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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  • repoman27 - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    And just to further clarify, Thunderbolt does not really mux DP and PCIe signals, it takes the packets from both protocols and transports them via a common switching fabric, so that wording is slightly misleading. Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    In my time with these, I find there is just a bit of UI lag to most things compared to an Air or the regular Macbook Pros, most of the time it's hard to even notice unless they are side by side. The calender flip animation and sometimes the green button re-size are particularly painful, you can literally count out the frames on the former. On the 15" you can force it to use the dGPU on AC power which fixes that, but there is no fallback for the 13". Reply
  • tipoo - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    Speaking of which, if switching to the dGPU fixes some of the lag does that mean more of the rendering pipeline is given to the Nvidia chip unlike the HD4000, as otherwise that would put a hole in the single threaded performance theory? Reply
  • sputnik78 - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    "There's not much you can do here other than wait for faster hardware or buy the fastest CPU available on whatever system you're considering. "

    Yes there is. Use Firefox or Chrome.

    I could not believe the depth of detail in the investigation of the scrolling in Safari issue without the simple test to swap out with Firefox or Chrome and see how much of the problem is Safari rather than the OS/Hardware.

    With Firefox, you can enable and disable GPU accelerated UI as well, to see if that helps or hurts.

    My experience with all three browsers is that each can have various performance issues with some websites and situations, but that when one does, one of the others tends to be OK.
    Reply
  • MrCromulent - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    Firefox doesn't even have Retina support yet, does it? Last time I heard it was planned for version 18.

    Disabling hardware acceleration in Firefox would probably just result in even worse performance since it is enabled by default and the CPU single-thread performance is going to get even more maxed out otherwise.
    Reply
  • paravorheim - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    Dear Anand,

    you mentioned in both the Intel S3700 and 13" rMBP reviews that OS X did not respond well to high IO latency. Could you expand on what you meant by that? Or is the explanation too complicated to put into layman's terms?
    Reply
  • AmdInside - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    I don't see how this is a much better option for someone who travels a lot and uses it mainly for typing. I love my MBA and only wish would be that it had more RAM and IPS display. If i had to do it all over again, I think I would still buy the MBA over the rMBP. If I had more money than I knew what to do with, I guess I'd go with the rMBP though. Reply
  • thefizzle656 - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    IMO what is wrong with the 13" rMBP is not just that the word "Pro" doesn't at all describe the hardware specs and capabilities of the machine, but that it is so so overpriced for what you get. Even Apple Fanbois are have been criticizing Apple for the complete ripoff that the 13" rMBP is. Reply
  • spronkey - Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - link

    You know, I have to agree with those who say there's a bit of Apple bias going on here. So many important criteria here have been glossed over - remember the pricing of this machine puts it far out of reach for most 'consumers', who go and buy $500-700 dell machines. It's a high-end part for a high-end prosumer/professional.

    The bottom line is - 8GB of RAM as a maximum ceiling (note - my *2008* MacBook Pro had the same limit) is far too low, and Anand you of all people should know that in the usable life of this machine (lets say 3 years), that limit is going to be hit - especially when it's not uncommon for web browsers with media-heavy content to eat 2+GB. And the move to 64-bit for stuff like the Adobe creative suite, which is a common use case for this particular machine, will eat even more RAM. I'm running 8GB on my MBP at the moment and I max it out very frequently.

    I'm also not sure how you can recommend this over the 13" Air. It's much more expensive, the hardware is largley similar, performance isn't *that* much better, it doesn't offer anything in terms of upgradability other than Thunderbolt connectivity, and it's bigger and heavier. Not to mention in the real world, in 2012, it's a laggier experience.

    Now, lets imagine an alternate universe where Apple decided not to shave quite so much off the size of the previous 13" pro, and instead gave us a quad core i5/i7 and a couple of RAM slots. Perhaps even a dedicated GPU and a 2.5" bay. Now that would be an improvement. What we have here is an expensive Macbook Air with a pretty display for text, that makes almost everything else look awful.
    Reply
  • seapeople - Saturday, November 17, 2012 - link

    When will we stop the insanity with this complaint about memory. Times are different, memory requirements are not going to quadruple again in the next four years. The world is not gearing up for Microsoft Gargantuan 9 which will require 8GB of RAM to load the desktop. If anything the world is going more mobile, and memory requirements will likely stagnate. Consider than an Ipad has just one GB of RAM, and they are selling about as many of those as casual consumer PC's nowadays, and you can see where we're heading.

    Furthermore, any browser worth its salt that's pushing 2GB of RAM based on some standard media heavy tasks will drop that RAM in an instant without a huge user experience impact if you start nearing a system limit. It's just caching everything in sight because it sees that you have 16 GB of RAM; it doesn't mean your system would grind to a halt with only 8!
    Reply

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