Retina MacBook Pro

8/16/2012 3:33:40 PM

With more pixels than a 30-inch monitor packed into an ultra-slim 15-inch case, the next-generation MacBook will bend your mind. But it’s not just about looks. Apple’s Phil Schiller calls this the best computer the company’s ever made. Let’s see if it’s true

THE MACBOOK pro with Retina display marks the first full redesign of Apple’s pro notebooks in several years. Though it shares its styling with the regular 15-inch MacBook Pro, also updated last month, a new internal layout has made it significantly lighter and slimmer. And of course it has one feature never before seen in any portable computer: a 2880 x 1800 screen packing nearly 50,000 pixels into every square inch.

Description: Macbook

Last time Apple made a radically thinner computer, the MacBook Air, it compromised on specifications to fit everything in. There’s little compromise here. On the contrary: the central and graphics processors are appreciably more powerful than those in any previous Apple laptop, taking advantage of Intel’s just-released Ivy Bridge platform, and on a par with those used in the latest incarnations of the standard MacBook Pro, which retain the previous case designs (shown, right, for comparison). There’s also 8GB of RAM by default, ready for heavy-duty graphics, music and video work. This isn’t a machine you pick despite its limited capability for its compact format; it’s simply the best MacBook you can buy, all round.

The refined 15in aluminum unibody is nearly as slim at its hinge as the 13in Air. Like other MacBooks, however, it doesn’t taper towards the front, so it feels more substantial. But it’s more than 20% lighter than the standard 15in MacBook Pro, shaving off half a kilo. In fact, it weigh less than the 13in. The only sacrifice that’s been made to achieve this is that, like the Air, the Retina model has no optical drive built in. You’ll need Apple’s external SuperDrive (£65) to read or write CDs or DVDs.

One other major component is absent, but it won’t be missed. The hard disk has been superseded by a flash memory SSD (solid state drive) similar to those used in the Air and optional on other Macs. Starting at 256GB and going up to 768GB, capacities aren’t as huge as today’s typical hard drives, but of the same order, and the benefits in speed and responsiveness across all tasks are clearly felt. Few users will find room for every file they ever need, but that’s likely to be the case with any notebook. Equipped with two Thunderbolt ports and USB 3, the Retina MacBook Pro makes it easy to connect the fastest external drives available.

BUT ENOUGH OF THIS. We’re just putting off the most important feature. This is the first time Apple has associated the term ‘Retina’ with a Mac, and the increase in pixel density comes with a change to the way OS X handles display resolution. Like the new iPad, the 15.4in IPS LED panel has twice the previous number of pixels in both axes, giving four times the resolution. It has 1.5 million more pixels than a 27in iMac - more than the iPhone 4’s 5 megapixel camera.

What earns Apple’s ‘Retina’ designation isn’t the total number of pixels but how dose they are together, the idea being that the dots are indistinguishable to the naked eye. At 220 points per inch, the 15in Retina is coarser than the new iPad (264ppi) or the iPhone 4/4S (326ppi), but since you’ll look at your MacBook screen from a slightly longer distance, it has the same effect of completely removing visible ‘j aggies’.

Description: Retina Macbook Pro

Retina displays are sure to appear on other Macs in the future - a good bet would be a 13in model later in the year, followed by iMacs in 2013 - but for now, nothing else comes close. Even the high-res option for the conventional 15in MacBook Pro, which remains available at 1680 x 1050, works out at just 128ppi; the 1920 * 120017in model, now discontinued, was 132ppi.


The new MagSafe 2 power port is wider but shallower, resembling the original rectangular MagSafe rather than the recent cylindrical style. Older power bricks, LED Cinema Displays and the Thunderbolt Display will need a £9 adaptor ( com/uk/product/MD504) to power the Retina MacBook.


This is the only MacBook with two Thunderbolt ports. You can attach up to two displays, and any reasonable number of devices that have pass-through ports; DVI or VGA displays must be connected (with adaptors) alone or last in a chain.


Every MacBook USB port now supports USB 3; the Retina has one on each side. This allows high-speed external drives to be attached that wouldn’t previously work with Macs. When considering non-storage USB 3 devices, check that their software is compatible with OS X.


Like the 13in MacBook Pro and all models of the Air, the Retina MBP has a single audio port that handles analogue and digital in and out.


An HDTV or projector can also be connected to the HDMI port on the right side.

SDXC card reader

Leave your camera’s USB cable behind and pop its SD memory card into this slot to copy photos straight to your Mac. It can read and write the latest SDXC format, which is currently available up to 128GB.

Ethernet and FireWire

A glance at the standard network port reveals why it’s omitted from the new slim design, as is FireWire. Apple sells Thunderbolt adaptors for both.


UNTIL NOW, higher resolution displays offered a trade-off between detail and legibility. Squashing more pixels into less space meant everything on screen got smaller, so at the greatest densities, as with those high-res 15in and 17in MacBooks, some users would find user interface elements such as icons and labels were getting hard to read.

Description: Retina Macbook Pro

Continuing this to the dot pitch of the Retina display would have been foolish, so instead Apple has introduced Retina scaling. This maintains the physical size of screen furniture while using more pixels to render it. The menu bar, Dock, toolbars and icons, and text and images in documents appear at comfortable physical dimensions, while the extra resolution makes them sharper.

Since scaling the display is no longer a simple matter of making everything bigger or smaller, the Displays pane in System Preferences no longer lets you pick a specific resolution. It defaults to ‘Best for Retina’, but alternatively lets you make user interface elements smaller to cram more in, or make things bigger for clarity. Actual pixel dimensions are only exposed for selection in full-screen apps such as games.

At least, those are the principles. When you’re using OS X itself, or an app that uses scalable interface widgets and has been updated with high-resolution artwork, it works as intended. All the Apple apps bundled with the MacBook have been optimised, so everything looks incredibly crisp when you turn the machine on, and the clarity is maintained when you open any document in TextEdit or an Apple web page in Safari. Images in other web pages, however, may not be delivered at full resolution, and opening a third party app that hasn’t been optimised will break the spell. It’ll take a few months for the world to catch up.

The benefits are crystal clear in creative apps. So far, iPhoto, Aperture and Final Cut Pro X have been updated, and Photoshop CS6 is being tweaked. An obvious practical advance is that you can see every pixel of a 1080p movie in Final Cut while still having room for the tools to edit it (and, no less remarkably, the performance to make themusable). Publishers can look forward to a similar breakthrough when InDesign and QuarkXPress are optimised, making a 15in laptop a more comfortable alternative to a 27in desktop setup.

The display suffers less from reflections than other MacBook Pros, since it’s now a single bonded unit with no glass over the front. It’s still shinier than the high-res matt screen option on the 15in Pro, but less distracting than other models.

GRAPHICS PROCESSING IN notebook computers trades performance against battery drain. The Retina MBP retains Apple’s twin GPU system, with OS X switching from the integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 to the dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M as tasks demand it. This arrangement is the same across all current 15in MacBook Pros, with 1GB of GDDR5 graphics memory.

We ran Portal 2 as an example of a fairly demanding 3D game. O S X told the app the screen’s native resolution was 1440 x 900 pixels, so everything looked as it would on other 15in MacBooks - visibly soft, after spending time in Retina. The game let us step up to 2880 x 1800, but performance was degraded by trying to render this almost unprecedented level of detail. Both models still managed around 30fps, but in more action-packed games requiring precise timing, you’d want to limit the resolution.

Description: Retina Macbook Pro

What’s hard to appreciate until you see the Retina display in action is that this isn’t just another incremental boost in resolution. It crosses a line between being aware that the screen you’re looking at is bitmapped and just not thinking about it that way anymore. It’s hardly surprising that a new Mac improves on those that came before, but achieving this revolution in a smaller, lighter case with higher performance makes it easy to agree that this is, indeed, an exceptionally better Mac.

MacBook Pro with Retina display

Price: $2878.4 inc VAT with 2.3GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, 256GB SSD

Price: $3678.4 inc VAT with 2.6GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, 512GB SSD


Pro Amazing screen * High spec

Con Omissions * Repairability

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