final rating

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Criteria Comments Rating
  • Speed and features The quad core is blazing fast at CPU-bound stuff, such as Handbrake. The GPU is fast enough for casual to semi-hardcore gamer, but could be better. good
  • Design and form factor Lighter than it looks, stronger than it looks, and doesn't get as hot as previous MBPs. great!
  • Battery life 7 hours when using HD4000 graphics is decent, but I'd expect better from Ivy Bridge. good
  • Display Best. Display. Ever. Like reading paper until you've hit about the 10 inches from the display mark with your eyes. great!
  • Durability Solidly built, like all MBPs since late 2008. great!
  • Expandability Soldered RAM and a proprietary SSD setup suck. No FW. No eSATA. 2 USB and 2 TB/MDP ports don't make up for this. poor
  • Noise Fans barely spin up while the GT650 is in use. great!
  • Portability (size / weight) Not quite a MBA, but much better than any 17 inch laptop out there. Also, light weight beats out all other 15s and most 14s as well. good
Detailed review
So I bought this to replace my aging early 2008 MacBook Pro. I had to go for the 16GB RAM/512GB SSD option, mostly because I wanted the ultimate display and partly because I wanted something faster than I already have.

What I like about it -

1) The screen. When programs are retina-enabled, they look gorgeous. When the "resolution" slider is set to 1680x1050, non-retina programs are actually not all that bad looking; at 1440x900, you can tell what's retina-enabled and what's not. Colors are extremely vibrant, contrast is amazing, and video playback is very smooth. Portal 2's realism is enhanced further by this screen.

2) For a 15" laptop, it doesn't feel like it.

3) A pair of TB ports, which means you can use one for a Promise R6 and the other for an Apple TB display. Being that both ports are on separate controllers, you can saturate the R6's bandwidth and still have full performance from the ports on a TB display. (Speaking of, if you're wanting this laptop as a desktop replacement, you'll want the TB display for it's built-in gigabit ethernet, FireWire 800, integrated charger, and additional USB ports for stuff you wouldn't want to normally disconnect and reconnect.)

4) USB 3 ports for faster access to flash drives and hard drives.

5) The battery lasts 7 hours while using the HD4000 graphics and setting the screen at half of its brightness.

6) CPU performance is amazing. Handbrake (which is CPU-only on Mac) seems to encode about 3 times faster on this processor than it did on my early 2008 MBP with a Core 2 Duo. I'm going to install developer tools to see what 2 core performance is like.

What I don't like about it -

1) The GPU. GT650 graphics are a little slow for this monster of a screen; I would have went with an HD7950 or a GT670 instead, because gaming does seem to get a little slow at the higher resolutions with additional features turned on.

2) There's no clear upgrade path with the SSD at this time (proprietary), and RAM is soldered to the motherboard. Spring for the 16GB models, and the largest SSD you can afford.

3) Let's talk about what it lacks - no Firewire, no eSATA, only two USB ports, and no ethernet. Which means you have to get a dongle for everything beyond the first two USB devices you use. Or a Thunderbolt Display. Or one of several expensive docking solutions, like the one from Belkin.

4) The HD4000 IGP isn't useful beyond web surfing. If you try to do anything serious with the IGP, your head will probably explode.

Having said this, the pros definitely outweigh the cons for me, mostly because of the video editing and graphics work I do. It is not the laptop for everyone, however, and I can't recommend it for those that just want something more basic; the updated 15 inch pro with the full array of ports and the lower resolution screens will work better for you.