Achieving Retina - Redux

I've already gone over how Apple enables Retina support on OS X so I'll point you back to the 15-inch rMBP review for a deeper dive into everything Apple did here. In short, the 13's default configuration approximates a 1280 x 800 display but with 4x the number of pixels. All UI elements and things like Finder windows are the same size they would be if they were rendered on a 13.3-inch, 1280 x 800 panel, but they contain 4x the pixels (and thus look awesome). Images and other non-scaled objects are mapped 1-to-1 with panel resolution. This allows you to display a 2500 x 1400 image in actual size (1:1 mapping, without zooming out) while still having perfectly legible menus, icons and text.

If you need additional desktop real estate, Apple provides two scaled resolution modes: 1440 x 900 and 1680 x 1050. At these resolutions, the desktop is rendered at 4x the scaled resolution (1440*2 x 900*2) and then scaled down to fit the 2560 x 1600 panel. Apple wrote its own scaling and filtering algorithms to maintain consistent quality across both Intel processor graphics and NVIDIA discrete graphics (15-inch rMBP). The added scaling and filtering work means there is a performance penalty to enabling these scaled modes, but in practice it's rarely that impactful. Also since you're performing a non-integer mapping of resolution to pixels on the downscale, there is some loss in quality but once again it's not hugely noticeable thanks to Apple's filtering algorithms.

Once again, UI elements, text, windows and icons are also rendered at 4x their size so everything remains legible, but things like images and videos remain unscaled allowing you to fit more content on your screen at the same time.

Similar to the 15-inch rMBP, Apple doesn't directly expose a native 2560 x 1600 setting although there are ways around that.


In using the 13-inch rMBP I found myself frequently switching between the native 1280 x 800 and two scaled modes. For basic web browsing or reading, the 1280 x 800 setting delivered the best overall experience. Everything was easily legible from a distance and quality was great thanks to 1:1 pixel mapping. The 1440 x 900 scaled setting was perfect for a combination of photo and typing work. Text was still large enough for me to comfortably see at a distance and the added desktop real estate made multitasking much better. Finally the 1680 x 1050 setting came in handy when I had a lot of applications open at once. It's easily the most impressive setting, but you have to have pretty good eyesight to be ok with doing a lot of reading/writing in this mode.


13-inch rMBP (left) vs. 15-inch rMBP (right)

Switching between scaled resolution modes is very quick, although application and Finder windows don't retain their proportional sizes when moving between resolutions. For example, a full height window at the 1280 x 800 (Best for Retina) setting turns into a window that only takes up ~85% of the vertical height of the screen at 1440 x 900 (or ~60% at 1680 x 1050). I can understand why Apple does this, but it'd be nice to have the option to keep everything proportionally sized when moving between resolutions. Even better, I'd love to see some intelligence where only those windows that make sense to resize proportionally are touched between resolution changes.

Non-permanent image retention has been a part of both rMBPs launched thus far. Keep any static image on the screen for a long enough time and you'll see a ghost of that image even after the screen has changed. Apple attributes the image retention issues to its use of IPS based LCDs in the rMBP, however the severity of image retention can vary depending on a lot of factors. I've personally seen image retention happen on both 13-inch and 15-inch Retina MacBook Pros. In my use, image retention was never a significant issue with either the 13 or 15-inch rMBP although I suspect how bothersome it is depends a lot on the user and usage model. There have been numerous reports of LG based Retina Displays behaving worse in the image retention department than Samsung sourced parts, however I don't have access to a large enough sample size of rMBPs to really validate those claims.

Silicon: Dual-Core Only The 13-inch Retina Display in Numbers
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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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