Retina MacBook Pro impressions

So, what do I think of the new MacBook Pro?

First, my old reference point is my prior MacBook Pro, which was a “MacBookPro8,3“. I believe I had the 2.3 GHz model, 750 MB hard drive, 16 GB RAM. Note that officially this machine only supported 8 GB of RAM, but OWC said it could do 16 so I upgraded to 16 shortly after buying the machine and was quite happy with the added RAM. I also ran Mac OS X 10.8.5 (Mountain Lion) on it; I couldn’t upgrade to Mavericks (Mac OS X 10.9) due to some work requirements.  Also, this was a 17″ screen, and the last 17” MacBook Pro Apple made.

The new machine is a retina MacBook Pro, which is technically a “MacBookPro11,3“. It’sthe 2.6 GHz model. 1 TB flash drive, 16 GB RAM, 15” retina screen. I didn’t relish spending that kind of money, but because you can’t upgrade the thing after the fact well… given I need as much RAM as possible, here we are.

How do things compare?

Overall… meh.

OK, no question it’s faster, and I know I’m going to be happier with it. But my “meh” is because I don’t like upgrading like this. My old machine did NOT feel long in the tooth at all. It was still quite a capable and functional machine, hardly obsolete. I only bought because I was essentially forced to. When these machines came out I didn’t feel there was anything compelling about them that I could gain from an upgrade, and I still don’t think they are a significant enough upgrade from the prior machine.

But that said, there’s some good and some bad.

First the flash drive. Holy crap it’s fast. Long long ago the disks were faster than everything else, so things like CPU were bottleneck. Now the disk i/o is by far the slowest subsystem and everything waits on the disk. I have no idea if the disk is still the slowest subsystem now, but holy gee whiz, Batman! This is unreal fast. Everything is so responsive. It’s awesome. Compiling is very disk intensive, and it seems to be better, but I can tell when I’m still up against CPU now (e.g. when the deep static analyzer is running). Still, if I could have benchmarked before and after, I’m sure I’d see improvement. If nothing else, the fact so many apps now launch almost instantly is awesome. No more waiting and waiting to start rolling on your ideas and work. That’s welcome.

Second, because of the drive… gee, are there any moving parts any more? Ok, the fans, but otherwise wow, she’s quiet.

I haven’t tried putting her on battery alone yet to see how battery life is, but supposedly it will be a lot better.

I am impressed with how light/thin it is. Almost feels too much so tho.

The screen? That’s a mixed bag.

First, retina. I wasn’t explicitly caring about retina, but as I started using the machine and just reading text on screen, it started to sink in how crisp and vibrant everything was. It just slowly crept up on me, but wow, it’s a significant difference. I am mighty impressed. It’s just… wow. My initial feeling was that my aging crappy eyes would really love this towards the end of the day as my eyes get tired of staring at the screen all day.

But, I did not like the loss of resolution. Yeah, the pixel density is huge, but then since retina is just a double-density trick, I lost massive amounts of resolution compared to what I had before. That sucked. I always got the largest screen because I like screen space, I like being able to see as much as possible when I work. Back in the day, I always used 2-monitor setups. When I went laptop-only a couple years ago, I wanted that 17″ precisely because of the screen real estate. So now it’s a step back — a big step back. Retina isn’t worth the trade-off here, for me.

Now, you can scale the display. In fact, I can scale it to the same resolution I used to have on the 8,3 model. However, it crams that same resolution into a smaller screen. So if I want the real estate, it’s now smaller. So far my eyes are ok with it and don’t really seem to notice. And the quality of the screen still seems ok and better — maybe strong LCD backlighting? maybe the glossy screen vs. the matte? Either way, quality of picture does seem better, but I’m annoyed by the loss of resolution (or the trade-off of making everything smaller to regain the resolution). Who knows tho, as I work over the coming weeks I might try the smaller resolutions for a while to see if I can work with the smaller resolution in favor of the retina fun.

One nice thing about the 15″ screen tho?

I can now get one of the ITS Tactical Discrete Messenger Bags to use as my briefcase. 🙂 Win!

On paper, the 11,3 machine looks to have some slower specs than the 8,3, but I think it makes up for it with the flash drive. I really don’t notice. Again, the 8,3 was really a fine machine. But remember, what I mostly do in a day is do email, do lots of stuff on the web (running Safari, Firefox, and Chrome, depending what I have to do), intensive work in Xcode, TextWrangler, communication work (Adium, Skype, Messages), and then other things here and there like Calendar, Yojimbo, Terminal, Textmate, etc..  So, my needs and workflow are different from yours. But there we are. So that’s how things work out for me.

One side effect of the new machine was being forced to adopt Mac OS X 10.9 “Mavericks”. So far I haven’t noticed any problems or issues. It’s been fine. The main reason I couldn’t upgrade was the possible day-job need to still run Xcode 4.x.x. However, the need for that is rapidly fading and essentially a non-issue now that Apple’s forcing Xcode 5 and iOS7 compatibility for any App Store submissions. So, I think it’s fine to take the upgrade at this point. However, it did break my ruby install, so I have to spend a bunch of time in ruby gem hell now. One fun thing about the Mavericks upgrade? I use the Messages app, of course on my iPhone, but I’ve used it on my machine while I work because it’s easier to use for Messages interaction (texting Wife and Kiddos and other Apple-based folks, much nicer when I have a real keyboard). Well, finally in Mavericks there’s support for real emjoi! Yeah I know, totally silly reason, but that was probably the main reason I wanted to upgrade to Mavericks. 😉

Anyways, I’m not happy about why I had to go here, nor having to unexpectedly drop that much money. But so far the machine is alright and I’m sure as I use it more I’ll come to appreciate it more.

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