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Impression of the new Retina MacBook Pro

Marco Arment recently wrote a Retina MacBook Pro review (via Daring Fireball) which I found helpful in making my decision to purchase one of these machines for my development work.

I’ll add a few additional observations after having used my new machine for about a week:

  • It is fast! I’ve not had a desktop Mac for many years so I cannot compare this MacBook Pro to a Mac Pro or iMac, but this is the first time I’ve gotten a new Mac laptop that was dramatically faster than my previous machine. The combination of solid-state disk, lots of RAM and a fast CPU make the machine very responsive. Building my Script Debugger 5 product from scratch went from ~4m30s down to ~1m15s.

  • Like Marco, I’m running my display in scaled mode because the standard video mode does not provide enough space for my needs. In this mode, the GPU isn’t strong enough to keep up with some operations. Examples include swiping between spaces causes a noticeable lag and some scrolling operations are a little slow. But Xcode works just fine, as do all the other development tools I use.

  • iPhoto and iMovie are revelations. All my images look so much better on the retina display. I shoot a lot of images of sculptures and finally these images are starting to carry the same impact on the retina display as they do when printed. The awful flatness of older displays is gone. We are finally beginning to get back some of the power of slide film.

    This change is more noticable on the retina MacBook Pro than it is on the retina iPad (which is very good). This may simply be a consequence of the MacBook’s display being bigger than the iPads.

  • You are going to use more disk space. For example, iPhoto and iMovie will generate higher fidelity thumbnail images which are going to take more space on your disk. If you have a large iPhoto library, this could mean a few more GB lost to thumbnails.

  • Surprisingly, Terminal really benefits from the retina display. Small font sizes are easily readable making it possible to show more lines and columns in a Terminal window.

  • If you like to rip CDs in iTunes, you’ll need to buy Apple’s external USB CD/DVD drive as the Remote CD/DVD drive sharing system does not allow this kind of operation (You also cannot use HandBrake to rip DVDs). I get the DVD limitation because DVDs are copy protected, but CDs are not and its a drag to buy yet another accessory (you will probably have already bought the Gigabit Ethernat to Thunderbolt adapter).

  • I have 50 year old eyes and eye strain seems to be reduced.

  • I’m waiting to see if this display improves my ability to catch errors when proof reading. In the past I found I have to print out my copy to properly proof read it. We’ll see if a higher quality display improves legibility and comprehension.

  • The machine runs much cooler than my old MacBook Pro. The silence of the thing is eery. I have to push the machine fairly hard (long Xcode compile) to get the fans to spin up.

  • The heartbeat pulsating light on the front edge of the body is gone. As a result, there is no visible clue when the lid is closed that the machine is sleeping vs powered down. The battery level indicator lights are also gone so you have to wake the machine to see where your battery is at.

  • Safari finally feels fast. I’ve always found Safari to be slow when loading PHP and Rails pages hosted on my own machine, but now it loads without any noticable delay.

Overall, I’m very happy with the machine.

New Machine: Mid-2012 2.7Ghz Core i7 Retina MacBook Pro, 8GB RAM

Old Machine: Mid-2010 2.66Ghz Core i7 MacBook Pro with Hi-Res Display, 8GB RAM


  1. Larry McMunn Larry McMunn


    Thanks for this report.

    I’ve been really curious about the new models, and what kind of performance boost might come.

    Most all of my work now uses AS and ASObjC. This sounds like one would be a real productivity enhancer for me. The speed increase and legibility of small type sound wonderful. And I don’t iPhoto or iMovie very much so that increased disk space usage doesn’t sound like much of a problem.

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