Last year when I wrote about the new MacBook Airs I offered two forward looking paragraphs:

What happens from here on out is what's really interesting. Intel has already committed to moving the TDP of its mainstream parts from 35W - 45W down to 10 - 20W. Since the Air is the new mainstream Mac notebook, Apple has already made that move. The performance in this 10 - 20W segment is going to get much better over the next two years, particularly once Haswell arrives.

The Thunderbolt Display is the first sign of what's to come. Moving IO controllers and expansion into the display, and potentially even moving discrete GPUs out of the notebook are all in store for us. Apple is really ahead of the curve here, but it's easy to imagine a future where laptops become a lot more like the new Air and shift to a couple high bandwidth ports instead of numerous lower bandwidth connections.

Perhaps I was being too aggressive in the prediction of a couple of high bandwidth ports. After all, the next-generation MacBook Pro with Retina Display features four such IO ports (2 x Thunderbolt and 2 x USB 3.0). But you get my point. Gigabit Ethernet and Firewire 800 are both gone. The discrete GPU is still present but I suspect even its days are numbered, at least inside the chassis. The personal computer as we knew it for so long, is changing.

The personal computer is getting thinner, lighter, more integrated and more appliance-like. The movement is no longer confined to just Apple either. The traditional PC OEMs are following suit. Even Microsoft has finally entered the PC hardware business, something it threatened to do for years but hadn't until now. Distribution models will change, the lines between different form factors will continue to blur. What was once a mature industry is going through a significant transformation. It’s exciting but at the same time it makes me uneasy. When I first got into this industry everyone had stories of companies with great ideas that just didn’t make it. As we go through this revolution in computing I’m beginning to see, first hand, the very same.

Apple makes the bulk of its revenue from devices that don’t look like traditional personal computers. For the past couple of years I’ve been worried that it would wake up and decide the traditional Mac is a burden, and it should instead be in the business of strictly selling consumer devices. With its announcements two weeks ago in San Francisco, I can happily say that my fears haven’t come true. At least not yet.

It’s been a while since Apple did a really exciting MacBook Pro launch. Much to my surprise, even the move to Sandy Bridge, the first quad-core in a MacBook Pro, was done without even whispers of a press conference. Apple threw up the new products on its online store, shipped inventory to its retail outlets, updated the website and called it a day. Every iPhone and iPad announcement however was accompanied with much fanfare. The MacBook Pro seemed almost forgotten.

With its WWDC unveil however Apple took something that it had resigned to unexciting, dare I say uncool status, and made a huge deal about it. Two weeks ago Apple did the expected and offered relatively modest upgrades to all of its portable Macs, all while introducing something bold.

Apple calls it the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. You’ll see me refer to it as the next-gen MacBook Pro, Retina MacBook Pro, rMBP or some other permutation of these words.

After using it for the past two weeks I can honestly say it’s the best Mac Apple has ever built. And there’s a lot more to it than hardware.

Portability

If you were hoping for a 15-inch MacBook Air, that’s not what the rMBP is. Instead it is a far more portable 15-inch MacBook Pro. I have to admit I was a bit let down the first time I laid eyes on the next-gen MacBook Pro, it looks good but it doesn’t look all that different. The disappointment quickly faded as I actually picked up the machine and started carrying it around. It’s not ultra light, but man does it make the previous chassis feel dated.

While I never really liked lugging around the old MBP (and it always made me feel like the old fogey at tradeshows where everyone else had something 13-inches or smaller), carrying the rMBP is a pleasure by comparison. Pictures really don’t do it justice. The impressively thin display assembly or overall chassis thickness look neat in a photo but it’s not until you actually live with the rMBP that you can appreciate what Apple has done here. I carry around a 15-inch MacBook Pro because it’s my desktop, and as such it’s incredibly useful to have with me when I travel. For my personal usage model, the Retina MacBook Pro is perfect.

If your workload demands that you need the performance of a MacBook Pro and your lifestyle requires you to carry it around a lot, the reduction in thickness and weight alone will be worth the upgrade to the rMBP. If you spend most of your time stationary however, you’ll have to be sold on the display and internal characteristics alone. The bad news is if the design doesn’t get you, everything else will.


From left to right: 11-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Air, 15-inch MacBook Pro, MacBook Pro with Retina Display


From left to right: 11-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Air, MacBook Pro with Retina Display


From left to right: 11-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Air, MacBook Pro with Retina Display

Design & Silicon
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  • Ohhmaagawd - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    It's a first step. There will be retina monitors in the future. Reply
  • Freakie - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Lolwut... Monitors that have great quality color are already high resolution... They were pushing major pixels before it was popular ;) Reply
  • vegemeister - Monday, July 02, 2012 - link

    With the exception of the (discontinued and originally $10,000) IBM T221 and it's derivatives, no desktop monitor has resolution exceeding 2560x1600, and that resolution is only available in the 30" form factor. Reply
  • Solandri - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    I have the lower-end version of that particular laptop ("only" a 1600x900 screen, 2x64 GB SSD). I wish I'd opted for the 1080p screen. 1600p wide isn't really enough to put two apps side-by-side. I do that all the time on my 1920x1200 external monitor though.

    The screen is a glossy TN panel, but is pretty much the best TN panel I've used. My desktop monitor is IPS so I can see its limitations. But when I'm using the Z in public, the most frequently comment I get is how beautiful the screen is. Sony also does a stellar job with their anti-reflective coatings. it's a glossy screen, but I almost never see reflections (except in sunlight). Colors are a bit too saturated, and the custom color profile I made tones it down. Unfortunately none of the reviews on it tested its gamut. But from photo editing, it's got a wider gamut than most high-end laptop displays I've seen. And it's blindingly bright too - perfectly usable in direct sunlight at max brightness. I rarely run it over half brightness.

    The quad-SSD was because the laptop came out before SATA3 SSDs were available (the SATA3 spec had only been finalized a few months prior). 2.5" SSDs were already hitting the limits of SATA2 (3 Gbps) and the only way to get around it was by putting multiple SSDs in a RAID 0 array. So that's what Sony did. The 4-SSD version benchmarks at 430-500 MB/s sequential read/write. Not too shabby in 2010 using 150 MB/s mSATA stick SSDs on SATA2.

    Optical drives are more a matter of preference. I end up burning a lot of DVDs so it's definitely convenient. But if you don't do that or watch movies, then yeah I can see it being superfluous. As much as I'd like to see media being distributed on USB sticks, their cost of $1-$2 for 4GB vs. a few cents for a DVD means it's not happening yet. Do note that the Z tops out at 2.9 pounds. It's lighter than the first and second gen Macbook Air despite having a DVD/Bluray drive. That's the second most common comment I get - "It's so light!"
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    The 1080p panel on the Z is IPS. And it's not glossy - you don't have a glass on your laptop. I believe this is more for weight reasons than anything else. Reply
  • maratus - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    No, it's not IPS. Reply
  • Solidstate89 - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    You have to be the most ignorant jackass I've ever seen. You've basically never even heard of that product until now yet that doesn't stop you from making baseless accusation after baseless accusation.

    Get the fuck over yourself. And Windows has always handled resolution scaling better than OS X, and it still does.
    Reply
  • ananduser - Saturday, June 23, 2012 - link

    In 2010 Sony offered a 13" MBP equivalent with matte 1080p TN panel(like all the other macbooks). It had a BluRay built besides a quad raid SSD option(that still exists). The current Z has the video card inside an external dock, it is as slim as the thinnest ultrabook with a full voltage CPU. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    Sony offered it in 2008 :) Reply
  • OCedHrt - Sunday, June 24, 2012 - link

    You are not applying the correct context.

    1080p is okay because windows has DPI scaling - though I agree with Anand that this doesn't work with apps that aren't written correctly. But the same applies to OS X. OS X handles it better because of vector based UI.

    It is an IPS display with 92% color gamut that Anandtech called amazing. Don't even try to pretend it sucks: http://www.anandtech.com/show/5530/sony-vaio-z2-ev...

    Blu-ray is not a default option, it is an extra configuration that you'd have to pay for. This isn't Apple were talking about - even Sony has typically more options than Apple.

    Quad-SSDs. Yes. You need to remember that his happened back in 2008 when SSDs were not doing 500mb/sec. This was back when a quad SSD only netted you about 300mb/sec and before TRIM was prevalent.
    Reply

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