MacBook Pro with Retina display: What a letdown

I’ve been a satisfied user of MacBook Pro laptops since mid-2006, soon after the first Intel-based Macs appeared. My current system is a mid-2008 2.6 GHz 17″ MacBook Pro which I’ve been overall quite happy with. However, the Core 2 CPU is getting rather old (especially its virtualization capabilities are nothing to write home about) and what’s worse, upgrading the system beyond 4GB RAM is very problematic.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the June 2012 refresh of the MacBook Pro line. I was very excited when I first heard about the MBPs with Retina display, having had a few months of experience with a Retina-equipped iPad. But when I started the inevitable pre-purchase research, my excitement turned into wariness and then severe disappointment. Here’s why…

There is no 17″ MBP anymore. The 17″ display with 1920×1200 has been perfect for my needs; it’s a display with very high resolution but not insane pixel density. The result is a large amount of screen real estate, and it’s not a stupid glossy display either. As beautiful as the Retina display no doubt is, there’s only so much information that fits on a 15″ screen. At any rate, this problem is solvable with an external monitor.

The battery is glued in and cannot be replaced. That seems fine for a phone or a tablet, but only because I have no vital data stored on those. Where is my phone backed up? That’s right, on my laptop. The laptop itself is backed up on an external drive, but that’s no good if the laptop itself dies and needs to be replaced. The battery life on the Retina MBP isn’t any better than the previous models, either; apparently the higher battery capacity is eaten by the more power-hungry display (echoes of the Retina iPad).

Sadly, it only gets worse. The memory in the Retina MBP is not upgradable, which the Apple store clearly warns about, to Apple’s credit. The result is forcing users to get the maximum available memory size, helpfully overpriced by Apple. Paying $200 for additional 8GB RAM is something I could live with, if it were the only problem.

But it’s not, and it gets even worse. The storage in the Retina MBP is not upgradable either, and that’s the deal-breaker for me. The lower end Retina MBP comes with 256GB flash storage and it cannot be ordered with larger storage, which is laughable. The higher end model comes with 512GB flash standard, which can be upgraded to 768GB for another $500. 512GB is just barely enough for me today, and $500 is a lot of money. It’s not that I can’t afford it, but my willingness to waste money on shiny gadgets is not infinite.

Here’s the real problem: I know that two years from now, even 768GB won’t be enough. At that point, 1TB or 1.5TB flash storage will be quite affordable and it will be a great way to extend the useful life of the system. But it won’t do me any good because the flash drive is glued in.

My previous experience with MacBook Pros is very straightforward: Upgrading memory and disks is a terrific way to extend the useful life of the system. Doubling the memory size or significantly expanding storage capacity may cost under $100 a year or two after the laptop had been purchased. Once Apple removes the possibility, the total cost of ownership of a MBP suddenly skyrockets. No thanks.

Unfortunately my list of gripes with the Retina MBP doesn’t end there. There’s no optical drive, but from time to time I need to copy physical CDs. Okay, an external drive can solve that. There’s no Ethernet port, but WiFi is useless for networking multiple machines that are used for anything productive. OK, an adapter is available, but that will just increase the mess on my desk. There’s no FireWire port either, and I have two FW800 external drives that I’ve been very happy with. Boo.

If the non-upgradable storage were the only problem, I could probably bite the bullet and go for it anyway. But the list of issues is so long that there’s only one possible conclusion: The Retina MBP is not for me.

In the end, that doesn’t really worry me too much. If Apple can’t offer me a laptop that fits my needs, that’s their problem, not mine.

P.S.: The non-Retina MBP is looking more and more attractive, with none of the restrictions imposed by the Retina model.

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2 Responses to MacBook Pro with Retina display: What a letdown

  1. Yuhong Bao says:

    The flash drive is not glued in. It is removable, though using a different connector.

  2. michaln says:

    I base my purchasing decisions on Apple’s statements. If Apple says “please note that the flash storage is built into the computer, so if you think you may need more storage capacity in the future, it is important to upgrade at the time of purchase”, I don’t care whether they used actual glue or not. I consider it non-upgradable.

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