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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Expandability concerns and buying advice

Shortly after Apple unveiled the Retina MacBook Pro, hardware repair firm iFixit pronounced it the "least repairable" laptop ever. Ouch. The reason: This model can't be upgraded. You can't add a new hard drive or even boost the RAM once you buy it. Apple used non-standard screws and even glue to put it together, meaning companies like iFixit or users are dependent on Apple to fix anything that goes wrong.

Apple clearly wants owners to view their laptops not as a starting point for future upgrades, but as an intact appliance -- albeit a stylish and powerful one -- that needs no improvement. In the same way you don't open up a new DVD player and start tweaking the internal hardware, you can't do that with your new laptop.

Comparison of text in different browsers
In this screen close-up, Safari shows crisper text and images (left) than Firefox (right) because Safari has been updated to take advantage of the new display.

Many buyers won't care; but for the geekier set, this could be a showstopper. Heck, I added the SSD in my own 17-in. MacBook Pro and doubled the RAM to 8GB. However, concerns about upgrades wouldn't stop me from buying this new laptop any more than it would stop me from getting an iPad or iPhone.

It's certainly a paradigm shift, and Mac fans have already protested loudly on various message boards. My advice: Get used to the change. Apple seems to be moving in this direction and will almost certainly do the same thing with its other laptops.

With that in mind, you'll need to be extra cautious when choosing your hardware. If you think you'll need more than 256GB of storage -- the only amount offered in the $2,199 model -- you'll need to consider the pricier MacBook Pro. Think you'll want 16GB of RAM in a couple of years? Better get it now when you order (though I expect 8GB is more than enough for the foreseeable future).

So should you buy this laptop? If you're interested in embracing the future of display technology, then yes. Apple has taken a giant leap forward with the Retina display -- and it's your only option if you want 1920-x-1200-pixel resolution. (The 17-in. model is no more.)

However, if you're a hardware-upgrade fan, then no. You'll likely be happier with a non-Retina MacBook Pro. But even that is likely to be simply a holding maneuver, given the direction Apple is taking.

The good news? You have time to decide. The Retina MacBook Pros sold out so quickly that there's currently a three- to four-week shipping delay. That alone indicates just how popular this model is likely to be.

Ken Mingis is Managing Editor, News at Computerworld and also oversees the site's Macintosh Knowledge Center. His e-mail address is kmingis@computerworld.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @kmingis or subscribe to Ken's RSS feeds:
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