So long 17" MacBook Pro. You were big, heavy, and barely fit in my bag but you were a workhorse and got the job done from 2006-2012.
Final Generation 17" MacBook Pro
First Generation 15.4" Retina MacBook Pro
The 17" MBP has been central to my on-set workflow ever since file based cameras arrived in the trenches back in 2006 with the Panasonic HVX200. I'm somewhat sad to see tried and true hardware be phased out but I'm pleasantly surpried with its replacement (I might be the only one!). You can't be overly nostalgiac about Apple products because if anything, the company is ruthlessly progressive. Often times at the anxiety and discomfort of their user base. While Apple's commitment to the pro market, the very market that made the brand cool and desirable to everybody else, is still rather ambiguous, this latest offering is actually quite a powerful tool.
The final generation 17" Macbook Pro really was a full-on, portable workstation. Heavy file tasks, transcoding multiple cameras, and moving mountains of data has been and still is the domain of the Mac Pro tower but this is a blog post about laptops and not the unicorn looming in 2013. Nonetheless, I'm always amazed at just how much can be done with the 17" and I've become so reliant on it that I had my finger on the trigger to pick up another before it suddenly and inevitably dissappeared from the Apple Store. I'm glad I didn't though. Progress is good even when it's painful and even if it doesn't adhere to the cookie cutter wishlist of the user base. Let's see how Apple's final 17" laptop compares to a maxed out 2012 15.4" MBP -
17" Matte Anti-Reflective Screen: In addition to being physically smaller, the new computers have no option for Anti-glare so you're stuck seeing your own mug looking back at you as you work. I've never been crazy about this and appreciated the option of a traditional matte display. I'm assuming this lack of option is a Retina thing. Part and parcel to the smaller screen is the increased resolution of Retina which eliminates the need for a physically larger LCD to accomodate 1920x1200 pixels. Prior to Retina, the only way to get the resolution you find on a large, external computer monitor was with a 17" LCD. Now that this is no longer the case, from Apple's perspective there isn't much reason to make a large, cumbersome computer when a smaller, sleeker product can not only achieve but go beyond it.
MiniDisplay: Thank you Apple, for ditching this silly, proprietary format. I suppose it's still there in the form of Thunderbolt but having a computer display in your daisy chain really kills the troughput so isn't worth it in my opinion. I'd rather keep those channels for data and have a dedicated Video Out (and audio unlike MiniDisplay) in the same universal standard that's on all my other devices both consumer and professional - HDMI.
Optical Disc: With the exception of occassionally having to boot off the Snow Leopard install disc, I really don't use this port. CD's are done and the market for standard def DVD's is on a similar path. Now with Lion, you don't even need an external disc to boot from as an invisible Recovery partition is part of the OS configuration. Apple is wise to ditch such an antiquated standard.
Ethernet, FireWire, and ExpressCard: Part of how I define a workstation goes beyond system performance. The machine must have a good volume and variety of commonly used interfaces. The final gen 17" had them and I use every single one when my computer is configured for work on-set - 3x USB 2.0, Ethernet, Thunderbolt, Firewire 800, and ExpressCard. I'm sad to see FireWire and Ethernet go but I'm pleased to see an extra Thunderbolt port and finally, USB 3.0! As part of the planned obselence of standards, it seems FireWire was also destined for the chopping block. Didn't see it coming to be honest. USB 3 is great though and Thunderbolt is a whole world of possibilities. While you lose the convenience of being able to just plug everything in and go, there are stop gap solutions coming for when you need a full array of more traditional interfaces -
A single Thuderbolt link to this device gives you back all the functionality you had with your 17" MBP with the exception of the ExpressCard but put one of these on your other Thunderbolt lane..
I've been using this Sonnet adapter since it came out and have had zero issues with it. I've used it with SxS cards, eSata and FireWire 800 adapter cards, and even the Matrox MXO2. It does what it claims to do and really is a full-on PCIe expansion over a single cable.
Belkin isn't known for producing professional quality product so I would imagine that a pro video vendor such as Matrox or AJA will build something similar to this specifically for us but the new MBP combined with a breakout would have the following interfaces -
2x USB 3.0
3x USB 2.0
2x Thunderbolt (1x loop thru)
1x FireWire 800
1x Mic In
That's a lot of in's and out's for a laptop. If you really need that optical disc, USB Superdrive works great.
The ability to change anything! Where you could put in your own RAM, change the battery if you had to, or even remove the optical disc drive and replace it with an SSD, the inside of the new MBP is virtually untouchable.
From ifixit.org -
"The Retina MacBook is the least repairable laptop we’ve ever taken apart: unlike the previous model, the display is fused to the glass—meaning replacing the LCD requires buying an expensive display assembly. The RAM is now soldered to the logic board—making future memory upgrades impossible. And the battery is glued to the case—requiring customers to mail their laptop to Apple every so often for a $200 replacement. The design may well be comprised of “highly recyclable aluminum and glass”—but my friends in the electronics recycling industry tell me they have no way of recycling aluminum that has glass glued to it like Apple did with both this machine and the recent iPad. The design pattern has serious consequences not only for consumers and the environment, but also for the tech industry as a whole."
WHAT WE'VE GAINED:
A computer that fits comfortably in a bag. Part of being a portable workstation is being truly portable and while the 17" has always been manageable, it's big.
Retina Display 2880x1800: Retina is awesome. I'm glad to see this in a laptop. Apps whose interface require a resolution of 1920x1200 - DaVinci Resolve, Scratch Lab, etc - can now run comfortably and with room to spare on these new machines. It's interesting the way the System Prefs handles the resolution now. Gone is the list of various rasters 1920x1200, 1680x1050, 1344x1008, etc. You can now only select "Smaller" or "Bigger". All of that resolution is not actually displayed pixel to pixel but is scaled within the equivalent of a 1920x1200 or 1680x1050 raster. This is how Apple is able to claim resolutions equivalent to 240 pixels/dots per inch.
HDMI, USB 3.0, 2x Thunderbolt: It's so much easier to watch content on your home HDTV from your computer with a dedicated HDMI Out. As for the other interfaces, I touched on this previously but having USB 3 and an additional TB port is pretty huge. I'm having trouble imagining a way I would need to configure this machine that would be impossible. The name of the game these days is modularity - RED knows it. Arri knows it. The Japanese are getting wise to it. The MBP despite the lack of potential for internal hardware configuration, with its small size and 2x Thunderbolt, is very much a modular machine.
Next-Gen NVIDIA GPU w/ Kepler Graphics Architecture: The GeForce GT 650M offers unprecedented performance and extreme energy efficiency, giving it the muscle to process the 5,184,000 pixels in the next-gen MacBook Pro’s ultra high-resolution display (via NVIDIA >>>) This GPU is much better than the last gen AMD Radeon HD 6750M and should introduce a performance increase in apps such as Scratch Lab. Looking forward to trying it out once my machine finally ships!
I was curious and I'm assuming you are too so let's see how the 2 machines, with maxed out specs compare -
2012 (Q2) 17" MacBook Pro:
2.5GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7
8GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM — 2x4GB
512GB Solid State Drive
MacBook Pro 17-inch Hi-Res Antiglare Widescreen Display
2012 (Q3) 15.4" MacBook Pro with Retina Display:
2.7GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.7GHz
16GB 1600MHz DDR3L SDRAM
768GB Flash Storage
So there you have it - twice the RAM, more processing power, more storage, and a far nicer display for $350 bucks cheaper. If anything, that will pay for your AppleCare.
My new computer is on order so this entire article is purely speculative. Once I put it through the paces, I might have something different to say. I don't think so though. Thanks to Ben Schwartz and Tom Wong for sending information my way that contributed to this article.
Next up - Legal vs. Extended on Arri Alexa!
On a somewhat related note.. why wait for Apple?
HP Builds a Supercharged Video Editing Machine Worthy of RED Cameras
1000 MBps read & 900 MBps write in a non-retina MacBook Pro
Can't do this with the new computer!
I've seen the light...