Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display tested with Photoshop, After Effects and 3D suites review

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

  • Price When Reviewed: £1,915 plus VAT (model tested)

  • Pros: Amazing screen; excellent performance; svelte and lightweight

  • Cons: Little app support for screen

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The next generation of MacBook Pro is a truly astounding feat of product design and engineering. The Retina Display alone is enough to turn heads, but the ultra-thin chassis will draw envious glances from even owners of other MacBook Pros – and despite being nearer to a MacBook Air than other Pro models, it’s no slouch under the hood either. Apple’s new laptop is featherweight-sized with the punch of a super-heavyweight.

The MacBook Pro with Retina Display is as thinner and lighter than the older 15-inch design than that was over most Windows laptops (such as the slightly more powerful WS m1550 we reviewed at the same time). You really notice the difference when carrying it around on a daily basis.

Artwork by Alex Varenese

The Retina Display itself is just as good as Apple has bragged. It’s as much a leap forward in display technology as it was when it appeared on the iPhone and iPad. With an overall resolution of 2,880 x 1,440 and a density of around 220dpi, artwork, designs, photos, videos and animations can look more beautiful, vivid, threatening or whatever effect they’re supposed to have on the viewer. It’s not just the resolution though, the new screen has a higher contrast – if not a much bigger colour gamut – and, due to it being an IPS panel, a wider field of view too.

An important word earlier was ‘can’. Your work can equally look horrible, poorly rendered and covered with jaggies. Software needs to be updated to support the new display – and when it’s not, Apple scales up the interface so its text is legible.

So Aperture and Final Cut Pro (above) work wonderfully – photos look astounding in the former and you can fit 1080p video inside FCP’s interface at native resolution. Tools such as Creative Suite, QuarkXPress or Maya, however, look like the poor cousins of how they appear on other screens – and your work has the feel of a low-res preview. Type is especially hard to work with when poorly rendered and this is likely to slow down your design work.

Until Adobe updates Creative Suite 6, the UIs of tools such as Photoshop (above) will look fuzzy, rather than the crisp look on other laptops

Powerful performer

Testing a MBP RD with the higher of Apple’s two standard specs – 2.6GHz Core i7 ‘Ivy Bridge’ chip, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD storage – against last year’s model – 2.2GHz Core i7 ‘Sandy Bridge’ chip, 4GB, 750GB hard drive – we saw quite the power bump. The RD model was over 60 per cent faster rendering a pretty intense scene in After Effects CS6 than the 2011 model – and completed effects work on a 835MB artwork in Photoshop CS6 in less than a third of the time.

Although 3D rendering in Cinebench was 33 per cent faster, we didn’t see much improvement in the real-time 3D test, which we’ll put down to the faster GPU having to cope with the higher-res screen.

The MBP RD will be your dream laptop when Adobe, Autodesk, Quark et al update their software – which probably won’t happen until later this year – and you’re better off waiting before investing in this without being able to realise its potential.

The MacBook Pro with Retina Display's screen outputs around 78 per cent of Adobe RGB (graphed above using a DataColor Spyder4Elite), vs the 69 per cent output by the Workstation Specialists' m1550 (below)

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