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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  • Ohhmaagawd - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    It's a first step. There will be retina monitors in the future. Reply
  • Freakie - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Lolwut... Monitors that have great quality color are already high resolution... They were pushing major pixels before it was popular ;) Reply
  • vegemeister - Monday, July 2, 2012 - link

    With the exception of the (discontinued and originally $10,000) IBM T221 and it's derivatives, no desktop monitor has resolution exceeding 2560x1600, and that resolution is only available in the 30" form factor. Reply
  • Solandri - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    I have the lower-end version of that particular laptop ("only" a 1600x900 screen, 2x64 GB SSD). I wish I'd opted for the 1080p screen. 1600p wide isn't really enough to put two apps side-by-side. I do that all the time on my 1920x1200 external monitor though.

    The screen is a glossy TN panel, but is pretty much the best TN panel I've used. My desktop monitor is IPS so I can see its limitations. But when I'm using the Z in public, the most frequently comment I get is how beautiful the screen is. Sony also does a stellar job with their anti-reflective coatings. it's a glossy screen, but I almost never see reflections (except in sunlight). Colors are a bit too saturated, and the custom color profile I made tones it down. Unfortunately none of the reviews on it tested its gamut. But from photo editing, it's got a wider gamut than most high-end laptop displays I've seen. And it's blindingly bright too - perfectly usable in direct sunlight at max brightness. I rarely run it over half brightness.

    The quad-SSD was because the laptop came out before SATA3 SSDs were available (the SATA3 spec had only been finalized a few months prior). 2.5" SSDs were already hitting the limits of SATA2 (3 Gbps) and the only way to get around it was by putting multiple SSDs in a RAID 0 array. So that's what Sony did. The 4-SSD version benchmarks at 430-500 MB/s sequential read/write. Not too shabby in 2010 using 150 MB/s mSATA stick SSDs on SATA2.

    Optical drives are more a matter of preference. I end up burning a lot of DVDs so it's definitely convenient. But if you don't do that or watch movies, then yeah I can see it being superfluous. As much as I'd like to see media being distributed on USB sticks, their cost of $1-$2 for 4GB vs. a few cents for a DVD means it's not happening yet. Do note that the Z tops out at 2.9 pounds. It's lighter than the first and second gen Macbook Air despite having a DVD/Bluray drive. That's the second most common comment I get - "It's so light!"
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    The 1080p panel on the Z is IPS. And it's not glossy - you don't have a glass on your laptop. I believe this is more for weight reasons than anything else. Reply
  • maratus - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    No, it's not IPS. Reply
  • Solidstate89 - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    You have to be the most ignorant jackass I've ever seen. You've basically never even heard of that product until now yet that doesn't stop you from making baseless accusation after baseless accusation.

    Get the fuck over yourself. And Windows has always handled resolution scaling better than OS X, and it still does.
    Reply
  • ananduser - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    In 2010 Sony offered a 13" MBP equivalent with matte 1080p TN panel(like all the other macbooks). It had a BluRay built besides a quad raid SSD option(that still exists). The current Z has the video card inside an external dock, it is as slim as the thinnest ultrabook with a full voltage CPU. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    Sony offered it in 2008 :) Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    You are not applying the correct context.

    1080p is okay because windows has DPI scaling - though I agree with Anand that this doesn't work with apps that aren't written correctly. But the same applies to OS X. OS X handles it better because of vector based UI.

    It is an IPS display with 92% color gamut that Anandtech called amazing. Don't even try to pretend it sucks: http://www.anandtech.com/show/5530/sony-vaio-z2-ev...

    Blu-ray is not a default option, it is an extra configuration that you'd have to pay for. This isn't Apple were talking about - even Sony has typically more options than Apple.

    Quad-SSDs. Yes. You need to remember that his happened back in 2008 when SSDs were not doing 500mb/sec. This was back when a quad SSD only netted you about 300mb/sec and before TRIM was prevalent.
    Reply

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