Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display
Typical Price: $2,149.00
CNET Editors' Rating: 4.0 / 5
The good: The unprecedented high-resolution screen on the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display makes images -- even simple text -- look beautifully clear. Despite a redesigned, lightweight body, the powerful components, including an Nvidia GPU, compare well to recent high-end desktop replacements. Overdue new ports, including USB 3.0 and HDMI, are welcome.
The bad: With a $2,199 entry-level price tag, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display costs more than the typical American mortgage. The lack of onboard Ethernet jack, FireWire, or an optical drive can be inconvenient at times. Despite being thinner and lighter, it's not as travel-friendly as a true ultrabook or MacBook Air.
The bottom line: The newly redesigned MacBook Pro with Retina Display combines an amazing screen with just enough of the MacBook Air design to feel like a new animal, and to take its place as the best of the current MacBook breed.
Design, Features & Performance (out of 10)
Editors' note (October 23, 2012): In addition to the 15-inch model reviewed here, Apple now offers an all-new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display as well.
The release of a brand-new Apple laptop design is rare, and always accompanied by much fanfare. The new MacBook Pro with Retina Display is no exception, especially as it introduces a new screen technology to laptops, while pulling in influences from the MacBook Air, existing Pro, and even the third-generation iPad.
At a starting price of $2,199, the Retina MacBook Pro is in a different tier of product than other recently spec-bumped Airs and Pros, but it also offers a mix of design and features that can't be duplicated in other Mac laptops: a quad-core processor in a body that's svelte (but not quite ultrabook-thin), discrete graphics, a super high-res display, and -- new to any MacBook -- HDMI.
This is the biggest change to the Pro's aesthetics since it adopted the now-familiar aluminum unibody construction in 2008. Updated periodically with new processors and new features, the MacBook Pro line remains a familiar sight in offices (especially in creative fields) and coffee shops. And, while that pre-existing 15-inch model is still considered thin for a midsize computer, recent challenges from Window-powered ultrabooks and even Apple's own MacBook Air have clearly influenced this split in the MacBook Pro family tree, leading to a thinner, more forward-looking offshoot (which will live alongside the thicker, non-Retina 15 and 13-inch Pro laptops).
Note that the 2012 MacBook Air and Pro lineups have been updated to Intel's third-generation Core i-series processors, also known as Ivy Bridge, and this new MacBook Pro with Retina Display starts out there. As Apple laptops have at times taken a while to trade up to Intel's latest hardware, it's nice to see Ivy Bridge arrive in a timely manner.
Of course, the real highlight is that new Retina Display. Its resolution is 2,880x1,800 pixels, providing a level of detail never seen on a laptop before. The highest standard Windows laptop screen resolution is 1,920x1,080 pixels, the same as an HDTV. That previous high-water mark has been fine in my experience, but even that can make text and images look small on a 15-inch laptop. Apple solves this via a different dot pitch for the screen, much as it did on the third-gen iPad.
In person, the Retina Display looks great, although you're more likely to notice it when comparing to a non-Retina laptop. It'll likely be more useful for heavy readers or Photoshop/Final Cut users at first, and we'll have to see how long it takes for other popular programs to update themselves to take advantage of the new screen.
In the end, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, while expensive, is the best all-around MacBook Apple now makes -- unless you absolutely, positively need a built-in optical drive or Ethernet jack (both are available via external dongles or peripherals). It provides desktop-replacement-level performance, but is nearly as slim as an imagined 15-inch MacBook Air would be, even if it's a little heavier than it looks. Because it eclipses the previous MacBook Pro in many ways, it earns a CNET Editors' Choice nod.
Still, it feels like a rest stop on the road to somewhere else, a not-too-distant future when all laptops are paper-thin and feather light, with powerful hardware, wide connectivity, and generous solid-state storage that rivals bulky old platter hard drives. Don't be shocked to see Retina screens filter down to less expensive models at some point in the not-too-distant future. We're not there yet, but this is a big step in that direction.
|Price as reviewed||$2,199|
|Processor||2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM|
|Memory||8GB, 1600MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||256GB SSD|
|Graphics||NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M / Intel HD 4000|
|Operating system||OS X Lion 10.7.4|
|Dimensions (WD)||14.1 x 9.7 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||4.6/5.4 pounds|
In hands-on use, the new, thinner 15-inch MacBook Pro is both familiar and very different from what we've seen before. This is not an ultrabook (or an ultrathin laptop, as one would call these systems before Intel invented the ultrabook term), nor is it a full midsize laptop. Instead, it's an entirely new take that skirts the two, taking features from both sides of the aisle.
In the hand, at 0.7 inch, it's nearly as thin as a MacBook Air, at least the thicker end of that tapered system. But it's heavier than it looks, closer to a Pro, at 4.6 pounds. In other words, this is not the ultimate mobile laptop for people who have to jog around from place to place all day long, five or more days per week.
Still, it feels like a nice shift from the current Pro, which is what I'd call a "carry it around twice per week, tops" laptop. More often than that, especially with the traditional 15-inch MacBook Pro, and it really drags you down. I could see carrying this new, thinner Pro around with you several days per week, or maybe to and from work on a daily subway commute at a stretch.
From a distance, this could be mistaken for an Air, but up close, it's a different story. The design of the speakers, on either side of the keyboard, is lifted from the MacBook Pro. Along with the slablike, non-tapered body, I'd say the new Pro leans 70/30 or more toward the Pro rather than the Air in terms of design DNA.
The keyboard and trackpad are essentially the same as seen on the last several generations of MacBook, which is a good thing. Other laptops have matched, but not surpassed, the backlit Apple keyboard. And the trackpad, with its multifinger gestures, remains the industry leader. There are some patents, secret sauce, and OS-level sleight of hand behind this, but the practical result is touchpad experience far more satisfying than on any other laptop.
The Retina Display is the real hardware breakthrough of the system. Now that this very high-resolution screen technology has come to the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro, it's something of an Apple staple, and future products will have to at least consider including it. Of course, it's just a branded name for a very high-resolution screen -- 2,880x1,800 pixels, a level previously unseen in laptops (I've seen some larger desktop monitors come close). By adjusting the dot pitch and promoting the use of customized software (some of Apple's own apps and, not surprisingly, Photoshop, have already been updated), text and images avoid the typical high-resolution pitfall of appearing too small.
Even in everyday use, the screen looks amazing. Colors pop and images have great depth, but the biggest difference to me, same as with the latest iPad, is in text. Compare blocks of text side by side (using the "reader" button in Safari is a great way to do that), on a Retina and a standard MacBook Pro screen, and the difference is unmistakable, as seen above. The non-Retina 15-inch Pro used for comparison has a 1,440x900-pixel native resolution.
Interestingly, like the other 13 and 15-inch MacBooks, the new Retina Pro sticks with a 16:10 aspect ratio, using the much more common 16:9 only in the 11-inch MacBook Air. It's hard to imagine a situation where it would make a tremendous amount of difference, but some people have strong preferences, and there's something to be said for matching the aspect ratio of HD television content, or at least having a universal standard to design around.
|Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||HDMI, DisplayPort (via Thunderbolt)||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, 2 Thunderbolt, SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader, eSATA|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
Apple can both give and take away when it comes to ports and connections. Ethernet, the optical drive, and FireWire are on the chopping block, but -- in what I can only describe as a very pleasant surprise -- HDMI has been added.
The twin Thunderbolt ports literally double down on that still-underused connection, and the pair of USB 2.0 ports have become USB 3.0. Both are potentially useful for adding external storage to augment the flash memory, but you might also need those extra connections to hook up dongles for Ethernet and FireWire.
The default 256GB of solid-state storage is close enough to mainstream size for me, but digital packrats will want the 512GB option, part of an upgraded base model that starts at $2,799. There's also a 768GB upgrade from that, but that's an additional $500. Still, this is one of the first "professional" laptops that can get away with having no spinning platter drives.
But it's the HDMI that's really a mind-blower. We've asked for that for years, just because it was the easiest way to get content onto big TVs, projectors, external monitors, and so on. Apple doesn't always add features just because they're "practical" (see: SD card slot, 11-inch MacBook Air), so let's just assume the repeated inclusion of HDMI on MacBook "wish list" articles over the years finally had some impact (as unlikely as that seems).
The high-end 2.3GHz quad-core Core i7 CPU and Nvidia GeForce 650M GPU remind me of the recent spate of Ivy Bridge gaming laptops we've reviewed. They also had quad-core Core i7 Ivy Bridge CPUs with new Nvidia GPUs. However, those were giant 17-inch desktop-replacement rigs, with huge cases and terrible battery life. I did see a 15-inch version of that recently, from Maingear, and the Retina Pro feels like that kind of serious power shrunk down to a much slimmer size.
In our CNET Labs benchmark tests, the system ran even faster than that first wave of quad-core Intel Core i7 Ivy Bridge systems. The caveat is that our benchmarks, including Photoshop and a multimedia multitasking test which included QuickTime, tend to be weighted toward OS X performance. In hands-on use, it felt evenly matched with a system such as the Origin Eon 17-S. That's more than enough power for just about any task, and even more impressive when you consider that those other systems are mostly full-size desktop replacements.
The switch from AMD graphics to Nvidia's GeForce 650M is also a big step. Macs have never been serious gaming machines, but occasional standouts such as Diablo III are available cross-platform, and make for an excellent anecdotal test. That game will add additional support for the native 2,880x1,800 resolution via a future update, but for now you can still crank up the in-game resolution that high in the options menu. It made for a somewhat sluggish experience, running at around 23 frames per second, according to the onscreen frame rate counter. Pulled back to 1,440x900-pixel resolution, the game flew, at around 65 frames per second.
To compare the performance with older MacBooks, we ran our dated Call of Duty: Modern Warfare test. It crashed when we tried to get the in-game resolution up to 2,880x1,800 pixels, but ran at 75.4 frames per second at 1,440x900 pixels and 70.8 frames per second at 1,680x1,050 pixels. The past two 15-inch MacBook Pros we've tested, running on different AMD GPUs, ran the same test at between 41 and 51 frames per second at 14x9.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Battery life has always been a MacBook strong suit, especially when combined with Intel's very efficient processors and the lower power requirements of solid-state storage. Even though this system has a discrete GPU, it can turn that component off and on as needed, so it's not draining your battery unnecessarily. A couple of years ago, MacBooks required you to log out and then back in to swap graphics processors, but for the last couple of generations, that's happened automatically and seamlessly. In our video playback battery drain test, the new MacBook Pro ran for 6 hours and 59 minutes. That's great for a 15-inch laptop, and it may even run longer depending on your workload. The previous 15-inch MacBook Pro ran for about the same time, 6 hours and 54 minutes. Yes, this is, like all current MacBooks, a sealed battery. Some people positively hate that, it's never bothered me.
Apple includes a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, but only 90 days of telephone support, which has always struck us as odd. Upgrading to a full three-year plan under AppleCare will cost an extra $349 and is pretty much a must-buy, considering the proprietary nature of Apple products and their sealed bodies. Support is also accessible through a well-stocked online knowledge base, video tutorials, and e-mail with customer service, or through in-person visits to Apple's retail store Genius Bars, which, in my experience, have always been fairly frustration-free encounters.
I've previously called the 15-inch MacBook Pro one of the most universally useful all-around laptops you can buy. This new version adds to that with HDMI, faster ports, and more portability. But it also subtracts from that with its exclusion of an optical drive and Ethernet port, plus its very high starting price. The Pro and Retina Pro are clearly two laptops designed for two different users, and with the exception of all-day commuters who need something closer to a MacBook Air or ultrabook, one of the two branches of the MacBook Pro family tree is still probably the most universally useful laptop you can buy.
Benchmark testing by Julie Rivera and Joseph Kaminski.
|Product Description||Apple MacBook Pro MacBook Pro with Retina Display - 3rd Gen Core i7 2.3 GHz - 15.6 in TFT active matrix|
|Dimensions (WxDxH)||14.1 in x 9.7 in x 0.7 in|
|Localization||English / United States|
|Processor||Intel 3rd Gen Core i7 2.3 GHz ( Quad-Core )|
|Cache Memory||6 MB - L3 cache|
|RAM||8 GB (installed) / 16 GB (max), DDR3L SDRAM - 1600 MHz ( Provided memory is soldered )|
|Card Reader||Card reader|
|Hard Drive||256 GB|
|Display||15.6 in TFT active matrix, 2880 x 1800|
|Graphics Controller||NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M / Intel HD Graphics 4000 - 1 GB|
|Networking||- Bluetooth 4.0, - IEEE 802.11a, - IEEE 802.11b, - IEEE 802.11n, - IEEE 802.11g|
|Input Device||Backlit keyboard, Trackpad|
|Voltage Required||AC 120/230 V ( 50/60 Hz )|
|Run Time (Up To)||7 hour(s)|
|OS Provided||Apple OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion|
|Manufacturer Warranty||1 year warranty|
Average User Rating: 4.0 / 5
User Rating Breakdown
5 Star: 30
4 Star: 4
3 Star: 2
2 Star: 2
1 Star: 7
For the professional, nothing better.
Rating: 4.5 / 5
on June 12, 2012
22 out of 30 users found this review helpful
Pros: Nearly as thin as MacBook Air, thinner than any other laptop I've seen so portability should be great. Also has a battery life to rival any competitor. Take if from a pro video/photo editor. Worth it alone, just for the screen.
Cons: Price is still high. It is a pro model though, and is cheaper than the highest end 15in before it, so I guess I can't complain. Wish Apple would throw in an adapter for the magsafe. Kind of an annoyance to buy adapters for all my old magsafe cables.
Summary: Overall, great laptop. It isn't meant for everyone, though that is exactly who will want it. Everyone. It has pretty much the best specs you could wish for, including that screen. DVD drives are an unnecessary annoyance. I haven't had one built in for 2 years and haven't looked back. I keep a superdrive handy for the occasional use, but why make my laptop thick just to use a disk drive once every year? Pony up the paltry 50 bucks and buy an external one if it's that much of an issue. I do wish I had the option for larger SDD in the base model. You have to upgrade to the higher processor to have the option of the 500 or 768GB drives.
Overall impressed by the portability and ruggedness of such a professional machine. Couldn't be happier.
Amazing computer with a huge drawback.
Rating: 4 / 5
on June 17, 2012
9 out of 11 users found this review helpful
Pros: The retina display (resolution), flash memory, large memory capacity (16GB), size/weight (saves ~2.5lbs over the previous gen 17" macbook pro), unibody case, ivy bridge chipset, & discrete graphics in addition to integrated.
Cons: Forced to max out computer at purchase due to apple making this one of the least upgradable computers ever. Memory is soldered on, battery is glued in, and no details on 3rd party upgrades for storage yet.
Summary: Will start with a general review then get more technical.
The idea of a computer that packs this much power, screen resolution, and battery life and yet be so thin/lightweight is almost hard to believe; however, that's what this computer is. That being said the draw back to this computer is huge in that nothing can be upgraded after you buy. The memory isn't removable and is propriety from the views inside the case I've seen; however, even the 8GB option is overkill for most people. But being forced to pay for 16GB from the start and at a premium compared to the cost of 16GB laptop memory.
Additionally, the battery appears to be bonded to the case, which makes replacing it difficult too. And considering how long macs last it'd be nice if the battery was replaceable down the road when it no longer holds a charge.
The only part that appears to have hope of a third party replacement is the flash storage; however, the amounts apple offers aren't unreasonable at the costs so probably not a likely aftermarket upgrade need here anyway. I am frustrated a bit personally that I am forced to upgrade to 512GB of flash storage to upgrade my processor, as I personally would prefer to get the faster processors without having to pay for additional storage.
Overall, as long as you can pay the premium to fully upgrade the RAM and pay for the additional storage for faster processors the pros outweigh this huge drawback.
Here on will be a highly technical review:
I previously have reviewed the 2010 macbook pro when apple moved to the core i7 technology (http://reviews.cnet.com/laptops/apple-macbook-pro-spring/4864-3121_7-34058852-1.html) and got quite a bit of feedback appreciating the review of a computer from the perspective of someone who understands the pros of the hardware as well as has cause to fully make use of it. To that end will be doing similar analysis of this refresh of the macbook pro w/ the retina display.
Processor: For this generation (June 2012 update) of macbook pro/macbook air Apple has moved to the third generation Intel core i7 known as Ivy Bridge. You might hear the name Ivy Bridge thrown around but wonder why its a big deal. Ivy Bridge moves to a new 22nm fabrication technology from the previous generation (Sandy Bridge)'s 32nm technology. This is a measurement for the size of the transistors used in the chip.
A smaller transistor size offers the ability to fit more transistors onto the chip, which means the chip can do more in the same or a fraction of the space the previous generation did. Additionally, smaller transistors also require less energy to drive them, which means a significant savings in power.
Ivy Bridge in addition to a smaller transistor size and better power savings also includes a significant improvement on the integrated graphics that Intel has begun providing on their processors. This integrated graphics means that computers no longer need discrete graphics cards to drive graphics. This is seen in the Macbook Air that only uses this for its graphics and means Ivy Bridge provides better graphics on the newest Macbook Airs. For the Macbook Pros and this retina Macbook Pro it means that unless you are doing something which needs significant graphics processing that all the graphics can be done on the processor at a significant power savings.
Ivy Bridge also continues to improve on the core i7 architecture and provide better virtualization, multi-thread performance, etc. This means VM's run smoother and video processing will take less time. Additionally, you can run more applications without it placing a lot of strain on the processor.
Flash Storage: The biggest benefit of the Macbook Pro Retina is that it forces anyone who purchases it to move to a form of flash storage. Modern processors have less of an impact in the performance then they used to do as the slowest thing in the pipeline of executing, reading, and writing data is the hard drive in today's computers. The cache sizes and memory sizes keep increasing to try and help this but the biggest increase in performance comes when the time to read data from the hard drive isn't much longer than going to memory. This is the same reason windows computers began allowing you to dedicate a flash memory stick as temporary page file storage as this would reduce the time going to a HDD to retrieve data when the flash storage was at least 4X faster. The flash storage in the macbook pro retina provides the highest throughput comparable or faster to all the 6Gbps SATA III SSDs I've looked at on the market.
Memory: The Macbook Pro Retina makes use of DDR3L this spec provides DDR3 memory speeds but at a lower voltage, which means another power savings. I will admit the fact I'm forced to choose 8 or 16GB of memory from the start is frustrating; however, my current 17" macbook pro (2010) only has 8GB of RAM, with flash storage & the first gen core i7 I haven't managed to place a load on it yet that it can't handle including running 3VMs at the same time. As such think the upgrade to 16GB for most users wouldn't be noticeable in the performance gain they'd observe. But for video editors being able to load most of their project into memory would have a huge boost of improvement.
Graphics: The only con that has been mentioned by a few reviewers is the fact that the discrete graphics included in addition to the integrated graphics on the Ivy Bridge processor are only mid level graphics. I can understand the feeling that for such a capable machine not having the highest end graphic cards in it seems like a poor decision. The thing to note here is that apple designs their computers to maximize performance while not sacrificing battery life. They want a laptop to actually be portable and not fixed to a power cord. As such using the latest generation of NVIDIA Kepler based chips that provide significant power savings while still providing a 60% improvement over the previous generation of macbook pros seems like a good design decision over opting for a more powerful graphics chipset that doesn't provide the power savings.
I think the biggest complaint I saw was that someone couldn't get more than 27FPS on diablo III with the graphics maxed out. Honestly if you wanted the highest end graphics for gaming performance you should invest in a gaming computer with 2-4 SLI graphics. While you're at it build your own on EVGA's Classified SR-X motherboard.
When I reviewed the 2010 macbook pro I criticized the fact that only the 17" had the ExpressCard/34 slot. I thought the option for expansion via the card slot made more sense than an integrated SD Card Slot. But now am of the opinion that the integrated SD Card slot is a great feature and am glad to see that the macbook pro retina has one.
The two thunderbolt connectors seems like a waste, especially with so few storage devices available to make use of it. And the ones that do are unreasonably expensive. Not to mention that there aren't storage devices that support thunderbolt yet that can even begin to saturate the thunderbolt capabilities. Not that I don't think its a bad concept.
The move to USB 3.0 is more usable currently, and the macbook pro retina does include two USB3.0 ports.
I think the weirdest update, yet understandable, is the move to a new magsafe standard magsafe2. This means that if you are like me and have more than one magsafe power cord that would still be compatible wattage wise you'd have to buy an adapter to make use of it or upgrade your power cords. This move is understandable and only seen on the macbook air & macbook pro retina in the 2012 update as it provides the magsafe functionality in a thinner format, which means the computers can get even thinner, which improves their portability.
Summary: Regardless of the drawbacks this new revision to the macbook pro provides a very capable laptop in a very portable form. And no matter which configuration you get for most users this laptop will be overkill in terms of performance.
Updated on Jul 9, 2012
Outstanding genre-bending design, breakthrough display
Rating: 5 / 5
on June 13, 2012
9 out of 14 users found this review helpful
Pros: Astounding display, state of the art architecture, beautiful design.
Cons: Non-user upgradeable RAM. Flash storage will only be able to be upgraded when 3rd-party solutions hit the market.
Summary: Overall, there is no better Pro-level notebook on the market. Sure, you can get more for your money if you go Windows, but that is not the purpose of this incredible machine.
It's a portable professional laptop (focus on portable)
Rating: 4.5 / 5
on June 13, 2012
6 out of 10 users found this review helpful
Pros: The Awesome screen , the light weight , the battery life , Thunderbolt ports , the Amazing design .
Cons: The lack of Ehernet adapter , needs more USBs.
Summary: Amazing laptop, espasially if u want to compare with other similar laptops because of the price ( because if u want a laptop with similar specs you'll pay at least 1800$ for a low quality 8.5 pound 4 hour of battery life laptop) . But the lack of Ethernet adapter And the user inaccessibility and the fact that there are only 2 USB entrances might cause inconvenience.
I'm a long-time apple user, image retention a let down
Rating: 1 / 5
on September 5, 2012
5 out of 9 users found this review helpful
Pros: The screen is absolutely stunning
I LOVE how zippy it is with the flash memory
Ooodles of power for everyday needs
Probably the best laptop ever made
Cons: The ONLY thing keeping this from being a glowing 5-star review is the fact that many people, (including myself) are having a lot of problems with Image Retention on the new screens.
Summary: I love apple products, and my whole line-up of technology has been apple ever since I started university. My old white macbook is still running strong from 2006, and I'm still impressed by its ability to get stuff done. That being said, I was very excited to finally upgrade to the new Retina Display. Within 2 hours of opening it I began to experience problems with my screen. My specific problem which caused me to return it to the store was the appearance of a bright thick line of pink stuck pixels running vertically down the center of the screen. Many other people are having issues with Image Retention with LG manufactured screens. If you don't believe me, come read about it one the applecare forums here:
I really want to purchase another Retina Display, and will definitely do so as soon as this issue is resolved. Just wanted to bring awareness to other people that might not know, or have LG monitors that may begin to act up in the near future.
Still love apple, and can't wait until they fix this widespread problem.