A thinner, "Retina" MacBook Pro had been rumored for some time, and Apple did not disappoint when it introduced the new 15" Retina MacBook Pro at its Worldwide Developers Conference last week.
Availability has been rather scarce since the notebook's launch last week, but we were able to get our hands on the base $2,199 model for testing. (Many Apple Store retail locations had little or no stock during launch week, as early inventory apparently went to fill a rash of online orders for early adopters).
The base model is more than adequate to get a feel for the new "Retina" redesign. We put the machine through some benchmark paces to look at relative raw performance, and spent a couple of days using the machine for our usual work to get a more subjective impression of the whole package—and we came away impressed.
15" Retina MacBook Pro, $2,199
- 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz) with 6MB shared L3 cache
- 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3L onboard memory
- Storage: 256GB solid state flash drive
- Screen: 15.4" diagonally, 2880 x 1800 native resolution
- Size: 14.13" width, 9.73" deep, 0.71" thickness
- Weight: 4.46 pounds
- Power supply: 85W MagSafe 2 Power Adapter
"Future of notebooks"
Apple could have chosen a simpler path to revising its MacBook Pro. The Retina display could have been a drop-in replacement for the existing 15.4" 1440x900 display. Perhaps it could have removed the optical drive, replaced the boot drive with a MacBook Air-like SSD module, and kept the internal 2.5" bay for optional additional storage in the form of another SSD or a relatively inexpensive, but vastly more massive, HDD. Such a design would have likely sold well, and Apple's designers could move on to the next project (hello, new Mac Pro).
Then again, the company traditionally hasn't had problems pushing consumers to adopt designs they might be uncomfortable with at first. Recall the words that Steve Jobs used when he introduced the redesigned MacBook Air in October 2010: "We've tried to be really aggressive [with the design]," Jobs said. "We see these as the next generation of MacBooks—all notebooks will be like this."
The new 15" Retina MacBook Pro is the first time Apple has applied the same design thinking that went into that new Air to its "pro" notebooks. Spinning hard drives? Gone. Optical storage? Useless anachronism. FireWire and Ethernet? Vestigial, obsolete ports.
But this isn't a stripped-down machine with ultra low voltage processors. The new MacBook Pro differentiates itself from the Air by packing in a quad-core Ivy Bridge processor built on Intel's latest 22nm process. It includes Intel's HD4000 integrated GPU, which isn't quite the pixel-y sloth that past Intel IGPs used to be. It also packs in a discrete NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M mobile GPU with 1GB of dedicated DDR5 memory, and you get at least 8GB of DDR3 RAM standard.
All this hardware pumps 5.1 million pixels to the 2880x1800 pixel Retina display—the sharpest, highest resolution display Apple has shipped in any of its computers thus far.
Still, Apple has kept the previous 15" MacBook Pro design around for those that aren't quite ready for the future. It has an upgradeable 2.5" drive slot and two slots for RAM. It also has a full array of ports, including FireWire and gigabit Ethernet. And, perhaps most importantly to those still dependent on CDs and DVDs, it has an optical drive for those who want the convenience of having one built-in.
But making hard decisions about what stayed in and what had to go has allowed Apple to build a machine that's every bit as powerful—and with the right adapters, as capable—as last year's MacBook Pro design. Yet Apple shaved about 27 percent of the volume and over a pound of weight in the process.
If you have seen any unibody MacBook Pro in the last few years, you already have a pretty good idea of what the Retina MacBook Pro looks like. It has the same textured aluminum finish, the same rounded corners, and the same huge trackpad. The display has a uniform black appearance when the screen is off, due to its fused glass panel—similar to the display assembly of the iPhone 4 and 4S.
The keyboard is slightly different from that used on previous Pro models. Its layout is identical to thecurrent MacBook Air, including the extra key in the F13 position that serves as the power button. (The aluminum power button on the upper right is now gone). And like all of Apple's laptops, the keyboard is backlit.
The feel of the keyboard is also slightly different. The keys themselves have a very slight texture to them. Key travel appears to be slightly reduced. It's hard to quantify, but there's definitely less travel than previous Pros, or even my 2010 MacBook Air. We wouldn't call this bad, per se, but it's something you will notice and may take some time getting used to.
Laser-etched speaker grilles flank either side of the keyboard, and a noise-canceling microphone is hidden behind each.
One area where the new Pro differs from the old design is the addition of small linear vents along the bottom side edges of the casing. These vents are part of the revised cooling system, and Apple claims that the way they are carved into the unibody creates additional torsional rigidity. There's no noticeable flex in either MacBook Pro as far as we can tell, though—both seem pretty solid.
So the design isn't really new, per se, just slightly refined for this particular model. It's thin, solid, andfeels like a professional machine—exactly what you would expect.