A few weeks ago, I took delivery of a 13in MacBook Pro with Retina Display. I didn’t find so much information online about potential advantages and problems. I’m posting my experiences here.
I took the fastest machine available, and took the luxury of a 512Gb drive. Overall, with virtual machines, large data sets and substantial (read: over 30 Gb) iPhoto and iTunes libraries, I had to manage space on the 256Gb drive in my previous 13in Pro quite judiciously. Even with a 2.9GHz i7 (4 cores), Menu Meters sometimes shows 100% across all processors, but the machine is completely silent. I can’t get fan noise out of it. Compared to the old Pro that sometimes sounded like a jet readying itself for takeoff, this silence is a major plus.
Long battery life was a super advantage of my old 13in Pro. I could get 8 hours. The Retina model is cited as having a similar battery life, but I’m not convinced. I normally have the screen on about 1/2 brightness and a lot of the work I do is simply writing. But I don’t get easily get 6 hours out of a fully charged battery. This short life is a pain on long trips without power sockets (e.g. some planes) where I want to take advantage of solitude to get some work done.
The reduced weight, and even the slightly reduced size, is a major advantage of the Retina model. If you have a Macbook Air, you already know what I’m talking about. The new retina 13in is like a thick Air rather than a thin Pro. It’s really that small, and yet feels even more solid than previous models, probably for having almost no moving parts. If you have an case for an existing 13in model, you won’t be able to use it. The new form factor is quite a lot smaller. I don’t notice it in my bag. I don’t miss the DVD drive. I bought Apple’s exterior USB DVD drive – I just don’t have to carry it around with me all day.
Much has been written about how great the screen is. It is great, and noticeably less reflective, but very few apps have updated to Retina standards. I can see this update will be a problem for apps with a smaller user base, such as scientific software. For example, some apps with inbuilt pdf viewers still render them non-Retina. Other apps have a mixture of system and custom dialogs (e.g. Adobe) and it’s quite distracting in this case to switch between Retina and non-Retina display items in a workflow. Anyone who buys this machine is banking on this problem tending to go away as more Retina displays arrive and more app updates occur.
In terms of performance, as revealed by Anandtech, the system can barely keep up with the display. I knew about this deficiency, having watched iTunes animations on Retina and non-Retina models with similar CPUs side by side in a local store. On the Retina model, 2D graphics were simply not as smooth, in fact almost jerky. It’s a strange trade-off to have a screen that looks so unbelievably good whilst static, but worse when things move. I think I have already gotten used to defects in animations and scrolling that may be present.
The speakers are much louder, which is convenient if you want to listen to a podcast or internet radio in a non-silent place.
Wake from sleep can be a big problem, and I’m not alone. Upon opening the display, the computer can fall into 100% usage for each core and the wait can be some minutes. This problem comes reliably when the battery is allowed to run to zero. At first, it seemed that it came any time the clamshell was opened without the power cable in. The problem was demonstrated in this way to me in a local computer shop (not my reseller). They didn’t have “Menu Meters” so in the absence of fan noise, see above, I couldn’t tell if the CPU was maxing out. The shop guy was convinced that it’s a firmware problem, but others think it’s the chipset and the only solution is to swap it out. I’ll persevere for now. A few applications (e.g. Sente) became buggy or lost functionality, which is unusual when migrating user accounts to other machines.
The Macbook Retina models got spec bumps recently. I couldn’t take advantage of a free exchange – my reseller HSD.de didn’t offer it. I imagine it will probably take a new GPU to really bring the graphics performance back to life. I’m surprised that the poor 2D performance hasn’t gotten more attention.
My overall recommendation: good, and in some ways unparalleled, but: more niggles than usual mean that the machine isn’t mindblowingly awesome, just very good.