The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

Performance & Feel

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

Portal 2’s Wheatley in Retina. Can anyone say Apple?

There was a time not too long ago when everything about a computer’s performance was judged by how fast its processor was, how good its graphics card was and how much RAM it had.

When Apple introduced the new MacBook Airs back in late 2010, they finally shifted the way most people thought about how powerful a laptop could be. On paper, the new MacBook Airs were dinky little machines, with wimpy last-gen Intel Core 2 Duo processors, anemic GPUs and RAM that just maxed out at 4GB. Then you actually used one, and you suddenly found yourself using the fastest computer you’d ever used in your life.

The reason the new MacBook Airs feel so speedy, even compared to machines with far better specs, is because they finally ditched the major performance bottleneck that had been crunching away underneath our fingertips for years: spinning, physical hard drives. The new MacBook Airs may not have been able to do as many calculations per second or draw as many polygons as, say, a MacBook Pro, but for 95% of what people do on their computers, none of that mattered; what was really dragging everything down and spitting up so many beach balls and introducing so much friction into our Mac experience was the fact that computers were still recording and reading their data from the computer equivalent of a 78rpm record, when every other element had become as fast as light.

You become divorced from OS X’s spinning beach ball to such an extent that when you do see one, it’s like accidentally running into a nasty ex instead of living with a ball-and-chain.

The Retina MacBook Pros gives the same gift to professionals that the MacBook Air gave to more casual laptop owners: it ditches the spinning hard drive and puts OS X into hyperdrive. The system starts up and goes to sleep faster than ever before. Rebooting the machine takes less than six seconds, and when you log in, all your previously open apps restore almost instantly. Apps open and close more quickly. Large files nearly load up instantaneously. You become divorced from OS X’s spinning beach ball to such an extent that when you do see one, it’s like accidentally running into a nasty ex instead of living with a ball-and-chain. Every single core aspect of using a Mac becomes faster, as if it were greased. The result is that, even ignoring benchmarks, the day-to-day feel of using the Retina MacBook Pro seems as if every spec in the machine had been doubled, or even tripled.

Even so, the MacBook Pro isn’t a machine for casual computer users. It’s a machine ultimately meant as a portable workstation for users who need to push their computers to the utmost limit: video professionals rendering movies, designers crunching massive Photoshop files, and the hardcore gamer looking for the fastest gaming machine he can carry under his arm. CPU, GPU and RAM count a lot.

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

The only Macs with a better Geekbench score is the Mac Pro and the top-of-the-line 27-inch iMac.

Luckily, the MacBook Pro is, even in its base configuration, still a powerhouse of a machine.

Testing the baseline Retina MacBook Pro with a 2.3GHz Ivy Bridge Core i7 processor, 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M Kepler GPU, we walked away with a Geekbench score of 12019.

That’s a staggering improvement over the 2011 MacBook Pro, which only boasted a GeekBench score of around 9500. The silicon in this machine is over 20% faster than the last-generation model, and that’s without taking into account the performance boost of the SSD. That makes this the fastest Mac you can buy short of a Xeon-fueled Mac Pro, leaving even the top-of-the-line 2011 Sandy Bridge 27-inch iMac in the dust by a considerable margin.

The 2012 Retina MacBook Pro [Review]

Diablo III runs pretty well even at 2880 x 1800. Frame rate counts during carnage.

In the real world, we saw huge performance gains on Adobe PhotoShop (which has not been updated for the Retina display yet), iMovie, Aperture and other system-taxing applications. And without a doubt, this is the best gaming notebook out there: Blizzard’s Diablo III ran at an acceptable 20-25 frames per second for us even with a maxed out (and quite unnecessary) resolution of 2,880 x 1800, and reducing it to a still insane but more realistic resolution of 2048 x 1280 gave us frame rates of 45 to 50 frames per second, even when hacking a meat path of carnage through the tormented denizens of the Arreat crater on Hell difficulty.

There’s no point in mincing words. Silicon for silicon, the Retina MacBook Pro is the most powerful notebook you can buy, and a 20% faster machine than last generation. Combined with the new Retina display and ultra-fast flash storage, this is the pretty much the best all-encompassing professional rig you can buy off the shelf.

Next Page: Experience

Related
  • InternDom

    I’m pretty sure the Retina MacBook starts out at $2199

  • InternDom
  • John Brownlee

    I’m pretty sure the Retina MacBook starts out at $2199

    Doh. Fixed. Thanks for the spot.

  • InternDom

    Doh. Fixed. Thanks for the spot

    No Problem. Either way at that price for the bottom model does 100 bucks matter anyway haha

  • Mystakill

    That fan is one of the weird-looking “speakers” I’ve ever seen :)

  • picky

    Why the fragmented article? Reloading the same page is quite distracting. The web ‘standard’ is to add a print-all link for those who wish to read it all at once.

  • JaredABurnett

    Excellent review John. I’m still waiting on mine to ship, but you’ve got me on the edge of my seat now.

  • John Brownlee

    Why the fragmented article? Reloading the same page is quite distracting. The web ‘standard’ is to add a print-all link for those who wish to read it all at once.

    Sorry about that. We do this to help balance server load, and also to make it easier for readers on slow connections. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t actually support “Single page view” for paginated posts, but I’ve got our tech guy looking into it: if it’s possible to do easily, we’ll introduce it soon.

  • Ed_Kel

    I can always count on CoM to provide great reviews.

  • vctr
    Why the fragmented article? Reloading the same page is quite distracting. The web ‘standard’ is to add a print-all link for those who wish to read it all at once.

    Sorry about that. We do this to help balance server load, and also to make it easier for readers on slow connections. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t actually support “Single page view” for paginated posts, but I’ve got our tech guy looking into it: if it’s possible to do easily, we’ll introduce it soon.

    Now for the more honest and less-bullshity response … it’s so that they get more page views.

  • zviivz

    I’m pretty sure the Retina MacBook starts out at $2199

    Starts at $1999 for education. It pays to stay in school!

  • John Brownlee
    Why the fragmented article? Reloading the same page is quite distracting. The web ‘standard’ is to add a print-all link for those who wish to read it all at once.

    Sorry about that. We do this to help balance server load, and also to make it easier for readers on slow connections. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t actually support “Single page view” for paginated posts, but I’ve got our tech guy looking into it: if it’s possible to do easily, we’ll introduce it soon.

    Now for the more honest and less-bullshity response … it’s so that they get more page views.

    Uh, no, it isn’t. The truth of the matter is that for every page after the first one, we see significant drop-off. We very, very rarely use multiple pages for anything, and when we do, it’s usually for longer, bandwidth heavy content.

  • vctr

    Why was my initial comment deleted? What do you have to hide?

  • Paragraphics

    The real reason for the multi-page article is to get more page views, and every time you click to view a different page, more ads are presented…and more chance that you will click on one of those ads.

    I don’t have any problem at all with sites that do this, but when asked about it they should just admit it.

    It’s how they pay their bills and how they can afford to provide the content we enjoy.

    (Of course it would be nice if they provided a sing-page link, as others have mentioned.)

  • jfc123

    is the resolution of apps not updated for the retina display the same as on the 2011 MBP?

  • John Brownlee

    Why was my initial comment deleted? What do you have to hide?

    It wasn’t deleted. We even responded to it and quoted it.

  • vctr
    Why the fragmented article? Reloading the same page is quite distracting. The web ‘standard’ is to add a print-all link for those who wish to read it all at once.

    Sorry about that. We do this to help balance server load, and also to make it easier for readers on slow connections. Unfortunately, WordPress doesn’t actually support “Single page view” for paginated posts, but I’ve got our tech guy looking into it: if it’s possible to do easily, we’ll introduce it soon.

    Now for the more honest and less-bullshity response … it’s so that they get more page views.

    Uh, no, it isn’t. The truth of the matter is that for every page after the first one, we see significant drop-off. We very, very rarely use multiple pages for anything, and when we do, it’s usually for longer, bandwidth heavy content.

    The fact that you see a significant drop off after the first page doesn’t even address what I was saying. The page views that you get after the first page are page views you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten if you had put the whole article on the same page.

    Paginating to get more page views is the oldest trick in the book.

  • Derek Martin

    We do this to help balance server load, and also to make it easier for readers on slow connections.

    When you paginate it, people on slow connections have to download all of the other assets once for each page (header,footer,sidebar full of different rich-media ads that don’t cache). If anything, it is a worse experience for users on slow connections.

  • Rad_Middle

    I’ve read a number of reviews of the MBPR, and found yours one of the best (if with a bit of over-repetition of the “frictionless” metaphor!) – also the first review of yours I’ve read. A few comments….

    Re: “A lot is said about Apple’s incredible design standards, but what it all boils down to is that Apple reduces technology to its essence. A MacBook Pro may look beautiful, but it does so in an understated way, without distraction: it is designed to be a frictionless nexus to the software beyond.”

    People might say you’re invoking the “form follows function” aesthetic of the Bauhaus movement – but the difference is Bauhaus buildings are drab, ugly manifestations of efficient materials use with a one-size-for-all-the-folk mentality, while Apple’s gear is beautiful, approachable and varied for many different kinds of people who want to roll their material objects their own way. So more Frank Lloyd Wright (or his fictionalized super-hero avatar of Howard Roark from “The Fountainhead”).

    Re: “…the incredible clarity of the Retina MacBook Pro’s one-of-a-kind display is all the calling card it needs. There is no mistaking this for any other laptop, or even any other Mac.”

    Which is why it barely needs “any steenking badges” – it’s its own identity in what it is.

    Re: “…you not only have two high-speed Thunderbolt ports — the perfect interface for the video, audio and photography professionals the MacBook Pro line is truly aimed at — but also USB 3.”

    One caveat, for many pros stuck either with big investments in legacy gear or in the mindset “this is the way it’s been, so the way it should stay” – and who foam at the mouth at the sound of the words “dongle” or “adapter cable” the wording should be “the perfect emerging and future interfaces”!

    Re: “compared to effortlessly slinging a MacBook Air into your bag, the Retina MacBook Pro feels like an engorged, heavy and massively huge monster.”

    This is why – since I’m transitioning from having a Win desktop and Mac notebook to having a dual OS “notetop” (a capable notebook that becomes an effect multi-screen, large storage desktop when I hook up one or two TB and/or USB 3 cables) and an iPad, my plan is to use the iPad as my daily take along machine for just keeping up with the net, email, social sites and light work, but have the option to take my “mini-monster” out for longer trips or any time I have processing/screen real estate work to do.

    I’m torn in the common “future shock” quandary about possibly waiting until the next rev – the more power efficient “tock” of Ivy Bridge’s “tick” in Intel’s chip cycle – which might garner another hour of battery life with a speed bump, and a likely better buy on 512 (and up) GB SSD’s (and if I understand things, the all-optical version of TB – though I’ve heard this will somehow be backward compatible??). This would make the next rev considerably more cost efficient – at the same price – e.g., if 512 SSD’s are the price of today’s 256, etc. And TB gear is likely to be much more common and down in cost as well. Not to mention that the awkward transition to retina-optimized software will be well in progress.

    This is also a strategic investment for me – being in a category you didn’t mention: frugal prosumers who buy the best machine they can with the notion NOT of taxing it out right out of the box, but rather, with a plan of keeping it as their main digital device for at least 3-4 years, knowing that software and the net is continually going to ask more of all computers. So it’s likely MORE machine than I need today, but one unlikely to be utterly “obselesced” for at least that long.

    Anyway, good work and thanks for your clear writing and good insights!

  • Matthew Gonzales Landry

    I love my new Retina MacBook Pro. Keys feel so much better than the model of yesteryear.

    I’m a writer, but I bought the computer because I wanted Apple’s pure vision of a modern notebook. The Retina Display is beautiful, the OS is solid; I can’t wait to dive deeper into this computer.

    Love at first keystroke ?

  • Rad_Middle

    PS: I would have much preferred to comment via Google – but couldn’t – I kept getting rejected for not putting in whatever your algorithm wants for “Location” – I tried city, city and state, state, zip code, etc. but kept getting bounced back to the log-in screen asking me in red for something I didn’t grok.

    Can you explain how to log in on the GOOG screen???

  • Roman Kuznetsov

    I’m pretty sure the Retina MacBook starts out at $2199

    I think what yes

    http://joomlasecret.ru

  • Andrew Kerr

    Essentially Apple has killed the regular ol’ Macbook in name only. The non-Retina display MB Pros are the new Macbook. But it says Pro, so it’s nicer.
    “This one goes to 11″
    — Nigel Tufnel

  • iBurrisJr

    Why the fragmented article? Reloading the same page is quite distracting. The web ‘standard’ is to add a print-all link for those who wish to read it all at once.

    Why not just use the Reader feature in Safari.. Merged all 7 pages for me.

  • CameronFenton

    This is a great in-depth review, but I have to take issue with one point. The reviewer says “without a doubt, this is the best gaming notebook out there…” and this is just false. The 650M is on the either the high end of mid-range cards or the low end of high-end cards. It’s certainly not a bad card by any means, but there are gaming laptops out there with 680Ms that blow the 650M away. Sure, they aren’t cheap, but neither is this. It might be the best Macbook for gaming, but it’s definitely not the best laptop for gaming.

  • Zoomerdog

    John, this is the best, most thoughtful and insightful review of the MBP/wRetina Display that I’ve seen. Nicely written, too.

  • iBurrisJr

    From an Apple Expert at the number 3 selling Best Buy in the company, thank you for this. This is one of the best product reviews I’ve read in a long time.

  • dzolve

    Sadly, a lot of this review is quite dreadfully written and very flabby. Why on earth didn’t you get someone to look over it before you published it? However, John, despite it being very one eyed, I really enjoyed your enthusiasm. Overall, a great bit of friction!

  • dragosani

    A very “real” review and not a review that sounds like an advertisement. Well done John! I was on the fence about the MBP Retina and if it was for me. Heck I’m getting one!

  • Anthony Flores

    Sensational article. I’m a writer and I understand how much work and thought you put into this. It shows.

    I may get one, but I’m an “early adopter” type — in 2009 I got a 17 inch MBP with the fastest processor AND 128gb SSD for $3500. It has served me well, used 8-10 hours a day, every single day since I purchased it.

    But with this new one, I get significantly better specs for less money — and I’ve been “lugging” around a much bigger, heavier 17 inch laptop…which I’ll no longer have to do.

    Yes, $3,000+ for a computer is a lot (which is what mine will cost) but well worth it if you make your livelihood from your laptop. I do, and will use this computer for years.

    I just wish it were fully 4k resolution, for the wave of movies that will be coming out next year in that format :(

  • APPL13D5C13NC3

    Great review John. I fully enjoyed last week’s cultcast too. I must know where you got that cute chipmunk wallpaper! :-D

  • MarioWario

    Someone in the apple universe must be a real ASSHOLE:
    a) when you solder RAM on a mainboard you should deal with determination: choose 16GB on MBP-R & 8GB on MBair (100% cheapskatelish dorky decision to make it an upgrade)
    a1) it would be much more easy for logistics just to pick the machines by SSD-config (how stupid is that to manage MBair-Config’s with 2-4-8 GB of RAM)
    a2) in the long run a better customer expierence (see MBair with 2GB RAM)
    a3) solder one kind of RAM on a specific motherboard should reduce the cost of organizing the workflow (even when the chip price is higher (in reality it should cost Apple round about $ 50 to solder any RAM Chip on a mainboard)

    b) SSD-sizes: A MBP-R with a 256GB SSD sounds like a Maybach with a messenger bag instead of a trunk.
    b1) On the MBair they shouldn’t offer a 64GB-SSD Config for private customers at all – the only config where it’s useful is on CORPORATE-MACHINES (quick custom-made setup’s with OS & DB)

    Apple is doing many things right – but on obviously transparent sales points like RAM & SSD they miss the boat (compare a $1,000 Notebook with a MB-R @ first sight both get similar spec’s on RAM & SSD ;-) )

  • Asger

    Why the fragmented article? Reloading the same page is quite distracting. The web ‘standard’ is to add a print-all link for those who wish to read it all at once.

    Did you notice the “Read as a single page” in the bottom right corner? :-)

  • Emiliano De Laurentiis

    Storage is an issue because iTunes automatically downloads purchased TV shows and movies. So if like myself you get all your media from AppleTV, and this is your main Mac, then you will need additional storage.

  • Chetan Kalia
  • BobWolf_WDP

    John, thanks for the comprehensive, insightful review! One of the better written reviews of Apple or any tech I have read in a while.

  • Montleewireless

    Awesome review John. Thank you!

  • Macnetar

    Great review and a great read John, loved the line “it is designed to be a frictionless nexus to the software beyond.”

  • BullockGlen

    like James implied I am stunned that a mom can earn $5423 in 1 month on the computer. did you read this site link(Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/V6QuL

  • MccrayAgnes

    like Jacqueline replied I’m shocked that anyone able to profit $4877 in a few weeks on the internet. did you read this web page (Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/FoCij

  • ReyesIvy1

    just as Angela responded I’m impressed that a stay at home mom can earn $4950 in one month on the computer. did you look at this web link(Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/gCXCq

  • ReyesIvy1

    just as Angela responded I’m impressed that a stay at home mom can earn $4950 in one month on the computer. did you look at this web link(Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/gCXCq

  • Dpkform

    Seriously? This is not a review, this is an irrational Mac fan-boy having a mac-gasm.

    This is the kind of crap that gives so many mac people a well deserved bad name. Delusional idiots who could care less about the facts, just gimme more kool-aid, yes please, I like it, I like it, i… ooh ooh ahh ahh….

    Now before you dismiss me as anti-mac – nothing could be further than the truth, though ranting orgasmic idiocy like this make it harder for me to explain to my non-mac friends that going Mac can be an intelligent, rational, kool-aid free and even wise decision.

    For reference, my two person household is all Apple, with a top of the line i7 quad core 27 inch 2011 iMac, 2011 MacBook Air, 2011 Mac Mini running lion server, an iPad 2 and an iPad 3, both the 64GB cellular versions, a 32GB iPhone 4, 64GB iPhone 4S, Apple TV2, Apple TV3, and July 2011 latest version Airport Extreme router. So don’t even think of calling me Anti Apple, as I have more Apple equipment than probably 99% of fan-boys.

    Here’s the idiotic, delusional comment, in the review that really set me off.

    “The MacBook retina is the best gaming laptop ever”

    Here’s a major reality check of just how insanely idiotic that comment is

    Go check for yourself, in the notebook graphics card benchmark list at notebookcheck.net

    The GT650M GPU in the retina macbook is a respectable mid-range mobile GPU, but it is FAR FAR FAR behind the leader. The GT650M is in 51st place on the list, with a score of 2,078 on the latest 3Dmark11 GPU benchmark. First place goes to the GTX 680M SLI mobile dual GPU with a whopping score of 11,119 on the same benchmark. In other words, it is FIVE TIMES faster – nearly 500% faster than the GPU on the latest retina Macbook!!

    This GPU is available in several ultra high end gaming laptops, and faster CPUs as well. Now granted these massive laptops are up to 4 times heavier and more than double the size of the retina macbook, and in most cases even cost substantially more. So not even close to being as portable and elegant as the retina macbook, but they are FAR FAR FAR superior gaming notebooks.

    Further to this – games running under the Mac OS X generally run twice as slow as the very same games running in Windows. Try it sometime with bootcamp. I am a former hardcore PC gamer who used to build my own systems. I know this stuff cold. So in reality – the retina Mac, running OS X is TEN TIMES SLOWER graphics performance than a top of the line WIndows gaming laptop.

    Oh, and in case you think I am not a fan of the retina MacBook – I am planning to buy one as soon as I can get my hands on one. I love the display. The graphics while being 40% slower than the 2800 3DMark11 GPU score of the 6970M in my 2011 iMac are enough for basic modern 3D game performance at lowered resolutions, running in bootcamp to use the vastly superior performance of Windows 7 for gaming vs the crappy performance of Mac OS X.

    Gaming is the only thing I do in Windows these days, the rest I do in Mac OS X, though I think both operating systems are essentially equal overall. I can do everything else I want in OS X and it runs more optimized on a Mac, so I use OS X for everything else.

    See, that is how a rational person who loves Apple products, but is not a kool-aid drinking Mac addict can still appreciate Apple’s awesome engineering, while recognizing its limitations.

    If I was still a hard core gamer, no question I would still have a dedicated gaming PC, but I find myself these days doing most of my gaming on a far less hard core platform – my retina iPad.

    A case can certainly be made that the retina MacBook is the best mainstream performance highly mobile laptop ever, but best gaming notebook? May I suggest at least an edit and a mea culpa? No wonder so many anti-Apple people think all Apple fans are brainless delusional sheep.

    But damn, that is one fine display, and a lot of power for such a rigid relatively compact laptop. Can’t wait to get one of my own. I plan on selling my 27 inch iMac and 11 inch MaBook air and replacing them with the retina MacBook.

  • Dpkform

    deleted…. duplicate

  • KnoxDeanne

    what Diane replied I am startled that any one able to make $4302 in 4 weeks on the internet. have you read this web page(Click on menu Home more information) http://goo.gl/C31W7

  • DJ_JesseJames

    Patience will pay off for those who can wait.

  • Josiah Owinyo

    Great review. Makes me want one more than ever!

  • Vebhav

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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