My Thoughts on the Macbook Pro with Retina Display

At their annual World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC), Apple unveiled a new line of laptops based on the latest Intel Ivy Bridge chipset. The Macbook Air and Macbook Pro lines received some upgrade love, but the most excitement came from the announcement of the new Macbook Pro with Retina Display. Don’t let the unweildy moniker fool you, this is the new king of the hill when it comes to beastly laptops. Based on the 15.4″ Macbook Pro, Apple has gone to task to slim down as much as possible. It’s just a wee bit thicker than the widest part of a Macbook Air (MBA) and weighs less than the Macbook Pro (MBP) it’s based on. It is missing the usual Ethernet and Firewire ports in favor of two Thunderbolt ports on the left side and USB3 ports on either side. There’s also an HDMI-out port and an SXHD card reader on the right side. Gone as well is the optical drive, mirroring its removal in the MBA. Instead, you gain a very high resolution display that is “Retina Class”, meaning it is a 2880×1800 display in a 15.4″ screen, gaining enough pixels per inch at the average viewing angle to garner the resolutionary Retina designation. You also gain a laptop devoid of any spinning hard disks, as the only storage options in the Macbook Pro with Retina Display (RMBP) are of the solid state disk (SSD) variety. the base model includes a 256 GB disk, but the top end model can be upgraded to an unheard of 768 GB swath of storage. The RAM options are also impressing, starting at 8 GB and topping out at 16 GB. All in all, from the reviews that have been floating around so far, this thing cooks. So, why are so many people hesitant to run out to the Apple Store and shower the geniuses with cash or other valuable items (such as kidneys)?

The first thing that springs to mind is the iFixit article that has been circulating since day 1 that describes the RMBP as “the most unhackable, untenable, and unfixable laptop ever”. They cite that the RAM and SSD are soldered to the main system board just like in the little MBA brother. They also note the the resolutionary Retina Display is glued to the surrounding case, making removal by anyone but a trained professional impossible. Given the smaller size and construction, it’s entirely possible that there will be very few (if any) aftermarket parts available for repairs or upgrades. That begs the question in my case:

Who Cares?

Yep, I said it. I really don’t give a crap if the RMBP is repairable. I’ve currently got a 13″ MBA that I use mostly for travel and typing blog posts. I know that in the event that anything breaks, I’m going to have to rely on AppleCare to fix it for me. I have a screwdriver that can crack the case on it, but I shudder to think what might happen if I really do get in there. I’m treating the MBA just like an iPad – a disposable device that is covered under AppleCare. In contrast, my old laptop was a Lenovo w701. This behemoth was purchased with upgradability in mind. I installed a ton of RAM at the time, and ripped out the included hard disk to install a whopping 80 GB SSD and run the 500 GB HDD beside it. Beyond that, do you know how many upgrades I have performed in the last two years? Zero. I haven’t added anything. Laptops aren’t like desktops. There’s no graphics card upgrades or PCI cards to slide in. There’s no breakout boxes or 75-in-1 card readers to install. What you get with a laptop is what you get, unless you want to use USB or Thunderbolt attachments. In all honesty, I don’t care that the RMBP is static as far as upgradability. If and when I get one, I’m going to order it with the full amount of RAM, as the 4 GB on my MBA has been plenty so far and I’ve had to work my tail off to push the 12 GB in my Lenovo, even owing to the hungry nature of Windows. The SSD might give some buyers a momentary pause, but this is a way for Apple to push two agendas at the same time. The first is that they want you to use iCloud as much as possible for storage. By giving you online storage in place of acres of local disk, Apple is hoping that some will take them up on the offer of moving documents and pictures to the cloud. A local disk is a one time price or upgrade purchase. iCloud is a recurring sunk cost to Apple. Every month you have your data stored on their servers is a month they can make money to eventually buy more disks to fill up with more iCloud customers. This makes the Apple investors happy. The other reason to jettison the large spinning rust disks in favor of svelt SSD sexiness is the Thunderbolt ports on the left side. Apple upgraded the RMBP to two of them for a reason. So far, the most successful Thunderbolt peripheral has been the 27″ Thunderbolt display. Why? Well, more screen real estate is always good. But is also doubles as a docking station. I can hang extra things off the back of the monitor. I can even daisy chain other Thunderbolt peripherals off the back. With two Thunderbolt ports, I no longer have to worry about chaining the devices. I can use a Thunderbolt display along with a Thunderbolt drive array. I can even utilize the newer, faster USB3 drive arrays. So having less local storage isn’t exactly a demerit in my case.

Tom’s Take

When the new Macbook Pro with Retina Display was announced, I kept saying that I was looking for a buyer for my kidney so I could rush out and buy one. I was only mostly joking. The new RMBP covers all the issues that I’ve had with my excellent MBA so far. I don’t care that it’s a bit bigger. I care about the extra RAM and SSD space. I like the high resolution and the fact that I can adjust it to be Retina-like or really crank it up to something like 1680×1050 or 1920×1200. I couldn’t really care less about the supposed lack of upgradability. When you think about it, most laptops are designed to be disposable devices. If it’s not the battery life going caput, it’s the screen or the logic boards the eventually burn out. We demand a lot from our portable devices, and the stress that manufactures are under to make them faster and smaller forces compromises. Apple has decided that giving users easy access to upgrade RAM or SSD space is one of those compromises. Instead, they offer alternatives in add-on devices. When you think about it, most of the people who are walking into the Apple store are never going to crack the case open on their laptop. Heck, I’m an IBM certified laptop repair technician and even I get squeamish doing that. I’d rather rely on the build quality that I can be sure that I’ll get out of the Cupertino Fruit and Computer Company and let AppleCare take care of the rest.

5 thoughts on “My Thoughts on the Macbook Pro with Retina Display

  1. You make some good points. I have always felt that the majority of Apple customers dont care about the hows and whats of a system. They just want something that gets the job done and they dont care how. And when it breaks they take it to Apple to fix it.

  2. A long time ago, my PC was the end. Meaning it was my focus. I too am certified in 20+ HP and 6+ IBM models. But as my profession changed and my world expanded, my PC has become more of a means to the end. I am a Senior network engineer that uses my MBA for everything! Its not that I am not smart enough to work on my MAC or that I have become lazy…its just that I have other things to do that are much more rewarding with my time. Thanks for a great article.

    • Sorry, what? I’m an Android user, I don’t have any problem with the MBP not being upgradable, I own a MBA. Way to stereotype.

  3. I used to be a holdout against windows–I lost too much flexibility from the command prompt. Then I was a Windows holdout. I loved tinkering with the machine to eek out every drop of speed. I was even an early adopter of a sound card. But then I started my career that only used computers, didn’t revolve around computers. And I had less and less time to tinker. Finally, I switched to Apple and haven’t looked back!

    When I retire, I want to build an ultimate flight simulator. I see myself utilizing PCs for that due to their flexibility. But for everything else I see Mac forever so I can focus on the task at hand instead of the tool.

    (BTW, I currently use Android. What I see in that system is I had to work a lot at first tinkering with it to get it the way I wanted since there were so many options. But now that it’s set, I never tinker with it. I see myself going back to iPhone. I like the way Apple engineers think–I get the phone the way I want it without any tinkering!)

    That’s how I see the rMBP. The only tinkering I had to do was make some decisions on the ordering page. (Well, I might get to do some tinkering with resolutions until all my programs are retina ready!)

    I kind of wish I had time to tinker with the computer. It was a lot of fun–many nights slipped away sans sleep because of an irq conflict or something, I learned to avoid upgrading several cards at once!

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