Review: MacBook Pro impresses, Retina MacBook Pro dazzles

The new 15-inch MacBook Pro is blazing fast, but the all-new Retina MacBook Pro is unsurpassed

Introduced in 2006, redesigned with a unibody aluminum chassis in 2009, and upgraded to quad-core CPUs in 2011, Apple's 15-inch MacBook Pro has long been a go-to notebook for professionals of all stripes. Available since June, the new 15-inch MacBook Pro -- updated with Intel's latest Ivy Bridge CPUs, 1,600MHz memory, enhanced graphics, and at last, USB 3.0 -- is back on the leading edge, while its completely reengineered sibling, the MacBook Pro with Retina display, defines a new edge entirely.

The latest crown jewel of Apple's pro notebook lineup is completely new: from the ultra-high-resolution display (the highest ever on a notebook), to the MacBook Air-inspired slim chassis, all the way down to the standard, stunningly fast solid-state drive (SSD) flash storage.

Don't let the slender case and lower weight fool you. The Retina MacBook Pro is a pro notebook through and through, squeezing the Ivy Bridge-fueled performance of the 15-inch MacBook Pro into a 4.5-pound package measuring just 0.71 inch thick. You can tell from the name that the display is literally nothing like you've ever seen, but the whole machine is an engineering marvel. The Retina MacBook Pro pushes the notebook two years into the future, and there's no early adopter tax in the price. It costs less than a comparable bundle of upgrades to 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Apple topped off the June upgrade to its pro notebook lineup with the July release of OS X Mountain Lion (version 10.8). I tested the new 15-inch MacBook Pro, the Retina MacBook Pro, and Mountain Lion to see how they measure up to the demanding requirements of technical and creative professionals. I used the latest tools from Adobe, Apple, Quark, Parallels, and open source, drawing media and code from large commercial projects. If you're the kind of person whose daily work pushes notebooks to the limits of performance and durability, this review is for you.

Common ground: Ivy Bridge to Mountain Lion
I work-tested the base 2.3GHz configurations of 15-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Pro with Retina display. They're priced at $1,799 and $2,199 respectively before you add configure-to-order options. Apple's step-up models and à la carte options let you select the CPU speed, disk type (magnetic or SSD) and capacity, and RAM.

Several key new features are common to all 15-inch MacBook Pro models, with and without Retina display. The heart of the 15-inch MacBook Pro is a new Intel quad-core, Core i7 mobile CPU. This updated microarchitecture, code-named Ivy Bridge, is an engineering increment to the Sandy Bridge CPU that originally brought quad-core to the MacBook Pro. Intel designed Ivy Bridge to be a drop-in replacement for Sandy Bridge; notebook makers can use the new chip without changing anything else.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Performance (20.0%)
Build quality (15.0%)
Usability (20.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Battery Life (15.0%)
Features (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
15-inch MacBook Pro 10.0 10.0 8.0 8.0 9.0 7.0 8.7
MacBook Pro with Retina display 10.0 9.0 10.0 9.0 10.0 9.0 9.6
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