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Review: Retina MacBook Pro 2012

MacBook RetinaApple have now taken their 'Retina' display (which first appeared on the iPhone 4, then the third-gen iPad) and put it on a MacBook. This new display offers incredible definition and sharpness (over 5 million pixels if you really want to know) on a 15 inch screen, with screen resolutions up to 2880x1800.

HD video plays smoothly and seamlessly, thanks to two different video cards (an Intel HDG4000 which is integrated with the CPU, and an Nvidia GeForce GT650M with 1Gb of memory) which the system switches between according to the task in hand. Apple are claiming a 178 degree viewing angle and independent tests have confirmed that. You can run two external displays at once and retain the display on the laptop.

Bye bye MacBook Pro 17"

It's clear that Apple intend this latest model to be seen as a replacement for the 17-inch MacBook Pro, which has been quietly discontinued.

Reduced Glare at last!

The MacBook line has long been criticised for rather highly reflective screens. The Retina MacBook Pro has no glass cover, which noticably reduces the 'glare' effect (Apple say by 75%).

The Choices

There are two options so far: 2.3GHz processor with 256Gb SSD (solid state drive), and 2.6GHz processor with 512GB SSD. Both models use quad core Intel i7 'Ivy Bridge' processors with 6Mb shared L3 cache, and 8Gb 1600MHz DDR3 RAM. A RAM upgrade to 16Gb is available, and the 2.6GHz model has an SSD upgrade option to 768Gb.

Ivy Bridge processors use Intel's 'hyper-threading' technology, which doubles the number of cores by creating a virtual one for each physical one. They're also capable of running at a higher rate so long as power and heat limits are not breached. This means that the 2.3GHz processor can run at up to 3.3GHz, with the 2.6GHz processor capable of 3.7GHz.

The Connectors

The Retina MacBook Pro comes with two Thunderbolt ports (read more about Thunderbolt here), two USB 3 ports (the first on any Mac), an HDMI port, an SDXC card slot and a headphone jack. Missing are a FireWire 800 port (a shame as many Mac users are still using FireWire devices) and an Ethernet port, although Thunderbolt/Ethernet adaptors are available and Thunderbolt/FireWire adaptors are on the way.

The Body Design

This is a slim machine - half way between the MacBook Pro 15 inch and the MacBook Air - and the Retina MacBook Pro also weighs half a kilo less than a 15 inch MacBook Pro. Battery life is no longer part of the external display.

How does it perform?

Independent tests have demonstrated that these new machines offer amazing performance, being up to 38% faster than the best MacBooks available to now, and between 45-51% faster than last year's MacBook Pros. Processor-heavy applications and games will make it heat up to the point of discomfort, but that is nothing new, and in general these new models run cooler and with less noise than those currently available.

How long does the battery last?

Almost as long as a 15 inch MacBook Pro - about five hours continuous full-screen video playback, according to independent tests. You'll obviously get more time out of the battery if you're performing less battery-hungry tasks. Although the Retina MacBook Pro contains a battery that is 28% more powerful than a 15 inch MacBook Pro, the extra power demanded by the super-sharp display eats this up.

A few important considerations...

Be warned: your internet will look rubbish (at least for now)

At the moment there are going to be very few websites that are ready for such a high quality display. Savvy webmasters and web designers have known for years that getting a website to load as fast as possible (which saves not just browsers' time but server resources) involves in the large part optimising images for web display - in other words, reducing the quality of an image to a level that represents an acceptable trade off between sharpness and load time. Testing has already shown that images that are 'Saved for the Web' look either desperately blurry or glaringly pixellated. Even if broadband speeds increase (and many industry experts have said for some time that the UK is in real danger of being seriously left behind other EC countries in terms of average inernet speed) serving higher quality images increases web hosting costs.

You're completely tied to Apple for repairs

If you wanted a PC that was easily expandable and configurable you probably wouldn't buy a MacBook, but the Retina MacBook Pro is about as serviceable as an iPhone or iPad is: not at all. Design compromises and other considerations mean that

  • the RAM is soldered to the logic board (not the end of the world, as 8Gb/16Gb is standard)
  • internal screws are Apple's proprietary 'pentalobe' screws
  • the battery is glued (instead of screwed) to the machine
  • the display is fused with the surrounding bezel

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