The Retina MacBook Pro Value Equation
Yesterday Apple overhauled its entire notebook line, and perhaps the biggest surprise was the 15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display (quite the name!).
Start with the base specifications of the latest 15" MacBook Pro, remove the built-in SuperDrive, replace the hard drive with an SSD, and then trim almost 1/4" from the already thin model, and you've got the core of the Retina MacBook Pro (to shorten the name slightly). Of course the big feature is the Retina Display, which has a whopping 2880 x 1800 pixels at 220 ppi - the highest resolution display ever in a notebook computer.
That comes at a price. Where the basic 2.3 GHz quad-core i7 MacBook Pro retails for $1,799, the Retina model sells for $400 more. At the high end, the 2.6 GHz Retina retails for $600 more than its non-Retina equivalent. Part of the difference is the screen, but a big part is the fact that this is an exclusively SSD machine, and SSDs are more expensive than hard drives.
To get the Retina MacBook Pro down to 0.71" thin, Apple had to move to a smaller MagSafe power port (MagSafe 2), and because the higher resolution display requires more power, much of the space saved by eliminating the hard drive and SuperDrive has gone to batteries.
With 4x the pixels, the Retina Display is really going to tax the graphics processors. I suspect that the Intel HD Graphics 4000 built into the CPU will not be used very much at all, with the Nvidia GeForce GT 650M doing most of the graphical processing.
I haven't seen any benchmarks yet, but by now most of us have heard how the iPad 2 feels more responsive than the New iPad because of the latter's high resolution Retina Display really straining its quad-core graphics processor. I don't think it will be quite as bad here, especially as the GeForce GPU has 1 GB of dedicated video memory, but it's very likely that the regular 15" MacBook Pro will feel more responsive than the Retina model.
The big question is whether the awesome resolution is worth the price and the additional strain on the GPU. From what I've seen on the Web thus far, the Retina Display is simply incredible for text, and Apple has updated all of its software to take advantage of the Retina Display. Over time, other software vendors will do so as well.
Until we start seeing some benchmarks, it's a matter of conjecture how much of a processing penalty a 5.1 megapixel display is compared to 1.16 MP. In terms of productivity, I don't think the screen will justify itself - but in terms of Wow!, no other notebook will impress like the Retina MacBook Pro.
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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.
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