Silicon: Dual-Core Only

The biggest disappointment to me personally with the 13-inch rMBP announcement was the lack of any quad-core CPU options. Although they carry the same Core i5/i7 branding as the chips offered in the 15-inch rMBP, these parts are strictly dual-core. With a smaller chassis, the amount of heat Apple's cooling solution can effectively dissipate goes down. While the thermal budget in the 15-inch rMBP was 45W, the move to a 13-inch chassis drops it to 35W. Thankfully, Intel does offer 35W quad-core CPUs, a first for Intel starting with the Ivy Bridge introduction. Unfortunately Apple didn't seem keen on using them. For starters, having a quad-core upgrade option would likely add complexity to the lineup, and secondly the 35W quad-core parts are cost prohibitive. At almost 70% more expensive than the dual-core Core i5 Apple used in the standard configuration 13-inch rMBP, I can see why Apple wouldn't want to throw a 35W quad-core CPU in for free. At the same time, I would've at least liked to see a build-to-order quad-core option.

13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display CPU Comparison
  2.5GHz dual-core 2.9GHz dual-core
Standard On 13-inch rMBP Optional Upgrade
Intel Model Core i5-3210M Core i7-3520M
Base Clock Speed 2.5GHz 2.9GHz
Max SC Turbo 3.1GHz 3.6GHz
Max DC Turbo 2.9GHz 3.4GHz
L3 Cache 3MB 4MB
AES-NI Yes Yes
TXT No Yes
VT-x Yes Yes
VT-d Yes Yes
TDP 35W 35W
Processor Graphics Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000
GPU Clock (Base/Max) 650/1100MHz 650/1250MHz

By default both configurations of the 13-inch rMBP come with an Intel Core i5 3210M. That puts base clock at 2.5GHz with max single core turbo at 3.1GHz. Max turbo with both cores active is 2.9GHz. Hyper Threading is enabled on the chip, which presents OS X with the ability to schedule to four logical cores despite there only being two physical cores on the CPU.

Apple offers a single BTO CPU upgrade to a Core i7 3520M. Frequencies go up with the i7 upgrade (2.9GHz base, 3.6GHz max), which can definitely come in handy in keeping the system feeling as snappy as possible. The shared L3 cache is also a bit larger on the 3520M (4MB vs. 3MB).

Both CPU options integrate Intel's HD 4000 graphics core. Base and turbo GPU clocks are nearly identical to the HD 4000 in the 15-inch model (650/1100MHz).


The 13-inch rMBP, image courtesy iFixit

The move to the smaller chassis also meant ditching the discrete GPU. Although Apple could have technically included a discrete GPU, it would've come at the cost of a smaller battery (dGPU needs more PCB area which would take real estate away from the battery). The loss of the discrete GPU isn't actually as big of a deal as you'd normally think. Intel's HD 4000, the only processor graphics option on the 13-inch rMBP, is clearly capable of driving a 5MP display since it does just that in the 15-inch rMBP. That very same GPU, running at similar clocks (1.1GHz vs. 1.25GHz max GPU turbo), only has to drive 4MP with the 13-inch rMBP.

The bigger issue with ditching the discrete GPU is gaming performance. Although Intel's processor graphics have come a long way since the days when it was unusable, we're still roughly two years out from Intel's graphics being what I'd consider desirable. Although it's possible to game on the 13-inch rMBP, most modern titles won't be able to post good frame rates on any reasonable resolution. Although the GeForce GT 650M in the 15-inch rMBP could actually drive some titles at the display's native resolution, the same really can't be said for Intel's HD 4000 in the 13-inch system.

I firmly believe that Apple designed the rMBPs with Haswell in mind, and the 13-inch model is the embodiment of that. With Haswell, the lack of a discrete GPU shouldn't matter as much although if you're not a gamer I'm not sure the lack of a dGPU is really an issue today either.

Introduction & Form Factor Perfection? Achieving Retina - Redux
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  • James5mith - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    One of the biggest advances the Windows OS made was moving from a strictly CPU driven windows management interface, to a GPU accelerated one. (Vista, Win7, Win8)

    It stopped things like the classic "trail of artifact windows" you could do when your old WindowsXP and earlier machines were bogged down. Since the desktop was drawn by the CPU, it wouldn't refresh properly until some CPU cycles were freed up.

    Seems Apple did not learn from the past, and is now doomed to repeat it.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    Actually Apple introduced GPU accelerated window composition with Quartz Extreme nearly 10 years ago, a few years ahead of Microsoft.

    However there are several layers to GPU acceleration. The earliest solutions could do window composition on the GPU, but the contents of the windows themselves were still generated by the CPU. Since then both MS and Apple have been moving more and more of the workload on to the GPU as it makes sense to do so. But no one is 100% offloaded, so the CPU still plays a part and consequently can still be a bottleneck.
    Reply
  • michal1980 - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    The bias is strong Reply
  • solipsism - Saturday, November 17, 2012 - link

    Yes, the bias is strong... in you.

    <ul><li><a href="http://www.anandtech.com/tag/windows-8>http://w...
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    But not yet. One maybe two generations to go before perfect.

    1. One obvious use of this will be to watch movies on go (especially on long business trips) but once again Apple ignores 1080p resolution (if there someone at Apple who hates this resolution, because they try and ignore it in every device they produce)

    2. Card reader is flaky - is it because of chassis flex or just a bad reader?

    3. storage needs to be bigger, I gues next generation will be 256gb.

    4. A bit extra horse power obviously needed, but probably not a lot.

    The real question though is as tablets get better, is there any point in the 13" Mac?
    Reply
  • xTRICKYxx - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    What software do you use to test the framerates of the browser? Reply
  • Jorange - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    $1700 and laggy UI. Come on Apple fans admit that you buy their products for the image, and for fear of being seen as gauche in the eyes of your vapid clique. The best Apple zealots are those whom purchase the things on credit, look how wealthy I am, whilst paying off the monthly installments:) Reply
  • boblozano - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    This is the first review that I've read that captures the essence of this machine -- it is a machine of excellent balance, and in that balance lies it's real reason for being.

    Came from a mid-2011 mbair (1.8 i7, 256gb), and before that a mid-2009 mbp 15. Workload is a mix of writing, photo editing (lr, ps, etc.), and some video creation. Lots of travel. Went to the mbair after good friends with a heavy dev emphasis swore it was excellent. It was/is.

    Considered the 15 rMBP since the price is effectively the same, and there is obviously more of just about everything. But size for travel and general mobility was a significant concern (the air allowed me to switch from a full-size backpack to a much smaller messenger bag).

    The reason why I've settled on 13 as just about perfect for my present usage is simple: with the increasing number of full-screen apps, 13" is just about perfect for writing in a full screen, while 15 just feels overwrought. Even better, with retina the photo and video editing remains very usable.

    With that as a background, the 13" rMBP was a real step up in everything that I liked about the air, with hardly any compromise (small bit of weight). Ended up with the 2.9 I7, 512gb. Everything I do is faster, better (though definitely not cheaper), and that screen just makes you smile when opening it up to work. It is good enough that I'm even going back to using the device open on a stand (trying the new twelve south height-adjustable stand) when docked.

    Sure it would be nice to have 4 cores and a discrete gpu (particularly for rendering), but as of now there's no doubt it would have compromised mobility and/or battery life. About the only indisputable criticism is one of value, but such is life.

    Undoubtedly (and always) there'll be something much better down the road, maybe even only a year from now. Good. But as of today, this is the best computing device I've ever used on a daily basis.
    Reply
  • caleblloyd - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    Anand - the Primary Storage for the 13in MBA that you have listed on the table on the first page should be 128GB. Reply
  • repoman27 - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    "In reality USB 3.0 is good for about 400 - 500MB/s (3.2Gbps - 4.0Gbps)..."

    The actual reality is that USB 3.0 provides a physical layer gross bit rate of 5 Gbit/s, and a physical layer net bit rate of 4 Gbit/s due to 8b/10b encoding. The net bit rate delivered to the application layer is unlikely to ever exceed 80% of that, or 400 MB/s, in the real world. Even using UASP, which clearly looks to be the case in these tests, I've never seen peak SuperSpeed USB transfer rates much in excess of 350 MB/s. USB 3.0 is good for 300 - 350 MB/s with the hardware shipping at this point, although we may see the upper bound approach 400 MB/s in the future.

    "This is Intel's most capable Thunderbolt SKU as it takes four PCIe 2.0 lanes combined with DisplayPort and muxes them into four Thunderbolt channels (2 up/2 down) with two DP outputs."

    This sentence has some problems as well. The DSL3510L has connections on the back end for 4 PCIe 2.0 lanes, 2 DisplayPort 1.1a sources and 1 DisplayPort 1.1a sink. On the front side it has four 10 Gbit/s, full-duplex Thunderbolt channels, 2 per port (i.e. 2 up/2 down per port or 4 up/4 down per controller). Each port can also operate in legacy DisplayPort signaling mode when a DisplayPort device is connected directly.

    On another note, it's frustrating that Apple failed again at the SDXC card reader, and it appears to be a mechanical issue once again. iFixit's teardown photos seem to have omitted it, but if Apple used the same controller as in the 15-inch MBPR, then it's a Broadcom controller that supports SD 3.0 features such as SDXC and UHS-I paired with a PCIe 1.1 x1 back end. This should make it far more capable than a USB 2.0 based solution, but no, instead they made it useless because half the time it doesn't read a card at all when inserted.
    Reply

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