Greg Ferro - Work to Live

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Apple MacBook Pro Retina - Personal Review

This review will focus on my personal experiences of using the MacBook Pro Retina ( MBPr) since I received it a few weeks back. I talked about my decision making process previously.

Overall, I’m well pleased with the system. Despite some minor problems with the graphics card and occasional reboots, I would highly recommend the MacBook Pro Retina for the Retina display, overall speed and portability.

Migration Assistant is still the Ducks Guts

One of the greatest features of using OSX is the Migration Assistant - connect your new Mac to the Ethernet, boot and create a temporary user, run the Migration Assistant and import all the configuration from your previous Mac. Takes a couple of hours and then you are running - all data, all apps, all settings in one move. I had some problems with recertifying about 25% of my applications from the App Store and direct downloads (adding the Serial Numbers again). I'm told this is due to the license using the hardware UUID for validation). I haven't installed (or reinstalled a "bare metal" OSX since 2006 when I bought my first Mac.

The Retina Display

I didn't buy this laptop for the Retina display. What I really needed was the 16GB of memory in the hope of having 3 years of useable hardware life and this is the only current model that supports that. I have the iPad 3 and iPhone which has Retina and it's never seemed like a critical thing.

In practice though, the Retina display is astonishing. Truly. It’s visually stunning and has completely changed the way I look at computer screens. Seriously, no other computer monitor will ever be the same again. At a more personal level, I use a Windows machine at $work and find reading the Lenovo screen quite difficult. Add that to differences in font rendering between Apple / Microsoft and the Windows experience is very unpleasant.

Eye Strain and Improved Reading

In 2008 I've written Musing: On Reading and Learning From a Computer Screen where I discuss how I'm striving to read more from a screen instead of printing and overcoming learned habits. And I've also written about the quality of computer displays Rant: Screen Reading – Comparing Windows and MAC and attempted to explain the difficult of using poor quality screen to effectively read and absorb information.

Personally, I’m finding that the Retina display makes an enormous difference to my personal experience of readability and eye strain. In the two weeks I’ve come to really appreciate the value of a very high resolution display. You would think that someone who remembers 80x25 colour monitors in the mid 90’s would remember this.

I’m also sure that the Retina is something that you need to experience so I won’t attempt to describe it any more.

Dual Screen Greatness

I'm lucky to be able to purchase a 27" Cinema Thunderbolt display at the same time (I've been working two jobs to pay for it). I'm often reviewing material, making notes and diagrams simultaneously and the larger screen dramatically improves this process. A good investment for me.

The Thunderbolt has an Ethernet adapter built-in so it also acts like a laptop dock for me.

My greatest surprise is that my 24" Cinema DisplayPort monitor works directly. There are two Thunderbolt ports on the MBPr and connecting the Mini-DisplayPort connector into either of the Thunderbolt ports works. Thus, my final ‘setup’ is with the MBPr closed and a dual monitor setup 27" and 24" Apple Cinema displays. Which feels very lush, I must say. If I open my MBPr I could have three screens but that doesn’t work for me since I mount the laptop in a TwelveSouth BookArc.

MacBook Pro Retina Thunderbolt connectors 2

Desktop Mounting of MacBook Pro Retina

I don't have a lot of space in my office to start with, and dual displays means even less. I use a Twelve South BookArc to 'holster' my MacBook Pro and have owned this since mid-2009. Although overpriced, and the rubber feet don't last for long I haven't found anything better and I'm still looking to improve on this product.

SSD and Usable Impact

It's hard to overstate how much difference the SSD makes to overall system performance. It seems that I never have to wait for an application to start, or a save to happen. Having previously upgraded my mid-2009 MacBook Pro with an 256GB SSD about eight months ago, the performance increase isn't as dramatic for me. I can say that the MBPr is faster and smoother is every respect.


As always, the move in and out of hibernate means I rarely (weekly ?) need to restart OSX. This laptop goes in and out of hibernate even quicker than before.

Problems I've Experienced

There are no major problems I've noticed but I can comment on a few minor problems.

Niggles and Annoyances

I've had some minor niggles with USB ports not recognising Plantronics headsets. This is usually resolved by reconnecting. Annoying but not critical.

I’ve had some Bluetooth problems on wakeup from Sleep mode. I run my MBPr with the lid shut when at my home office. When resuming from sleep mode, I infrequently get some delays.

I’ve had small problems when disconnecting from the external displays. Occasionally the screen graphics will get a bit a ditsy. So far, I’ve been able to solve this by using gfxCardStatus to force a switch between Integrated and Discrete Graphics and this came good.

I’ve had several reboots happen - I can’t determine a cause although it seems to happen when the power cable gets bounced off the MagSafe. My gut feel is that the graphics drivers are flaky when power save is invoked. This don’t worry me much at this stage for three reasons

  1. My previous two laptops were also purchased soon after the release announcement and had similar problems. Both times, updates with the next month or two fixed niggling problems.
  2. because OSX Snow Leopard automatically saves open files, and opens them at reboot my machine state is not lost.
  3. The reboot takes about 15 seconds. Which doesn't impact me much.
So it's annoying all right but compared to my corporate laptop (which crashes hard, often and with data loss) the MBPr is not much worse and the impact is almost zero. Again, Apple has fixed this problem with updates in the past so I'm confident of a solution shortly.

Update: The USB patch on 20120719 does seem to have improved this.

MagSafe 2

I'm having some problems with the MagSafe 2 connector. It's much thinner than the previous version and it easily breaks contact with the power socket in the vertical direction. When this happens the default action is for OSX to go into sleep mode.

MacBook Pro Retina Thunderbolt connectors 1

Other Observations

Power Button

Apple has replaced the separate power button with a keyboard button. This photo will explain what I mean:

MacBook Pro Retina Power Button 2

Screensize from 17 inch to 15 inch

The 15" Retina display shows the same amount of real estate as the 17" version. In other words, my MBP 17" has the same resolution as the Retina 15" and therefore I can continue to have Byword and Safari open at the same time as a left/right.


It's fast. Very fast. Podcast conversions now takes less than a minute, previously it was three or four. In fact it's so fast I don't notice delays. Probably due to SSD and 16GB of 1333 Ghz DRAM but I'm sure the CPU is making a difference.

Size, Weight

Since my previous laptop was a 17" MacBook Pro that weighed about 2.5 kilograms, the MacBook Pro Retina is MUCH lighter and easier to carry around.

Final Stuff

In my personal view, this is great upgrade. The quality of the Retina display caught me by surprise. The speed is undeniably an improvement over my mid-2009 MBP (even though it had an SSD upgrade). As always, it's physically beautiful especially when compared to my corporate laptops from HP and Lenovo.

Also, nearly all of my apps are Retina ready and show up in high res on the screens. I’m looking forward to Mountain Lion and getting some more stability on the graphics drivers.

The 27" Thunderbolt dispay has certainly improved my productivity for researching and writing. Have both the 24" and 27" displays at the same time from a laptop is completely unexpected benefit.