The 'Book Review

New MacBook Lineup Changes Everything, 13" Retina MacBook Pro Teardown, and More 'Book News

This Week's Mac Notebook News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2012.11.03

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. Older Macs are covered in Vintage Mac News. All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

Purchases made through links to Amazon.com and Apple's iTunes/iBook/App/Mac App Store support Low End Mac.

News & Opinion

Reviews

Tech Trends

Products & Services

Software

Bargain 'Books

News & Opinion

New MacBook Lineup Changes Everything

The Mac Observer's John Martellaro pronounces Apple's current MacBook line, from the ultralight MacBook Air to the new Retina MacBook Pros, "amazing." Your editor, speaking as a Mac laptop aficionado of 20 years standing, agrees. In my estimation, there's never been a better time to be a Mac laptop user. Martellaro observes that what's particularly notable with Apple's latest MacBook update is "a key transformation of the MacBook design philosophy and how it might affect customer thinking."

He says he was curious to learn how much of a leap Apple's new 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display (RMBP) represents compared with his 2011 13" MacBook Air (MBA), and says his investigation turned up some interesting things, one being that MBA has apparently been shifted from its erstwhile status as Apple's premium notebook family to anchoring the bottom of Apple's MacBook lineup, a change he thinks has probably been precipitated by PC makers having been fairly successful in mimicking the MBA with their Ultrabooks.

Another observation relates to CPU speed, Martellaro noting that while very thin MBAs have always been on the low side in clock speed (currently 1.8-2.0 GHz) in order to avoid heat issues, with the 13" RMBP, the entry point is a 2.5 GHz dual-core i5. He also notes that elimination of the optical drive in the new RMBP changes everything, with the 13" MBA weighing 2.96 lb. and the 13" RMBP weighing 3.57 lb. (compared with 4.5 lb. for the non-Retina 13" Pro, which combined with the high-resolution display shifts technical momentum plus coolness factor supremacy back to the RMBP line, and that with this realignment, choosing the right MacBook seems easier than ever.

He also salutes Apple (I join him in doing so - ed) for retaining older generation hardware, be it iPad or MacBook, so that customers still have access to legacy interfaces, such as FireWire 800, and can take advantage of lower pricing, noting that "Not every customer needs a Retina Display," and necessary painful decisions more or less gone.

Telling EPEAT Why Upgrades Matter

iFixit's Elizabeth recaps that two weeks ago iFixit was dismayed to learn that computer hardware environmental rating agency EPEAT gave Apple's Retina MacBook Pro a Gold certification, through the strained rationalization that defining any device with a USB port is technically "upgradeable".

That's not how iFixit defines upgradable, Elizabeth notes, thanking nearly a thousand individuals who emailed EPEAT CEO Bob Frisbee to tell him about upgrades they've made to their devices, demonstrating how upgrading has made a difference in their lives, representing thousands of devices that remained in useful service instead of ending up in a junk heap.

Like, for example, the two hot-rodded 12-year-old Pismo PowerBooks your editor is still using for production work, including drafting, editing, and marking up this column.

Elizabeth cites several advantages and benefits of real hardware upgradability, including:

  1. Repairable and upgradeable hardware creates jobs.
  2. Unfixable designs cause problems far, far from Cupertino, California.
  3. Upgrades and repairs make technology available to people who need it.

Publisher's note: We're firm believers in upgrading your aging Macs to keep them productive. I'm writing this on a 2002 Power Mac G4 that has been upgraded with more memory, higher capacity and faster hard drives, and USB 2.0 ports. I've also got a 2007 Mac mini that has seen both memory and hard drive upgrades to run more efficiently. I've been doing this since I got my first Mac, a Mac Plus, over 20 years ago, and I would hesitate to buy any Mac that I couldn't upgrade. dk

Reviews

13" Retina MacBook Pro vs. 15" Retina MacBook Pro

Bare Feats' Rob-Art Morgan asks and answers the rhetorical question, "is the 13" Retina MacBook Pro just a smaller version of the 15" Retina MacBook Pro?"

"Not exactly," says Rob, who notes that the new 13" Retina MacBook Pro comes only with a Dual-Core i5 or Dual-Core i7 while the 15" Retina MacBook Pro comes with a Quad-Core i7. Additionally, the 13" model is limited to an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU with memory borrowed from the operating system, while the 15" model comes with a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 650M with its own dedicated video memory. Furthermore, the 13" RMBP is limited to its hard-soldered standard 8 GB RAM configuration, while the 15" RMBP can be ordered with up to 16 GB.

Morgan conducted a shootout between the two RMBP to illustrate the performance gap, which may be critical for users who run professional apps.

iFixit: 13" Retina MacBook Pro 'Slightly More Recyclable' Than 15-Incher

PR: The 13" Retina MacBook Pro came out earlier this week, and thankfully we didn't have to wait long in order to analyze it on our operating table. Over the past couple of months, we've been pretty vocal about the MacBook Pro 15" 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro batteryRetina's shortcomings - specifically, its lack of repairability, upgradeability, and recyclability. So, as we dove into the newest member of the Retina family, we were quite interested to see how the 13" model stacked up to its big brother.

The 13" MacBook Retina is slightly more recyclable than the 15" Retina. Once inside, it took us only 15 minutes of prying to remove the battery, and we didn't puncture the battery cells. It was definitely a doable feat (compared to nearly impossible for the 15" Retina), but still a far cry from the no-adhesive, non-Retina MacBook Pros.

The 13" Retina's design is a step in the right direction, but it's a very small step: the RAM is still not upgradeable, the exterior screws are still proprietary, and replacing the display will still cost an arm and a leg. Accordingly, it earned a 2/10 repairability score, a meager one point higher than its 15" sibling.

Highlights

  • 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro interiorAs always, we start by disconnecting the battery, a simple task that requires no more than releasing a connector. But wait, what's this? Instead of the good ol' run-of-the-mill battery connector that we've seen in most other Apple laptops, the battery is connected using several screws that hold a connector board (http://bit.ly/RXxUPJ) in place. From what we can surmise, the little PCB serves only as a bridge between the battery control board and the logic board. Very odd.
  • The most striking layout change in the 13" version is the rearranged battery cells. Their placement allowed Apple's designers to cleverly tuck the SSD away underneath the trackpad assembly.
  • Our first thought was that a standard 2.5" laptop drive might fit in the SSD space, and it almost looks like the little nook was designed with that in mind (http://bit.ly/PsJs1S). Yet, our 9.5mm Crucial SSD (http://bit.ly/QHHWpk) didn't allow the bottom cover to be closed, but only by a smidge. We'll see if a 7 mm or 5 mm super-slim hard drive could be incorporated into the space.
  • The asymmetrical blade spacing of the fans is great at breaking up annoying air patterns that symmetrically-spaced fan blades might generate. But while these fans are pretty cool, they can't be removed without first taking out the heat sink, which means you'll have to reapply thermal paste to the CPU in order to perform the job properly.
  • Chips we found on the logic board:
    • Intel Core i5-3210M 2.5 GHz processor
    • Hynix H5TC4G83MFR 8 GB DDR3L SDRAM
    • Intel BD82QS77 platform controller hub
    • Intel DSL3510L Thunderbolt controller
    • Texas Instruments Stellaris LM4FS1AH microcontroller with integrated ARM core
    • Hynix H5TC4G83MFR DDR3L SDRAM
    • SMSC USB2512B USB 2.0 Hub Controller
    • Cypress Semiconductor CY8C24794-24L programmable SoC
    • Maxim MAX15119 Apple-specific IMVP7 CPU/GPU power controller
    • Cirrus Audio 4206BCNZ audio controller
    • Texas Instruments TPS 51980
  • This time we're excited to find two of the six battery cells held in with screws and no adhesive. We made good progress initially, but things slowed down when we got to the outer cells and had to start slowly spudgering under the edges. Listening for the snap, crackle, & pop of breaking adhesive, we cautiously pushed forward until all six cells were free.
  • Battery removal took us roughly 15 minutes to complete, and we didn't have to use a heat gun. All we needed was a Torx screwdriver and three spudgers. In contrast, it took us three attempts to successfully remove the 15" Retina's battery without puncturing it, and the third attempt took over half an hour to perform.
  • 13-inch Retina MacBook teardownThe trackpad board contains several connectors and two prominent ICs: a Silicon Storage Technology SST25VF020 2 Mbit SPI Serial Flash, and a Broadcom BCM5976 touchscreen controller. Up until now, we haven't noticed the inclusion of flash memory on the trackpad. We don't know why a trackpad would require flash memory, but it appears that the same IC was also included in the MacBook Pro 15" Retina trackpad.
  • Just five screws keep the trackpad in place. You can actually replace it if it breaks, which is pretty much impossible on the 15" model (since the trackpad is covered by the battery).
  • At first we thought we found some kitten fuzz inside a couple of screw holes, but it turns out that Apple glued in a small piece of steel-wool-like metal on top of two of the speaker screws. Why, you ask? We don't know, but we have some hypotheses, and we'd love to hear if someone has a plausible answer. Possibilities include:
    • Grounding?
    • Noise reduction?
    • Tamper-evident seals?
    • And, of course, kittens!

Tech Trends

Leaving MacBook Pro for a Chromebook

InfoWorld's Simon Phipps says the Chromebook (an ARM-based laptop running Google's Linux-based Chrome OS) has inserted itself into his life in a way he never expected. "Sorry, MacBook Pro," he says, "I just don't need you right now."

Phipps notes that at $249, the Chromebook is probably the cheapest useful mainstream laptop he's ever seen, but the big surprise has been that his experiences using a Chromebook for a month have been so good he believes it deserves serious consideration.

He hadn't expected to replace his MacBook Pro with a Chromebook, but says the truth is that his old Apple friend has been sitting on the end of its Kensington cable in the office for weeks now, occasionally acting as a printer server or a remote application server but otherwise gathering dust. He says he'll see how long that lasts, but for now the truth is that he's left his MacBook for a Chromebook.

Products & Services

OWC Aura Pro SSD Upgrades Work in the New 13" RMBP

OWC Aura Pro SSDOWC blogger Chris S. says:

"Once we had the new 13 MacBook Pro with Retina Display unboxed, it was just a matter of time before we installed an OWC Aura Pro SSD to see how well it worked....

"...the Aura Pro fits just fine in the 13" RMBP's drive caddy (something new that wasn't in the 15" model), and so far everything seems to be running quite solidly.

"Obviously, we've got a battery of other tests to put the drive through and well have a more definite answer by early next week, but right now, all signs are pointing to Yes."

WaterField Unveils a Dozen 13" Retina MacBook Pro Cases and Bags

PR: San Francisco based WaterField Designs, manufacturer of custom-fitted laptop sleeves, bags and cases for digital gear, has announced twelve different MacBook Pro 13" Retina cases, each with unique styling and functionality.

Muzetto case"This may be the first time we've introduced so many unique cases for one product simultaneously," Gary Waterfield. "The new 13" Retina will be indispensable to owners so we're providing a variety of choices for protecting it; not only are you getting quality, you also get quantity."

For laptop protection, size matters. WaterField designed custom-fitted cases specially for the 13" MacBook Pro Retina Display: the SleeveCase, Outback Sleeve, Suede Jacket, Smart Case, CitySlicker, Wallet and Travel Express. It also offers specialty laptop bags to sized to hold the new MacBook: the Leather Muzetto, Outback Muzetto, Racer-X, HardCase Slim and the medium VertiGo.

Custom-fitted 13" MacBook Pro Retina Cases & Sleeves

  • SleeveCase: A water-resistant, ballistic nylon shell envelops shock-absorbing neoprene for ultimate protection. Choice of trim color, horizontal or vertical case orientation, optional D-rings and strap, and Piggyback accessory pouch. TSA-friendly.
  • Outback Sleeve: Same proven protection as the WaterField SleeveCase. A brown, waxed-canvas shell and grizzly or chocolate leather trim combine for a TSA-friendly vintage look.
  • Suede Jacket Sleeve: Custom-fitted, TSA-friendly Ultrasuede sleeve for the MacBook Pro 13" Retina. Small pull-tabs ease laptop in/out and a neoprene strip adds extra protection.
  • Smart Case: Multilayered padding includes an Ultrasuede scratch-free liner, an impact-resistant protective insert, and a water-resistant nylon exterior. Six color choices framed with thin, brown, leather sides. TSA-friendly.
  • CitySlicker: Ultramodern case with an old-world twist. Features: three protective layers - impact-resistant plastic, high-grade neoprene, and padded lining; ballistic nylon exterior with a distressed leather flap that snaps closed; small stretchy pockets under the flap; a rear semi-opaque, self-locking zippered pocket. Options: handle, strap, or both; three flap color choices.
  • The Wallet caseThe Wallet: Nylon and leather combine for a great option to carry the MacBook Pro Retina plus accessories. Features: scratch-free interior pockets; foam lining; impact-resistant plastic inserts; stretchy outside back pocket; optional D-rings and strap. Six color options: black, copper, flame, green, pearl, or pine. Distressed, brown leather sides.
  • Travel Express: This grab-and-go MacBook Pro Retina case fits the new laptop plus necessities and features: scratch-free interior pockets, foam lining, impact-resistant plastic insert, optional D-rings and strap. Black with bold stripe in choice of six colors.

Specialty laptop bags for the 13" MacBook Pro Retina

Muzetto: The Muzetto vertical messenger bag is available in distressed leather or brown waxed-canvas, each with a choice of six accent colors and five sizes - including an ideal fit for the 13" Retina. Two main interior compartments include one with soft lining and another with a gold interior and a zippered pocket. A back pocket holds magazines or files.

Racer-X caseRacer-X: This laptop briefcase features: two zippered compartments - one ruggedly-padded, formfitting for the MacBook Pro Retina, and another for documents and an iPad; internal accessory pockets; a front quick-access pocket; a rear, bottom-zippered pocket to allow the bag to slip over luggage handles. Choice of six trim colors.

HardCase SlimHardCase Slim: Designed to hold a laptop and a little more. Features a triple-layered, protective laptop bunker, two narrow pockets under the flap and a zippered, soft-lined, back pocket. A dual-tone leather flap, an integrated leather handle, and an aluminum paragliding buckle create a sleek, modern look. Options include six leather interior flap colors.

VertiGo caseVertiGo: An ideal travel bag for the 13" Retina, the medium VertiGo is constructed of durable, black ballistic nylon with a bold, colorful stripe in nine color options.

All pricing below for 13" Retina sizes.

  • SleeveCase: $49 (+ add-ons). Black with trim in grey checkered Indium or brown leather. D-rings & Simple Shoulder Strap ($12) or Suspension Shoulder Strap ($22). Ships 11/9/12.
  • Outback Sleeve: $49. Brown waxed-canvas with choice of grizzly or chocolate leather trim. Ships 11/9/12
  • Suede Jacket: $29. Black Ultrasuede. Ships 11/9/12
  • Smart Case: $99. Nylon colors: black, copper, flame, green, pearl, pine; distressed brown leather sides. Ships 11/30/12
  • CitySlicker: $139 (+ add-ons). Leather colors: black, chocolate, grizzly. Ships 11/23/12
  • Wallet: $99 (+ add-ons). Nylon colors: black, copper, flame, green, pearl, pine; distressed brown leather sides. Ships 11/30/12
  • Travel Express: $89. Black ballistic nylon plus a bold stripe in: black, copper, flame, green, pearl, pine, or brown leather. Ships 11/16/12

Available now:

  • Racer-X 13": $179. Black plus piping colors: blue, black, brown, green, red, or silver.
  • HardCase Slim 13": $229. Dual-leather flap in black with six interior flap color choices.
  • Muzetto 13": Leather $239. Brown waxed canvas$179. Choice of six accent colors.
  • Medium VertiGo: $99. Black ballistic nylon with choice of nine stripe colors.

Software

Mac Blu-ray Player Works with Retina MacBook Pros

PR: Apple Inc. launched at its June Worldwide Developer's Conference 2012 the highest-end MacBook Pro with Retina Display, and last week a smaller 13" Retina MBP. With over 4 million pixels on the 13" display, these Macs will present the highest-resolution experience that you have never seen on a laptop. Soon afterwards, Macgo Inc. upgraded its Mac Blu-ray Player to support Blu-ray movies on Retina MacBook Pro.

MacGo Mac Blu-ray Player

The 15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display offers 2880 x 1800 resolution and better contrast making high-resolution images extremely accurate, whereas the newly published 13" Retina MacBook Pro includes 2560 x 1600 resolution, Intel's fastest Ivy Bridge mobile processors and a flawless onscreen performance. However, in spite of their high-end display, the MacBook Pro models can't play Blu-ray Discs directly. With the Macgo Mac Blu-ray Player software and an external Blu-ray drive, it is now easy to do so.

MacGo Mac Blu-ray Player

Mac Blu-ray Player, released by Macgo Inc., is claimed to be the first and unique authorized Blu-ray Player for Mac computers worldwide. It can support Blu-ray playing (BD playing as well as its ISO playing) on MacBook Pro, Air, Mac mini, iMac, Mac Pro, and even their latest models. With a high-resolution of 1080p and good DTS5.1 audio system, it can present the BD movie in style. The AirX function enables Blu-rays to be playable on an iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, especially the newly published iPad 4 (4th gen iPad) and iPad mini. In time SNS connections can be achieved by its share function. Its user-friendly operation and considerate after-sale service make you comfy and convenient. Other media formats supported include: DVD, VCD, MOV, MKV, AVI, FLV, WMV, MP4, MPEG, RMVB, MP3, WMA, AAC, AC3 and more.

MacGo Mac Blu-ray Player

System Requirements

  • OS Supported: Mac OS X 10.5+ to 10.8
  • CPU: Intel Core2 Duo 2.4 GHz processor or higher recommended
  • RAM: 512 MB RAM or more
  • 250 MB of free disk space.
  • An internal or external (USB 2.0 or FireWire 400 or better) Blu-ray drive

Macgo's Mac Blu-ray Player is available now at $39.95.

Publisher's note: See our review, Mac Blu-ray Player Lets Macs Display Blu-ray Movies, for more information. dk

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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