on August 5, 2014
I've had some experience with MacBooks throughout my life. I've come to respect them as workhorses that can withstand the test of time. My wife retired her early 2008 Macbook last summer after completing her Nursing degree. The Notebook endured five years of continuous research, word processing and social networking. Outside of a small crack near the mousepad it still worked great. There was one point I needed to replace the ram, and I also updated it with an SSD to give it a needed speed boost. However these types of upgrades were very easy and not time consuming, and never needed an Apple genius to complete them. Seeing a piece of technology like that Macbook still cruising after what is a long time in the technology world is impressive, and that same type of design philosophy carries over to the new Macbook Pros with Retina Display but with some new tradeoffs...
A lot is different about this beast than the 2008 standard Macbook. A heavy plastic body that housed a removable battery, hard drive, ram and an optical drive is replaced with an aluminum unibody design where nothing is intended to be removable. In order to deliver a thin machine with a long lasting battery, Apple also removed the optical drive. In 2008 this would have been crazy, but in 2014 it's a generally accepted drawback. Clearly this new Macbook is a sign of a new generation of technology intended to be maintained solely by the company that sells the product. Apple wants to be your one stop shop from the point of sale to the day you retire the machine. It makes sense, since we do that with phones and tablets. But this will alienate self reliant users who want to save a buck or two. Certainly glued battery, ram modules are enough to turn a few away. I don't suspect this a big tradeoff for most non-techie buyers (That's most of us).
College students needing a machine for school will also need accept that most MacBooks are not gaming machines. So save some extra pennies for a PS4. Budget gaming laptops are cheaply made monstrosities that destroy batteries regardless if you're playing a game or not. And the expensive ones are generally overpriced for what you get, and still provide a poor computing experience.
If those two tradeoffs haven't turned you away, you probably won't find a better notebook at this price point. Just be careful in the specs you decide on because the option to upgrade is off the table. Here are some killer features:
The Retina display is beautiful. The viewing angles are tremendous and the screen is bright. The panel provides the same pixel density as the iPad with Retina Display (and the Air model), but the panel in the Macbook Pro with Retina is far superior in every way when comparing side by side.
The battery life on this device pushes north of 10 hours with web browsing and other basic uses (usually around 12). Watching video and more intense activities will push it at around 8 - 10 hours with average brightness. Most users who claim more excessive battery drain should be using the built in activity monitor application to check energy consumption of apps. Many Macbook users claim significant battery drain with applications like Google Chrome . It's a much different mindset than those who use a standard Mac and energy consumption really isn't a factor. In short, Macbook Pro users should be mindful of programs they use regularly.
The speed. The new refreshed model comes with 8gb of memory as a base. Most will consider 4gb enough memory for average users, but a week with the new OSX Yosemite beta revealed swap being used as I was exceeding my 4gb on the Mac Mini. This could just be inefficiencies in a beta product, but it did open my eyes to the fact that 8gb should be the new standard for most long term Macbook purchases. The largest part of what makes the Macbook Pro with Retina fly is the SSD built into the machine. The Macbook Pro with Retina Display is easily the fastest laptop i've ever used, and i'll thanking the SSD for most of that performance, but I suspect this machine will stay speedy for a long time thanks to the ram upgrade.
Then there is all the small touches. Backlit keyboard, aluminum body, tight software/hardware integration, sturdy OSX that is resistant to malware, integration with iPhone, iPad and Apple TV. Even if you don't integrate into Apple's iOS ecosystem, it does great in Google's too. Chromecast works 100% with MacBooks, Google Chrome (battery hog) + Google Apps is great, and of course Google Play works well. All of Google's services are mostly browser based, and that gives Apple users the best of both worlds.
I would also say that if someone is debating between the Macbook Air and the Pro with Retina, try to cough up the extra bills. The pro is only slightly thicker, has a slightly lesser battery life but sports a tremendous screen, beefy spec boost and a premium fit and finish. Definitely recommended.
I’m personally a very big fan of the Retina MacBook Pro, and I highly recommend it to others. It is without question an incredibly expensive machine in a world of many affordably priced and well-built alternatives. However, the MacBook Pro with Retina is a machine of impressive capability & awesome features, and historically it has also been a machine that is built to last. Such a large investment always takes some consideration and, while I cannot say if this is the best choice for others, it was for me. Since this is such a big investment, I would like to share my own personal experiences on a more detailed level than would be given to a less-expensive product.
Reviewing Apple products is always a little difficult. Unlike most hardware makers, Apple’s hardware mainly utilizes their own in-house software, and this makes a connection between the software, hardware, and support for both items. This review will focus mainly on the hardware (the computer), but since software (OS X) affects the functionality of the hardware, it will also give some consideration to the preloaded operating system. As of February 2015, this operating system is OS X Yosemite, version 10.10.2.
TO SUMMARIZE THE LONGER REVIEW…
I think that the hardware is at its best and that it really stands out against others. The Retina display will wow you. The processor & hard drive speeds can tackle big tasks in very little time. The creativity and features are really taken to the max, and it’s just a great overall design. However, the software isn’t quite is lovable. While OS X Yosemite makes some great functional design improvements over previous versions, it is an operating system that has been plagued by functional issues. While all new operating systems have issues, the specific issues that Yosemite has had are pretty major because they can dramatically harm productivity. Historically, OS X has not had functional issues of this severity and since not all have been resolved thus far, this should factor into your consideration of this computer.
WHEN TO BUY
I am not the person who needs the latest and greatest if making a large financial investment. Rather, I am most concerned with the most reliable and durable. While I really enjoy the reviews from tech agencies that review a brand new MacBook Pro just a few days after it is released, at that point there is absolutely no way of knowing the long-term reliability, and if that machine has design issues that will be problematic down the road. When shelling out almost 3 grand on a laptop, I consider this to be critical information. Therefore, I think the best time to buy is AFTER the new-release nostalgia has ended.
I find that premier releases of a new product are generally not as consistent as the revision of that product, or later productions. This has been my experience with the iPhones I have owned (3G & 3Gs, 4 & 4s, 5 & 5s), the premier MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro’s (for example, the antenna & home button issues with the iPhone 4 were corrected with the 4s, and the LG screen issues with the MacBook Pro Retina was corrected with a different LG screen model only after the Pro had been in production for some time.)
So when it comes to the question of if now is a good time to buy, I feel that if you like the current features of this computer that now is a great time. Most of the hardware quirks have been fixed and the long-term data Apple has gotten back from earlier owners have allowed them make continuing revisions to improve the machine (these computers get small changes all the time…not just with the formally advertised revisions.) With many User Reviews, you now also have a very precise idea of what to expect.
DESCRIPTION, FEATURES, DESIGN
My specific model is the 11,3 revision (Mid 2014) with the 2.5 GHz i7 quad core CPU (6MB L3 cache), 16 GB DDR3 SDRAM @ 1600 MHz, 2 GB NVIDIA GT750M GPU, 500 GB PCIe flash storage hard drive (high-speed revision made by Samsung), and LG 2nd generation LED backlit retina screen at 2880x1800 resolution with 220 pixels per-inch.
This Retina Pro is approximately 14 inches wide, 10 inches deep, .7 inches thick, and weighs approximately 4.5 pounds. The ports on it include: ThunderBolt 2 (2), USB 3.0 SuperSpeed (2), analog headphone/mic 2-way jack (1), HDMI 4k revision (1), and SDXC Card Reader Slot (1). There are a wide variety of port adapters available, most of which use a ThunderBolt adapter. There is a built-in 720p camera for videoconferencing/pictures, and a built-in dual microphone system with ambient noise reduction.
Like other MacBook Pro’s, the keyboard is LED backlit, a multifunction touchpad is used, and the screen itself is a glossy finish. A dual channel speaker with ‘subwoofer’ is built in. The Bluetooth used is revision 4 (and is quite reliable), and the WiFi revision is 802.11ac (which is stupid-fast.) Included with the purchase is an 85 watt MagSafe 2 adapter, which is NOT compatible with the original MagSafe. The non-removable & non-serviceable lithium ion battery is advertised for about 8 hours of life and has an extended service life and rapid-charge capability. A few common features included on previous MacBook Pros are NOT present, such as the matte anti-reflective screen coating option, DVD-RW drive, FireWire port, Ethernet port, and DVi port.
A NOTE ON FANS, HEAT, AND HOW THE MACBOOK PRO IS A ‘HOT’ COMPUTER
The usage of aluminum on the MacBook Pro is not just light & strong, but is also great for heat dissipation. This usage of aluminum means that the thermal cooling of the MacBook Pro is very different from a laptop made with a material such as plastic because the MacBook Pro’s own unibody aluminum frame IS its own giant heat sink. This plays a role of passive cooling along with the active cooling of the two internal fans.
Apple changed the fan design with the retina MacBook Pro. These fans are shaped very differently than from the previous generation, and they move a significant amount of air with less noise. For general lighter usage, the fans will usually run right around 2000-2200 RPM, and the computer is only slightly warm to the touch. At this RPM, the aluminum is doing most of the cooling and you cannot hear the fans even if you put your ear right against the computer. With heavier usage that pushes the CPU harder (hence more heat), the fans ramp-up as the temperature increases. They can ramp up to a max of about 6200 RPM under full load, and at this speed they are very noticeable. Hence under a full load that generates substantial heat, the audible noise that sounds like a drone is about to take off from your coffee table is normal (this is not normal if the fans are running like this and the computer is not under high-load/heat.)
The bottom of the computer itself will also get rather warm and this will be seem much warmer than computers made with plastic. Under full load, the palm rests can also get warmer. This is that cooling taking place and this is what allows the computer to keep very low fan speeds during lighter tasks, (hence reducing noise and energy consumption.) If you have not owned a MacBook Pro before, this can initially cause concern that the computer is overheating, but in most cases it is simply working as designed. Despite there being programs in which the user can increase fan speed, this is NOT necessary for a correctly operating machine and generally NOT recommended. The computer has its own thermal production and will shut itself down to avoid damage if it actually does overheat.
WHAT I LIKE
This is my third unibody MacBook Pro, and my first MacBook Pro with the retina screen. It was to replace a MacBook Pro that was about 4 years old, and to be used for statistical software in which a computer with a quad core i7, a lot of RAM, and a very fast SSD saves time.
The hardware quality of this computer is exceptional. The retina screen, especially the initial LG screen, had some pretty major initial issues, but mine is spectacular. It is the second & newer LG-made model (versus Samsung) and it has absolutely zero issues with image retention, produces extremely sharp images, has excellent white-white and black-black production, has great brightness & a superb angle of viewing, and the integration of moving images is excellent. By that last part I mean that despite having an extremely high-res display, when playing a video the transition is smooth & consistent (versus choppy, inconsistencies in brightness/sharpness, and variations in color…I’ve had those issues in the past with other laptops that had screen resolutions that were extremely cutting edge for their era.) Part of this is probably because the GPU in this computer is great.
Like the MacBook Pro’s from previous generations, the multi-function touchpad is exceptional. This is probably the primary reason I cannot bring myself to buy another hardware brand. Some companies have made awesome UltraBooks, and I like Windows 8.1 just as much as OS X, but thus far I am yet to use a machine that replicates the quality of Apple’s multifunctional touchpads. Given you use this every day for hours upon end, the more functional touchpad can save a lot of time.
The processing capability of this computer is exceptional. The 2.5 GHz i7 is fast as can be, and this generation CPU continues to better optimize multi-core processing that not only means a faster computer, but lower energy consumption & heat generation. Programs such as Stata, which have specific revisions made solely for computers with multiples cores, can crunch ridiculously large datasets in stupidly short times. Between the 16 GB of RAM and a hard drive that can both read and write nearly 750 megabytes of data every second, it’s capable of working very large files without the load times that would occur on most other laptops. For those editing video or massive image files, the very high write speed of the hard drive will likely save you a lot of time. Combined with ThunderBolt 2 and an external SATA 6.0 Gbps SSD, you can move massive files in a fraction of the time needed in years past. (On a side note, some owners have installed the flash memory from a Mac Pro into their MacBook Pro Retina and have reported read/write speeds of around 1 gigabyte per-second.)
Like other MacBook Pros, the backlit keyboard is an absolute pleasure to use (that now I can’t live without), the speakers do very well for laptop, the quality of the cosmetic fit & finish is top-notch for a mass-produced manufactured product, and the engravings/markings are consistent. The unibody construction allows a computer of a very slim form factor for such a capable machine, and the anodized aluminum is both durable from a cosmetic and a functional perspective. These machines hold up very well to frequent mobile usage (although to protect the cosmetic finish, a neoprene sleeve and/or a snap-on case will help protect your investment.)
Making statements about average battery life is risky business because what the user does can make a huge difference here. For example, if you are browsing the internet on battery life, what browser you use, how long that process has been running for, how many tabs are open, how many active extensions are running, and what the website(s) you are viewing do (ex: is it text, a flash animation, or video, etc.) will all affect this greatly. With that said, I’ve done the standard actions done with OS X needed to optimize power when on battery life and I get about the same time Apple advertises with lighter tasks…which is a ballpark of 7-8 hours. Overall, I am very satisfied that a computer with this kind of display and this kind of processing power, at such a compact size, can do this.
THINGS I DO NOT LIKE
One of the biggest issues of dislike with the retina MacBook Pro is the lack of user-serviceability. The casing uses pentalobe screws, the RAM is permanently attached, and the flash memory that makes the hard drive can be replaced but it’s tricky business & without many aftermarket options. The screen itself cannot be disassembled easily if a part in it were to fail, and with numerous components located inside of the screen, chances are purchasing one will be very expensive. None of these issues are all that problematic for the first 3 years of ownership if you have AppleCare…however, this is a machine that costs 2.5-3 grand and so you have to also think about after the warranty expires given most people keep their Apple hardware components for a long time. While I am not fond of any of the above, what it comes down to is understanding these limitations (which older MacBook Pro’s did not have) and either accepting them or going for a different hardware maker. My choice was to accept these. I won’t know until 2018 is that was a good choice or not.
After a few weeks of ownership, my MacBook Pro developed a squeaky hinge. This isn’t all that uncommon but luckily it is usually easily fixed by simply removing the bottom casing and retightening. BUT, this was still more of a pain than before as it meant I had to buy a pentalobe screwdriver to do this.
Starting with the Retina MacBook Pro, Apple introduced MagSafe 2. Like the most modern revisions of the original MagSafe, I don’t like the design. The power cord is too delicate, the rubber used to coat the cord doesn’t hold up well if you are on the go, and the adapter head is bulky and easily knocked out of the port. I eventually purchased an aftermarket product that made it harder for the adapter head to be knocked out of the port. Apple needs to revisit this and make something that is more compact and a little more durable. While this isn’t the biggest issue in the world given you can easily replace the power cord, it’s still a pain and a replacement isn’t cheap (like $60-80.)
Finally, I have to address OS X Yosemite given this machine came with Yosemite and that is what you get if you buy one of these, without any alternative. Love or hate the visual flat icons, the operating system has not developed a great name for its functional reliability. When released, Mail didn’t work at all for a ton of users and WiFi would randomly fail. While those are just two of the issues, these issues can render a $3,000 computer useless for the person who needs reliable internet or email (which is like…everybody.) Since then, 10.1 and 10.2 updates have been released, which address some issues but not others. To date, the Mail application has not worked correctly for me, and no one at Apple knows why (while I’m not claiming to be a computer genius, I’m not an idiot, I’ve been around OS X for a while, and it’s not settings related which practically every Apple employee has told me only to realize they were wrong and rather an issue with the OS.)
Frankly, OS X Yosemite has some great features, it’s the key to harnessing the power of the CPU, and it integrates better with iOS than the revisions before it. However, Apple’s determination to push an operating system upgrade on almost a yearly basis seems to be harming the functional design in regards to system reliability. A stable release should never have this many issues of this degree of severity. As of February 4, 2015, I am still waiting for Apple to address multiple issues with Yosemite that harm my own productivity, such as how every now and then a sent item in Mail just disappears. While no new operating system is ever perfect, the kind of problems and the potential harm to productivity the problems can cause can’t be ignored. Apple has not historically worked like this and operating system reliability is a reason I moved to the brand. I sincerely hope this changes in the future and that Apple fixes the issues with Yosemite as it has so much potential.
The MacBook Pro 15 with Retina display is a great computer. It’s well made, innovative, functional, and capable of handling resource-heavy tasks. The screen on it is simply incredible…it’s not just high-resolution, but with this high-res it can fit a ton of things on the desktop. It uses a powerful operating system that has some great design features, but it also has some functional issues that can negatively impact productivity. Those functional issues are why I rated this product four stars instead of five, as you can’t purchase this Retina MacBook Pro without the operating system, and there is no easy way to use an alternative version. Overall, I recommend the Retina MacBook Pro.