MacBook Pro review: 15-in. Retina screen is revolutionary

Apple's top-end laptop makes a big leap with new display technology

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Other changes -- some obvious, others less so -- include:

  • A completely expected move to Intel's "Ivy Bridge" family of processors. The newer chips are slightly faster and more energy efficient than their predecessors and are built using a 22nm process.
  • Two Thunderbolt ports, which effectively replace the now-discarded FireWire 800 port and the Ethernet port; adapters are supposed to be available this month if you have older FireWire peripherals or need to use an Ethernet cable.
  • A new and thinner MagSafe 2 magnetic power port (which means, of course, that older cords won't work with this one).
  • New, high-dynamic range speakers (they sound great) and dual microphones designed to reduce background noise and work with the upcoming Dictation feature in OS X Mountain Lion.
  • A non-user-replaceable 95 watt-hour battery that Apple says should hold a charge for seven hours. If you look at the internal photo of the MacBook Pro posted by Apple (see below), you can see how much space the battery takes up. I didn't get seven hours on battery power when testing this model. Doing a combination of light word processing and Web surfing over Wi-Fi, I got just under five hours before needing a charge (though I did have the brightness all the way up). Your mileage will vary.
  • A relocated power button -- it's now part of the keyboard where the no-longer-needed eject key used to be -- and a tweaked bottom chassis, which now incorporates numerous slots for better ventilation and cooling.
Internal photo of the MacBook Pro
The 95 watt-hour battery consists of six cells (lower part of the photo) that take up much of the space inside the MacBook Pro. (Image: Apple)

A few words about speed

Not long ago, every computer manufacturer (and owner) used processor speed for bragging rights about who had the fastest hardware. But with the advent of multi-core chips, outright GHz measurements have faded as an absolute benchmark. Don't get me wrong; new owners still run tests to see how new processors compare to their predecessors. But processing speed is only part of the equation, and as dual-core processors have given way to quad-core chips -- chips that can now offer virtual cores and hyperthreading -- apples-to-apples comparisons are even more nuanced.

In particular, the move to flash memory for storage has had a major impact on how fast modern computers are. This is certainly true of the new MacBook Pro.

To get an idea for how this laptop stacks up, I used two different benchmarking apps, one to stress the 2.6GHz processor, the other to test the read/write speeds of the 512GB SSD. Both yielded noteworthy numbers, especially the SSD.

Using Geekbench to test the Core i7 processor, I found that the MacBook Pro turned out a score of 12030. That score represents several benchmarks rolled into one: processor integer and floating point performance, as well as memory and memory bandwidth. (For comparison purposes, my 2011 MacBook Pro has a Core i7 running at 2.2GHz and returned a score of 10128.)

I was even more impressed with the performance of the flash storage. Using the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, I tested the I/O speeds of the on-board SSD, which is connected directly to the MacBook Pro's motherboard. Since it doesn't face any kind of SATA bottleneck, the read/write speeds I saw were almost double those of a typical consumer SSD. Where consumer drives tend to produce I/O speeds of 200 to 250MBps, this MacBook Pro delivered a write speed of 400MBps and a read speed of 448MBps.

That explains the fast boot-up time (nine seconds from start-up chime to desktop) and the virtually instant wake-from-sleep when you lift the MacBook Pro lid. (Again, for comparison purposes, the aftermarket Intel SSD in my own MacBook Pro could do no better than read speeds of 280MBps and write speeds of 163MBps.)

Disk speed test
The integrated 512GB SSD offers read/write speeds that are faster than most consumer-level SSDs.
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