At Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference this year, Apple ditched its massive 17-inch MacBook Pro for this: the all-new 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. It’s a pixel-dense, fire-breathing, knee-knocking, man-eating machine!
According to Apple, it’s “as light as Air”, but this hasn’t really affected the power-to-weight ratio. It packs Intel’s mighty Ivy Bridge chipset as well as Nvidia Kepler graphics. Apple really isn’t messing around here: the models start with a 2,3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor with GeForce GT 650M graphics, 8GB RAM and 256GB of flash storage.
The Retina MacBook Pro holds up the gorgeous unibody design circa 2010. One of the most impressive parts of the machine is just how thin it is. It is insanely thin for a machine of these specs. We really think Apple has achieved a remarkable feat of engineering here.
And all of the 15-inch Pro’s familiar features are on offer here: full backlit chiclet keyboard, large multi-touch glass trackpad, 720p HD FaceTime camera and speaker grilles on the left- and right-hand sides. The keyboard is responsive and “clicky”, with great feedback coming from the trackpad.
The Retina model does borrow one tweak from the Air in that the power button is a black chiclet key in the top right corner instead of the Pro’s dedicated silver circle outside of the keyboard. Otherwise both the keyboard and trackpad feel the same as the old Pro.
The machine has the new Magsafe 2 charging adapter, two Thunderbolt ports, a USB 3.0 port and a 3,5mm headphone jack. On the other side of the computer, Apple has ditched the optical drive and instead added an SDXC card slot, one HDMI port and another USB 3.0 port. We quite like the way Apple has positioned these ports, making a lot of sense in day-to-day work.
Loss of the FireWire port may upset some but won’t be a big deal for most. The Ethernet port has also been dumped, but you can purchase a Thunderbolt to Ethernet adaptor for R380 or a USB to Ethernet adaptor for R329. An external optical drive (SuperDrive) is also available for R899 for the few who still need to use this type of media.
Now lets’ talk about the machine’s internals. Inside the model we tested was a 2,3GHz quad-core i7, 8GB of 1 600MHz RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive, Intel HD Graphics 4000 and a dedicated Nvidia GeForce GT 650M card with 1GB of GDDR5 memory. (Note that all components are soldered on, so no upgrade options are available after purchase.)
This thing really flies. With a boot time of about 14s, you can see just why Apple touts it for photography, video editing, design and gaming. With specs like these, this thing can handle everything you throw at it. Photoshop is not a problem. Neither is Final Cut Pro X and it will push out graphics-intensive games such as Galaxy on Fire 2 HD and Portal 2 at really good frame rates. Even Web browsing feels faster.
Right, benchmarking time! On Geekbench I picked up a score of around 12 000 – 13 000, which is double that of the new 13-inch MacBook Pro. Novabench gives you about 1 100, which is about the same as last year’s 27-inch iMac specced to the maximum. We can thank that solid-state drive for performance levels four times faster than previous MacBook Pros. Write speeds are in the region of 400MB/s and read speeds about 450MB/s. Even though it has a new fan system, it still gets a little hot at times. However, the fans are a lot quieter compared to previous models.
That Retina display
Of course, it’s the Retina display that people are getting really excited about this machine. At 2 880×1 800 pixel it’s the most pixel-dense display on any Mac. It’s quite simply class leading. It’s a 15,4-inch backlit LED display with IPS technology. At 220ppi, the display actually competes with the fourth-generation iPad’s 264ppi screen. Quite frankly, text looks amazing! The display has also been laminated to the glass thus providing better viewing angles and a more immersive experience.
Even though many third-party apps haven’t been updated for the Retina display, this is more a temporary setback as all Apple software and most Adobe products have been updated. Colours are vivid with reproduction spot-on. This is the best display shipping on any laptop today. Period.
But what does that screen do to the battery? The computer has a built-in 95Wh lithium-polymer battery, the biggest in Apple’s portable line-up. Despite the larger battery, Apple estimates seven hours of Web use and your more likely bet is five or six hours and, under heavy use, four hours.
In summary, the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro is an amazing product. However, only someone who will use it to its full potential can justify the price tag. The entry-level model costs an eye-watering R23 999. This will get you a 2,3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive and Nvidia GeForce GT 650M graphics with 1GB of GDDR5 video RAM. Then, for a crazy R29 999 you’ll get a 512GB solid-state drive and an even faster Intel processor thrown into the mix.