Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display: Performance

June 28, 2012 by J.R. Nelson Reads (503,048)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Software & Support
    • 10
    • Upgrade Capabilities
    • 3
    • Usability
    • 9
    • Design
    • 10
    • Performance
    • 6
    • Features
    • 8
    • Price/Value Rating
    • 7
    • Total Score:
    • 7.57
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Webcam and speakers

Above the screen sits a 720p-capable webcam, along with an integrated microphone array and light sensor. I found the automatic screen brightness setting to be way too aggressive, with brightness changing if I so much as waved a hand too long in front of the sensor; fortunately, you can disable it with a couple of clicks.

Apple MacBook Pro 2012 with Retina Display

Quality of both webcam and mics are respectable, but pale in comparison to the new speakers. Apple spent a fair amount of time talking about the re-engineered speakers in the new MacBook Pro, and for good reason: they sound great. Music, movies, Internet content, games – they all sounded outstanding. They lack a bit in the bass department, which isn’t news to most laptop owners.

What is most surprising about the speakers is their ability to project without distortion. They can get unexpectedly loud, but whatever they broadcast remains crystal clear. It’s a nice change.

Keyboard and trackpad

The rMBP returns Apple’s class-leading multitouch glass trackpad to the fore. Sitting front and center, the large device makes using a touchpad a breeze. This is the only trackpad I can use and not constantly feel regret that it’s not a mouse. Some of that is due to the quality of the trackpad itself, but most of it has to do with the tight integration with OS X. Under Windows, the trackpad isn’t nearly as nice to use.

Apple MacBook Pro 2012 with Retina DisplayApple MacBook Pro 2012 with Retina Display

This time around, the keyboard isn’t quite as nice. It feels a lot like the keyboard from the MacBook Air lineup. The backlighting is nice and even, with variable settings, including an automatic one. Like the MBA, however, the travel distance is just a bit less than ideal; the older MacBook Pros moved a little more. Most importantly, however, is that the keyboard still features zero flex.

One other small point is the move of the power switch. Since the rMBP ships without an optical drive, just like the Airs, Apple pulled the eject button off of the keyboard and replaced with the power switch, just like the Airs.


Our Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display review unit has the following specifications:

  • Display: 15.4-inch glossy 2880×1800 display
  • Operating system: Mac OS X 10.7.4 “Lion”
  • Processor: Intel Core i7-3615QM quad-core processor (2.3GHz up to 3.3GHz Turbo Boost, 6MB cache, 45W TDP)
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel HD 4000 + NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M switchable graphics
  • Memory: 8GB DDR3L SDRAM (soldered to mainboard)
  • Storage: 256GB Solid state flash storage, proprietary form factor
  • Networking: Gigabit Ethernet (via Thunderbolt – Ethernet dongle, sold separately)
  • Wireless networking: 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth v4.0
  • Webcam: Integrated HD webcam + Microphone array
  • Warranty: 1-year limited warranty
  • Battery: 95WHr Lithium-polymer, non-removable, glued to case
  • Weight: 4.46 lbs
  • Dimensions: 14.13 x 9.73 x 0.71 inches
  • Starting price: $2,199
  • Price as configured: $2,199

Performance and benchmarks

The new rMBP features Intel’s latest Ivy Bridge quad-core CPUs, an NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M CPU, 8GB of DDR3L SDRAM, and a 256GB SSD. As a result, the performance really isn’t any slouch – comparing it to older MacBooks, this new MacBook Pro manages to best even the high-end 17-inch MacBook Pro that was sold up until a few days before this one launched.

wPrime processor comparison results (lower scores mean better performance):

This shows in the impressive 11023 score that this baseline rMBP scored in Geekbench, a common OS X benchmarking program. PCMark 7 scored 5223, and 3DMark 11 delivered 2427 in the Performance preset. wPrime finished in 8.197 seconds.

One area where Apple substantially improved performance over previous MacBook models was in the choice of solid state drive. This time around, the SSD scored blazing sequential read speeds of 455.8 MB/s and write speeds of 407.5 MB/s. Disk I/O doesn’t look like it’s going to be much of a problem in this batch.

3DMark 11 measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):

Despite all of this, the new MacBook Pro is experiencing growing pains thanks to its headlining feature – that Retina Display. I mentioned earlier the supersampling Apple undertakes in order to deliver sharp, non-standard resolutions. It’s important to remember that the GPU being used inside of the new MBP barely supports the current resolution – these hyperresolutions employed as part of Apple’s supersampling effort have no scaling hardware (AnandTech has a tremendous piece about it). Between this and Apple’s custom scaling routines, there are certain instances where the new MacBook Pro lets us down – rapid screen refreshes of complex content, like browsing rich webpages, can suffer.

PCMark 7 measures overall system performance (higher scores mean better performance):

In fact, previous MacBook generations, and even running the MacBook in Windows, can deliver a smoother browsing experience than Safari does in OS X. Still, the superior rendering of text and images in Safari tends to make up for it, in my eyes. Reportedly, the issue has been largely corrected in OS X Mountain Lion, due out for release sometime next month. Parts of Safari have been rewritten to better take advantage of the graphics hardware in rendering to the display. We’ll be sure to take a look back at this issue then.

CrystalDiskMark Storage Benchmark (higher numbers mean faster storage access):

The new MacBook Pro does excel at some heavy-duty tasks we threw at it. Over the last week, I’ve taken it on a business trip, edited HD video, loaded up a million RAW images simultaneously – you get the idea. The notebook handles it all with aplomb, barely spinning up the fans (more on that later).


Gaming was a surprisingly important part of Apple’s discussion on the new rMBP – it’s a concession that not only do professionals who game buy these laptops, but normal people do, too.

Unlike standard desktop activities, gaming is much harder on the system’s hardware. The GPU has to render all sorts of geometries, and update all the pixels on the screen multiple times per second. As a result, all of that arcane high-res downsampling goes out the window when you start to play full-screened games. Games, instead, work just like they do on any other PC – some will support the native resolution, and those that don’t will have a lower resolution scaled up to the rest of the screen.

So far, finding a game that can actually detect and run at the MacBook Pro’s native resolution is difficult. Blizzard, with Diablo III, were a launch partner with Apple, and that title already supports it. Results are mixed: it looks great, or at least as good as Diablo III can look, but you’re not going to get a constant 30+ FPS when running with details up at 2880×1800. Knocking the resolution down a peg or two provides a silky smooth experience, however, and at just over 15 inches, the loss in quality is almost unnoticeable.

World of Warcraft can also run at the native Retina resolution, and this game, at least, doesn’t even stress the system. You can likely expect 60 FPS even when running at native res. The results Not too bad, according to WoW fans.

Battery life

Apple claims that you can expect about seven hours of battery life in the new machine in average use. What’s average use according to Apple That’s difficult to say, but for the most part, the company has been exceptionally reasonable in terms of predicting battery life for their various mobile devices.

In light use, with the backlight at 50% (it can be pretty bright, so in many cases you won’t even need to use that much), you can expect to exceed Apple’s 7-hour running time. We scored 7 hours, 39 minutes of use in our battery tests – which are relatively light and, it’s worth noting, do not engage the discrete GPU.

Any application that does will cause your battery life to plummet by comparison – and this is one reason why running the system in Windows will eat up your time away from an outlet. There doesn’t seem to be any support for GPU switching in that OS, meaning that the GT 650M is running constantly. At best, expect to cut off at least two hours of battery life, probably more.



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