Quick Look: Retina MacBook Pro from a PC Perspective

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Apple

Quick glance at the new MBP

The newly released retina-screen MacBook Pro has been an interesting product to me since it was first announced. I have long been a proponent of higher resolution screens for PCs, hoping for the lower cost screens that we are just now finding in the Korean 27-in screen market (like the Achieva Shimian we recently reviewed). When Apple announced a 15-in notebook with a screen resolution of 2880x1800, my hopes were raised that other vendors would take note and duplicate the idea – thereby lowering costs and increasing visual quality for users across the board.

While I didn’t have enough time with the retina MacBook Pro to give it a full review, I did spend an afternoon with one that had Windows 7 installed. After getting some benchmarks and games installed I thought I would report back to our readers with my thoughts and initial impressions on the laptop from a PC perspective.

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The hardware inside the new retina MacBook Pro includes an Ivy Bridge Core i7-3720QM processor, NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M discrete GPU, 512GB Apple-branded solid state drive, USB 3.0, Thunderbolt and of course that impressive 2880x1800 screen.

Continue reading our quick look at the retina MacBook Pro under Windows 7!!

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The Core i7-3720QM is the top part from Intel on the Ivy Bridge lineup with a base clock of 2.60 GHz. The GT 650M based on the GK107 has 384 cores that run at 900 MHz and 1GB of GDDR5 memory running at 2.5 GHz. The SSD keeps the system running really quickly and getting a capacity of 512GB should mean most users can go without the need for a larger spindle-based alternative.

Under OS X, the 2880x1800 screen actually doesn’t run at that resolution – instead the screen real estate is running at either 1280x800 or 1920x1200 with double or quad per-pixel resolution. It gives the screen on the retina MacBook Pro a very “sharp” feel to it much like the third-generation iPad. Under Windows though, you CAN set it to the native resolution of 2880x1800 and the results are…impressive.

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The problem of course is that things are tiny on a 2880x1800 15-in screen – setting the screen to 1920x1200 resulted in a better experience. With that said, running at the display's native resolution with a higher DPI setting in Windows was better than I thought it would be.

With this kind of resolution, it just makes sense that Apple would have chosen to use a discrete GPU rather than depend on the integrated graphics in the Ivy Bridge processor from Intel.  Under Windows, you could absolutely set the game to run at 2880x1800, though with the GT 650M that wasn’t a great idea.  But, just in case you are interested, here is a screenshot of Skyrim running at the maximum native res.

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For a more realistic measure of gaming performance, we ran the 3DMark11 benchmark under the Performance preset.

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I also ran some Metro 2033 and Skyrim performance tests on the system and we were able to play both games at 1920x1200 resolution on this impressive display without much issue at High quality presets.  Given the hefty resolution, we could always use more GPU horsepower. However, for a notebook which is faster, thinner, and lighter than its predecessor the GeForce GT 650M was the perfect combination of performance and efficiency for the new retina MacBook Pro.  Overall system performance is pretty solid (as you would expect), and as always, the build quality on the Apple hardware is immaculate. 

I am hoping to get some more time with this system in the coming weeks to see how it feels over a longer period, but for now, I’ll end with photos of the screen comparing 2880x1800 to a 1920x1200 resolution. 

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July 13, 2012 | 05:35 PM - Posted by jgstew

This sentence is awkward and missing some words:

The problem of course is that things are tiny on a 2880x1800 15-in screen – setting the screen to 1920x1200 resulted in a better experience though Windows was pretty good and setting a higher DPI setting on its UI at the native resolution than I thought it would be.

Should be something like:

The problem of course is that things are tiny on a 2880x1800 15-in screen – setting the screen to 1920x1200 resulted in a better experience though Windows was pretty good and setting a higher DPI setting on its UI at the native resolution was better than I thought it would be.

Feel free to delete this and thanks for the PC Perspective.

July 13, 2012 | 07:28 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

no problem, we welcome constructive criticism. We'll see what we can do there to make it less awkward. Thanks for stopping by and commenting :).

July 13, 2012 | 09:50 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This was a great review. I have always thought about getting a macbook pro and putting windows 7 on it. The only thing that puts me off is the price, but now that apple has this amazing new display, the price makes more sense to me. But, I would still rather buy an asus ROG laptop for the specs. I wonder if you can put the retinal display on any laptop...
either way, I really hope companies follow apples route, and start using similar display technology.

July 14, 2012 | 02:21 AM - Posted by pdjblum

Sad state of affairs indeed when pc enthusiasts have to resort to crapple hardware to install windows on. Even more money for crapple and ever tighter margins for the numerous windows laptop manufacturers.

July 14, 2012 | 10:40 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

don't worry apple will collapse in on itself once again soon enough.

July 14, 2012 | 12:37 PM - Posted by Lou (not verified)

I'd like to know more about the actual installation. Did the install automatically find all those drivers, or did you have to find them manually?

Are you using Bootcamp or Parallels or a clean install with a direct boot to Windows?

To mention how to boot from disc, and what settings you used (as far as the dual boot or the reformatting the SSD) would be very helpful as well. Even if it worked identically to a PC, the information might be valuable to those interested in doing something similar to this.


July 16, 2012 | 12:43 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

This was using Bootcamp and the drivers were the publicly available NVIDIA drivers and everything was Windows default.

Overall, it was a pretty easy process to be honest.

July 22, 2012 | 09:44 PM - Posted by Robert R. (not verified)

I actually bought the macbook pro retina and installed windows. I kept it for the two weeks then returned it mostly because at that price, >$3K, I was expecting much better support from Apple phone support and the Genius Bar guys.

There is no CD Rom drive built in, and, due to screwing up my BootCamp dual boot (messing with partitions), twice I had to re-install osX Lion - OMG - it takes forever over wi-fi to download the image and accomplish this feat. It took over 4 hours the first time I attempted it.

So why was I dealing with the so-called Geniuses at the bar? because I need a way to install the osX from flash drive or external DVD rom drive (which I also bought). I got no support to this end, though promised by staff and managers. And, don't even mention MS Windows to Apple phone support, I was denied any assistance even though osX support installing Windows, via BootCamp.

It's beautiful device, but can't really justify spending so much. I'm really hoping that the presence of this device will spur Intel OEMS to provide similarly spec'ed machines and similarly visually stunning.

July 22, 2012 | 09:47 PM - Posted by Robert R. (not verified)

Ugh, I actually forgot to ask the question I wanted to ask you.

How did you get Nvidia drivers from their website to work? When I tried to update my gpu drivers from the site, I was informed that I had to obtain drivers from the computer manufacturer.

July 14, 2012 | 05:32 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

How about putting the USB ports through some testing! I would like to see how they compare to other laptops in throughput, Using run of the mill USB thumb drives, high performince flash drives etc. In fact all laptops should be tested for USB port performence, as some the OEM's USB drivers just do not cut the mustard at all. USB hardware and driver software testing should be part of any Laptop review just as much as hardware and drivers are a part of a GPU's review. My ASUS Laptop's USB 3.0 port is actually slower with a USB 2.0 thumb drive than my Samsung, which only has USB 2.0 ports. Having USB 3.0 hardware does not do much if the drivers do not work properly. Please when you review a new laptop do more benchmarking of all the laptops USB ports! I would like to see more comprehensive reviews, even if that means you have to review fewer laptops!

July 16, 2012 | 12:43 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

It performed pretty well - I did a quick copy of files from an external USB 3.0 HDD for game testing at hit the 75-80 MB/s rate.

July 15, 2012 | 12:16 AM - Posted by HyperMinimalism

Ha! Steam! Valve STILL has not updated their GUI to make it readable on 1920X1080 for HTPC use. The fonts are just too small. I can imagine on a 2880X1800 resolution that it is still difficult to read even from only 2 feet away. I wonder if this MacBook will not only push hardware vendors to make higher resolution displays, but will also cause Microsoft and Apple to update their OS to be easier to read with such high resolutions. Wait.... what?!? Apple is releasing this hardware, but they haven't fixed their OS to run full resolution yet?!? Steve Jobs - Where are you?

July 15, 2012 | 05:13 PM - Posted by Arb (not verified)

um pretty much anything is unreadable at that resolution not just steam. Next time try using common sense and pull ur head outta you know where before talking. Put the rez at 2880x1800 and even all mac's menu's are impossible to read with on top of that, with that high rez on a tiny display is just outright pointless.

July 15, 2012 | 08:46 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yes. But unlike Steam you can at least adjust the font size and icons. Steam gives you no options to change the text size at all. Even at my 1920x1200 on a 24" screen it's uncomfortable to use some of Steams features for this reason.

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July 18, 2012 | 11:44 AM - Posted by Dramsey (not verified)

OS X runs fine at 2880x1800, and several utilities like SwitchResX let you set it. It's not included as a standard resolution because it makes everything too small to be useful.

July 17, 2012 | 02:08 PM - Posted by TheBradyReport

I bought a 17" MacBook Pro in 2009 because it was one of the only laptops that could do 1920x1200 and had a discrete GPU. The only other option at the time was an Alienware for almost the same price but was also heavier, thicker, and had less features.

As these higher res displays make their way into more products, we might see more apps that have a responsive UI approach that can take advantage of them. I'd still love to have a 1920x1200 on a 15".

July 17, 2012 | 10:42 PM - Posted by jewie27 (not verified)

a Mac user said to me, "Window's 7 can't support 2880x1800..." They fail to realize people run triple monitors higher than that lol

July 18, 2012 | 06:45 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

lol, show them an eyefinity setup and blow their mind!!

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