MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina display £2299
22nd Jun 2012 | 08:19
Apple's new high end notebook has a stunning display but it's near impossible to upgrade
Apple's new MacBook Pro with Retina display takes a new look at the high-end, pro-user notebook. Launched at the Worldwide Developer's Conference 2012 (WWDC 2012), it breaks with numerous traditions and leaves behind several legacy technologies.
Although the Apple laptop shares a lot of features with the entry-level MacBook Air range, it gives a high-end performance and reinvents the pro-level notebook for graphic artists, photographers and video editors.
The new Apple MacBook Pro's most exciting new feature is, of course, the Retina display. With a 2880 x 1800 resolution at 220 pixels per inch, it crams over 5.1 million pixels into its 15.4-inch screen. That's over three million more than an HD TV.
The pixel density is so high that at normal viewing distance, your eyes can't distinguish between individual pixels, so text and images look really sharp and clear. According to Apple, it's the world's highest resolution notebook display.
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Looking at a perfectly good monitor or notebook after using the Retina MacBook Pro can be a painful experience. Screens you were happy with before look second rate when you've seen the Retina display. Take a trip to your local Apple store or stockist and have a play on a MacBook Pro with a Retina display, then take a look at an iMac or non-Retina notebook. The difference is astonishing.
Of course, you only get the full benefit from a Retina display while using applications that have been optimised for it. Unoptimised apps are upscaled to prevent their tools and text appearing really small. They look fine until you compare them to optimised applications.
Open a web page in both Safari (optimised) and Chrome (not optimised) on the Retina MacBook Pro, and Google's browser looks really tatty next to Apple's. That's not to say it's actually tatty. Compare it to your regular screen and you see an upscaled app is no worse. But Retina-optimised applications are so clear and crisp they make everything else look shoddy.
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Naturally, more and more software will be Retina-optimised over time. OS X 10.7 Lion and its bundled applications are optimised already, as are iPhoto, iMovie and, of course, Aperture. New versions ofPhotoshop and AutoCAD are in the pipeline, and no doubt games developers will want to get the most out of the new display too. Diablo 3 has already been optimised - we hope more will follow.
As well as the Retina resolution, the display also benefits from a revised design. The LCD glass is now directly integrated into the unibody casing, with the cover glass dropped. This gives 75% less reflection, and 29% better contrast.
It's also thin. Very thin. The new MacBook Pro with Retina display is 25% thinner and 1.1lbs lighter than the 15-inch late 2011 MacBook Pro. It's even slightly lighter than the 13-inch last generation MacBook Pro, and almost as thin as the MacBook Air.
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A few changes had to be made to accommodate this ultra-thin form factor. The MagSafe power connector has been slimmed and renamed MagSafe 2; adaptors are available if you want to use your old power supply units or the Thunderbolt display.
See the new Retina-ready MacBook Pro side by side with the 2011 version, to compare:
The Ethernet and FireWire 800 ports proved too big to include, but Apple has released adaptors that fit the notebook's two Thunderbolt ports. The SDXC card reader is retained and an HDMI port has been added, and the two USB ports are now USB 3.0.
Like the similarly-thin MacBook Air, the new MacBook Pro with Retina display dispenses with the optical drive, and uses solid state storage instead of a hard drive.
Being a high-end luxury laptop, with prices starting at £1,799 in the UK and $2,199 in the US, the MacBook Pro with Retina display also boasts some impressive specifications.
The mid-2012 refresh of Apple's laptops brought us six new MacBook Pros; two 13-inch models, two 15-inch versions and two with 15-inch Retina displays. It's the latter we're interested in here.
The cheaper of the two Retina MacBook Pros features a 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, with the top-of-the-range model running at 2.6GHz. These are new Intel Ivy Bridge processors, the third generation Core iX chips.
Like their predecessors, they can HyperThread, running two threads on each of their four cores. When demand for processor power is great, they can reallocate unused resources to temporarily increase their running speed.
Under Turbo Boost, the chips used in the MacBook Pro with Retina display can reach speeds of 3.3GHz and 3.6GHz respectively. Buy the high-end model from the Apple Store online and you can upgrade to a 2.7GHz processor (3.7GHz under Turbo Boost) as a custom option.
The new Ivy Bridge chips feature improved integrated graphics. The new built-in Intel HD Graphics 4000 chipset is pretty powerful in its own right, but when needs are high, graphics processing automatically switches to the discrete GPU, an Nvidia GeForce GT 650M with 1GB of GDDR5 memory.
The new graphics chip increases performance by up to 60% over the previous generation, which is just as well considering the number of pixels it has to drive. In fact, it's powerful enough to simultaneously support full native resolution on the built-in display, and up to 2560 x 1600 pixels on two external screens.
Given the ultra-thin form factor, an internal hard drive isn't an option. Instead, both MacBook Pro with Retina display models have solid state storage - 256GB and 512GB, respectively. Although you can upgrade the pricier model to 768GB on the Apple Store online, the less expensive version can't be upgraded at all, which seems a little spiteful.
Internal memory has also had a boost. The new MacBook Pros use faster 1600MHz DDR3L RAM. Each has 8GB as standard, but can be configured online to 16GB.
If you're considering this, do it when you buy. The chips are soldered onto the logic board, so there's no opportunity to add more RAM after purchase.
Indeed, the MacBook Pro with Retina screen is arguably the least upgradeable or repairable notebook around. The solid state drive is non-standard, although third-party replacements might yet emerge, and even the battery is glued rather than screwed into place, making it costly to replace the battery when it dies.
There are a few more minor improvements over last year's MackBook Pros. New custom speakers are better placed to offer improved sound, and dual microphones use beam forming to reduce ambient noise while chatting on the integrated 720p FaceTime HD camera.
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The laptop's fans have asymmetric blades for efficient and near silent cooling. The MacBook Pro with Retina display comes with OS X 10.7 Lion pre-installed, and you get a free upgrade to the forthcoming Mountain Lion when it's released in July. It also includes the iLife suite, namely iPhoto, iMovie and GarageBand.
As you'd expect from a high-end Apple notebook, the MacBook Pro with Retina display's major drawback is its price. The cheaper 2.3GHz model costs £1,799 in the UK and $2,199 in the US, with the top-of-the-range 2.6GHz version selling for £2,299 or $2,799.
Given the MacBook Pro with Retina display's quality, and its extreme capabilities in pushing around graphics, a high-needs professional photographer, graphic artist or video editor might consider it money well spent.
As you'd expect from such an amazingly powerful (and frighteningly expensive) notebook, the MacBook Pro with Retina display put in an excellent performance in our benchmarking tests. Its solid state drive gives it a huge advantage in our Xbench storage and processor test.
We tested the high-end 2.6GHz model, which was rated at 428.67. To put this in perspective, the previous high-end MacBook Pro - a late 2011 model with a 2.4GHz Core i7 processor - scored 138.6.
Solid state storage gives the new Retina display notebook an incredibly fast boot time too. A clean install of OS X 10.7 Lion starts up in around 17 seconds. Obviously it will take longer over time as login items are added, but if you want to get up and running even faster, there's another solution.
The battery lasts for around seven hours of regular use, and if you close it, the notebook goes into Standby Mode. It can remain in this low-energy state for up to 30 days, and is instantly on as soon as you open the lid.
Our Cinebench tests showed just how useful the new MacBook Pro with Retina display is for video editors, and indeed anyone who needs a lot of rendering power. Using just one of its four cores, the notebook scored 5165, up from 4870 on the 2.4GHz late 2011 model.
But with all four cores and HyperThreading in action, it was rated 20179, more than 27% up on its predecessor's score of 15786. Our test movie, a five-minute 640 x 480 video file, took just 149 seconds to encode to iPod format using iMovie, shaving more than five seconds off its predecessor's speed.
The only benchmarking test in which the MacBook Pro with Retina display didn't excel is our iTunes encoding test. Our standard test CD took 449 seconds to encode, over a minute and a half slower than the late 2011 model.
This is, of course, inevitable given that the older MacBook Pro had a built-in optical drive, while the new one was benchmarked using an Apple USB SuperDrive, with the USB port proving the limiting factor.
Cinebench 10 Single core: 5165
Cinebench 10 Multi-core: 20179
iTunes encoding: 449 secs (using USB SuperDrive)
Movie encoding (using iMovie): 149 secs
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The new Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display takes a new look at high-end notebooks. Clearly aimed at video editors, photographers and graphics professionals, the new Retina screen offers an incredible 2880 x 1800 resolution at 220 pixels per inch. That's over 5.1 million pixels in total, three million more than an HD TV.
Optimised applications and software look beautifully smooth and clear. The operating system, its bundled apps and other Apple packages have already been optimised, and third party software will be optimised over time; Photoshop and AutoCAD are already in the pipeline.
The new notebook is extremely thin and light, but a few sacrifices have been made to facilitate this. As you'd expect from a high-end Apple laptop aimed at professional users, it's very expensive, with prices starting at £1,799 in the UK and $2,199 in the US.
The Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display's new screen is breathtakingly good. Text is beautifully smooth, and graphics brilliantly realised. Images are so detailed that with Dock magnification on, you can read the writing on the TextEdit icon.
Comparing a web page viewed in Safari, which is already optimised for the Retina display, with the same page in Chrome, which isn't, makes Google's browser look really shoddy. In actual fact, it's no worse than it is on a normal MacBook Pro screen, but the Retina display makes it look poor when side-by-side.
The MacBook Pro with Retina display is incredibly light; it's actually lighter than the 'regular' 13-inch MacBook Pro. At 1.8cm (0.71 inches) high, it's only a single millimetre thicker than the MacBook Air at its thickest point.
With a seven-hour battery life and 30-day standby, it's a great laptop to use on the move. We're grateful Apple has boosted its USB ports (both of them) to USB 3.0, too.
Given its power and capabilities, the MacBook Pro with Retina display was never going to be cheap. But with the more affordable 2.3GHz model costing £1,799/$2,199 and the top-of-the-range 2.6GHz notebook priced at £2,299/$2,799, you should think long and hard about whether you can justify spending so much. That's not to say it isn't good value for money; it's just very expensive.
A few sacrifices had to be made due to the ultra-thin and super-light form factor. There's no room for a hard drive. Solid state storage offers considerable speed and battery advantages, although capacities are lower.
There's no optical drive; if you want to use DVDs and CDs on your MacBook Pro with Retina display, you have to resort to Remote Disk or invest in an external drive. There wasn't enough room for Ethernet or FireWire 800 ports either, although there are optional adaptors to use these connectivity protocols with the notebook's two Thunderbolt ports.
Few configuration options are offered, especially for the cheaper model, where you can only add more memory as a custom option. And after-market upgrades are almost impossible.
Is the MacBook Pro with Retina display the future of Apple laptops? Quite possibly. With solid state storage getting cheaper, the decline of optical drives' significance and the outstanding speed and versatility of Thunderbolt ports, it seems clear that Apple's notebooks will ultimately use the thin and ultra-portable format pioneered by the MacBook Air and now followed by this high-end MacBook Pro. But the high-cost Retina screen could take a long time to trickle down throughout the range.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is a truly an object of desire. It packs incredible power, and its screen puts other notebook displays to shame. It might be a notebook like no other, but its price may well limit it to high-needs professionals.