 22nm Ivy Bridge

All of the CPU options feature Intel’s HD 4000 graphics, which handles the majority of graphics duties unless you fire up an application that triggers the discrete GPU. All of the rMBPs feature NVIDIA’s GeForce GT 650M equipped with 1GB of GDDR5. Apple went aggressive on the Kepler implementation and ships a full 384 core GK107 in the rMBP. The GPU clock is set at a very aggressive 900MHz with a 1254MHz memory clock. I do appreciate that there’s no variance in GPU/memory configuration across all of the Retina MacBook Pro options, it greatly simplifies the purchasing experience.

Introduction & Portability Ports & Expansion
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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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