The 'Book Review

Retina MacBook Pro Runs 3 Displays, 15" MacBook Pro Teardown, 13" MacBook Pro Benchmarks, More

This Week's PowerBook and iBook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2012.06.22

General Apple and Mac desktop news is covered in Mac News Review. iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in iOS News Review. All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

Retina MacBook Pro News & Opinion

15" MacBook Pro News & Opinion

13" MacBook Pro News & Opinion

Rumor Roundup

Apple Updates

Tech Trends

Bargain 'Books

Retina MacBook Pro News & Opinion

Retina MacBook Pro with Can Run 3 External Displays at Once

Retina MacBook Pro running 3 external displays
Retina MacBook Pro running 3 external displays.

OWC blogger Mike H. reports that including its built-in Retina display, the 2012 MacBook Pro with Retina Display can run four displays at their native resolution with its two Thunderbolt ports and an integrated HDMI port.

  1. Retina on laptop @ best for Retina
  2. iMac used as a display @ 2560 x 1440 via Thunderbolt
  3. iMac used as a display @ 2560 x 1440 via Thunderbolt/DisplayPort
  4. LG monitor @ 1920 x 1200 via HDMI

Mike says moving images and media didn't create any lag, and they were able to play video on all four displays simultaneously.

Retina MacBook Pro the Fastest Mac Ever Tested by Macworld Labs

Macworld's Roman Loyola says that the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, Apple directs attention back to the Mac, the "RetinaBook" being a groundbreaking release that will force us to rethink the way we interact with a laptop - how we view and work with content, and how we deal with external devices and connections.

The marquee feature of this laptop is, of course, the Retina Display, which Loyola says can be perceived as either another step in the iOSification of the Mac or a reminder that all of these products are part of one big happy Apple family, noting that with so many pixels, it's easy to notice the amount of detail you can see in high-resolution photos, but also emphasizes the low quality of many website images that now look jaggy.

Another tradeoff is that everything on the 15" screen is smaller than on the now-discontinued 17" MacBook Pro's screen, and it's possible that folks with aging eyes "will need to make adjustments".

Also, with the Retina MacBook Pro, the RAM is hard-soldered to the motherboard with no expansion slots, so you have to decide at the time of purchase if you want to roll the dice and go with the standard 8 GB or pony up $200 more to configure the maximum 16 GB. You can't upgrade the RAM after purchase, so Loyola observes that if your idea of a pro machine is one that allows you to upgrade or customize some of its components after you've bought it, the Retina MacBook Pro will be a disappointment.

Other stuff you don't get includes built-in Ethernet and FireWire 800 ports (Thunderbolt adapters are available for both), an internal optical drive (external SuperDrive available for $80 bucks), and an ExpressCard/34 slot.

The 2.6 GHz Retina MacBook Pro is the fastest Mac Macworld Labs has ever tested
The 2.6 GHz Retina MacBook Pro is the fastest Mac Macworld Labs has ever tested.

On the upside, in Macworld Lab testing of the Retina MacBook Pro models using Speedmark 7 determined that the 2.6 GHz Core i7 Retina MacBook Pro isn't just the fastest laptop they've tested, but the fastest Mac they've tested - a whopping 51% faster than last year's high-end MacBook Pro.

MacBook Pro with Retina Display: Over-Engineered and Over-Priced

Mac 360's Jack D. Miller says the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display is the most over-engineered personal computer ever, deeming it simply too much engineering with too much quality. Using automotive analogies, Miller asks, "can the average Mac user afford a Mac these days? Sure, all models are selling well. So are BMWs, Lexus, Cadillacs, and other luxury brands."

However, he says his concern with this new Mac is that Apple has gone beyond affordable luxury and into the rarefied atmosphere of Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, Maserati, et al, noting that while iFixit called the latest MacBook Pro with Retina Display an engineering marvel, they also gave it their lowest repairability score ever based on their teardown, concluding that with the new MacBook line Apple is reverting to a bygone era whereby only a privileged few can afford all the engineering and design baked into a new Mac. Like a luxury car, he says, the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display is drool-worthy, but the quality of engineering and components make it a luxury bauble not fit for the masses.

Retina MacBook Pro: Unfixable, Unhackable, Untenable

In a company blog, iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens observes, "Apple is asking users to define the future of the MacBook Pro . . . Once again . . . Apple has presented the market with a choice. They have two professional laptops: one that is serviceable and upgradeable, and one that is not." Concluding after a teardown that the Retina MacBook Pro is "least-repairable laptop we've taken apart" and that "We have consistently voted for hardware that's thinner rather than upgradeable . . . But we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Our purchasing decisions are telling Apple that we're happy to buy computers and watch them die on schedule . . . Every time we buy a locked down product containing a non-replaceable battery with a finite cycle count, we're voicing our opinion on how long our things should last."

Wiens says that beginning with the original 2008 MacBook Air, Apple sacrificed performance and upgradeability to achieve a thinner form factor, with RAM soldered to the logic board - meaning that a heretofore simple memory upgrade would now involve a prohibitively expensive replacement of the entire board - and a non-swappable battery.

Did we want a machine that would be stuck with 2 GB of RAM forever? Would we support laptops that required replacement every year or two as applications required more memory and batteries atrophied? Wiens notes that consumers overwhelmingly voted yes, with Air sales soaring to take 40% of Apple's notebook sales by the end of 2010, buyers voting with their wallets to purchased the device despite its built-in death clock.

Apple Charges $199 to Replace Retina MacBook Pro's Battery

Computerworld's Gregg Keizer says the nonupgradeable battery and other "Air-izing" traits of Apple's new Retina MacBook Pro has induced a repair expert to say, "We have to draw a line in the sand."

Apple Retina MacBook Pro owners will pay more to replace the notebook's integrated battery, which is literally glued to the case and can't be replaced by the user but must be returned to Apple.

Keizer says Apple's price for replacing the Retina MacBook Pro's battery is $199 - 54% higher than the $129 fee for swapping out a MacBook Air battery.

iFixit Goes Inside the MacBook Pro's Retina Display

teardown of Retina DisplayiFixit's Chief Information Architect Miroslav Djuric and his team took a closer look at the component that makes the new model MacBook Pro so technologically groundbreaking: the Retina Display. Apple claims that the Retina display in the MacBook Pro is the most stunning display to ever grace the lid of a notebook computer.

"Honestly, we agree," says Djuric. "The Retina display is an engineering marvel. Its LCD is essentially the entire display assembly. Rather than sandwich an LCD panel between a back case and a piece of glass in front, Apple used the aluminum case itself as the frame for the LCD panel and used the LCD as the front glass. They've managed to pack five times as many pixels as the last model in a display that's actually a fraction of a millimeter thinner. And since there's no front glass, glare is much less of an issue."

But at what cost - the kind that's green and has dead presidents on it? Unhappily, Djuric notes that here's no way to replace just the LCD, since the entire thing is the LCD. Consequently, users who experience unfortunate accidents will be obliged to replace the entire display assembly. The intricacies of opening the display also mean that should anything else fail internally, the whole assembly will still have to be replaced or the user will have to make do without the component.

Teardown Highlights

  • a series of films and sheets that manipulate light before sending it to the user's eyeThe Retina display is a hair over 7 mm at its thickest point and just over 3 mm at its thinnest, only a fraction of a millimeter thinner than the regular MacBook Pro.
  • The display hinges have cables routed through them, without any means to remove the cables. So instead of routing cables underneath cable retainers (as in the non-Retina MacBook Pro), you just have to replace the cables and hinges together.
  • The FaceTime HD camera interfaces with the rest of the computer via a Vimicro VC0358 USB camera interface IC.
  • Underneath the top layer we find a series of films and sheets that manipulate light before sending it to the user's eye.
  • A strip of 48 LEDs at the bottom of the display assembly provides all the light your Retina display needs.
  • The bottom edge of the case has two features that iFixit's techs thought were pretty neat: a laser engraved internal use code and a nifty arrangement of round indentations.

Photos courtesy iFixit.

15" MacBook Pro News & Opinion

15" Mid 2012 MacBook Pro More Repairable, Upgradeable, and Hackable Than Retina Model

iFixit's Chief Information Architect Miroslav Djuric observes that while the new Retina display MacBook Pro is getting all the press attention, Apple's upgraded holdover unibody MacBook Pro models are still a formidable laptop option, and are way more repairable, upgradeable, and hackable than their sleeker, 0.24"-thinner, one pound-lighter sibling.

15-inch MacBook Pro teardownThis isn't much of a surprise to anyone, and neither is the very respectable 7/10 repairability score (compared to 1/10 for the MacBook Pro with Retina Display). Internally, the machine is pretty much the same as the last year's model, but with a nice speed bump from Intel Ivy Bridge CPU silicon, Intel's HD Graphics 4000 IGPU, and, on the 15" model, new Nvidia GeForce GT 650M discrete graphics with either 512 MB or 1 GB of video RAM and automatic graphics switching.

Djuric says that one question still nags at iFixit's tech staff - to wit: "could Apple make a super-sleek laptop like the MacBook Pro with Retina Display and still preserve the repairability of the machine?"

The answer he says is "yes." But of course they didn't, alas.

iFixit's teardown comparison highlights the differences between the two machines, with regular MacBook Pro is always cited first, compared to the MacBook Pro with Retina Display noting:

  • Use of regular vs. proprietary screws. This is a no-brainer in our books - there's absolutely no benefit from using a proprietary pentalobe screw type in any electronic device, aside from keeping users out of it.
  • The battery is exactly the same capacity as last year's model: 77.5 Wh at 10.95 V. It's the same size as well, a solid 13.8 mm in thickness. The MacBook Pro with Retina Display's battery varies in thickness from 5.25 mm to 8.60 mm depending on which cell you measure, and it has a plastic frame around some of the cells. Although the discrepancy is large between the two battery thicknesses, the Retina MacBook Pro's battery (photo here: http://bit.ly/retina_battery) is spread out over a much larger surface area. It would've taken some engineering, but Apple could expand the frame in the Retina MacBook Pro to encompass the whole battery, and allow it to come out as a singular, non-glued unit.
  • removing the hard drive in the 15-inch MacBook ProHere's a big difference: the regular MacBook Pro 2.5" SATA hard drive is 9.45 mm thick, compared to 3.16 mm for the SSD found in the Retina Display MacBook Pro. But the SSD is one of the few things that is actually removable from the Retina version, and Apple could use a nonproprietary mSATA connector so folks could replace the SSD with an off-the-shelf unit.
  • While the individual RAM modules are thin (~3.15 mm), the "stacked" RAM slots in the regular MacBook Pro are a whopping 9.15 mm thick. Yet the entire Retina MacBook Pro is only 18 mm thick, and allocating half of that dimension to RAM slots would be a big sacrifice. But, an individual RAM slot is only 4.27 mm thick; if the design of the logic board featured the RAM slots side by side (like older MacBooks), folks could still replace their RAM for years to come.
  • While the regular MacBook Pro display may not be Retinalicious, a cracked LCD will still be the most expensive repair (aside from the logic board) on this machine. Thankfully, users can replace just the LCD instead of the entire assembly. Incorporating a removable LCD into the MacBook Pro with Retina Display would increase the thickness by less than a millimeter, while still preserving the awesome Retina resolution.
  • We love the optical drive in the regular MacBook Pro because we appreciate the additional space given by adding a second hard drive (using one of iFixit's SATA enclosures: http://bit.ly/sata_enclosure). A significant portion of the weight savings in the Retina MacBook Pro comes from Apple's removal of the optical drive. While the lack of an optical drive won't be major imposition for many, the inability to inexpensively add a secondary, high capacity spinning drive is definitely a significant loss in terms of upgradability. Removing the optical drive photo at: http://guide-images.ifixit.net/igi/24bIZyMurBsxCPP2.huge

Photos courtesy iFixit.

13" MacBook Pro News & Opinion

13" MacBook Pro or 13" MacBook Air?

Ars Technica's Chris Foresman says that while the new 15" Retina MacBook Pro has attracted the most attention this week, Apple also refreshed its existing MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines. He suggests that if you're in the market for a 13" model, it may be a tough decision to make between the Air or Pro, especially since prices for both now start at $1199.

Foresman says Ars editors dug deep into the specs to analyze the pros and cons for each model and came away convinced that that the 13" MacBook Pro still has a lot to offer for the money, and that if you're willing to lug around the extra pound-and-a-half, you'll have a machine that's arguably a better value for the money with potential longevity extended by future storage and RAM upgrade potential that are lacking in the 13" MacBook Air.

Primate Labs Posts New 13" MacBook Pro Benchmarks

Primate Labs says while Geekbench 2 results for most of last week's new Macs were quickly uploaded to the Geekbench Browser, it took a while for 13" MacBook Pro results to appear, but now that almost a week has passed, hundreds of results for the 13" MacBook Pro have been uploaded - the takeaway being that the latest 13" MacBook Pros offer a nice increase in performance over the previous models, with both the Core i5 and the Core i7 Mid 2012 13" MacBook Pros over 10% faster than the equivalent Late 2011 13" MacBook Pros - some of the increase attributable to higher processor speeds, while some of the increase is from the improved Ivy Bridge processor architecture.

The latest MacBook Pros also offer a nice increase in performance over the latest MacBook Airs. The Core i5 13" MacBook Pro is 10% faster than the Core i5 13" MacBook Air, while the Core i7 13" MacBook Pro is 15% faster (and $100 cheaper) than the Core i7 13" MacBook Air.

It's also noted that while the MacBook Air outsells the Core i5 MacBook Pro by a factor of two to one, the Core i7 MacBook Pro outsells the Core i7 MacBook Air by the same factor, suggesting that users who want the fastest 13" Mac laptop are opting for the MacBook Pro, while everyone else is opting for the 13" MacBook Air.

Rumor Roundup

13" Retina MacBook Pro Expected in October

AppleInsider's Neil Hughes reports that Apple will expand its "RetinaBook" lineup to two models come October, according to KGI Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who's been on something of a roll with Apple product forecasts lately. Kuo, for example, accurately predicted this week's new MacBook Pro release, that Apple would temporarily adopt a three-family MacBook strategy, and the discontinuance of the 17" MacBook Pro.

Hughes says that in a note on Thursday, Mr. Kuo affirmed his expectation that Apple will be commencing production of a 13" version of the Retina Display MacBook Pro in September in preparation for a product launch in early October, strategic to the holiday shopping season, falling within a traditional calendar slot for Apple notebook upgrades and releases.

Mr. Kuo predicts that a 13" Retina Display MacBook Pro will boast a panel resolution of 2560 by 1600 pixels, a slightly thinner section than the 15" model at 18 millimeters, all flash/SSD storage, hard-soldered RAM, Thunderbolt and USB 3 I/O, reliance on Intel's HD 4000 integrated graphics with no discrete graphics support, and Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5 and i7 processors with a clock speeds greater than 2 GHz.

Supply Chain Indications Point to 13" Retina MacBook Pro in Fall

DisplaySearch's Richard Shim and Jeff Lin note that through their panel supply chain research, they've been tracking 2880 x 1800 resolution panels since the Q1 edition of their large area report, and recently noted Apple was the most likely PC brand to be requesting them.

Following Apple's announcement last week, they have checked back into the ODM supply chain, and found that yield issues pushed the start of mass production into late May, with unit production expected to be less than 2 million in calendar year 2012. Shim and Lin also note that similar to the case of the New iPad, the new Retina MacBook Pro doubles previous pixel density, which will require more power consumption in the backlight, and that the new MacBook Pro's battery pack is nearly 23% larger than that used in the previous generation.

Shim and Lin also note that their Q1 report indicated that 13.3" 2560 x 1600 resolution panels were being prepared for production in the third quarter, and say that ODM supply chain sources indicate that Apple will use this panel in a smaller Retina MacBook Pro unit to be launched in the Q4, 2012 with production volume expected to be roughly twice that of the 15.4" Retina MacBook Pro, and as with the new 15.4-incher will have double pixel density of the respective preceding MacBook Pro, the 13" version of which has a 1280 x 800 resolution.

Apple Updates

Apple Releases Thunderbolt Software Update 1.2.1 for Ethernet Support

Thunderbolt Software Update 1.2.1 adds support for the Apple Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter.

System Requirements: OS X Lion 10.7.4 or later

Tech Trends

Vizio's Ultrabooks: Real MacBook Air Rivals?

PCWorld's Jared Newman notes that five months ago, Vizio impressed him with a line of slick new laptops - the first PCs by the company known best for its televisions, and that with its first Ultrabook PCs - Vizio seems to have nailed the concept with machines built from a single slab of aluminum (just like Apple's MacBooks) and featuring a 1600 x 900 panel for the 14" variant and a 1920 x 1080 Full HD display for the 15" Vizio Ultrabook - not quite a Retina Display, but close.

Other similarities to the MacBook Air include Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors (Vizio also offers a Core i3 model), 4 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of solid state storage (although Apple's Airs can be upgraded to 8 GB of RAM and up to 512 GB SSD capacity). Both makers claim up to 7 hours of battery life, and both offer USB 3.0, but Vizio uses HDMI output instead of Thunderbolt.

However, a major parting of the ways is in price. Vizio's 14" Ultrabook starts at $900, and its $950 Core i5 model is $250 cheaper than the closest equivalent 13" MacBook Air. The Vizio 15" version starts at $950 with a Core i3 processor.

Bargain 'Books

For deals on current and discontinued 'Books, see our 13" MacBook and MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, 13" MacBook Pro, 15" MacBook Pro, 17" MacBook Pro, 12" PowerBook G4, 15" PowerBook G4, 17" PowerBook G4, titanium PowerBook G4, iBook G4, PowerBook G3, and iBook G3 deals.

We also track iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, iPod classic, iPod nano, and iPod shuffle deals.

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