Apple’s gorgeous new MacBook Pro with Retina display made its debut at WWDC on Monday. The “Retina display” is what makes this new laptop so noteworthy. Apple’s standard 15” MacBook Pro has a resolution of 1440 by 900. The new Retina model features a 2880 by 1800 pixel display– quadrupling the numbers of pixels and making this the highest-resolution laptop ever. Lean in closely to the computer you’re sitting at and stare at this text. With a typical LCD, you’ll be able to see a grid in the white background and you’ll be able to make out the antialiasing and rigid curves of the text. With the Retina display, everything is crisp and clear. You really need to see one to appreciate the difference. A few years from now, these displays will be the norm. Right now, it’s only available on the Mac.
The new MacBook Pro has specs to match its new display. The processor is a top-of-the-line quad-core Intel Core i7, available in speeds from 2.3 to 2.7 GHz (Turbo Boost up to 3.7GHz). The standard amount of RAM is 8 GB, with an option for 16 GB. In lieu of a hard drive, the MacBook Pro features a SSD (solid state drive) in 256 GB, 512 GB, or 768 GB sizes. For SSD, that is huge. It’s rare to see SSD drives over 480 GB, and those typically cost around $500. SSD drives have no moving parts, consume less than half the power of a hard drive, and are about four times as fast.
The high quality engineering that went into designing this exceptional new laptop is evident: even with an i7 processor and a Retina display, the MacBook Pro manages to get 7 hours of battery life, out of a laptop that weights just 4.46 lbs and is only 0.71 inches thick. Other niceties abound. Dual microphones reduce background noise and an exceptional airflow system and fans with asymmetrically spaced impeller blades improve cooling and make the computer quieter. The built-in camera is 720p – the same as HDTV. With two of Intel’s new Thunderbolt ports, expansion is practically unlimited. Thunderbolt contains both a video signal and what is essentially a PCI Express expansion port, making Thunderbolt as versatile as an internal expansion slot on a desktop computer. Gigabit Ethernet and Firewire (coming in July) are available through Thunderbolt adapters.
What’s the downside? Price, for one. The MacBook Pro with Retina display starts at $2,199. With the 2.7 GHz processor, 16 GB RAM, and a 768 GB SSD drive, you’re now looking at $3,749. Another relatively minor downside is screen brightness: it’s 20% dimmer than a non-Retina MacBook Pro. The other big compromise is in upgrading and repairing: don’t plan on doing either. The solid-state drive is on a proprietary daughterboard – a different proprietary daughterboard than what Apple has used previously on MacBook Airs. Apple won’t sell the 512 GB or 768 GB SSD drives with the 2.3 GHz, $2,199 model. If you want more than 256 GB of storage – a meager amount by today’s standards – you either need to start with the $2,799 model or wait for third party manufacturers to develop compatible SSD modules. Expect to pay a premium.
The situation is much worse with the RAM. It’s soldered to the motherboard. If the RAM fails, you’re looking at a motherboard swap to repair it, or sending it off to a shop that does high-end component-level repairs. In my experience, RAM is the most common failure point after hard drives. It’s also the component that users most often want to upgrade. For this reason, I’d recommend spending the extra $200 to get 16 GB. If you don’t do it at the initial purchase, you’ll never get to.
But at least it’s possible to do component-level repairs, if you have to. The display, by contrast, is a single sealed unit that can’t be open. If one component fails, the whole assembly has to be replaced. A particular weak point here is the cables that runs through the hinge and up into the inaccessible display assembly. If they get pinched, you now have one useless Retina display. Also built into the display are the iSight camera and antennas for wifi and bluetooth: inexpensive components that will require an entire screen replacement if they fail.
Finally, we come to the battery – a component that you’ll want to replace every couple years. For instance, the two-year old battery in my own MacBook Pro only holds 3/4 of its original capacity, and I run it from AC most of the time. Early MacBook Pros had removable batteries: all you have to do to swap one out is pull the latch and pop in your spare. To replace the battery in my two-year-old MacBook Pro, I have to open the case and unscrew it. With the increased battery life of this model, it’s a reasonable compromise: no more spares, and the battery can still be easily replaced when it gets old. The battery in this new MacBook Pro is glued to the case. Glued. And the trackpad cable runs underneath the battery, so you risk severing it as you attempt to pry the battery out. Good luck!
iFixit describes the MacBook Pro with Retina display as “the least repairable laptop we’ve taken apart. Apple has packed all the things we hate into one beautiful little package.” Apple is calling it the “best computer Apple has ever made”. There’s no question that this machine is the latest and greatest. Just budget an extra $349 for the extended 3-year-warranty and don’t plan on keeping this disposable luxury computer much longer than that.
Photo by Apple
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