The Design

The problem with being on the forefront of design is every iteration is expected to significantly outdo the one before it. The unibody MacBook Pro design took build quality to a new level for Apple. By constructing all parts of the machine that you generally interact with out of the same piece of aluminum, Apple significantly reduced the amount of flex and creaks you’d encounter during normal use.

The next-gen MacBook Pro chassis doesn’t revolutionize the design, but it does make some significant evolutionary improvements. The most tangible impact as I’ve already mentioned is the reduction in size and weight of the machine. At its thickest part, the 13-inch MacBook Air is actually a little thicker than the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro. Unlike the MacBook Air however, the rMBP does not feature a tapered design. Instead you get a constant thickness which is definitely reminiscent of the previous design.

The backlit keyboard and glass covered trackpad remain, although the key travel has been reduced somewhat - likely to help thin down the chassis. It's not worse, just different in my opinion.

The reduction in thickness also comes at the expense of a missing optical drive and no mechanical storage. Once again Apple has opted to use its own custom form factor and custom SATA connector for the NAND based storage in the rMBP. You’ll hear no complaints from me on the move away from mechanical storage as I’ve been recommending SSDs as upgrades for the past few years. The battery continues to be integrated but it’s no longer easily user removable as the custom cells are now glued to the chassis. A few years down the road your rMBP will have to take a trip to the Apple store (or a clever third party service center) to get its battery replaced.


The MacBook Pro with Retina Display, Image Courtesy iFixit

This is the first Pro appliance that Apple has ever produced. The CPU, GPU, DRAM, battery, display and, for now, the SSD are either non-removable or at least not user-upgradeable. On a $499 iPad that’s one thing, but on a $2199 professional notebook that’s a completely different matter. I can even make an exception for the MacBook Air as it is more of a consumer device, where computing needs have largely slowed down over the past several years. But for a professional machine, to have such a fixed configuration seems very worrisome.

MacBook Pro with Retina Display Comparison
  15-inch Mid 2012 MacBook Pro MacBook Pro with Retina Display
Dimensions 0.95 H x 14.35 W x 9.82" D 0.71 H x 14.13 W x 9.73" D
Weight 5.6 lbs (2.54 kg) 4.46 lbs (2.02 kg)
CPU Core i7-3615QM Core i7-3720QM Core i7-3615QM
L3 Cache 6MB 6MB 6MB
Base CPU Clock 2.3GHz 2.6GHz 2.3GHz
Max CPU Turbo 3.3GHz 3.6GHz 3.3GHz
GPU Intel HD 4000 + NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M
GPU Memory 512MB GDDR5 1GB GDDR5
System Memory 4GB DDR3-1600 8GB DDR3-1600 8GB DDR3L-1600
Primary Storage 500GB 5400RPM HDD 750GB 5400RPM HDD 256GB SSD
Optical Drive Y Y N
Display Size 15.4-inches
Display Resolution 1440 x 900 2880 x 1800
Thunderbolt Ports 1 2
USB Ports 2 x USB 3.0
Other Ports 1 x Firewire 800, 1 x Audio Line in, 1 x Audio Line out, SDXC reader, Kensington Lock slot SDXC reader, HDMI out, headphone out
Battery Capacity 77.5 Wh 95 Wh
Price $1799 $2199 $2199

Apple has definitely made accommodations to make this unupgradeable reality more palatable. Sure the primary silicon is fixed, but all Retina MacBook Pro configurations ship with a minimum of 8GB of DDR3L-1600 memory. The only available upgrade is a move to 16GB, which will surely suit most needs for at least a few years to come (if not more).

The SSD is physically removable although there isn’t presently a source of 3rd party upgrades. I suspect we will see some in the future although there are always concerns about any legal claims to Apple’s unique form factor and physical interface. Apple’s concession here is it offers as much NAND as is physically possible today: up to 768GB if you’re willing to pay the handsome upgrade fee.

We’ve long given up on upgrading mobile CPUs or GPUs, and more recently abandoning the removable battery in favor of increasing capacity and reducing form factors is a trade off we’ve accepted as well. Apple has tried to help on the memory and SSD sides but the whole package is still very...fixed.

Despite all of this my only real complaint about Apple’s fixed configuration is the $2199 spec comes with too little storage by default. If I want to carelessly use my machine and not worry about regularly deleting unused files I find that I need 512GB of storage. At 256GB it’s too easy to run out of space, particularly if I’m on the road and dealing with lots of photos and videos. If you’re like me then you’re shoehorned into getting the $2799 configuration as there’s no way to just upgrade the size of the SSD in the $2199 model. And if you’re spending $2799 you might as well get the 16GB memory upgrade, if you can convince yourself that you’re not going to buy the Haswell version next year.

Retina MacBook Pro Silicon: One Big Happy Family

Powering the Retina Display MacBook Pro is Intel’s latest and greatest quad-core Core i7. A part of the new 22nm Ivy Bridge family the Intel silicon in the system is well done as always. The default configuration ships with a 2.3GHz quad-core offering, while the upgraded option is clocked at 2.6GHz. Apple offers one more upgrade at 2.7GHz while upping the L3 cache to 8MB. Since these are i7s all of them have Hyper Threading enabled, making the major difference between parts frequency and cache size in the case of the most upgraded part.

Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display CPU Comparison
  2.3GHz quad-core 2.6GHz quad-core 2.7GHz quad-core
Intel Model Core i7-3615QM Intel Core i7-3720QM Intel Core i7-3820QM
Base Clock Speed 2.3GHz 2.6GHz 2.7GHz
Max SC Turbo 3.3GHz 3.6GHz 3.7GHz
Max DC Turbo 3.2GHz 3.5GHz 3.6GHz
Max QC Turbo 3.1GHz 3.4GHz 3.5GHz
L3 Cache 6MB 6MB 8MB
AES-NI Yes Yes Yes
VT-x Yes Yes Yes
VT-d Yes Yes Yes
TDP 45W 45W 45W
Processor Graphics Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000
GPU Clock (Base/Max) 650/1250MHz 650/1250MHz 650/1250MHz

Turbo Boost is supported and active on all options. As always I verified its support in OS X as well as its functional operation:

889A refers to the max number of speed bins supported by Turbo Boost for 4, 3, 2 and 1 active core, respectively, in hex. For example, the 2.6GHz base clock of the Core i7 in my test system can turbo up a maximum of 8 bins with three/four cores active (2.6GHz + 800MHz = 3.4GHz), or 9 bins with 2 cores active (3.5GHz) or 10 bins (A in hex) with 1 core active (3.6GHz). Just as with previous mobile Macs, CPU clocks remain unchanged regardless of whether the system is running on AC or battery power.


Intel's quad-core 22nm Ivy Bridge

All of the CPU options feature Intel’s HD 4000 graphics, which handles the majority of graphics duties unless you fire up an application that triggers the discrete GPU. All of the rMBPs feature NVIDIA’s GeForce GT 650M equipped with 1GB of GDDR5. Apple went aggressive on the Kepler implementation and ships a full 384 core GK107 in the rMBP. The GPU clock is set at a very aggressive 900MHz with a 1254MHz memory clock. I do appreciate that there’s no variance in GPU/memory configuration across all of the Retina MacBook Pro options, it greatly simplifies the purchasing experience.

Introduction & Portability Ports & Expansion
POST A COMMENT

470 Comments

View All Comments

  • Manni01 - Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - link

    Great review as usual, but I would really like to know how Anand was able to check if Speedstep and Turboboost worked. In the last Macbook review (2011), he used MSR Tools, but I could not get these to work on Lion on my June 2012 MBP 13. He remains very vague about how, although he does confirm this works as expected on the MBP 15r .
    This isn't my experience. I tried using Intel's MacCPUID in Lion, and a few other tools, and it looks like the CPU is locked at nominal speed (2.9GHz in my case), so neither speedstep nor Turboboost seem to work in Lion. They work as intended in Win7/Bootcamp, going down to 1GHz to save battery or up to 3.6GHz when only one core needs more power.
    So here are my questions:
    1) Anand please could you tell us which tools you have used?
    2) Has anyone tested this on the new macs (June 2012), using which tools, and what is the result?
    Speedstep definitely worked in Snow Leopard on my MBP 13 2011, so it must be a limitation in Lion.
    Reply
  • kenancagri - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    It is very good article. I loved it. Thanks for Lal Shimpi. Reply
  • williamsj - Friday, July 27, 2012 - link

    Even the iPhone 4 is physically easier to maintain/upgrade than this thing.

    Check http://www.ifixit.com

    The worst maintainable piece of hardware they have ever looked at!!

    John
    Reply
  • Throckmorton - Tuesday, August 07, 2012 - link

    You didn't address whether pixel doubling is supported for games. IE rendering each pixel as 4 screen pixels. That's very different from upscaling, because with pixel doubling there's no blurring. Reply
  • Dubious1968 - Thursday, August 09, 2012 - link

    I've given up waiting for Apple to refresh the iMac, and am thinking of buying the Macbook Pro Retina instead. My only concern is that Apple should have equipped this laptop with a more powerful graphics card, given it is driving such a high res screen.

    I will be using it for Photoshop and HD video editing along with some gaming.

    Any help appreciated.

    Dubious
    Reply
  • sleddoggin - Saturday, August 11, 2012 - link

    So, I've done my best to read (skim) through all 46 pages of comments for this post, and have been reading other threads on more-or-less the same topic, so forgive me if I've missed something.

    I own a base model rMBP w/ 16mb ram (for safety), and am really quite unimpressed by openGL performance in games that were fluid (30-60fps ANYway) on my old Mac Pro 2006 w/ an ATI Radeon 5770 HD graphics card (I guess it helps, too, that the Mac Pro GPU is sitting in an x16 PCIe lane, not an x8, as with the rMBP). The Mountain Lion upgrade has been some improvement.

    When I first read Anandtech's article, I sort of thought, why not shut the lid on my MacBook Pro Retina, and plug in my old Apple Cinema display when I want to play games (I plan on using my desktop display when I'm at home for most stuff anyway). Then, the discreet NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M wouldn't be overworked by having to render all those extra pixels, right? Wrong. Gauging from the tests I've done, anyway, I'm getting the same choked performance on my relatively low-res external display (with the rMBP lid shut) as I do when I play those games on the rMBP screen (either at native OR scaled resolutions).

    So my question becomes, isn't this a software issue? Shouldn't the Apple/NVIDIA engineers be able to re-route ALL of that sexy mobile GPU processing power to a single, lower-res external display, and save us gamers the hassle of trading in our rMBPs for regular 2012 MBPs?

    This computer upgrade is really a no-brainer for me, otherwise. With the Thunderbolt ports, and the built in HDMI, I've been easily able to retire my old Mac Pro, and still keep my various displays (HDTV, etc.), and extensive array of USB/Firewire accessories fully operational. It just blows my mind that I get better gaming performance from my creaky old 2006 Mac Pro.

    Thanks for reading my contribution to this thread. Does my thought hold ANY water? I sure as heck don't want to give up this beautiful-looking piece of hardware if I don't have to...

    Cheers,
    -SledDoggin' (another reluctant Apple fanboy)
    Reply
  • vml_ - Saturday, August 25, 2012 - link

    Here's what I don't get and haven't seen answered anywhere. If there are performance issues at 1800p, can they be alleviated by downscaling (eg to 1080p)? Reply
  • S J - Friday, August 31, 2012 - link

    That sounds like great. good effort. Also have seen nice article on http://techinlead.com/apple-introducing-macbook-pr... Reply
  • LookupOEM - Saturday, September 22, 2012 - link

    maybe i'm wrong, but i always thought that OEM means "Original Equipment Manufacturer", a company that makes equipement that is sold by others under their own name.

    Toshiba making hard drives for Apple makes it an OEM, just as Intel, Samsung and others

    but, Apple IS NOT AN OEM, and there is no such thing as a PC OEM !!
    a PC OEM would be a company that supplies parts to build a PC, not the PC maker itself.

    did i miss something here ?
    Reply
  • Penzi - Thursday, October 04, 2012 - link

    Now that Mountain Lion has been out for a bit and several programs have been "retinized" are you planning on updating your review or crafting a mini-review that addresses changes, improvements and new caveats? I, for one, would love to hear about scrolling performance and resolution impact to common software (the OS and iWorks, FinalCut, etc), such as setting the display to "more space" (1920) and clocking the Safari FB news feed, and so on... Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now