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

    Sony can't exactly add better DPI scaling to windows, can they? That's Apple's advantage as being both the OS vendor and hardware vendor - better integration. Reply
  • ka_ - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    "Sony added 1080p because it was popular, not because it made sense"

    What a ridiculously ignorant and biased statement! Sony did surely not place a blue-ray players in the device for a reason neither... To place a 1080p display in the product made perfect sense, retina display on the other hand is a marketing buzzword. I am sure it looks better, but really - you wont find movies or much content that benefit from the retina display - they display will likely slightly distort the movie though you can say the distortion is so small you wont notice... 1080p on the other hand...
    Reply
  • Donkeyz - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    Movies are not what the retina pro is targeting. Professionals of video and imaging need screen estate on a portable device as they travel. That is what the retina is for.

    We are talking about a 2012 device not 2008, but Sony use to be the best only because they played by marketing. Giving the best of the best and the looks.

    Why apple works? Because they focus on individual needs and have excellent support, which may be why people are willing to pay excessive $$.

    I own a Sony Z and my sister owns a MBP and I must say that Sony took 16 days to get the Z repaired where as MBP only took 2 days.

    Some people may prefer a bluray drive but I don't use my drive at all. So it really depends, I'm replacing the Z with this MBP retina purely because of the screen estate for work and support.

    Btw, as far as pricing goes, it's not expensive at all. To configure a pc of it's calibre would cost just as much and would most likely be made of plastic.
    Reply
  • Freakie - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    To configure a PC that would handily kick this things ass would be cheaper, actually. To configure a Windows laptop that has a 6 core Desktop CPU and the best mobile GPU (as well as two hard drives) would cost the same as the basic model of this. Throw in 2 more hard drives for a total of 4 hard drives, and add a second GPU in SLI or CrossfireX, and you're at the price of the high end model of this.

    And yeah, things get repaired faster with Apple, though I bet you I could have fixed your Sony in a matter of hours. Difference is you can go to someone in real life for cheap to get your Mac looked at, but if you actually know what the f*ck you're doing, you don't need to take any laptop to anyone.

    And if you are a media editor focused more on screen real estate instead of quality, then you fail miserably. Screen space comes second to color representation, space, and accuracy as well as ease of transitioning between different lighting and color profiles. Do displays that have amazing color representation come in high resolution? Yes! Because they are great things to pair together. Do high resolution displays have great color representation? NO! As is proven by this rMBP, just because you have high resolution doesn't mean that you have great colors. And compared to those color displays that have a high resolution, this rMBP screen sucks royal ass for media editing.

    You'd be much better off getting a faster PC laptop and using the money you save on a screen that will actually enable your media to come out much better (if you are a media editor). Not only that, but your PC will get the work done faster than the MBP (better hardware, cheaper price)
    Reply
  • vegemeister - Monday, July 02, 2012 - link

    >laptop that has a 6 core Desktop CPU and the best mobile GPU (as well as two hard drives)

    Yeah, but that would be retarded.
    Reply
  • mlambert890 - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - link

    You understand that the concept of a laptop is to be portable right? WHAT are you talking about? The PC you're describing I own - AWM18x. It is 13 lbs.

    This is like saying, essentially, that size and weight (and noise) are irrelevant dimensions in a notebook.

    They are the *only* relevant dimensions. And this is like horsepower. A 600HP car isnt "a mere" 150HP more than a 450HP car. That 150 extra HP is HARD and EXPENSIVE.

    Similarly, people like you, who say "well that PC would "only" be 3 lbs heavier!" are just displaying how clueless you are with what matters in this segment.

    Show me this mythical PC laptop that is 4.5lbs with discrete graphics, SSD, quad core i7 and 15" 1080p screen or greater yet is much cheaper than the MBPr. Let's see it.
    Reply
  • ka_ - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    "Why apple works? Because they focus on individual needs and have excellent support, which may be why people are willing to pay excessive $$."

    Fine, so you say MBP is a niche product, that is meant for niches such as video editing, graphics design and so on. Your CEO, sales teams, financial staff and so on will not go buy it because they have no need for this and will not fall for the hype of having the next buzzword "Retina Scan" which they have absolutely no need for. Sure I believe you...

    1080p on the other hand make much more business sense as Sony not only sell technology like Blue Ray players but is in the Music and Video industries too. They get paid for each movie sold on blue ray too - and 1080p is today mainstream, not niche!

    I highly doubt more than a small percentage of those who will buy the MBP actually get it for a real need and not due to marketing hype...
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    That's the issue. When you have a 2880 x 1800 screen, you forget that most of the internet users are on 1368 x 768. and 1600 x 900. What you design may look awesome to you but it does not scale well for your audience.

    For print work, I agree 2880 x 1800 is awesome.
    Reply
  • Ohhmaagawd - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    " retina display on the other hand is a marketing buzzword. I am sure it looks better, but really - you wont find movies or much content that benefit from the retina display"

    Umm. What about ANYTHING with text?

    What about Photos?

    What about ability to edit 1080p in full res with all your editing controls on the screen next to it?

    What about Photoshop?
    Reply
  • Freakie - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    What about photo and video editors that don't use the display on any laptop, period? Media editors want color quality first, not resolution, which this screen fails at. Media editors will still use their $1,000 monitors at their desk to do their edits. Reply

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