Heat and noise
Since the new laptop is so much thinner than the previous model, the cooling system had to be completely redesigned in order to compensate for the same-ish thermals in a smaller case. New vents have been sliced into the bottom sides of the notebook – these complement the traditional MacBook vents around the plastic hinge cover.
In redesigning the MacBook Pro, not even the fan was left untouched. Apple says that they pushed the blades on the cooling fan around so that their spacing was asymmetrical. The irregular spacing between the blades was introduced in order to split the fan noise up into several different frequencies, as opposed to stacking them all together.
The new fan design is quiet. In a quiet room, you’ll be able to make out some noise, but in most cases, the notebook is unnoticeably quiet. As you ramp up the workload, the fans respond. Under heavy load, they’re definitely audible. It isn’t until you go back to using another computer that you realize how much different the fan noise is. The MacBook Pro isn’t some magically quiet notebook, (at least under heavy loads) but it does a good approximation thereof.
Traditionally, Apple’s laptops have run on the hot side. That’s really something of an understatement – they can get positively toasty, and in this respect, the rMBP isn’t very different. I loaded up all four physical CPU cores and let the system run for five minutes straight before taking the temperatures.
Under all circumstances, the trackpad remained cool at just 77 Fahrenheit. The keyboard heats things up, with temperatures ranging from 86F in the lower-left corner, to 107F in the upper middle area. The worst offender, unsurprisingly, was the metal strip in between the keyboard, where hot air can escape the vents. Here, we saw temperatures rise up to 118F, which is pretty uncomfortable.
I understand that this review may seem overly effusive – but it’s hard to deny that the MacBook Pro with Retina Display provides a superlative experience for that specific set of users who require what this machine provides.
The screen is nothing short of groundbreaking. Like they did with tablets and ultraportables, Apple has made super high resolution displays work, and it makes me happy – because it means that we’ll be seeing more and similar display from lower-priced competitors such as ASUS and Acer, and, eventually HP and Dell.
Considering the technology packed inside, the rMBP is incredibly thin. It’s reasonably light, too, at 4.46 pounds. Battery life is impressive, within the confines of this technology envelope and size range; otherwise there have been other machines that meet and exceed it.
In order to help make the leap into the next great computing trend, Apple made a number of design concessions that don’t sit well with a lot of users. Soldering the RAM to the computer, in such a professional machine, seems…wrong, somehow. Flash storage is really nice, but 256GB won’t be enough for a lot of people; since upgrades must be purchased from Apple at the time of order, more than a few people will be stuck between not having enough space and not being able to afford more. Similarly, there are no FireWire or Gigabit Ethernet ports on this machine, and instead you’ll be forced to buy an adapter at another thirty bucks or so. The Gig-E adapter has been well reviewed, but it stings, having to shell out still more money in order to recreate previous functionality.
The optical drive is another such victim of this process, but that loss shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who follows technology trends. Most Ultrabooks, including the MacBook Air, don’t offer optical drives, and they’ve been met with reasonable success thus far.
There is an unspoken rule among computer users that while Apple makes generally high-quality products, you should always avoid the first generation, since that’s when all the problems will crop up. The Retina MacBook Pro has its share – there are reports of image retention problems (our review unit did not exhibit this at all), and we discussed the performance issues earlier.
No computer is perfect, and this notebook is sufficiently outstanding to overlook some of its growing pains. Should you buy one? Our official recommendation is yes, absolutely, but wait until the computers are shipping with OS X Mountain Lion. There are supply issues at the moment, so if you wait until August, you’ll probably be able to just waltz in and pick one up.
Additionally, I would almost say that purchasing the extra two years of AppleCare is almost a requirement for this machine – and that adds on an additional $349 to the asking price. It’s expensive, but speaking with one Apple employee who mentioned how much higher parts and labor costs are going to be with this machine, well, you get the idea.
If you like the idea of the MBP but want something smaller, check out the 11- and 13-inch MacBooks Air. You’ll lose out on that incredible display, but the 11-inch Air is so small and light that it’s pretty much never a bad choice. You might also check out ASUS’ Zen Prime, which is pushing 1080p panels into 11.6- and 13.3-inch laptops.
The MacBook Pro with Retina Display is a bit of the past and a bit of the future, wrapped up into one tasty, toasty present. Brilliant screen meets refined design. What more do you need?
- Screen, screen, screen!
- Strong performance
- Excellent speakers
- Very expensive for performance level
- Increased costs for repair and battery replacement
- Few applications ready for Retina at this time
- Performance issues with some browsing