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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  • blackmagnum - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    New super resolutions are coming to notebook/ laptop computers. Thanks to Apple and their forward looking business sense. Wonder when it comes to PCs..... with Windows 8? Reply
  • Fleeb - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    I don't get it, I mean, what if another manufacturer thought of the idea first. I guess it wouldn't sell then. Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    It probably wouldn't happen since other manufacturers are more focused on cutting corners and driving costs down as much as possible. Great for making their products more accessible but not so good for putting in bleeding edge technology. Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    Rubbish, there are plenty of other companies who are far more innovative than Apple whose machines look basic in comparison - Sony's older Z series had a very high resolution 13.1in 1080p screen, blu-ray writer, quad SSDs in RAID 0, integrated and discrete graphics card and the fastest of te dual core i7's while still smaller and lighter than Apple's 13in machines and that was a couple of years ago. Apple aren't even close to touching most of its technology and probably never will.

    John
    Reply
  • tayb - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    Link to prove the existence of that product? It does not seem possible to put all of that into a 13" chassis that is thinner than the incredibly thin MB. Honestly, it doesn't possible to fit all of that into a 13" model in general. Reply
  • DeciusStrabo - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    http://store.sony.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Ca...

    and that's the third iteration of it, 1080p 13.3" - they did it 4 years ago already.
    Reply
  • tayb - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    That doesn't have 4 SSDs, which was the biggest red flag in my eyes. Reply
  • Turbobusa311Hp - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    I remember that laptop. It didn't have 4 separate SSD's like you are thinking, but individual chips in a RAID 0. The Signature model was like $4700 though. Reply
  • DJTryHard - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    It had quad Raid 0, 4 separate chips.

    http://www.tomshardware.com/news/sony-vaio-z-quad-...

    To summarize:
    Core i7 620M
    13.3inch 1080p matte panel
    256gb ssd in quad raid 0
    6gb ram
    geforce GT 330M w/ 1gb vram
    optical drive

    and all this was in 2010...
    Reply
  • extide - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    i7 620M is Dualcore Arrandale, not Quad.

    Anyways, yeah, that laptop is pretty sweet for it's day.
    Reply

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