MacBook Pro Retina Reviews: A High-Res Display & New CPU Score High Marks

By , dealnews Senior Feature Writer

With its updated processor, slim redesign, and searing display, the MacBook Pro Retina is Apple's new go-to machine for power users. Launched at the Worldwide Developer's Conference 2012, it breaks with many of the MacBook Pro's traditions while re-inventing what a high-end laptop should look like. But is this pricey new notebook the future of the MacBook Pro or is it just a small footnote in the Pro's evolution? We read through every major review, analyzed all the pros and cons, and summed up all the necessary criticisms below for your pre-shopping needs.

Familiar Look, Complete Redesign

At first glance, the MacBook Pro Retina might look like a trimmed down version of the MacBook Pro, but take a closer look and you'll realize there's a lot more to this machine than a slimmer chassis. In fact, this redesign is the "biggest change to the Pro's aesthetics since it adopted the now-familiar aluminum unibody construction in 2008," says CNET.

By shedding its optical drive and opting for a solid state drive, the MacBook Pro Retina has managed to drop down to 4.4 lbs. That's a full pound lighter than the standard 2012 MacBook Pro. Likewise, the machine now sports a slimmer 0.7" waistline, which is 0.2" thinner than the standard MacBook Pro. That leaves the MacBook Pro Retina in a very unique spot. It's not an ultrabook competitor, nor is it a full midsize laptop, says CNET. "Instead, it's an entirely new take that skirts the two, taking features from both sides of the aisle." So if you're looking for an on-the-go laptop, you might be better off with a MacBook Air or an ultrabook. "This is not the ultimate mobile laptop for people who have to jog around from place to place all day long, five or more days per week," says CNET.

However, if your current daily laptop is already a 15" MacBook Pro (or even a 17" model), and you don't travel as much, the MacBook Pro Retina's lighter weight will be a huge benefit. As Laptop points out, for a 15" workhorse, the "new MacBook Pro [Retina] balances portability and power like no other notebook."

In addition to dropping the optical drive, which the editors at MacWorld had no problem leaving behind, the new MacBook Pro Retina also ditches its Ethernet and FireWire ports. To compensate, Apple now gives you two Thunderbolt ports and two USB 3.0 ports. (There's also an SDXC card slot along the right side of the computer.) As CNET notes, the Thunderbolt Port is still widely under-used, but in this case it'll come in handy as you'll need it to hook up dongles/adapters for those missing Ethernet and FireWire ports. Another not-so-obvious omission on the MacBook Pro Retina is the ExpressCard/34 slot, which as MacWorld points out was only available on the recently discontinued 17" MacBook Pro. So if you used that slot for, say, a 3G modem, you'll now have to rely on a USB-based 3G modem, which shouldn't be too much of a disruption.

However, if you still miss those legacy ports, there's good news because for the first time ever, Apple has fitted its flagship laptop with a full-size HDMI port. Ultimately, "Apple has kicked older technologies to the curb in favor of more forward-looking connections," says Laptop.

Best Display Your Money Can Buy

Let's cut to the chase. The real reason you want Apple's new laptop is for its first-of-its-kind 2880x1800-pixel screen. "Even in everyday use, the screen looks amazing," says CNET. "Colors pop and images have great depth." And if you think the Retina display is just a gimmick, Engadget points out that the new display also boasts better viewing angles, better contrast, and reduced glare.

However, PC Mag reminds us that not all existing Mac applications have been updated to take advantage of the new Retina display, and that splash of cold water could turn off early adopters. "Apple-sourced apps like Safari, Final Cut Pro, and Aperture look terrific, but non-optimized apps like Google Chrome will show upscaled and jaggy fonts." MacWorld suggests that for anyone who's tuned into such nuances, these jagged fonts will be "annoying." However, that problem is likely to go away as more developers update their programs.

In the meantime, if you use your machine to read a lot of text or browse through pictures and videos (and let's face it, most of us do), you'll appreciate the MacBook Pro Retina's gorgeous display. "Text on the new MacBook Pro looks smooth from both far away and close up, as if it were laser printed on paper," says PC Mag. Is a laptop with smoother text worth $2,199 for the average user? The editors at Computer Shopper think its overkill, especially when you can find a perfectly serviceable $500 mainstream Windows laptop.

"If, however, you're a serious content creator or an image or video enthusiast, dealing daily with 20-megapixel-plus photos or multiple 1080p video clips, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display is not just a wish-list or status-symbol laptop — it's a ticket to new levels of productivity," says Shopper. PC Mag also adds that watching films on the MacBook Pro Retina is "like having a large-screen HDTV you can rest on your lap." One with three million more pixels, of course. As CNET succinctly puts it, the MacBook Pro Retina's resolution provides "a level of detail never seen on a laptop before." (By comparison, the highest standard Windows laptop screen resolution is just 1920x1080 pixels.)

Ivy League Performance

Despite the diminutive dimensions, there's plenty of processing power inside the MacBook Pro Retina. Apple has fitted its machine with a 2.3-GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 Ivy Bridge processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and NVIDIA's latest GeForce GT 650M graphics card with 1GB of memory. (As with most Apple laptops, these specs are customizable.) When you don't require the extra processing power, graphics switch to Intel's HD Graphics 4000, which helps conserve your laptop's battery life.

"All of these components translated to a blazing benchmark performance," says Laptop. Using Geekbench, a cross-platform app that measures processor and memory performance, both Engadget and Laptop recorded scores of over 11,000. By comparison, the 2011 MacBook Pro maxed out at just 10,874 and the just-released MSI GT60 (a hardcore gaming laptop with an Ivy Bridge quad-core Core i7 CPU, 12GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670M GPU with 3GB of memory) scored just 10,854.

Across the board, the new MacBook Pro Retina blazed through benchmark tests dusting its predecessors and Windows-based competitors alike, which is "even more impressive when you consider that those other systems are mostly full-size desktop replacements," as CNET notes. In real-world terms, it means the MacBook Pro Retina will effortlessly ease through any applications you throw its way.

Engadget was also impressed by the laptop's SSD write and read speeds, which hovered around 390MB/s and 440MB/s, respectively. That means you'll be able to access your files and documents much faster than you would with a standard laptop with a traditional hard disk drive.

Battery-wise, the new MacBook Pro Retina easily reached (and in some cases surpassed) Apple's 7-hour claim. Both Engadget and Laptop reported battery life of 7:49 and 8:02, respectively, while CNET and PC Mag recorded times of 6:59 and 6:53.

A Laptop For the Rich & Famous

The new MacBook Pro with Retina display received praise throughout the blogosphere. In fact, we were hard-pressed to find negative statements about Apple's new golden child. In essence, it blends the best of the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and iPad 3. As TechRadar points out, it's clear the MacBook Pro Retina is the future of Apple laptops, but the high-cost of the Retina screen could take a long time to trickle down throughout the range. So while it may be a notebook like no other, "its price may well limit it to high-needs professionals."

Users who like to tweak their computers should also heed MacWorld's warning. "If your idea of a 'pro' machine allows you to upgrade or customize some of its parts (like the Mac Pro, Apple's most customizable computer), then the Retina MacBook Pro will be a disappointment." Ultimately, potential buyers should make sure to choose a configuration they'll be comfortable with.

Thinking of purchasing the latest and greatest from Apple? Keep an eye on our Mac deals page, or consider setting up a custom email alert.

Photo credits, from top to bottom: The Verge,
Ars Technica, Slash Gear, Pocket-lint, and Mashable

An avid gadget lover, Louis Ramirez has covered technology for Gizmodo, CNET, Laptop, and various other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @LouisRamirez.

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DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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Jerry, the MBP~Retina has been announced and shipping for nearly 2 weeks; you don't need to rely on rumor sites any longer...
No clue on the price? MacRumors in mid May estimated an increase in display price of $64 plus, but would not be surprised if the price increased by $150. Given the ultra high cost of a Macbook this is small potatoes.
Louis Ramirez (DealNews)
Thanks, @deltaman and @Dublin_Bob!  Great to hear the review roundup is proving helpful!
Very well written review!  And I couldn't agree more with the comment from deltaman above.  Glad I came here today cuz GOOD STUFF.  
Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
Glad you appreciated the feature! And if you ever manage to jump-start your car with a MacBook Pro battery, please film it and send it our way :) 
Dealnews earned its chops thru a relentless focus on serving-up low-priced deals, so I was surprised and pleased to see that this review focused on defining value from the viewpoint of the select group most in need of the Retina's advanced features. To date, a lot of the "buzz" about this new notebook has been contaminated by reviews and comments from folks who don't "get" that this expensive, specialized product was primarily designed for photo-journalists & videographers who need high-end editing capabilities on-location. In that role, it stands-out in comparison to anything else that's currently shipping or even announced. Apple characteristically says very little about the reasons behind design choices and trade-offs -- letting the results speak for themselves... Predictably, that vacuum has encouraged a great deal of naive whining about the "loss" of Ethernet and the optical drive (not true) or Apple being "greedy" for now charging extra for features that used to be bundled. In fact, most "features" that communicate with the external world thru a port (FireWire, HDMI, Optical Drive, Ethernet, USB, ExpressCard, eSATA, SD card reader, etc.) are like icebergs, in that there's a lot more about them "under the hood" which is hidden from view; besides the extra space for internal wiring and chipsets needed to support these functions, they also require increased power to operate them and more ventilation to cool them. Anyone who has seen take-apart pics of the MacBook Pro ~ Retina realizes that there's barely a thimble-full of unused space inside. Apple made deliberate power trade-offs, to achieve an honest 7-hours on location use between charges. Even so, the Retina's battery is huge - like you might jump-start your car with it in the dead of winter!  

Thanks to Louis, perhaps, we can now put this great controversy to rest, and allow the Internet to get back to its real job of serving-up Facebook, spam, malware & porn for the "average" laptop user whose needs are fully met by a "mainstream" $500 laptop...
"A Laptop For the Rich"...that's the whole review right there ;)