I ordered one of the new 13” Retina display MacBook Pros the day they were announced. It was kind of an impulse purchase. I replace my laptop about every three years, and it’s just about that time, but I normally think about it a lot and usually buy a refurb, or a second-tier off-the-shelf model from Amazon or the Navy Exchange. I haven’t bought a personally configured Apple computer from the Apple Store since my Power Mac G4 MDD back in, what? 2004? But I was feeling flush from having paid off the car, so I decided I’d buy what I wanted instead of “what I could afford.”
I upgraded everything you can upgrade on that model, which isn’t a great deal. I added the dual-core i7 processor, though I’ve since read it’s not a large performance increase; and I maxed out the SSD to 768GB, which was a huge price increase. I also added a Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter. I was disappointed you couldn’t upgrade the RAM to 16GB. I have 8GB in my current MBP.
It all arrived yesterday. I decided to set this up as a new computer without importing my profile from my current 13” MBP (circa 2009). After going through the inital set-up, you need to install Mountain Lion 10.8.2. Next I reviewed the security settings, turned on the firewall, and turned on File Vault for the first time in my experience. I figured I wanted the SSD encrypted early before I installed all my apps and documents, as that encryption could take place on the fly.
The system preference tells you that you can continue to use the machine while File Vault is performing the encryption, and I did so. If there’s a performance hit, I didn’t notice it.
Turning on iCloud set up my e-mail, contacts and calendars with no issues.
I used the Mac App Store to download several of the programs that I wanted on this machine. Unfortunately, because I bought Aperture and iWork before the Mac App Store existed, while it updates them, I can’t download the apps themselves. This presented the first novel issue for me in setting up a new Mac: Lack of an optical drive.
I went up to the loft and fired up the 27” iMac and turned on CD/DVD disk sharing. Then loaded the Aperture 2 DVD (version 3 is an upgrade and requires a prior install). Back down on the MBP, the optical drive appears in the sources column on the left side of the Finder window. Selecting that showed the iMac upstairs with a “Connect as” button. You don’t need to connect as an authorized user if you configure the setting that way in the Sharing preference pane. Below the iMac icon was the Aperture volume. Select that and you get the contents of the volume. I launched the installer and a dialog box came up that indicated that the installer had to quit and relaunch in order to run on the MBP. That was interesting. I clicked Okay, it quit and relaunched and we were off to the races! I was surprised that it didn’t take very long. Maybe writing to the SSD makes up for moving the data over the wireless network. That evolution went smoothly for Aperture and iWork. The Mac App store then updated both installs.
Next, I wanted to move my iTunes library to the new machine. Conceivably, I could have used iTunes Match and just downloaded them all from iCloud. That would have taken forever, I suspect, and might have had me bumping up against whatever bandwidth limit Comcast has assigned to me. I recalled you could move songs from an iPod somehow, so I did a search for that and discovered that I had to change the default search engine from Google to Bing in Safari’s preferences. I don’t need Google looking over my shoulder, trying to be “helpful.” Turns out, you can only move purchased items from the iPod to a new iTunes library. Luckily, that’s over 6,000 tracks of my 9,700 track library. So I connected the iPod Classic I’d bought to commemorate Steve’s death and initiated that process. It didn’t take as long as I expected, and when it was complete I began downloading the music I didn’t want to be without that was still in the cloud. Overall, we’re in good shape on the music and movie front.
I downloaded a few apps, Tinderbox, LaunchBar, and Ascent from the web and installed them. As these are not Gatekeeper-aware, you have to control-click and “Open” them, then confirm in a dialog that you wish to run them first time. After that, no further intervention is required.
The next challenge was what to do about my Aperture library, which was the main reason I went with the largest SSD. To make a long story short, I decided to declare photo bankruptcy and just start with a new, empty library - although that did import the existing images in Photo Stream.
My Aperture library is duplicated on the iMac upstairs, and it’s backed up to Time Machine volumes for both the iMac and the old MBP. I seem to do most of my initial work on the MBP, and I use the iMac for making DVDs to share and other “products.” I don’t really need the whole library on the MBP. My initial plan was to somewhat slim down the size of my library by creating a new library of only images take since 1 January 2010. Well, that’s still a redonkulous number of images, even omitting all the iPhone images. So I said screw it, and we’ll start with a clean slate. and hopefully I’ll have a much better organized and managed asset library going forward.
Now, as to the machine itself.
Slimmer, lighter, silent. The old MBP was pretty quiet, I seldom heard the fans unless Flash was running. This thing issilent. No HD noise, no fan noise. Very nice.
It’s light enough that the “stiction” of the hinge causes the front edge of the lower clamshell to lift when you go to open the display. That may change over time as the hinge wears a little. For now, a finger on the divot does the trick, or just tolerate a little bit of tilt as you open.
The display is the selling point of this machine. It’s remarkable, but it’s a bit subtle overall. If you’re old enough to recall the days of VHS video, you may recall the change in image quality when we transitioned from VHS to DVD. It’s not that radical, but it’s close. But it does have the very similar feeling of really not wishing to ever look at anything on the previous display again. After going DVD, I held onto my VHS tapes for a year or so, realized I was never going to watch them again, and finally just gave them away. Then bought all the same movies on DVD. Sigh.
Retina is kind of like that. It may be a little bit like going from DVD to Blu-Ray. But I can still tolerate upscaled DVDs quite well. Looking at photographs in Aperture in a standard 13” screen and the Retina? Never gonna do that again. Not on purpose anyway.
As I was looking at this morning’s photos, I realized this is a tremendous advantage in discriminating between the clinkers and the keepers. You can tell immediately if one image is sharper than another. It’s not going to help you with whether or not your composition was any good, or if the exposure is bad, but wow! you can tell if you were in focus!
And the images just look so rich.If you’re a photographer, hobbyist or professional, or even if you just like to take pictures, you’re going to like it a hell of a lot more with a Retina-class display.
Now, to some extent, this was evident from the iPad 3. But most images in the iPad are imported by Photo Stream, so they’re somewhat down-scaled and seem more compressed. They look great, but these look awesome!
The SSD makes everything very snappy, so far. Haven’t done any editing yet, so I don’t know how much of a performance delta there really is, but it looks promising.
I’m curious to see if Snapseed or Photoshop Elements work well as editors in a Retina display. I’ve installed both, but they’re not optimized for Retina in terms of their interface elements. That’s probably not going to be much of a problem, but I’m curious to see how the images themselves look.
The machine is well put-together, just as my older 13” MBP. Keyboard feels pretty much the same, though the keycaps seem to have a slightly more matte finish to them. Maybe I’ve just polished the ones on the old machine from years of typing on them.
I haven’t tried doing FaceTime with it yet. I’m interested to learn if my parents can see a difference in image quality when I chat with them.
For what I spent on this machine, I probably could have purchased a 15” MBP Retina with a 256GB SSD and 16GB of RAM, a better cpu, a better video processor and more screen real estate. Haven’t priced it out, partly because I don’t want to know. But 13” seems like the sweet spot for me in terms of size and weight. So far, I haven’t felt a twinge of buyer’s remorse. I suspect I never will, as I keep adding new photos. I’m a happy camper.