First Impressions: MacBook Pro with Retina Display

In July 2007 I bought a fully loaded MacBook Pro. It was by far the best computer I have ever owned. And that isn’t just my opinion. PC World said the Apple MacBook Pro was the fastest Windows Vista notebook at the time.

My MacBook Pro was also the most expensive computer I have ever bought. The high price tag wasn’t because of the perceived “Mac tax.” The high price tag was due to hardware cost. In fact, I looked at what it would cost to buy the same set of hardware from Dell at the time, and Dell’s price was $200 more than Apple’s.

My MacBook Pro has served me well for 5 years, which is a long time especially for a laptop. But it has reached its limits. The machine, while still usable, is just too slow for the work I do daily. I might be able to squeeze out another year if I could bump up the RAM to 8 GB or even 16 GB, but sadly, that model only goes to 4 GB. (Yes, I know there is a non-Apple recommended way to bump up to 6 GB, but let’s face it. Five years is a long time for a laptop.) So nearly 5 years to the date, I got myself a new MacBook Pro. (My previous MBP arrived July 25, 2007, and my latest one arrived July 30, 3012.)

It’s too early to say if I will get 5 years of service out of this latest MBP, but I’m hopeful I will. And while my latest MBP is expensive, it still costed less than the one I bought in 2007 - by nearly $700 if I remember correctly. Though admittedly I did not get the maxed out MBP this time around. I got the 2.6 GHz Intel Core i7 with 16 GB RAM, 512 GB flash storage, and retina display.

My first impression of the new MacBook Pro: It’s a sweet machine.

It feels heavier than I expected, but it’s still lighter than my 2007 MBP. It’s super quiet especially compared to my 2007 MBP. My 2007 MBP’s fan runs non-stop when attached to the power cord. This started when I updated to Lion and has annoyed me ever since. (Thankfully my Bose noise canceling headphones drown out the fan noise from my old MBP.) And my new MBP doesn’t heat up like my old one does.

My new MBP is fast, really fast compared to my 2007 MBP. This is most noticeable for me when compiling projects in Xcode. A project that would take a minute and a half to do a clean compile now takes 10 seconds. And iPhoto, with my 40 GB library, is once again useable. iPhoto was so painfully slow on my other MBP that I only used it to import photos and that was it. But last night I was tagging faces, looking at photos from places, and doing some minor cropping and editing on my shinny, new MBP.

While I knew the new MBP would be faster, lighter, and better than my previous MBP, the one feature I was lukewarm on is the retina display. If the non-retina MBP supported 16 GB of RAM then I might have bought one of them instead of the retina MBP. However, after using my new MBP for a day, I so glad I went with the retina display. Text on the new retina display is crisp, clear, and much more readable than on the non-retina display. And as someone who has to stare at text all day, this was a welcome surprise for me. I was indifferent about the retina display before buying my MBP, but now, I can’t imaging buy a new MBP without the retina display.

The retina display also provides one additional benefit for me. I’m currently working on the second addition of my book Learning iPad Programming. My publisher prefers screenshots for figure images to be at 150 ppi minimum, but normal computer displays are only 72 ppi. With the new retina display, I can take screenshots that are 144 ppi. Still not quite 150 ppi, but a lot closer, which should make my publisher happier.

So after only a day of playing on the new MBP with retina display, was the purchase worth well for me? Absolutely. There’s no doubt in my mind that going with the MBP with retina display was the right choice for me. That said, if my previous MBP were only a year or so old, I might have held off on the purchase until the price drops a bit. But for me, at this time, the new MBP with retina display is the idea machine for me. The 16 GB of RAM, faster CPU and flash storage, and of course the retina display are vast improvements needed for my daily work.