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

    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 2, 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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