Retina MacBook Pro Speakers
After the sheer impressiveness of its Retina Display, inevitably the audio performance of the latest MacBook Pro 15 inch disappoints. Mind you, it’s not that the up-facing stereo speakers are bad – they’re an improvement over this MacBook Pro’s predecessor, for one thing - but rather that they’re distinctly average in the premium 15in laptop market.
There’s plenty of volume, depth and clarity at the mid-range and high-end, but bass is lacking and a hint of distortion creeps in at maximum. They’re certainly adequate for an aurally undemanding movie or light classical music, but for anything more we would still recommend external units or good headphones.
Retina MacBook Pro General Performance
When it comes to performance, the MacBook Pro 15 inch with Retina Display is a very mixed bag. The base spec is very good, but it’s arguably overpriced and non-upgradeable.
Naturally, your CPU choice is from a selection of Intel’s latest-generation ‘Ivy Bridge’ Core i7 processors. On the £1,800 ‘base’ model you get a 2.3GHz quad-core that Turbo Clocks up to 3.3GHz, while if you opt for the £2,300 model you can go up to a 2.7GHz (3.7GHz Turbo Clocked).
Either way, it’s backed by 8GB of RAM, which we feel is an excellent base-line for a laptop this powerful – and one that’s not upgradeable. If you want to be super future-proof or you do a lot of image/video editing, you may want to consider going for the 16GB upgrade. After all, what’s another £160, and you can’t add more later.
For permanent storage, the base model has a 256GB SSD, which should be adequate for most users considering you can hook up fast external storage through USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt. If not, the £2,300 MacBook Pro 15 inch with Retina Display comes with 512GB of internal flash storage, upgradeable to 768GB for a mere £400.
Retina MacBook Pro Gaming Performance
Graphics are handled by Intel’s integrated HD 4000 chip when not in performance mode. When it’s needed for 3D gaming and graphics acceleration, the Nvidia GeForce GT 650M that’s now found across Apple’s MacBook Pro range kicks in.
Being of Nvidia’s Keppler generation, this 600-series card with 1GB of RAM gives enough leeway for some decent 3D gaming, although very few titles will run at the screen’s native 2,880 x 1,800 resolution. In our undemanding TrackMania Nations Forever test, the MacBook Pro 15 inch with Retina Display managed a more than playable 79.6fps average at native. However, in a more demanding DirectX 11 title like Stalker Call of Pripyat, that average fell to 28fps, and this was still only at Medium detail.
On the other hand, in Diablo 3 we could run at native Retina with all settings turned up to max and anti-aliasing, and we still got a perfectly playable experience, with an average that rarely dipped below the magical 30fps barrier.
While the latest Blizzard game is not exactly a graphical powerhouse, Diablo 3 does go to show that playing recent, blockbuster titles at Retina resolutions is not just possible but very pretty indeed. And that's not even taking into account the possibility of adding even more powerful external graphics through Thunderbolt.
Retina MacBook Pro Performance Conclusions
So in a nutshell, Apple has significantly raised the base performance bar by giving every model of its MacBook Pro 15 inch with Retina Display 8GB or RAM, 256GB of Flash storage and relatively powerful dedicated graphics. However, unless they’re a gamer any owner of a previous-generation model with similar specifications certainly shouldn’t upgrade for the performance difference, as it’s quite small overall.
It’s also worth noting that the Retina MacBook Pro gets positively toasty near its hinge when under load, and gets just a tad noisy with the fan becoming quite audible especially when the GPU is in action. Mind you, this is quite common for light and thin laptops packing these kind of components.
Our only real concern here is the lack of upgrade potential. Arguably just fine on a consumer machine, on a ‘Professional’ laptop this is a serious limitation and needs to be taken into account when deciding what spec to buy. However, if you think of this laptop as essentially a gigantic Ultrabook, there’s little reason for complaint.