Review: Apple MacBook Pro W/ Retina Display 15″ Mid-2015 2.5Ghz Core i7 Dual Graphics

I finally replaced my mid 2012 MacBook Pro with a new one that I hope that is more reliable given the bad luck that I have had with it over the last year or so. That meant a trip to the Apple Store to a look at the 15″ models that were on offer (as I wanted a MacBook Pro that could handle everything that I throw at it). After some conversation with a specialist (the Apple Store term for their salespeople), I chose the 15″ Apple MacBook Pro W/ Retina Display with the following specs:

  • 2.5 GHz Intel Core i7 “Haswell” series processor which will “Turbo Boost” up to 3.7GHz
  • 16 GB RAM
  • 512 GB SSD
  • AMD Radeon R9 M370X graphics processor with 2 GB of dedicated GDDR5 memory
  • Integrated Intel Iris 5200 Pro graphics processor
  • 15.4″ Retina Display with a resolution of 2880×1800
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Two USB 3.0 ports
  • Two Thunderbolt 2 ports
  • HDMI port
  • Audio in/out port
  • SDXC card slot
  • 720p FaceTime HD webcam

From the outside, it looks like every other Retina MacBook Pro that has come before it. It is thin, light (as in 4.5 pounds which I will appreciate the next time I travel as that shaves a pound off of what I usually carry through airports), and lacks an optical drive and Ethernet. But there are some differences versus previous generations that will be important to buyers.

First off, the screen is glossy and you don’t get the option to get a matte display. Previous Retina displays suffered from a fair amount of glare that made them unusable for me. This one is very usable in almost every lighting condition that I tried it in with minimal glare as long as it was plugged into power so that the screen was at maximum brightness. Even if it wasn’t plugged in, the screen was very usable. After sourcing a previous generation MacBook Pro with Retina display, I can say that this display is a bit less prone to glare than ones from previous generations. I also found the display to be extremely sharp with crisp text and vibrant colors which is clearly a product of the retina display technology that Apple pioneered. One note that I have is that you might want to keep a microfibre cloth handy as the screen does attract fingerprints.

Next is the inclusion of the AMD Radeon R9 M370X graphics processor that spools up when graphic intensive applications are being used on this MacBook Pro. If you’re just surfing the net, this MacBook Pro will use the Iris 5200 Pro graphic processor which helps to limit power consumption and increase battery life. The AMD graphics processor is FAST. I was able to play Team Fortress 2 at 1440×900 at 32 bit color with all the texturing maxed out which was not possible on my mid 2012 MacBook Pro, and I was able to do so at greater than 36 frames per second. Not only that, Photoshop on this computer performed like I was using a Mac Pro as I was able to move all around high resolution pictures with ease with no waiting. If you need to edit video, render graphics, touch up photos, or simply want to pwn your friends in the video game of your choice, this MacBook Pro has to be your choice. One note for those who like to use external monitors, it can power an external 5K display at 60Hz via two DisplayPort cables.

The big news is the storage. Like other MacBook Pros with Retina displays, it has solid state storage rather than a mechanical hard drive. But this iteration puts the solid state storage on a PCIe 2.0 x4 interface which means that it is over twice as fast as the previous generation MacBook Pro and it absolutely destroys and humbles anything with a mechanical hard drive. To give you an idea of how fast it is over a mechanical hard drive, my math says it is 22 times faster than a 5400 RPM hard drive. Booting the MacBook Pro only takes seconds. Starting any application is a double click and it appears affair. Plus starting virtual machines takes seconds and not a minute or two. Trust me, this change makes a massive difference to anyone who wants a speedy computer. One note, unlike the RAM which you cannot upgrade, the SSD is in a slot that allows you to remove it and upgrade it. When someone decides to provide compatible upgrade parts, you’re set.

Finally, there’s the Force Touch trackpad. The main benefit of Force Touch is the ability to perform a force click, which activates special functions when you press extra hard on the trackpad. For example, force clicking a link on a website lets you preview that page in a small window. You can customize what the trackpad does and I am sure that applications will eventually be written to leverage this new functionality. One thing to note is that the trackpad actually doesn’t move. It senses the force you apply to it and uses haptic feedback to simulate a click. I couldn’t tell that the click was fake which is pretty impressive. Thus to borrow a Star Wars reference, I will be using the force frequently.

Here’s some other things that I found to be big difference makers for me, or are worth noting:

  • The fact that this MacBook Pro comes with 802.11ac WiFi makes up for the fact this MacBook Pro lacks built in Ethernet. You can get a Thunderbolt to gigabit Ethernet adapter (And I for one suggest that you should get it as it will come in handy if you go someplace that doesn’t have WiFi. For example, this hotel that I stayed at in Australia that didn’t have WiFi across the entire property. It’s under $40 CDN so you really have no excuse). If you have 802.11ac at your work or home, you should be able to get close to gigabit speeds if your router plays nice.
  • The battery life is insane. Apple says that you will get 9 hours. I got over 10 hours a couple of times on battery when I was just surfing the net and running apps like Microsoft Word.
  • This MacBook Pro comes with a MagSafe 2 adapter. The force required to cause the adapter to separate from the MacBook Pro is a bit less than with the previous MagSafe adapter. That can be kind of annoying. But on the flip side, I can see the reasoning behind it as it will keep your MacBook Pro from flying across the room if you trip over the cable attached to the AC adapter. It also required me to get a MagSafe 2 to MagSafe adapter to use my old MagSafe AC adapters (I have two of them). You might want to keep that in mind if you’re upgrading from a previous MacBook or MacBook Pro. One thing to note is that the MagSafe 2 to MagSafe adapter “sticks” to the MagSafe 2 connector better on the MacBook Pro than the MagSafe 2 adapter and requires somewhat more force to be disconnected from the MacBook Pro. Strange. I would have expected them to be the same.
  • The built in HDMI port will come in handy as I can simply plug into a TV or a projector without the adapter that I needed to use on the mid 2012 MacBook Pro that I am migrating from.
  • The sound coming from the speakers is improved over the mid 2012 MacBook Pro that I am migrating from. There seems to be a wider range of sound reproduction and better bass to them.
  • This particular MacBook Pro runs a lot cooler than the mid 2012 MacBook Pro that I am migrating from. This is true even when the MacBook Pro is pushed hard.

Do I have anything to criticize? Not really. But I will deal with the elephant in the room that some of the more technically inclined people will have noticed. Some readers of this review will note that the “Haswell” Intel Core i7 processor that is used in this and other MacBook Pros happens to be around 2 years old and Apple didn’t choose to use something newer. That’s a valid point. Apple could have gone with the “Broadwell” series of Intel processors which would have given them slightly faster CPU performance, but much faster integrated graphics in the form of the Iris Pro 6200 graphics processing unit that the “Broadwell” series of processor comes with. That would help with the entry level MacBook Pro which only comes with integrated graphics. But I’m guessing that the changes in terms of putting the SSD on a PCIe 2.0 x4 interface and using a AMD GPU in the more upscale MacBook Pro resulted in greater performance gains for them. Which in turn would have made putting in a processor that would have only provided a modest performance bump moot in their eyes. Plus I’m also guessing that Apple is waiting for Intel’s “Skylake” series of processors to appear which will provide a significant boost overall from a CPU and a GPU perspective.

The total price for all of this is $3049 CDN. Your do have some upgrade options though. You can go to a 1TB SSD for $600 extra and you can bump the processor to 2.8 Ghz for an extra $250. Or, if you want to save a few bucks and don’t mind a MacBook Pro with a 2.2 Ghz processor and only the Iris 5200 Pro graphics adapter installed, you can get one of those for $2449. However you decide to configure it, Apple’s latest MacBook Pro has to be considered to be one of the fastest notebooks on the market and power users will love it.

7 Responses to “Review: Apple MacBook Pro W/ Retina Display 15″ Mid-2015 2.5Ghz Core i7 Dual Graphics”

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