Review ~ Retina MacBook Pro
I gave myself something less to think about this week.* I purchased the current top of the line Retina MacBook Pro with all the trimmings, 16GB of RAM, 2.7Ghz Quad Core processor and a 750GB SSD. In addition I consider myself lucky to be living in Hong Kong at the moment as this wonderful machine has cost me almost £800 less than it would if I walked into an Apple Store in the UK and handed over my debit card. There is another story behind purchasing this laptop, but I’m saving that for the next episode of JPG podcast.**
I’ve bought a complete machine, the first time in which I have done so and I don’t have to think about upgrading it later, this is it until it dies. I’ve already joked to friends that this is the last Apple Mac I will ever buy. This is where buying the top of the line is refreshing for me; I don’t have to think about any upgrades and the reason why I have given myself less to think about.
I have always bought a laptop with the view to upgrade the battery, memory and the hard disk later on, right at the point when the machine was starting to lag behind my expectations. I always bought the low end model with the capable processor. Purchasing this new computer I can’t upgrade has caused me to think about my previous computing experiences; this laptop is different to everything before it and I’m in a different space mentally.
On reflection I found owning those previous laptops bothered me; making an anxious because the constant quest to find upgrades later took up a large portion of my time. Memory was the easiest kind of. I would buy as much as the laptop could handle by going to crucial.com even though the website isn’t straightforward, but as a geek I put up with the site in order to get the benefits of more RAM. When it came to the hard disk, I think I went to all the websites that sold them; measuring attributes and prices against one another and then finally settling on one model before a newer one came out and then later buying that one as well. I was also always taking a peek in the SSD section of these websites to see if theprices were worth their asking prices yet.
I remember owning a plastic MacBook a few years back. I upgraded the hard drive three times, going from the stock 80GB drive to a 200GB, a 320GB version and then settled on a 500GB model (all 7200rpm models); more instances than when I owned an actual desktop computer (remember those?). It didn’t stop there, I even removed the optical drive and put in another 500GB drive after that! Even further down memory lane, I even went to the effort once of opening up a G3 iBook in order to upgrade the hard disk. For anyone who doesn’t know, there were forty screws of different sizes between you and achieving upgrade nirvana with those laptops. Hence the praise Apple received when they made upgrading the MacBook lines easier when they were first announced. Though I think it was to help them more than it was to help us.
Apple have always being difficult in the initial purchasing process; they were always stingy with their laptop configurations. Apple never included enough RAM or the specs of the hard disk were unsatisfactory in the initial price. This forced me and probably many others to choose a costlier model (more profit for Apple) or I would have to upgrade the ‘Mac of your dreams’ with third party upgrades. The third parties were always cheaper so I always took that option with the acknowledgement that I would be opening up the machine myself. Something else I don’t have to do anymore either, that also means less clutter around the house; I owned two difference screwdrivers and other bits and pieces from left over upgrades.
A Different Computing Experience
By owning a Retina MacBook Pro I’ve lost something that I thought in the past was important to the computing experience. I was always thought I was buying a Mac for the long term, when in fact over a shorter length of time I was spending my personal time looking for these ways to make upgrades; so it wasn’t just money I was spending. In my view there is something to be said about owning a sealed up machine because it liberates me from all this. I can just use the machine with no expectations of taking it further technically unless I wanted to buy another external hard drive.***
In the long run, I can envision Apple lifting our burden from buying third party hard disks at some point. What if everything you owned was stored online on iCloud? Imagine a Time Machine backup sitting online with the transfer speed equal to satisfy even the most impatient among us?
Even OS updates, besides the low price is something we don’t have to think about anymore. When I updated to Mountain Lion, I remember thinking some games took longer to install. Apple’s Gigabit ethernet through Thunderbolt helps, but my point is that an OS install took less time than an application install.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve realised this isn’t a typical review. I don’t really want to talk about the technical aspects beyond the Retina display, but naturally this is a fast and capable machine. All the connectivity options are what I want (especially when there aren’t that many, just two USB and Thunderbolt ports really), the speakers have amazing depth to them when you consider how they have been squeezed into the aluminium chassis. The weight and thinness is something to really admire, especially when my previous machine was the 13″ MBP, which was thicker and heavier. Most of my music feels fresh from being freed from the MacBook Pro’s tiny speakers. Geekbench results have this new laptop score double over the machine I’ve replaced. When I re-acquire Aperture and record new episodes of JPG Podcast, I’ll be putting it to the performance test. At the moment I haven’t had less than 10GB of RAM free, even after opening every page of John Siracusa’s Mountain Lion review into its own tab in Safari!
The screen itself is fantastic, the clarity to photographs and text is so sharp even at any resolution above ‘Best (Retina)’, which takes me to the bit of the screen that actually impresses me more; the ability to change the resolution! I haven’t been able to do this since I last owned a CRT monitor, hello 2004. Owning an LCD where you can change the resolution is also something I can’t take for granted, I love it!
I’ve always wanted a laptop that had desktop like performance and everything I would want in the one machine, the monitor really was the last sticking point for me. I never liked external monitors, I can’t stand all those wires everywhere. To think I have the same screen real estate as the 17″ MBP that I originally wanted, makes me more than satisfied when it’s coupled with the smaller physical size of a thinner 15″ MBP and in some cases the performance capabilities of the MacPro. The resolution at 1920 x 1200 is still sharp at a normal viewing distance.
I have two quibbles related to this machine, one, the font rendering in Safari is a bit weird; refreshing text incorrectly, it was doing it plenty while writing this review. The second quibble is the unusually long wake up time. I hope both of these are fixed in a future update.
I would continue now to further buy laptops like this just for the existential advantages I just described, yes the cost is steep and not for everyone when it comes to Apple products, but what I’ve described equally applies to say a Lenovo. I know there have been huge articles and discussions about the pros and cons to not owning an Apple Mac you can’t upgrade yourself; with a lot of people poo-pooing Apple because of the lack of upgradability after purchase, but if you are planning on buying a new Apple Mac, consider the benefits of this mental space freed up. I’m really enjoying this MacBook Pro more because of the route I took.
* I’ve managed to sneak in another discussion about minimalism.
** JPG Podcast isn’t dead, it’s coming back next month. I just have no internet to host shows. I’m borrowing wifi from anywhere at the moment until I get my own data connection.
I’ve been waiting for Apple to release the Firewire 800 to Thunderbolt cable (as I write this, the online Apple store is just now accepting orders for them, both of my current drives are Firewire 800 (with USB2) and I had to resort to the USB2 to transfer my work onto this machine. Now I have a Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter, I’ve realised Thunderbolt can only power one device on this chain I had set up with Firewire 800. Firewire 800 is capable of supplying 45 watts while Thunderbolt only supplies 10 watts. This means I can no longer daisy chain my two portable hard drives. I would need to buy a second cable adapter or constantly unplug and swap each drive between the one adapter to make the two backups. Source.