Sunday, June 24, 2012 [Tweets] [Favorites]

AnandTech’s Retina MacBook Pro Review

Anand Lal Shimpi:

What’s even crazier is Apple wasn’t pleased with the difference in baseline filtering quality between the Intel HD 4000 and NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M GPUs. As the Retina Display MacBook Pro would have to regularly switch between GPUs, Apple wanted to ensure a consistently good experience regardless of which GPU was active. There are a lot of filtering operations at work when doing all of this resolution scaling, so rather than compromise user experience Apple simply wrote its own default filtering routines. Apple’s obsessive attention to detail really made it possible to pull all of this off. It’s just insane to think about.

[…]

To be quite honest, the hardware in the rMBP isn’t enough to deliver a consistently smooth experience across all applications. At 2880 x 1800 most interactions are smooth but things like zooming windows or scrolling on certain web pages is clearly sub-30fps. At the higher scaled resolutions, since the GPU has to render as much as 9.2MP, even UI performance can be sluggish. There’s simply nothing that can be done at this point - Apple is pushing the limits of the hardware we have available today, far beyond what any other OEM has done. Future iterations of the Retina Display MacBook Pro will have faster hardware with embedded DRAM that will help mitigate this problem. But there are other limitations: many elements of screen drawing are still done on the CPU, and as largely serial architectures their ability to scale performance with dramatically higher resolutions is limited.

10 Comments

"Whereas I would consider the rMBP experience under Lion to be borderline unacceptable, everything is significantly better under Mountain Lion. Don’t expect buttery smoothness across the board, you’re still asking a lot of the CPU and GPU, but it’s a lot better."

In a weird way, this all sounds like the 1st rev MBA. The required specs are just a bit beyond what the available silicon can do.

Apple laptop generations have been very hit and miss since the Intel move, usually due to heat and or GPU issues. Cue the ad of the fireman blasting the Intel bunny guy with a fire extinguisher.

(Tangentially, I'm hoping my Mid-2010 13" MBP lasts a long time. Not only can I run Snowy on it, but I love how the silicon is configured to the specs. Very capable 'n' cool GPU, slow 'n' cool CPU, and Apple SSD. It's blazing fast in general usage, and it always runs cool. The fan just doesn't budge from the minimum RPM since the CPU is pretty much always at rest even during constant usage.)

@Chucky Good luck with that. I got my 2010 15-inch MacBook Pro with the idea that it would last a long time. But Lion introduced a GPU driver bug, which has gotten worse, that now makes it kernel panic three times a day. There are thousands of forum posts about this, and I’ve been working with AppleCare on it for over a month, but so far there’s no acknowledgement that it’s even an Apple problem. The second-generation rMBP is probably the right one to get, but I ended up ordering the first-gen one because there doesn’t seem to be a good alternative.

If the window zoom problem caused by filter, how about use http://codykrieger.com/gfxCardStatus to force GPU to improve performance?

Interesting Michael. I don't have the kernel crashes but on some apps (primarily Safari) there are some really weird visual flaws. It used to be several applications including Mail but 10.7.3 fixed at least that. I'm not sure why the 2010 15" MBP has these long standing driver bugs.

@khsing I don’t have the computer to test yet, but I’m guessing Anand meant that it’s slow even with the discrete GPU. Plus, that uses more battery.

@Clark I still see some visual glitches in Aperture. And even in 10.7.4 I see the Safari glitch where it stops redrawing the page as you scroll down—that one might not be driver-related, though.

"I got my 2010 15-inch MacBook Pro with the idea that it would last a long time. But Lion introduced a GPU driver bug, which has gotten worse, that now makes it kernel panic three times a day."

Well, that's easy enough to fix. Just upgrade from Lion to Snowy. Only a crazy person or a dev would voluntarily run Lion. And you don't seem like a crazy person. So, er, uh ... never mind.

"I'm not sure why the 2010 15" MBP has these long standing driver bugs."

First hardware to use Intel integrated graphics. Lack of interest on the part of Apple in making such decades-old hardware work properly with Lion.

"I’m guessing Anand meant that it’s slow even with the discrete GPU. Plus, that uses more battery."

From how I read that review, it definitely means that even using the discrete GPU isn't enough, and the CPU must get heavily involved in just dealing with the basic display. Think of it as a return to the days before Quartz Extreme.

(Not to mention that the real-world utility of gfxCardStatus is pretty much about avoiding using the discrete GPU, not forcing the discrete GPU to come on.)

@Chucky We’ll see how that goes for you. Apple is making it really attractive for developers to drop support for Snowy.

At this point I’m wondering whether AppleCare makes sense, now that I know it doesn’t actually provide peace of mind.

Yes, if you want to force the GPU to be on, can’t you just turn off automatic graphics switching in Energy Saver?

"We’ll see how that goes for you. Apple is making it really attractive for developers to drop support for Snowy."

Oh, I know it.

But I've got a nicely working system, with a large variety of apps that cover lots of my current and potential needs. So if the new app spigot gets slowly turned off to me, so what? The hyper-modern web will still work for me where needed, as long as Chrome supports Snowy, which it should for a while. And that pretty much leaves me covered. So if I see post-Snowy as a downgrade, why move?

I'm in a multiple OS X box household, and, if needs arise, various could be upgraded to post-Snowy, or modern hardware could be bought, while still leaving my workhorse thin client at Snowy.

It sucks. I like buying new apps and major upgrades. But as a non-dev, the tradeoffs are just better for me, and will be for quite a while. If it ain't broke, and there ain't anything radically better, don't fix it.

(I've already started my prep by opting out of the whole MAS ecosystem. I've never installed a single MAS app - not even the free ones. And that has the pleasant side-effect of letting me be supportive of non-MAS developers, who will be more likely to support Snowy for a longer time.)

In short, given my capable setup, I'm willing to forgo an increasing amount of potential new app and major upgrade purchases available to me in exchange for not having to downgrade from Snowy.

"At this point I’m wondering whether AppleCare makes sense, now that I know it doesn’t actually provide peace of mind."

For a dev, definitely not at this point. They've got you on a much faster replacement cycle.

For a non-dev, I always liked AppleCare on laptops, but I think the recent reduced commitment to forward OS compatibility has likely moved the balance in the other direction.

@Chucky Yeah, if you’re going to stay with Snowy you pretty much have to opt out of the MAS, or else make backups of all the old versions of your apps. Because most of the sandboxed ones are going to require at least 10.7.3.

I never used to buy AppleCare—never needed it. But every single Intel-based Mac I’ve had has required hardware service, so I started getting it. Of course, I wait until the end of the first year and don’t buy it from Apple.

[...] mentioned before that I upgraded to a Retina MacBook Pro earlier than I would have under normal circumstances. [...]

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