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Home > Notebook Reviews > MacBook Pro with Retina Display (2012, 15")

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15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display

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What's hot: Slim, light, fast and that Retina display!

What's not: Expensive, parts not upgradable.

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Reviewed June 17, 2012 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Editor's Note, Oct. 2012: Also read our review of the 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

The MacBook Pro with Retina Display has only been out a few days, yet it hardly needs an introduction. This is Apple's next generation MacBook Pro and it brings a slimmed down design, lighter weight and new ports: HDMI and two USB 3.0 ports. It's put together as perfectly as you'd expect from an Apple product and it looks stunning in a quiet and tasteful way. The unibody casing introduced in 2008 is alive and well, but the Retina is 25% thinner than the MacBook Pro 15", and 1.1 pounds lighter at 4.46 pounds. At 0.71", it's nearly as thin as the 13" MacBook Air at its thickest point, but it lacks the Air's recently patented taper, and it's not nearly as light as the 3 pound Air. Still, it's as close as we'll get to a 15" MacBook Air at the moment, and the MacBook Pro with Retina display is more than twice as fast, placing it squarely in the Pro class among MacBooks. But the biggest change is the Retina Display, a term we're familiar with on the iPhone 4S and new iPad.

MacBook Pro with Retina display

Retina Display: Emperor's New Clothes or Worth Buying?

What exactly does Retina mean on a computer where resolution is tied to how much you see on screen (spreadsheet cells, words per page in a document or web page)? Mac OS X now increases pixel density for the Retina, so you're getting 220 ppi rather than the usual 110ppi. You're getting the same amount of words/spreadsheet cells/photos on the screen, but everything is rendered with more pixels squeezed into every square inch. Regardless of the resolution you select under display scaling, it's rendered with 4x the pixels per inch of other notebook screens. That makes for noticeably sharper text and images that pop.

MacBook Pro with Retina display

In usable desktop workspace terms, the resolution setting works as it does on any other Mac or Windows PC. You can choose from 1440 x 900, 1680 x 1050, 1920 x 1200 as well as lower resolutions and you'll see the same amount of desktop/workspace as on any other computer at those resolutions. OS X refers to anything other than "Best, Retina" (workspace equivalent to 1440 x 900 with high dpi rendering that uses 2800 x 1800 pixels) as scaled resolutions. Select scaled resolutions to change your workspace resolution.

MacBook Pro with Retina display

Top to bottom: 13" MacBook Air, MacBook Pro with Retina Display and 15" MacBook Pro.

 

Deals and Shopping:

 

What I really like are the display options for various higher scaled resolutions rather than being stuck with the lowly 1440 x 900 standard 15" MacBook Pro resolution. You can run it at 1680 x 1050 (an optional upgrade resolution for the standard 15" MacBook Pro) or 1920 x 1200 and it looks great. Confusing? Yes it is because no one has ever done this with computer displays. It might make more sense to describe it as 1440 x 900 at 220 ppi vs. 1440 x 900 at 110 or 72 dpi-- that's marketing for you. But the display itself isn't just marketing fluff. Thanks to Apple's high dpi technology, you'll get more pixels so things look sharper at any resolution. Even 1920 x 1200 runs at hidpi: if you use the Grab app to take a screenshot of the entire display, it will be 3840 x 2400 even if the assigned scaled resolution is 1920 x1200. The sharper bit only holds true if the app supports the Retina display. Otherwise text will look like its old fuzzier self and images won't have that extra bit of detail. OS X and Apple's own apps have been updated for the Retina Display, and so have Diablo III, Photoshop 6 and Chrome Canary (a beta version Chrome). Likely more apps will follow and we'll see Retina display optimization for a wider selection of software.

13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display

The 13" Retina MacBook Pro on top of the 15" Retina MacBook Pro.

At the right we have two screen shots taken of the Chrome web browser (not Retina enabled) and Chrome Canary (Google's beta browser with Retina support) so you can see the difference. The screen shot is shown at 100% zoom, and that's where the difference is apparent. On the actual Retina display, it's not as distinct a difference, but it's still noticeable. The Retina optimized app has sharper fonts with no jaggies while the non-optimized app looks fuzzy on close inspection.

The longer you use the Retina display, the more non-Retina displays and apps look sub-par. It's not the Emperor's New Clothes: it's for real. But the difference is indeed subtle compared to the jump from standard definition TVs to HD TVs. In the end, I think the 1680 x 1050 option will attract high res 15" MacBook Pro shoppers, as will the 1920 x 1200 option attract former 17" MacBook Pro shoppers (Apple didn't refresh the 17" laptop and it's on the way out since relatively few folks bought it).

There's more good news. This is Apple's first Mac with an IPS panel, and glare is reduced from previous Mac notebook models. IPS means wide viewing angles and Apple claims significant glare reduction since they use two rather than 3 glass panels in the display assembly. I hate glossy screens, and didn't expect I'd like the Retina's still glossy panel, but when I started using it in normal room lighting, I completely forgot it had a gloss panel. It's no mirror and reflections aren't a distraction. Nice.

 

MacBook Pro with Retina display

 

Above: Chrome web browser, below Chrome Canary that's Retina optimized.

MacBook Pro with Retina display

MacBook Pro with Retina Display Video Review

Specs and Options

The MacBook Pro runs on third generation Ivy Bridge Intel Core i7 CPUs ranging from 2.3 to 2.7GHz. The Retina MacBook Pro runs on the upper range Nvidia GeForce GT650M dedicated graphics card with 1 gig of GDDR5 RAM plus Intel HD 4000 Integrated graphics (also very capable and auto-switching). Mac OS X does an excellent job of automatically switching to dedicated graphics, unlike some Windows notebooks, and will always use dedicated graphics if you connect an external monitor. You can override graphics switching by unchecking the graphics switching option in settings (the machine will then only use dedicated graphics). The base model comes with 8 gigs of RAM and you can order it with 16 gigs of RAM, but you can't upgrade the memory yourself because it's soldered to the motherboard. In terms of do it yourself upgrades, the Retina Mac is similar to the MacBook Air: pretty much nothing is upgradable. The SSD drive is potentially upgradable if someone offers a module that fits (it looks like the MacBook Air SSD but it's a slightly different design). The base model has a 256 gig SSD and you can get 512 gig and 768 gig SSD drives.

The Mac with Retina has two Thunderbolt ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a 3.5mm audio jack, an SDXC card slot and an HDMI port. If you need Ethernet, you'll get it via the 27" Thunderbolt Display or Apple's $29 Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet adapter. The notebook has Broadcom dual band WiFi 802.11n and Bluetooth 4.0. As ever, there's no 3G/4G option.

For those who want a more upgradable pro machine, the standard 15" MacBook Pro (also refreshed with Ivy Bridge and USB 3.0 but no HDMI) is a better option. The standard MacBook Pro 13" and 15" models keep the upgradable HD and RAM, and they have a DVD burner and Ethernet port, which the slimmed-down Retina lacks.

The base 2.3GHz/8 gig/256 gig SSD model is $2,199 and the 2.6GHz/ 8 gigs RAM/ 512 gig SSD model is $2,799. You can order it with a 2.7GHz Core i7, 16 gigs of RAM and the 768 gig SSD for a truly painful $3,749. If you're looking at the refreshed standard 2012 15" MacBook Pro but want to upgrade to an SSD and 1 gig of VRAM, you've already surpassed the base price range of the Retina MacBook Pro, making it a better deal if you're set on a 15" Mac Pro notebook (unless you need the optical drive and upgradable storage and RAM). We suspect that Apple wants customers to move to the Retina model, and will likely offer the Retina display in other Mac notebooks in the future.

Performance

This is a fast workstation. Even if you go with the base 2.3GHz quad Intel Core i7, it's extremely fast. Web pages render instantly (it helps if you have a fast Internet connection to download web pages quickly too). Adobe Photoshop CS 6 applies filters to 40 meg RAW images before you can blink. Apple's iMovie, not the fastest at exporting and converting video among apps due to the slow Quicktime engine, can export AVCHD video to MPEG4 at the rate of 2 minutes per each minute of actual video footage (a 10 minute video exports in 18 minutes). Diablo III runs at 45-55 fps at 1680 x 1050 resolution (1920 x 1200 is broken in Diablo III as of this writing) and current demanding 3D Windows titles run well at 1680 x 1050 and 1920 x 1200 under Bootcamp.

Benchmarks

As you'd expect, this is one of the fastest Mac notebooks yet. It scores significantly higher than the outgoing Sandy Bridge 2011 MacBook Pro 15" and it walks circles around the MacBook Air 13" 2011 model and the first gen Core i5 MacBook Pro. When we look at PC benchmarks under Bootcamp, it beats the powerhouse portable Sony Vaio Z with a quad core i7 Ivy Bridge CPU by 3,000 points thanks to the Mac's 0.2GHz higher clock speed and dedicated graphics. It scores as high as gaming PC notebooks on 3DMark Vantage.

Geekbench 2:

MacBook Pro Retina Sony Vaio Z 2012 Core i7 2011 13" MacBook Air Core i5 15" MacBook Pro 1st gen Intel Core i5
12,001 12,716 5448 5660

3D Mark Vantage: 10,656 (GPU 7001, CPU 21,778) on Performance test preset

PCMark Vantage: 19,174

Windows Experience Index:

Processor: 7.2
RAM: 7.6
Graphics (for Aero): 7.2
Gaming Graphics: 7.2
HDD: 7.9

Want to see how the laptop handles serious gaming? Here's our video of Diablo III running under Mac OS X and Windows 7 64-bit at a variety of resolutions. Diablo III is optimized for the Retina display, so you'll see 2880 x 1800 resolution options in-game here. Note the game audio and the audio when playing video in our general video review: it's full and loud. Great for gaming!

 

MacBook Pro with Retina display

 

MacBook Pro with Retina display

 

MacBook Pro with Retina display

 

MacBook Pro with Retina display

 

MacBook Pro with Retina display

Directly above: the Sony Vaio Z on top of the MacBook Pro with Retina display.

MacBook Pro with Retina Display Gaming in Mac OS X and Windows 7

 

 

Windows 7 on the MacBook Pro with Retina display

You can run Windows on the Mac using Bootcamp for a dual boot setup, or you can use virtual machines (there are several) or the popular Parallels. When running Bootcamp, you'll have the full Windows experience in a dual boot scenario. Apple has a driver pack for Windows 7 that takes care of everything you'll need with one exception: as with prior Macs, Windows doesn't get access to Intel integrated graphics. That means shorter runtimes under Windows. Heat and fan noise weren't an issue when running Windows relative to other high-powered 15" laptops, and it plays current 3D titles fluently. The Retina has the processing power of the HP Envy 15 (a star 15.6" gaming rig) and Dell XPS 15z and a somewhat better GPU.

What's the display situation in Windows? You'll get standard resolution options without pixel doubling. After you install Windows 7 and Apple's driver pack, the machine boots up at 2880 x 1800. Really. And it's readable since Apple sets the default dpi scaling for fonts to 150% (it's still easily readable at 125% but not comfortable). Want to see Windows 7 Ultimate running on the MacBook Pro with Retina display? Check out our video below.

Though the Mac does admirably in Windows 7 and the clean install makes for even better speeds, I'm not convinced this is the ideal machine for those of you who want to run Windows all the time. The drivers are quite good but the lack of Intel HD 4000 graphics support means shorter runtimes and more heat (Apple blocks Windows from accessing Intel graphics). Unlike PC manufacturers, Apple seldom updates drivers and you'll have to boot into Mac OS X to apply firmware updates. As a Mac user who laments the narrow selection of pricey notebooks Apple offers us, I'd pick one of the many fine Windows notebooks in a heartbeat if Windows were my only OS. The selection of sizes, prices and designs is simply tantalizing to a Mac user.

Battery Life

The Retina Mac's battery is sealed inside and it's a bear to replace because Apple has glued it in. If you need to get it replaced after the warranty has expired, it will set you back $199 vs. $129 for other Mac notebooks. Retina displays use more power, and just as with the new iPad, the MacBook Pro with Retina display has a bigger battery to ensure runtimes don't decrease from the outgoing model and updated Pro notebooks. The Mac has a 95 watt/hour Lithium Ion Polymer battery, and Apple claims 7 hours of use per charge. Manufacturers are highly optimistic about their products runtimes, but in the case of the MacBook Pro Retina model, Apple's not far off. In a mix of productivity uses, we averaged 6 to 6.4 hours per charge with brightness set to 60% and WiFi on. If you're editing and exporting video, expect noticeably shorter runtimes. If you're running Windows, you'll be stuck with dedicated graphics and runtimes will decrease by 2 hours.

This is Apple's first machine with a MagSafe 2 charging connector. It's a T design rather than the right angle design of the original MagSafe and you'll need to buy a $15 adapter to use MagSafe 1 chargers with the Retina Mac. Apple claims they had to redesign the connector to fit this skinny Mac, but I'm not convinced since the MacBook Air with MagSafe 1 is even thinner. I do miss the right angle connector that takes up less space.

Conclusion

A Pro workstation that weighs 4.5 lbs. and has a display like none other? Check. A laptop that walks circles around the 13" MacBook Air (also refreshed with third generation Intel processors)? Check. A more portable 15" MacBook Pro. Check. One of the most portable 15" notebooks on the planet, regardless of operating system? That's the MacBook Pro with Retina display, and it's my new Mac of choice. Note that I use Mac OS X for my main work environment, and I'm not buying this to replace a Windows PC. It's replacing a 2011 13" MacBook Air that lacked the processing power I needed for serious web development, video production and Adobe CS work (the Adobe part was actually OK on the Air).

For those of you deciding between the MacBook Air and the Retina Mac, keep in mind that the Retina is significantly larger and heavier. It's certainly more portable than the standard 5.6 lb. MacBook Pro, but it's no Ultrabook. If you need a powerful computer on the road, it's hard to beat the MacBook Pro with Retina display (assuming you can stomach the price). If the price is too steep, the HP Envy 15, Dell XPS 15z and Samsung Series 7 are much lower priced alternatives. If you want huge processing power and insanely extreme portability, it's hard to match the Sony Vaio Z 2012 model that has a 13.1" 1080p display and weighs just 2.5 pounds.

Price: $2,199 for 2.3GHz Core i7/256 gig SSD/8 gigs RAM, $2,799 for 2.6GHz Core i7/ 512 gig SSD/8 gigs RAM

Web Site: www.apple.com

 

 

MacBook Pro with Retina display

 

 

MacBook Pro with Retina display

 

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Specs:

Display: 15.4", 2880 x 1800 IPS Retina display. Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics and Nvidia GeForce GT650M dedicated graphics with 1 gig GDDR5 RAM. Switchable graphics. HDMI and Mini DisplayPorts.

Battery: Lithium Ion rechargeable, sealed inside. 95 watt/hour, uses MagSafe 2 connector for 85W charger.

Performance: 2.3GHz Intel third generation Core i7-3615M quad core processor with Turbo Boost to 3.3GHz and 6MB L3 cache. Also available with 2.6 and 2.7GHz Core i7 CPUs. 8 gigs DDR3 1600MHz RAM (can order it with 16 gigs). 256 gig custom SSD drive. Also available with 512 and 768 gig SSD drives.

Size: 14.13 x 9.73 x 0.71 inches. Weight: 4.46 pounds.

Camera: 1.3MP, 720p FaceTime HD video chat camera.

Audio: Built in stereo speakers, dual mics and 3.5mm stereo headphone jack with support for analog/digital audio out.

Networking: Integrated dual band WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0.

Software: Mac OS X Lion (free upgrade to Mountain Lion). iLife 2011 suite (Garage Band, iMovie, iPhoto and more).

Expansion and Ports: 1 SDXC slot, two Thunderbolt ports (also function as Mini DisplayPorts), HDMI, two USB 3.0 ports.

 

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