Intro

It’s been 5 years since I updated my computer setup. I’ve been working on a SantaRosa Macbook pro  2,4 Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4GB of RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT with 256 MB of videoram for a long time now. Back in 2007 it was the most powerful badass 15 inch Apple Laptop money could buy. It was an incredible machine. You could throw everything at it. It ran vm’s like a charm, rendering was fast, etc etc.

200+ software updates, a broken keyboard backlit and superdrive later, the machine is still great for content viewing and basic stuff, but used to handle HD video with ease in Final Cut Pro. Now it’s embarrassing laggy. After 2,5 years I’ve put in a speedy SSD and it was blazing fast again for boot times and overall UI and application performance, but it lacked real processing power.

I started listening at the sound of Apple rumors. I tried to wait as long as possible to make sure I wasn’t gonna miss out on a redesign or hardware update. Then Apple released their 2012 notebook updates.

Apple products aren’t the cheapest so it’s good to really dig into their products and review them BEFORE you make that difficult purchase. First of all, you’ll want to know what you’ll be doing with it. I’ll be talking about portable computers only.

For most people, a Macbook Air is more than what they’ll ever need. I’m talking internet browsing, checking email, writing your essay, doing some light Photoshopping or iLife stuff. It’s gonna do all that and more, so don’t be intimidated by a salesman telling you otherwise. For those who use their notebooks for gaming or professional applications such as Adobe After Affects, Autodesk stuff and who really need those dedicated graphics, the 15 inch Macbook Pro is the only choice.

The 15 inch category has two options. The regular macbook pro or the macbook pro with retina display. The regular MacBook Pro has the same design as the 2011 version but with better internal hardware. The retina version got a new design. It’s thinner, lighter, better internal hardware and a new screen.You should be aware that most things aren’t upgradable after purchase in the retina MacBook Pro. So take that into account before you make your purchase.

I’m not gonna talk about benchmarks, ’cause I don’t care about them. Benchmarking is a way for computers to know how they compare to each other in a chart. They don’t say anything about the overall experience of the product.

The rMBP

Configuration: MacBook Pro with retina basemodel, 16 GB of RAM, 2,6 Ghz i7 processor upgrade, 265 GB SSD

Retail Price: 2660 EURO

My unit arrived 1 week after I ordered it from the online Apple store. When I got the laptop out of it’s fancy box I was really amazed by it’s thinness and weight. You wouldn’t expect such a small device to deliver such performance. The case feels sturdy and strong. I opened up the lid and fired up the laptop. The keyboard backlight on my older mac was kind of broken so I was very happy to see a clearly backlighted keyboard, I’ve really missed it.

There is no kind of indicator anymore to see wether the laptop is on/off or in sleep mode. I found it a little getting used to in the beginning cause I used to wait for the sleep light indicator to pulse before putting  it away. Also, the laptop is very quiet, so hard to hear sometimes wether it’s on or not. I like the new ventilation system. It’s definitely quieter than my older macbook pro or even compared to more recent models. This is a godsend for me because I use my laptop for audio recording in studios and having a silent computer is a must! I don’t always have the luxury of recording the sound I want from a different space as my computer sits. The fans of my older mac would go full during a recording session in Logic pro and now the laptop stays cool and noiseless when recording 16 tracks at once with software monitoring enabled. Fans do pop up when gaming or rendering. It’s more like a “blowing” kind of sound instead of a single frequency humming that you get from other laptops which makes it less noticeable. The first time you open the lid of the laptop, you go through a little user account setup, no issues there. After a couple of minutes I was already installing a qazillion apps on it.

Screen

You hear all the rumors of that awesome retina screen, but you really have to see it to experience it. It’s not about how many pixels and resolution you can cramp in this screen, it about how easy it is to read text and view your content in a quality only this screen currently features. Text reads more easily and I can work much longer before my eyes are blurred or my head hurts because of eyestrain. I use the default “best for retina” resolution, because I like bigger text for browsing and overall UI. In apps like Final cut X, Traktor Pro and Logic pro I tend to use a greater resolution to have more screen space and optimize workflow.

UPDATE : The retina macbook pro’s are suffering from a screen problem called image retention. It occurs when you let your retina screen on for a long time without moving any windows. There may be some ghosting when you then change your image. It’s most clear when using a dark grey desktop background. I knew there were issues for some users when I bought the laptop but I didn’t think I’d have the problem too. After a week I did a screen retention test and BAM, there it was, I had a faulty screen. I must say that it has never gotten in my way, but it’s definitely there when I use my laptop for long periods of time. I’ll be returning my laptop in the near future to get it’s screen replaced.

Aside from this horror, the screen performs great, very good contrast and viewing angles. Watching video’s and pictures on this screen really makes a difference. Go to an Apple retailer, find the retina mbp and view a 1080p apple trailer or open iPhoto. Then, to make it really sweet, open up safari and search for 2k-4k content on youtube.

I haven’t been using my laptop outside so I can’t really comment on brightness when using it in a sunny environment, but I must say that I’m happy with the screen’s reflectiveness so far. I’ve always found the unibody screens to be such mirror’s, since I was used to my matte screen. I’m glad Apple took care of this annoying issue. One thing I’d like to comment on, is the screen’s integrated FaceTime camera. It’s oke when sitting in a super bright room. The more light there is, the better the quality becomes, but I have to say that in normal light conditions, the camera is bad,noisy and washed out.

Speakers and audio

Next thing Apple bragged about, was their new speaker system in the retina macbook pro. I’m always skeptical when it comes to sound quality, so I didn’t have my hopes up. I don’t expect much from small speakers, but I must say I’m pleased with what I’ve got. First thing I noticed was that it had sharper sound than it’s predecessor. I’m not talking about “clearer” but sharp in terms of loud high frequencies. I guess they did that to try and add presence to the sound which is a good thing for voice chat. It doesn’t disturb me when playing quality audio, but I notice it when playing semi-quality mp3s or streaming audio. Then you hear it being sharp sounding instead of clear. Bass response has improved but it’s still not quite there. Better than most laptop speakers though. I would also like to add that there is good stereo on the speakers. When watching movies, it makes a real difference. The sound is more dynamically spread instead of coming from the center. Volume output is loud without distortion and can easily fill a large room.

Microphone quality is good enough for voice chat  but not great for quality recordings. One tip for better sound is to disable “remove background noise” under system settings/sound/input/microphone. I won’t go into this further since I mostly use external mics.

Performance

It handles what needs to be done. The SSD screams and loading stuff is instantly. Unzipping and duplicating files is buttery quick. I’m getting 400MBps real life write speed and 450 MBps read speed in archive apps. Boot up time is around 10 second which is nice to have. In Logic pro, I haven’t had any audio sessions where I had to freeze tracks to free up cpu usage. I have been doing this constantly over the past couple of years on my old machine. A single Native Instruments Reaktor plugin used to take up 100 percent of the cpu through Logic Pro. Now, it take 30 percent of a single core on my system. And there are 8 cores (4 physical) available so I’m a happy customer. Exporting in final cut x, in the meanwhile rendering through compressor and watching 1080p video to pass rendering time and the system stays stable at 800% cpu usage. I haven’t ran out of RAM yet, but bigger and more stressy projects are in the nearby future, so I’m curious. I’m sure Apple is working on a better version of Mountain Lion for the retina’s to really make it rock solid. I’ve had some graphical glitches and lots of bugs that need to be addressed. Gaming performance was great, until Apple came with an EFI update that made it cripple. I was getting great frames per second in Counterstrike Global Offence and Borderlands 2 under highest settings. After the update, graphics performance went way down after a couple of minutes gameplay, even on lowest settings. So, I recommend you NOT to update the EFI until Apple comes with a fix. I’m one of many who’s having issues. It’s a great performer, but software bugs are messing things up a little at the moment. I’m hoping for software updates very soon.

In this particular setup I was scoring audio in logic for direct use in Final Cut Pro X with Traktor Pro open for effects and live mixing, itunes, rss reader, photoshop for editing, safari,.. Everything buttersmooth and running without hiccups, even with 40+ tracks and 50+ plugins running in logic and HD video rendering in Final Cut Pro. Yes, it’s powerful.

Battery-life

Best battery life I’ve seen in a notebook so far. I’m getting 6-7 hours when writing text, browsing the web and running some basic apps, having the screen on it’s brightest, every service enabled. Just make sure you don’t run apps that enables the discrete graphics. (or you can manually switch between graphics cards with an app called gfxCardStatus) When using discrete graphics, it cuts 2 hours off depending on what your doing. Some heavy photoshopping and running Final Cut Pro X can give you a lousy 3 hours. I got over 9,5 hours when disabling wifi, bluetooth, dim the screen as much as possible, disable keyboard backlighting, quiting  apps and processes when not needed. Charging the battery usually takes roughly 2 hours for a full charge. You can’t buy an additional battery for a second charge cause you can’t replace the battery. For me it’s not an issue cause I’ve never had the need for it, but I can see some people could easily want a second or third battery.

Conclusion

It’s pretty, portable and plenty fast and powerful enough for my workflow. It’s a new machine design so it’s still a bit buggy, but with a little time, patience and a couple of software updates, it’ll be the best system I’ve had so far. I’m not excusing Apple’s software or hardware flaws but I think that’s the price I pay for wanting the newest best next thing. For people wanting a solid system now, I can not recommend this laptop but wait it out until the problems are fixed. A lot of the apps aren’t yet optimized for the retina screen too, but they will later on. The 2012 regular Macbook Pro is likely a better purchase right now.

I don’t regret my purchase as I still think it’s gonna be the best laptop out there when the graphics bug is fixed and the screen retention issues are gone.

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