MacBook Pro Retina – It’s not the display

An update to my previous post about the MacBook Pro Retina now that I’ve used it daily for 2 weeks.

The rMBP should really be considered as 2 pieces of technology, the hardware and, separately, the display. The hardware design encompasses non-upgradable integrated components, cpu, thinner profile, no dvd, no ethernet, MagSafe 2, weight, and size.  The display encompasses the retina display, obviously, but also the graphics hardware that pushes all the pixels.

Let’s talk about the hardware, the easy part. Coming from a 13″ MacBook Air 2011 i5, I’ve come to appreciate the raw power the Pro offers at the cost of weight and size. Apple’s pricing scheme means that the rMBP is an absolute no brainer if you’re considering a 15″ Apple laptop. For an extra $400 you’ll get 2x the RAM, an SSD, and essentially what equates to the high resolution display option on the base MacBook Pro. All these options in a base MBP will drive the cost up to $2,500. More bang for your buck. I can’t recall the last time I put a DVD in any computer I own and every network I connect to is N so the omitted hardware is a non-issue.

If you’re deciding between a MBA 13″ and a rMBP, that’s a tougher decision. All I have to say is be prepared to give up mobility with the rMBP. Even though it’s lighter than a non-retina MBP, it’s not even in the same ballpark as an MBA.

Now let’s talk about the display. It is not worth it. 99% of third party apps are not retina optimized so you’re staring at blurry assets 24/7. (I don’t use Safari.) I recently noticed severe display lag in everything from scrolling to expose. AnandTech has a great article on this topic and there numerous videos on YouTube showing the effect. Anand points out that Mountain Lion will improve the situation but at the end of the day, the graphics technology has not caught up yet.

Regardless of performance, the best resolution (for me) to run is equivalent to 1680×1050 which gives me more screen real estate. Apple’s recommended setting gives 0% more real estate, rather pointless to me. For all the marketing Apple has done, the hype just doesn’t match the reality.

In short, there are many reasons to buy a rMBP but the retina display is not one of them. I have no clue how Apple will manage their laptop line ups in the future and how they’ll converge but my recommendation for the “average” consumer would be the 13″ MBA. It’s definitely the sweet spot for performance, price, and weight.