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.

What to Buy


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  • Sabresiberian - Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - link

    Haven't been interested in anything Apple since the Lisa, but I'm actually tempted to get one of these - which is saying a lot because I'm not a fan of the company at all.

    One thing for sure; I'm sure not interested in buying a different laptop made by someone else with a lousy display! You want my business, I suggest you at least follow Apple's lead here.

    I couldn't agree with Anand more on the state of quality of monitors in general - and the fact that you can buy a (Korean) 2560x1440 monitor now for $300, including shipping from S. Korea, tells the story on affordability there.

  • orthorim - Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - link

    Compared to this review, all the others out there are more or less a variation of "ohhhh... shiny!".

    Thanks for this fantastic in-depth article, AnandTech!
  • darwiniandude - Friday, June 29, 2012 - link

    Still waiting for mine to arrive, although I've used the rMBP a fair bit in the mean time.

    Not sure why 1/3rd of the comments are about a Sony Z series, and couldn't see mention of real word battery life tests?

    Regardless, 1st gen rMBP is an awesome product, and just like with the 1st MacBook Air, this model will look terrible compared to its 2nd or 3rd gen. Can't wait.
  • danrhiggins - Saturday, June 30, 2012 - link

    I have been trying to talk myself into buying the MBR for two weeks now to replace my 2011 17" MBP (to which I added SSD) because the 17" is just a bit too large/heavy to carry around. I use the 17" mostly for my photography hobby.

    The problem is that my main computer is a 13" Macbook air and I jumped on the new 2012 MBA - which I love. So after reading your article I took my 2012 MBA down to the Apple store and put it alongside the MBR on display. Then I brought up and created a couple of matching "virtual" desktops all in full screen mode. (I used MS Excel and one of the included templates for one of the windows as that would be mostly the same on both machines.)

    Then I scrolled up and down and swiped from left to right on both machines at the same time. I wanted to see if any of the issues described here manifested themselves in this admittedly crude comparison. I tried different resolutions on the MBR. (I would not be interested in the "Best for Retina" as I would be looking for more screen real estate.) I also tried it with graphics switching turned on and off.

    Where scrolling on the MBA was very smooth, be it up/down scrolling in Safari or in Excel or side to side scrolling between desktops, the MBR was noticeably jittery in comparison. It reminded me of when my HD cable signal has a bit of interference and can't quite keep up.

    To those coming from older MBP's this may not be an issue. But having grown accustomed to the much smoother operation (IMHO) of the MBA the MBA wins. For now. Yes, they are different machines with different goals. But I don't need the extra I/O ports (1 Thunderbolt and 2 USB 3 is enough given that I use BT keyboard and trackpad) and a Thunderbolt display as a "docking station".

    I look forward to the day that the MBR will have the smooth graphics of the MBA and have addressed any other issues. Then I will get one to replace my 17" MBP. Maybe Mountain Lion and a firmware upgrade or two will clean this up. Or maybe not until the next generation or two. Then the hardware and the software (including 3rd party) will catch up.

    Thanks again for your review. I was going to buy one today. They had what I needed at the Apple Store. But because of your review I did this test and I'm glad I did. Now I'll wait. And there will be one more available for all of those anxious to upgrade.
  • marraco - Sunday, July 01, 2012 - link

    The retina display is a waste with that crappy Intel video. Reply
  • Fingalterre - Sunday, July 01, 2012 - link

    I have the Z from 2010. It is still as faster or as fast with its graphics and i620 processor as the latest Air or 13" Pro to which it is directly comparable. What the Z lacks is the multitouch ability and the scalability of the Air or Retina Pro. What I am left with is a computer whose graphics are too small to read and a mousepad too small to scroll with easily. Also, after using Windows and Lion, I think Windows 7 is just not as user friendly as OS X. The form factor of the Air and Retina Pro are also a joy when you travel, which I do much. The Mac App store, though limited compared to the IOS, also is something Sony just doesn't have.

    I have been a Windows user for 20 years after Apple lost me with their limited selection and miscues. I still have my reservations about their corporate culture, but right now, they are producing superior products, a well thought out support network, and works of beauty of art, which distinguish them from all other OEMs. Dell once did this--my wife kept her Dell 5150 laptop for 7 years, only to trade it in for a 17 in XPS which didn't work and which was not well supported,, and then to a Mac Book Air in 2010, which has met her every need (as a high end IT security person). My Retina Pro arrives on July 20 and my Z is going to Ebay to pay for it.
  • negativeions - Monday, July 02, 2012 - link

    What is the point in retina? Who cares. I mean it's ok, but the scaling is so utterly stupid it's beyond belief. Why in God's name don't Apple just program proper resolution independence into OSX... Then you could have any bloody user space you want with any resolution. Reply
  • Steelbom - Monday, July 02, 2012 - link

    What's the point? It looks fantastic. And why is the scaling stupid? It's a pretty great way to handle it. Reply
  • gunny2k6 - Tuesday, July 03, 2012 - link
    check the EUROCOM Panther 3.0

    talk about apple making high end partts in laptops i call BS ... this compnay and many others like Clevo and Lenovo before they bourght IBM's pc hardware side ... have been putting high end things in laptops since the BLOODY Pentium 4 Northwood !!!!

    THEY ALL BEEN DOING IT FOR YEARS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! before apple moved to intel !

    yes not for everyone as there big heavy and expensive what jobs did was bring those peoples ides to the masses !! when they moved to Intel .... they kept the high price tag from the PowerPC to the cheaper to make Intel based system and then used that spare cash for R&D to make the above ideas work for the masses !!
  • gunny2k6 - Tuesday, July 03, 2012 - link

    for got to say let me guess a years time we will see apple do something like this and all the praise will go to Apple for "inventing it " Reply

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