Apple’s shaken up their notebook line significantly, and while some changes are straightforward, there’s a lot that’s different…
Apple’s refreshed their MacBook Pro and Air notebook lines once again, but this time it’s far more than just a spec bump. Admittedly the spec upgrade is pretty impressive, but there’s a new member of the Apple notebook family: the MacBook Pro 15in with Retina display. That’s 2,880 x 1,800 pixels crammed into a 15.4in screen, giving a Retina-level viewing experience akin to that of the new iPad and the iPhone 4/4S. But that’s not all it has going for it.
Costing $2,499 for the entry-level model and $3,199 for the high-end model, this 15.4in stunner is a significant evolution of the MacBook Pro 15in. Weighing only 2.02kg versus the previous gen’s 2.54kg, the specs frankly make the non-Retina MacBook Pro 15in seem pretty paltry. Comparing the identically priced high-end non-Retina to the entry-level Retina, the former has a 3rd Gen Intel Core i7-3720QM processor, the latter has either a 3rd Gen Intel Core i7-3610QM or 3615QM processor, while both have an NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M graphics card and 8GB of RAM. Apple doesn't specify what processors they're using, but the quoted clock speeds, Turbo Boost speeds and L3 cache allow us to narrow it down to specific processors.
Final Cut Pro optimised for the Retina MacBook Pro. That's a full 1920 x 1080 HD video in the timeline preview window.
The Retina display must be seen to be believed, and it's hard to convey its superiority simply by saying that its 2880 by 1800 pixels (220 pixels per square inch) is the world's highest ever resolution notebook display. The sharpness and clarity of images are astonishing, and while the Retina screen is nice to look at from a consumer point of view, it's the imaging professionals that will go ape when they see what it does to their images and videos. Apple has updated its Aperture and Final Cut Pro software to work better at this resolution and Adobe is apparently readying a version of Photoshop for it. One of the funniest things we've seen in the Retina-optimised version of Final Cut Pro is that the main timeline preview window takes up only just over half of the Final Cut Pro workspace even at full 1920 x 1080 HD res (see image above).
The screen difference puts the Retina MacBook Pro 15in ahead, but it also has a 256GB flash drive rather than the comparatively very slow 750GB (5,400RPM) hard disk drive in the non-Retina MacBook Pro 15in. Unless you desperately need an integrated optical drive, which the Retina MacBook Pro 15in has omitted, it’s a very simple decision to make. The high-end version of this new notebook has 512GB of flash drive storage and a 3rd Gen Intel Core i7-3720QM processor.
The ports have also been revamped. You get two Thunderbolt ports, two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, a headphone jack and an SDXC card reader. While the Gigabit Ethernet and FireWire 800 ports have gone, Thunderbolt adapters will fix the problem. The audio out port has also gone along with the Kensington lock slot. Ultimately the MacBook Pro 15in with Retina display is what the MacBook Pro 15in wishes it was.
All of this in a unibody that's 25% thinner than the previous MacBook Pro, which makes the 15in Retina machine only 1mm thicker than the 13in MacBook Air.
As for the MacBook Pro 15in from yesteryear, the model upgrade has been fairly kind to them. Both the entry-level (now for only $1,999) and the high-end get the NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M dedicated graphics card. That’s a really major boost in graphics rendering power. They’ve also traded their 2nd Gen processors for 3rd Gen processors. The entry-level has either the 3rd Gen Intel Core i7-3610QM or 3615QM, while the high-end has the 3rd Gen Intel Core i7-3720QM. This will provide an improvement in overall processing power and also battery life. One final boost for the high-end model is that it has 8GB of RAM standard. Overall though, the MacBook Pro 15in with Retina display is far better value.
One surprise is the axing of the MacBook Pro 17in. That desktop replacement all-rounder filled an niche that Apple reckon is now easily filled by the machines with the Retina resolution, which provides more pixels in a 15in screen than the 17in with the 1920 x 1200 res. Nonetheless, those wanting a large screen experience with their Apple notebook will have to buy a 27in (2,560 x 1,440 resolution) Thunderbolt Display for $1,199.
The MacBook Pro 13in notebooks have received a minor but important spec bump. The entry-level Pro 13in trades the 2nd Gen Intel Core i5-2435M for a 3rd Gen Intel Core i5-3210M. This means the integrated graphics are now better, and in addition to being more powerful the battery life management ought to be better. There’s also been a cut of $50 from the RRP.
The high-end Pro 13in trades the 2nd Gen Intel Core i7-2640M for a 3rd Gen Intel Core i7-3520M, and also doubles the RAM to 8GB. This is a fairly significant improvement, but Apple’s dropped the price by a scant $9.
The MacBook Air 11in has received a straightforward spec upgrade along with a price drop for the high-end model, from $1,349 to $1,249. Both models now use a 3rd Gen Intel Core i5-3317U rather than a 2nd Gen Intel Core i5-2467M, but the storage volume and screens haven’t changed although you can upgrade the solid state drive to 512GB. One nice improvement is that the entry-level model now has 4GB of RAM standard, a big boost over the previous stock of 2GB, and this can be pushed up to 8GB. The other big factor is that the change to the 3rd gen Ivy Bridge Intel chip means the 11in Air now gets Intel's HD 4000 onboard graphics, which Apple claims results in a 60% improvement in graphics processing ability. We know of several people already successfully running Diablo 3 on the new MacBook Air.
In all, the new MacBook Air 11 now packs enough power and capacity for expansion (up to 8GB and a 512GB drive) to become a seriously powerful laptop in its own tiny right, not just a moderately powerful one. You can now easily edit big HD files with Final Cut Pro on it, although whether you really want to do that on an 11in display is another matter.
It’s the same story with the MacBook Air 13in. The screen, storage and RAM have remained unchanged but the processors are new and the price tags have decreased. While they used to use the 2nd Gen Intel Core i5-2557M, they’ve now got the 3rd Gen Intel Core i5-3427U. As for the price, the entry-level now costs $1,349 (down from $1,449) and the high-end now costs $1,689 (down from $1,799).
Overall this update has been a mix of fairly impressive and outright mind-blowing. The spec upgrades to the MacBook Pro and Air lines are welcome, but the previous-gen MacBook Pro 15in is totally overshadowed by its Retina display successor. If you bought a MacBook last week, we feel your pain, but at least it’s clear now that Tim Cook is keeping Steve Jobs' spirit of innovation alive at Apple.